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A single mother who works as a seamstress struggles to support her children while she drowns in work. When she meets a man who challenges her to be a little more selfish, she finds herself reevaluating her entire life. Krane’s Confectionery (1951) demonstrates the ways in which men and women alike participate in the patriarchy while exploring a society’s refusal to acknowledge the basic need for self-care. (RMM: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Roza M. Melkumyan
In a small town on the Norwegian coast, “Katinka Stordal” (Rønnaug Alten) works from home as a seamstress. Having been divorced some years ago by “Peder Stordal” (Kolbjørn Buøen), she barely manages to support herself and her two teenage children, “Jørgen” (Toralv Maurstad) and “Borghild” (Randi Korstad). Hailed as the most talented seamstress in town, Katinka has more dresses to sew than she can manage. In anticipation of a big holiday coming up in just several days, her clients, oblivious to her struggle, demand more dresses be made. On top of her growing pile of debt and long work hours, Katinka must appease selfish Jørgen’s demands for a new, expensive hat and bear both children’s utter lack of sympathy for her.
While juggling phone calls, her son’s whining, and a particularly pompous client’s call for more dresses, Katinka declares that she can’t take it any longer and runs out of the house. In line with everybody else’s lack of understanding, the client remarks disapprovingly, “such hysterical behavior, and towards me, her best customer.” As she makes her way to a cafe called Krane’s Confectionery, townspeople openly criticize her for leaving her work unattended. At Krane’s, “Fru Krane” (Lydia Opøien) and the other waitresses gawk at her request for a glass of port when they believe she should be working.
When Swedish sailor “Nils Stivhatten” (Erik Hell) sees Katinka alone at a table, he strikes up a conversation with her. She says that she feels suffocated with work and the cold, critical gaze of her clients, her children, and the townspeople. Nils shows Katinka the sympathy that nobody up until this point has shown her. He offers her a life of freedom with him as she decides that she is done caring for people who treat her like dirt. As the two grow closer, the townspeople – Krane and her employees, Peder, the children, and everybody else – decry Katinka as a drunkard, a whore, and a bad mother, among other things.
It is almost impossible to watch this film without experiencing a strong feeling of frustration or indignation at some point or another. Director Astrid Henning-Jensen makes it so that the otherwise subtle sexism present in how both men and women think and speak shines glaringly for all to see. These characters make terrible remarks which reveal their inability to recognize others’ suffering; while eavesdropping on Katinka’s and Nils’ conversation, Krane hears the former consider dying and exclaims worriedly, “how will she finish the dresses if she drowns herself?” I don’t even need to note the blatant sexism or double standard in how the townspeople condemn Katinka for spending time with another man while fully accepting her ex-husband’s courtship of the divorced “Elise Gjør” (Wenche Fos).
Sexism aside, I am interested in Krane’s insensitive reference to suicide and its implication that these people neither recognize mental illness as a real problem nor understand the subsequent importance of self-care. Apart from more severe conditions like schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder, people during this time period did not acknowledge mental illness. Even today, in many cultures, an affliction such as depression might as well not exist. A community might take a depressed person’s apathy or sadness or inability to function for laziness or ingratitude.
A life lived unfulfilled might have made Katinka depressed. And even if she can’t be officially diagnosed as such, the fact remains that she has been overworked and underloved. She needs a break. Her community rejects this notion and insists that she should be grateful that she has work at all. Today, the need for self-care has become more widely recognized as essential to a person’s wellbeing. We must still try, however, to further integrate this mindset into the general community and the individual self.
In Krane’s Confectionery, we can’t ever seem to escape the dresses and the anxiety that their mention brings. With more and more clients demanding dresses, Katinka finds herself drowning in them. It is therefore refreshing when Nils comes along and spurs Katinka to blow them all off. Once she decides that she doesn’t care, our own building anxiety around the task dissipates in kind. But our uneasiness – or at least mine – comes sneaking back as I realize that should Katinka hold firm to her new attitude of “I don’t care,” her children will be without food, a home, and an education. As horrid as they might have been to her, Katinka herself can’t help but love them still. And as much as I – and Katinka – may wish for her own liberation, we both know that she will inevitably return to them because they are her children. In the words of Katinka, children “can kick you away like an old shoe…” but as soon as they need you, “the only thing you want to do is help them. That’s the life of a mother.”
I am perturbed because I know that someone as selfish and arrogant as Jorgen will likely never change. But Borghild, at least, shows some promise. After calling her mother’s dark and crowded workplace “horrid,” Katinka’s eyes light up because finally someone else has recognized her pain. In the end, then, they manage to bring Katinka back to her old life – hopefully, with some changes. But it almost feels like the dresses are the real winners. In her last line to Nils, as she walks out the door, Katinka says, “I’ll have to toughen up…and get the dresses done.”
© Roza M. Melkumyan (9/27/20) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Katinka is overwhelmed with work.
Photo Credits: Norsk Film
Katinka and Borghild discuss the woman that Borghild wants to become. The women of the town gossip about Katinka and how she is lucky to have so much work.