Made during the second world war by a director who had to flee Nazi-occupied Sweden shortly after making it, this film is claimed to have subtle anti-Nazi themes, though they were perhaps too subtle for me to get; to me, it’s just a good film.
It opens as a healing woman, Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier), is forced to flee her house to escape the mob who have arrived to burn her as a witch. She alights on the house of the pastor, Absalon Pederssøn (Thorkild Roose) to ask his young wife, Anne (Lisbeth Movin) to hide her. Anne is Absolon’s second wife, and is much younger than him. We learn very early on that Herlofs Marte is indeed a witch, as was Anne’s mother, though this fact has been kept from Anne. Anne’s mother was not tried as a witch as Absolon conspired to keep her secret, in return for Anne as his bride. Herlofs Marte is discovered and put on trial, threatening to reveal Anne’s secret if Absolon does not save her.
Absolon’s mother hates Anne (it’s not clear at this point whether she knows of Anne’s secret or just sees Anne as flighty and unworthy of her respected husband) and when Absolon’s son, Martin (Preben Lerdorff Rye) arrives, she is horrified to see Martin and Anne forming a friendship that seems to her to be dangerous and unhealthy. And, when Anne discovers the truth about her heritage, her attitude to Absolon changes dramatically.
This film looks beautiful, shot in a way that makes the monochrome look full of life and shade. It also takes a nuanced view of both the plight of the witches and the fears of the community in which they live. My partner doubted whether Herlofs Marte and Anne were indeed witches, on the bases that witchcraft and Satan aren’t real. On this basis, the Exorcist or the Omen wouldn’t be about the devil either, but I don’t think that argument holds up, correct as the rational basis of it undoubtedly is. I think whether or not you consider them witches is open to question – but everyone in the film seems to take this as evident, including the witches themselves.