Review: Reisen til julestjernen

Christmas movies are often defined as fantasy per se, due to Santa doing impossible things and being part of a range of supernatural happenings. Journey to the Christmas Star is not a casual Christmas fantasy though, it is Scandinavia’s premiere example of hardcore Christmas fantasy.

Produced in 1976 and released on DVD in 2002, Reisen til Julestjernen (literrally translated as Journey to the Christmas Star) is a Christmas TV treat for many Norwegians due to it being shown on Christmas Eve the last several years. That one annual air date is not coincidental, since the story is about families being together and finding the holiday happiness. Packaged as a wintery tale taking place around two Christmases, Reisen til Julestjernen is an exciting, seasonal and family friendly adventure with oldfashioned cozy feelings that only nostalgia can evoke.

Set in a small kingdom in an unidentified medieval age in Norway, the story starts with a child princess not being satisfied with a silver star that the staff has placed in the top of the royal Christmas tree. She is much more fascinated by the Christmas Star, a bright shining star in the night sky that she wants to have as her own. At night, she leaves the castle in search of the star, but falls asleep in the dark and snowy woods, where she the next day is found by a group of travelling jokers and actors. 12 years later, the group visits the royal castle, but find no initial response to their plays and theatre, due to a permanent nationwide mourning in effect. The princess is still missing, how can anyone feel happiness and be amused?

Featuring some of Norway’s best known actors of the time, and singer star Hanne Krogh (still one of our most beloved artists), Reisen til Julestjernen is not just a star-packed film but also well written, technically impressive (for its age) and fun and gentle enough for the whole family. No wonder it has become a recurring televised Christmas treat for generations of Norwegians. Children of today are used to more spectacular fare but their parents grew up with this movie and marvelled at colourful costumes, magnificent sets, and spectacular locations, all which add to the magical atmosphere of this film. Made in a time where the term fantasy did not exist, it also features a number of magical  and supernatural elements that elevated it from a traditional story to folk tale status, which always have had an important place in Norwegian Christmas celebrations. Christmas Eve is pretty magical to most kids, and so is this movie; it aligns nicely with the magical nature of Christmas. But, that’s not just the case with it’s visual side. The story starts with a star being lost in the sky but is really about keeping the family together, which is especially important during Christmas. It’s not a film about Christian family values, but about the importance of family and looking after the ones you need in your life. This is not a groundbreaking theme but it is a very fitting theme for a movie that is less about Santa (although he is included, as is his little helpers) and presents and food than most Christmas films. More metaphorically, it could be said to be about the importance of having a guiding star in yiour life, whatever that star may be to you. If you loose your inner star, not much is left. This may be a side-effect of 60s hippie ideals, but if this is indeed part of the subtext, the film is nowhere near being too sweet and new agey; it’s just 88 minutes of wholesome family festive fun.

Reisen til Julestjernen is unique because it is possibly the most hardcore live-action fantasy film made in Norway for many decades, depending on wether you count The Troll Hunter (2010) to the same genre.  That says much about the sad state of Norwegian fantasy films, which is pretty much nonexistant. It’s therefore so much more satisfying to observe that Reisen til Julestjernen still holds up and is able to entertain in its oldfashioned way 35 years later.  It cannot be compared to any other Nordic film (although it compares well to Three Nuts for Cinderella, the Czechoslavak-German fairy-tale film from 1973), which has contributed to its near iconic status, at least as a Christmas event on TV.

For parents and grandparents who grew up with this film it must bring back great childhood memories of cozy afternoons. I hope the same applies to newer generations as well; Reisen til Julestjernen deserves to be seen many more Christmases to come.

Starring Hanne Krogh, Knut Risan, Bente Børsum, Harald Heide Steen Jr.

Rated 8 of 10.

Norway, 1976
Directed by Ola Solum