The Monastery of Sendomir (Victor Sjostrom, 1920): Sweden
Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed on VHS.
Victor Sjostrom is arguably Sweden’s second greatest film director and along, with fellow director Mauritz Stiller, responsible for putting Swedish cinema on the map, yet many of his films remain very difficult to find. One of those magnificent, but difficult to find films is The Monastery of Sendomir.
When two riders come to the monastery seeking shelter for the night they inquire from one of the monks about the founding of the monastery. The old monk reluctantly recounts the story of Count Starschensky (Tore Svennberg), a nobleman of wealth and property. Starschensky is blessed with domestic happiness, however, he later finds that his young wife, Elga (Tora Teje) has been sneaking her lover into the castle in evenings when he is away, and that their only child is not his, but a product of this affair. Tragedy ensues and the count sells his estates and establishes the monastery as part of his penance.
Director Victor Sjostrom was by this time becoming a major influence in shaping silent cinema and was established as the leading film director in Sweden. Here he continued that trend with another solid film which ranked with the best of its year.
In previous films such as A Man There Was and The Outlaw and His Wife Sjostrom made brilliant use of the landscape, however, in The Monastery of Sendomir, which takes place primarily indoors, he showed he could command the cinema with equal brilliance without the outdoor locations to enhance his storytelling.
The acting from the two leads, Svennberg and especially Teje is impressive and key to the film’s effectiveness showing a sophistication rarely seen in silent film acting. Svennberg’s emotions range from blissful happiness to despair and shame as he discovers his life is not what he thought it was. Teje skillfully shifts from childish, manipulative flirting with her husband to outright anger and defiance.
It is a shame that so many of Sjostrom’s great films remain near impossible to find. Here’s hoping these films, including this one, begin to find their way onto DVD’s so they may reach film enthusiasts who have to this point only seen a small sample of his brilliance.