A landmark of the silent film era, Sir Arne’s Treasure is the spiritual cousin of Greed and Sunrise. Mauritz Stiller’s masterwork exudes a startling primordial dramatic intensity—like visions conjured by acrid plumes of smoke. Nearly every scene is as striking as The Saga of Gosta Berling’s famous sleigh-ride chase: the look in Concordia Selander’s eyes as she divines her family’s slaughter; the funeral-procession-on-ice for the maid who dies for the man she loved but promised to rip to shreds; and those trippy superimpositions that evoke the specter of guilt gnawing on the comfy façade of the present. Told in lucid, magical realist doses and suggesting a cross between Silas Marner and Earth, the story is a “winter ballad” about men who escape a prison, kill an aging vicar’s family for his stolen treasure, and the love affair between one of the mercenaries and the only survivor of his carnage. Stiller’s spine-tingling vision of moral crisis in the remote snowlands of Sweden has the quality of physiognomic cave art—innately expressive and portentous and electrified by a remarkable score by Matti Bye and Fredrik Emilson that brings to mind a sinister Gregorian chant drifting through the nooks and crannies of an abandoned church. Always there’s a sense that the story’s characters are acting out an urgent and mythic act of social restoration. This ritual is feverish and hopeful and in no way diminished by the real-world tragedy that the death knoll was already chiming for this revolutionary period in early Swedish cinema.
The image is surprisingly healthy and vigorous for a film almost 90 years old, and the Mattie Bye and Fredrik Emilson score is rich and booming, getting beneath the skin in the same way the maid’s golden locks come to torture Sir Archie (for proof, just listen to the sounds of the man and his cronies sharpening their knives in one of the film’s most famous sequences).
The same Peter Cowie introduction to the films of Mauritz Stiller that appears on Kino's The Sage of Gosta Berling and Erotikon discs is also available here, capped with a short exultation of Sir Arne's Treasure's aesthetic importance and place in Swedish film history. Rounding out the disc is a Stiller biography and filmography.
An essential addition to any DVD collection.