First Run Features // 1989 // 29 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 24th, 2008
"I will sell the candy!"
Once upon a time, there was a little Swedish girl named Brenda (Mathilda Lindgren). She lived with her kind old grandmother (Majils Granlund, Fanny and Alexander). The old woman made a living by selling peppermint sticks at the market, and Brenda would usually help out. One day, Brenda saw a little doll in a shop window that she wanted very much. "Maybe for Christmas," her grandmother said, "If we can make enough money from selling peppermints." Unfortunately, Brenda's grandmother fell and broke her leg. Alas, now she couldn't go to the market. "I will go to the market for you," said Brenda. So, the little girl went to the market, and sold lots of peppermints sticks. She made some money, received the doll as a present, and had a happy Christmas. The end.
"Hey, wait, how about a spoiler alert, Judge Clark Douglas? Why are you ruining the story?"
Oh, come on. Did any of you actually expect that anything else would happen? Brenda Brave is a terribly simplistic Christmas story that achieves just what it sets out to achieve, and nothing more. Well, there is one tiny, tiny, tiny bonus...more on that in a moment. I am not lying when I tell you that this 29-minute short film feels very padded. This story could have been told just as effectively in 15 minutes, but 30 minutes seems to be the required minimum for any DVD release. It doesn't help that the story isn't a particularly good one.
Of course, I recognize that a story like Brenda Brave is kind of critic-proof. It employs a very reliable Christmas formula that certain people will fall for every single time. "Cute Little Girl + Poverty + Peppermint Sticks + Little Doll in a Window + Injured Sweet Grandmother + Complete Random Spiritual Finale = Super-Awesome Christmas Story, so shut up you heartless Scrooge!" The story was written by Astrid Lindgren, who provided us with the vastly superior Pippie Longstocking stories. The tale is based on Lindgren's book, "Brenda Helps Grandmother," which is a considerably more accurate title. Brenda doesn't do anything particularly brave, other than going to a very friendly market filled with kind adults who are looking out for her and helping her in every possible way. Brenda doesn't ever seem remotely frightened or hesitant about anything, because she has no reason to be. She may very well be a brave girl, but we do not see a demonstration of that bravery. In fact, an even more accurate title would be, "Brenda Helps Grandmother in Order to Get the Present She Wants."
Ah yes, let me go back to that little extra bit I mentioned earlier in the film. Very early in the story, Brenda tells her grandmother, "I would like to see an angel someday." Upon hearing that, my first thought went something like this: Ah, now here we go. At the end of this story, Brenda's grandmother will say something along the lines of, "Remember how you wanted to see an angel, Brenda? Well, look in the mirror, and you will see an angel. The angel is you. You've been an angel to me." I was wrong. Something else happens. At the end of the film, Brenda looks outside the window, and smiles brightly. "Angels!" she says happily. "The whole garden is full of angels!" Now, this low-budget film cannot afford to show us a garden full of angels, so instead we get light shining through the window and lighting Brenda's face. That's it. That's the last shot of the movie. Never mind the fact that there is no discernible reason for the angels to be piddling around in the garden, other than to satisfy a little girl's passing curiousity. Perhaps this conclusion worked out better in the book, but here it's simply bizarre. I know that I should be more forgiving of such things...after all, this is the time of year in which we tell the story of angels appearing to shepherds. However, those angels were concerned with the worthy business of advancing the story.
The full frame transfer is just plain awful. The image is extremely dirty, and suffers from every sort of visual blemish you could imagine. It's a real eyesore, honestly. The mono audio is equally unimpressive, with wobbling audio and plenty of distortion. There are no extras of any kind on the DVD. Sadly, the film has been poorly dubbed by bad American actors, and there is no option to watch original Swedish-language version of the film. Sorry kids, but this one is very guilty.
Trivia notes: Ingmar Bergman fans should keep an eye out for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Bergman regular Harriet Anderson. Even more fascinating is the fact that this surprisingly poorly-directed film was helmed by Bergman's own son, Daniel Bergman. Only three years later, he would go on to direct the wonderful Sunday's Children. Funny old world, huh?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 29 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated