Directed by: Anne Sewitsky
Written by: Mette M. Bolstad and Andreas Markusson
Starring: Ine Marie Wilmann, Valene Kane, Eldar Skar
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“I want to do with skates what Fred Astaire is doing with dancing.” – Sonja Henie
Sometimes I wish I could just live inside a movie. Exactly like how Cecilia, in The Purple Rose of Cairo, just crawls into the movie screen at her local cinema. What a thrill it would be to have the opportunity to hang out in your favorite flick and leave all your troubles in the rearview. When I close my eyes, I can picture myself grabbing a milkshake with George McFly or terrifying people in the shower with my pal Norman…oops, I mean Motherrr.
When I was making my flick picks at Sundance, I selected Sonja: The White Swan based on a single still and a short description on the fest’s website that included the words: 1930s Hollywood. Even before seeing the first frame, I had a feeling this was going to be a film I was going to want to be lost in eternally. No matter what the story told, at least it was going to be beautiful to look at.
Great production design seems to be a lost art in the bigger Hollywood productions of today. I often find when I am watching a classic film, particularly in the theater, I will get this urge that I just want to walk straight into the light…the silver screen and never return. In Sonja: The White Swan, I would not even take the time to say goodbye or pack a bag, a new life would be waiting for me filled with cocktails and technicolor clothes. A movie life.
Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Anne Sewitsky, Sonja: The White Swan tells the story of three-time Olympic Norwegian figure skating champion, Sonja Henie. Credited as being the creator of modern figure skating, Sonja became famous off and, on the ice when in 1936 she decided to pursue a career in Hollywood. Unlike most bio-pics that often lead to meandering, this movie did a really great job of focusing on one aspect of Sonja’s life: her rise and fall in Hollywood.
When Sonja Henie arrived in Hollywood, I’d like to think it was much like the depiction of that in the movie… except for maybe a lack of techno synth music. Sonja is shown as a person who exudes confidence, at least that is how Ine Marie Wilmann portrays her. She was not one to ask for permission or wait for a big break. She made her own opportunities. When Sonja walked down the hallway of Fox studio, she already knew she was a star, she did not need someone to tell her otherwise, not even the film executive at Fox, Darryl Zanuck. She knew what she wanted, and she made it happen.
Her trek to America was initially made to perform theatrical skating “dance” shows, better known today as Ice Capades. She craved the spotlight though. This, along with her competitive nature, led her to become one of the biggest actresses in Hollywood, despite her lack of training, thick Norwegian accent, or that time she shook hands with Hitler. If you asked Sonja, that handshake was nothing to worry about, (according to the film) she wasn’t a Nazi, she had dinner with lots of people.
It was clear throughout the film that Sonja was always a skater first. She enjoyed making pictures, but filmmaking was reserved for the off-season of her skating tours. Rarely taking time to herself, the film points out Sonja’s extremely driven personality and tireless work ethic. This causes much friction within her personal life as she struggles to make meaningful connections with those around her. Everyone within Sonja’s life is there to serve a purpose until they are not.
The director and the writers (Mette M. Bolstad and Andreas Markusson) make good use of the characters within Sonja’s life to reveal information about her past and help fill in the blanks, to give us just enough information to piece it all together. Throughout the film, Sonja is driving the story, whereas characters such as her brother, Leif (Eldar Skar) and her assistant Connie (Valene Kane) pop in to move the story forward. They help show the evolution of Sonja, from a White Swan to the cold-hearted untrusting Ice Queen.
I have a brimming rolodex of dead pals and yet there are still so many corpses I haven’t met. Until recently one of these stiffs was Sonja Henie. I’m really happy this film was made, because I can’t wait to check out some of her flicks, especially the one she made with Ray Milland (!) and a movie that was re-enacted within this film, starring Tyrone Power, Thin Ice. If you have an interest in: ice skating, the mystique of old Hollywood, 30s and 40s fashion & décor, and the rousing tale of the ups and downs of fame mixed with a bit of scandal…this film should be added to your watch list.