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Many of us who have made feminism a big part of our lives are aware that women can often police other women just as much as we are all oppressed by men. Few films these days really depict that though, as we’re in the golden age that brought us Mad Max: Fury Road and Birds of Prey. So when I happened to catch Krane’s Confectionary on Turner Classic Movies the other night, I felt a deep sympathy that I had almost forgotten for the embattled woman at the center of a clique of more popular women in her town. This film showed women’s complicity in patriarchy better than any film I’ve seen in the past decade or so.
In the beginning of Krane’s Confectionary, we see the protagonist Katinka interacting with a number of other women, seemingly encompassing her whole family and much of her town. While many of us may think of small towns as being a place where tight-knit communities of women all tend the children together, instead this town seems to be a place where the hens are constantly pecking at each other. Katinka, the only woman in town who wants more from life, seems to be downtrodden all the more because she secretly wishes for happiness.
It’s the performances in Krane’s Confectionary that really sell the immersion into this town and the world of the people in it. The women who play all the characters in Katinka’s life are excellent and showing emotions like contempt, blame, and petty aggression so naturally that it might make people who were bullied by the popular girls in middle school have flashbacks. Indeed, Katinka has the same slinking anticipation of hostility in most of her interactions with others that you might expect from a kid who’s always getting beat up on the playground.
The aforementioned hen-pecking comes in the form of demands and upbraidments from all the other women Katinka encounters. Katinka’s children also get in on this, demanding her attention and labor virtually all the time. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the maternal role Katinka is playing forces her to please everyone in order to escape harsh punishment, with no reward for good behavior. She doesn’t even have a husband to turn to for support, since he left without warning years ago. Only one person in the film is interested in talking to Katinka, asking how she’s doing, or just treating her like her own person, rather than someone at his disposal.
The center of village life, and the only place where Katinka is able to catch a glimpse of a less repressed existence is Krane’s Confectionary, a local bakery. The sailor Nils Stivhatten appears without warning one day to strike up converation with Katinka when she comes in for a bite to eat. Because the bakery is the place where virtually everyone in the village comes to hang out, Katinka is spotted when Nils chats her up. The whole town is soon wondering about what passed between them, not least the women in Katinka’s life, who are merciless in their judgment.
In the end, Katinka’s fate is tragic, and she is dragged right back to her home and her children. It seems that nothing at all has changed when she goes back to her life–the villager Torsen makes no promises other than that her lifestyle will make her happy from now on, which comes off more as a demand than a promise. Stivhatten simply leaves town without much of a fight, but in the end he’s the only person in the film who has shown Katinka kindness. It’s kind of ironic that in a film about a woman imprisoned by patriarchy, the only one who treats her well is a man–but when it comes to small towns, sometimes that’s exactly how it works.
So what conclusions do we draw from Krane’s Confectionary? It’s worth it to remember that women can still be harmful to each other despite the rise of feminism. It’s the same small-town mean-spiritedness that makes cancel culture so very toxic–policing people with the threat of ostracization, or forcing people to toe the line whether they like it or not, is probably not the way to make genuine political or social allies. None of us probably want to be like the Norwegian women in Krane’s Confectionary, so the film is a good reminder to us not to make anyone else feel like Katinka.
Middle Photo: Nils Stivhatten the sailor brings Katinka joy for the first time in years.
Bottom Photo: Katinka on her way to Krane’s Confectionary.
Photo Credit: Astrid Henning-Jensen.