The second Gustavsen/Saabye Christensen/Floberg collaboration in three years, after the trio scored rave reviews for their Herman in 1990. This time, they adapted Hamsun's "Sværmere" to the big screen, portraying a small Northern Norwegian fishing village in the transition between natural economy and the industrialized society at the turn of the 20th century. In the centre of events is Ove Rolandsen, local telegraphist, inventer and womaniser. Rolandsen is a cynical, selfish liar, but also a warm, romantic dreamer who lights up the day of the people around him. In many ways, he is what keeps the little village going, as he represents what most of its inhabitants cannot quite figure out: how to combine the old and primal mode of living (his physical and naturalistic side) with the new and sophisticated systems (his technical ability, vision and international ambitions). Not only has Rolandsen figured this out, but he has done it with an impudent joie de vivre which feels intimidating to local authority figures such as Mack, the preacher and Ulrik.
Erik Gustavsen's direction has something grandiose to it while at the same time being partly rooted in an inferior Norwegian film tradition. It is a curious combination, making Telegrafisten a beautiful, considered tale with relevance to Norwegian history and literature, but also a somewhat confined and unfresh work. Lars Saabye Christensen's script makes for a great character study (which the film ultimately is), but is somewhat lacking in relevance and novelty.
Character actor Bjørn Floberg demonstrates here, in one of only a handful of career leading roles, his considerable verve and energy. Sporting a useful North-Norwegian accent (even if this is one of the less complicated dialects in Norway) and a youthful tan, he might not feel like the ideal Rolandsen at first glance, but Floberg's natural confidence and enigmatic gaze makes him as enthralling to the audience as he is to Marie Van Loos, the pastor's wife and Elise. He excels in the high-strung scenes, and gives one of the best performances of his career, even if he isn't equally superior in the softer, more lyric passages. The ensemble cast is thoroughly fine, with special nods to Elisabeth Sand's wretchedly ambivalent preacher's wife and Bjørn Sundquist's moving portrayal of the restricted Levion. Sundquist is able to make this easily caricatured character into a sympathetic and tormented human. It is one of Sundquist's best performances.
Telegrafisten won an Amanda for best nordic feature and was nominated for the Golden Bear in Berlin. It was one of the most commercially successful Norwegian films of its era, and is noticable for its meticulous location use.