Gosta Berlings Saga/Story of Gosta Berling, The / Legend of Gosta Berling, The / Atonement of Gosta Berling, The (1924)

“Life must be lived; one has to move on!”

In 19th century Sweden, a deposed minister named Gosta Berling (Lars Hanson) goes to live as a knight on a country estate, and falls in doomed love with a variety of women.


Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s epic novel” — co-written and directed by Mauritz Stiller — represents “the most ambitious and famous work of Sweden’s golden silent era”, and is “perhaps best known for the performance given by [a] young Greta Garbo” (who would soon head to Hollywood, and lose quite a bit of weight). However, while it’s “a lovely film to look at”, with the “outdoor scenes… especially effective”, the storyline itself is not very compelling: overstuffed with narrative threads, and far too clearly an adaptation of an epic novel, we’re never really invested in the (supposed) central concern of Berling’s redemption. Instead, we’re too busy trying to keep track of countless subplots and characters — the most intriguing of whom is a middle-aged noblewoman with a tragic love story of her own (played with emotive expression by Gerda Lundqvist). Film fanatics will be interested to note that Garbo’s introspective acting style is already in clear evidence here; as Peary notes, she “handles herself nicely, playing — as she would in Hollywood — a woman who is controlled by her heart”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gerda Lundqvist as Margaretha
  • Greta Garbo as Elizabeth
  • The burning of Ekeby
  • Fine on-location cinematography

Must See?
No, but it will certainly be of interest to silent film fans, and/or fans of Scandinavian cinema.


One Response to “Gosta Berlings Saga/Story of Gosta Berling, The / Legend of Gosta Berling, The / Atonement of Gosta Berling, The (1924)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    This is a long-winded film that takes 3 hours (in two parts roughly 90 minutes each) to tell a simple tale of redemption. An hour could probably easily have been cut. Basically, the first half sets up the specifics and off-shoots of the personal disgrace involved; the second half – mostly in a sudden shift to a very melodramatic tone – takes us through the sturm und drang that leads to the story’s resolution.

    And agreed – just about all of this is not all that compelling. I would place this among the silent films that haven’t really held up that well over time.

    The version I saw was the 1975 restoration – done in the attempt to return the film to as complete a version as possible.

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