Monday 27 May 2024

Where to Begin with Gustaf Molander | Jon Wengström​​'s Il Cinema Ritrovato Guide

Gustaf Molander

Jon Wengström​​, the archive Senior Curator of the Swedish Film Institute, has curated a programme dedicated to Swedish master Gustaf Molander. This retrospective will take place at Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato in June 2024. Jon has blogged here, giving you some tips about what to see in that strand, that is if you don't want to see every single Molander which I think you should. – EK

Guide to Gustaf Molander at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2024

By Jon Wengström

Gustaf Molander made almost 70 films in a career that lasted more than half a century, and his trajectory as a director is parallel to that of the development of the Swedish film industry. He wrote the script to Terje Vigen (Victor Sjöström, 1917), which was the starting point of the Golden Age of Swedish silent cinema, and he directed the era’s epilogue with the Selma Lagerlöf adaptations Ingmarsarvet (1925) and its sequel Till Österland (1926). He was one of the very few Swedish directors who handled the transition to sound successfully, as proven by En natt (1931). During the 1940s, more than any other Swedish filmmaker, he made films that reflected the war and its aftermath, and after collaborations with a young Ingmar Bergman, including Woman Without a Face (1947), in the 1950s Molander made remakes of classic silent films in colour and Cinemascope, as a response to the advent of television.

Molander was active in many genres, making slapstick and screwball comedies, as well as dramas, period pieces and films for children and young people. But more than anything else, Molander was an actors’ director, and in particular an actresses’ director. He launched Ingrid Bergman to stardom, and the six films they made together in the 1930s paved the way for her international career. Do you want to see Ingrid Bergman as a disfigured leader of a blackmail ring? Don’t miss En kvinnas ansikte / A Woman’s Face (1938) playing on Sunday, June 23, at 17:45. The studio Svensk Filmindustri was at first very reluctant to let their young star play a disfigured criminal, but Bergman herself insisted. After first only appearing as voice and shadow, Bergman makes a shock entrance into the film with her scarred face, and the turn of events in this tightly woven drama, superbly lit and shot by frequent Molander collaborator Åke Dahlquist, takes Bergman and her companions to the snowy north and a dramatic horse-sleigh drama on a frozen lake, echoing famous scenes from Swedish silent classics. The 35mm print showing in Bologna was struck directly off the film’s original camera negative, one more reason not to miss this film.

A Woman’s Face

Do you want to see Conrad Veidt playing a religious madman? Don’t miss Ingmarsarvet / The Ingmar Inheritance (1925) playing on Tuesday, June 25, at 18:00.

Conrad Veidt plays a charismatic preacher with miraculous powers who arrives in a village during a storm of biblical proportions to spread the word about the promises of the Holy Land. His preaching creates a rift in the village, turning parents and children, men and wives, and brothers and sisters against one another. Veidt excels in a scene where he recounts his divine experience of a Titanic-like shipwreck incident for the stunned villagers, many of whom are determined to follow him on the long and arduous journey. Unjustly neglected in cinema history, Gustaf Molander’s Ingmarsarvet, starring also Lars Hanson – is an adaptation of the first part of Nobel laureate Selma Lagerlöf’s Jerusalem novels and is on par with the more famous classics from the late 1910s and early 1920s. The screening in Bologna is the premiere of the digital restoration of the film, completed in early June 2024.


Do you want to see Victor Sjöström in an Ordet, made twelve years before Carl Th. Dreyer's version? It's playing on Monday, June 24, at 18:15.

Whilst many have seen Dreyer’s adaptation of the play Ordet by Danish playwright, priest and partisan Kaj Munk, the version made by Gustaf Molander twelve years earlier is much less known. In the Swedish version, the drama of faith, non-belief and miracle has a tense, dramatic atmosphere and the visual imagery at times evokes that of silent cinema. Victor Sjöström is magnificent in the role of the ageing patriarch (his best in performance in a sound film prior to Wild Strawberries) clenching his fists to the sky in the manner of his character in Terje Vigen, as he witnesses his son Johannes becoming more and more a recluse from the world. Molander had never read the play, nor had he seen it on stage, when Sjöström – then head of artistic production at Svensk Filmindustri – offered him to direct the film. Kaj Munk never got to see the film; it was released in December 1943, just eight days before he was killed by the Gestapo. The 35mm print which will be screened in Bologna was struck directly off the camera negative, and gives full justice to the cinematography of Åke Dahlquist.

And there'll be many more discoveries in the Molander programme, including rare footage from Jerusalem in the 1920s, a young Harriet Andersson in her first major role, comedienne Eva Dahlbeck in a pre-Ingmar Bergman role, a Swedish noir from the 1940s, and an early sound film about Russian military entering into a neighbouring country!

See you at Sala Scorsese!


  1. Hi Ehsan, I would like to know if the movies “Ordet” and “A woman's face” will also have reruns. I will be at CR from June 25-30 and I am very interested in these two Molander movies. I look forward to your feedback. Thank you very much