Sonja: The White Swan was my random Sundance movie pick that I ended up loving. I needed a ticket for a morning slot and there was one available for Sonja: The White Swan so I gave it a change. I am now a fan of Sonja Henie, Ine Marie Wilmann and director Anne Sewitsky.
Sonja Henie (Wilmann) was a famous Norwegian figure skater in the ‘30s. An agent brings her to the U.S. in 1936 where she sells out arenas for ice performances, getting the notice of Hollywood and makes movies for Darryl Zanuck (Aidan McArdle) at Fox.
Sewitsky directs and edits with an energetic style. Sonja: The White Swan has got modern music and rhythm, like the whirlwind Henie experienced in skating and Hollywood. The ice performances are awesome, and there’s plenty of them in arenas, on movie sets and in montages. It’s Step Up on ice!
Wilmann’s smile is infectious, so powerful and confident. Plus, she’s got the moves. She owns her skills and even watching her rehearse is as energetic as the full production numbers.
If you’re looking for celebrity gossip, Sonja’s affair with Tyrone Power is presented in explicit detail. There’s plenty of wild debauchery in classic Hollywood.
There’s also some institutional sexism. Hollywood expects Sonja to behave differently than a male star would. That’s evergreen. The business is tough too so bad decisions spiral out of control. Many of them are explained in a passing montage but I respect that this movie doesn’t have the budget of a Hollywood biopic. They don’t have the money to recreate every disaster (though they show the pivotal ones). I think the lavish production value went into the ice performances and I agree with that decision.
Sonja’s European fame brought her in contact with Hitler but that’s only a slight undercurrent. It’s interesting and comes up a few times but it’s not a major theme. The strain on her relationship with her brother Leif (Eldar Skar) is more of a focus.
The story is familiar is many entertainers. The excesses catch up with Sonja, so it doesn’t matter if she’s a singer, a movie star or an ice skater. It’s tragic because she was soooo talented. You just wish being successful at her craft would be enough.
Sonja: The White Swan definitely made me want to see Sonja Henie movies and find some footage of her real performances. More than the ones they showed over the end credits, but those were a good start too.