The White Reindeer – original title: Valkoinen peura – is a 1952 Finnish folk horror feature film directed by Erik Blomberg from a screenplay co-written with Mirjami Kuosmanen. The production stars Mirjami Kuosmanen, Kalervo Nissilä, Åke Lindman and Jouni Tapiola.
Pirata (Mirjami Kuosmanen) is a feisty woman in her thirties who we first see taking part in reindeer racing with herder Aslak, who she falls in love with. The pair marry, but Aslak’s reindeer heading means that he is away for weeks at a time. The sexually frustrated Pirata – who we have already seen flirting with other herders – visits a local shame, with the wish to be someone who is desired by all reindeer herders.
In a case of ‘be careful what you ask for’, her wish is granted, but not in the way that she had hoped – she is turned into what we might call a were-reindeer, changing into a vampiric creature who then further transforms into a white reindeer. This reindeer is indeed desired by all the herders, but once one of them is killed, the superstitious locals declare the reindeer to be a witch (“noita!”), and set out to hunt it down. Leading the hunt against the demonic beast is Aslak himself.
The sexual politics of The White Reindeer are pretty clear, it might seem – the film explores the idea that female desire is a literally monstrous thing that threatens the wider community. Whether that is the belief of the filmmaker or something that director Erik Blomberg is criticising is perhaps more ambiguous.
The character of Pirata is a multifaceted one, at once tragic yet not particularly likeable, being driven by a selfishness that does not serve the insular community that she lives in – the reindeer herders need to spend time away from their loved ones in order for everyone to survive, in a world where the reindeer is everything – property, food, source of clothing, transport and even pet.
Yet her desires are something that we can all relate to, and her selfishness is understandable. But the film portrays these desires in a decidedly dark way – her sexuality is expressed in monstrous and animalistic for, either as the white reindeer itself or the vampire that she becomes during mid-transformation (needless to say, there is no on-screen transformation shown in the film).
While the sexuality of Pirata is treated with some suspicion, Kuosmanen brings her character to life as a rounded and more tormented than she might have otherwise been. The choice of a thirty-something actress to play the role is interesting – I can’t say that I know much about Laplander culture, but I’m assuming that most people would be married off much earlier in life in a close-knit and traditional community like this, and it’s entirely possible that her character is supposed to be much younger. But the actor’s maturity makes her sexuality more genuine – this is a woman who knows her own mind and acknowledges her own needs.
And Kuosmanen has a mature attractiveness that perhaps reflects the rural world of the movie in a way that a younger actress might not have. More significantly, she is able to switch from happy-go-lucky to tortured to demonic with consummate ease – and it must be said that she shines out among a cast that does not give great performances on the whole (though their authenticity as the characters they play more than compensates for any stilted dialogue delivery).
David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA
Eureka Entertainment has released The White Reindeer as a Blu-ray + DVD combo presented from a 4K restoration completed in 2017 by the National Audio-visual Institute of Finland.