Friday, May 20, 2016

Pitkänsillan pohjoispuolella / [North of the Pitkäsilta Bridge]

The writer Alpo Ruuth hosting the documentary film Pitkänsillan pohjoispuolella.
FI 1982. PC: MTV Oy. D: Riikka Takala. SC: Alpo Ruuth. Cinematography: 16 mm sepmag - colour. Toimittaja: Jarna Laine-Penttilä. A documentary on Kallio and Sörnäinen. Featuring: Alpo Ruuth. 56 min
    Loc: Helsinki: Kallio (10. district / arrondissement) and Sörnäinen (11. district / arrondissement).
    There is no composed music score. My notes and guesses from the compilation score: Salvation Army music, "Taistojen tiellä" (Hannes Konno, Knut Kangas), "Lapsuusajan maisemissa" (Lassi Hynninen, Helka Hynninen) sung by an old man, "Serenata" (Enrico Toselli) played on a barrel organ, Christian music played by young musicians at the Siion revivalist house, "Seiskari" (Georg Malmstén, R. R. Ryynänen) played on a shellac record, "Hopeinen kuu" ("Guarda che luna") (Gualtiero Malgoni, Finnish lyrics Reino Helismaa) sung by Reijo Taipale, "Köyhä laulaja" (Toivo Kärki, Kullervo) sung by Henry Theel, "Margarita" (Raul Reiman, Jorma Sivonen) sung by Kake Randelin.
    Telecast 3.5.1982 MTV1. Production number: MTV 180109.
    4K DCP (KAVI 2015) -  2960 x 2160 - 1,37 Academy - speed: 24 - colour - colour space: X’Y’Z’ - primaries: P3 - bit depth 12. Sound format: BWF - bit depth: 24 - sampling frequency: 48 - channels: 6 (5.1) - mono.    
    The opening and end credits have not survived, nor eventual teletitles identifying people interviewed. There were two commercial breaks in the original telecast.
    A KAVI screening with Kallio Kukkii / Työväenliikkeen Kirjasto.
    Viewed at the Kino Tulio screening room, Helsinki (Kallio Kukkii / Alpo Ruuth), 20 May 2016

The personal journey of the writer Alpo Ruuth on his home turf, the workers' neighbourhoods Kallio and Sörnäinen "North of the Pitkäsilta Bridge". The current Pitkäsilta bridge was built in the year 1912 as was the Kallio Church on top of the hill, both made of granite, as is the Helsinki Workers' House, built in 1908. A further central establishment, the Hakaniemi Market Hall, was built in 1914.

The Pitkäsilta Bridge had especially in the 20th century a symbolic and political meaning as the demarcation line between "White Helsinki" and "Red Helsinki", and when in the 1960s President Kekkonen "crossed the Pitkäsilta Bridge" it meant reaching out to heal some of the most acute remaining wounds of our tragic civil war. Kekkonen himself had fought with the Whites in 1918.

In the 1960s when we lived for six years at Neljäs linja in Kallio the division between the working-class Kallio and the bourgeois central Helsinki was still topical. Since then the identity of Kallio / Sörnäinen has transformed into something less divisive. It has been favoured by students, artists, bohemians, and creative people, and it also contains the main red light district of the city. Two senses of the symbolic colour of "red" have existed here.

Since 2009 KAVI (ex-Finnish Film Archive) has been located at the dirty and noisy Sörnäisten rantatie 25, between Käenkuja and Vilhonvuorenkatu, facing Helen (the Helsinki Energy Company) and its infamous coal hill which spoils the air and undermines people's health at several kilometers' radius. Here we have daily first hand experience of industrial Sörnäinen as we all develop pneumoconiosis, also known as miner's lung or black lung, as in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Originally industrial Sörnäinen grew around the Sörnäinen Harbour (1863-2008) but now many of the original industrial premises have been refunctioned, including our own.

Alpo Ruuth's screenplay and presence ground the documentary into his personal first hand experience. We also learn about the history of Kallio and Sörnäinen from other contemporary eyewitnesses, old women who have seen how the workers' house and the Kallio church were built. We see old photographs (by Signe Brander?) and learn facts, big and small. For instance about the modest beginnings of what is today Helsinki Central Fire Station. We visit the now defunct Vaasa Market Hall (the name stems from Vaasankatu Street, in turn derived from King Gustaf Wasa, founder of the city of Helsinki).

We learn about the diversity of life, the many occupations. Kallio and Sörnäinen were not only districts of workers but also of many independent trades and crafts such as shoemakers.

The special sequences are vivid and colourful. A visit to an auction house with a fantastic old school broker, a virtuoso of language, characteristic of the trade. The broker is interviewed. The Karhupuisto Park [the Bear Park, named because of its central statue] is seen during the Christmas tree market. A Salvation Army orchestra and choir is busy saving souls. We visit a pawnhouse. There is a sequence at a carpet washing platform next to our unfortunate coal hill. The janitor of an apartment block of seven stairs is interviewed at the cellar about the maintenance of such a big place. We meet a stern old woman who has played (and still does play) a role in the disciplining of the children of the place. We visit a public sauna during the men's shift with two no-nonsense washerwomen. We witness a public skating rink (the Brahe Square?) where we hear the latest pop hits from the loudspeakers. At the cinema (the now extinct Kino Helsinki, Helsinginkatu 25 next to the Brahe Square?) they are screening Cannonball Run. There is a candid sequence from a revivalist meeting at the Siion [Zion] hall, complete with a charismatic preacher and women who lose consciousness at the touch of the preacher's hand. We also visit the dance hall of Restaurant Tenho which still exists.

There is a wonderful and vivid sense of life in these sequences. Riikka Takala and Alpo Ruuth have a talent of observation and an ability of winning the confidence of the people they are recording.

You cannot have everything in a compact movie like this. Perhaps the authors had deemed that the presence of the writer Alpo Ruuth was enough to cover culture in this work. I miss a visit to the important and central Kallio Library, and an acknowledgement of the distinguished theatre tradition here. It has also been an obvious decision to omit politics and trade union activities entirely, perhaps because they have been amply discussed elsewhere.

Pitkänsillan pohjoispuolella is a valuable contribution to the subject. Another work of high documentary value is Silta [The Bridge, meaning the Pitkäsilta Bridge] (1973) by Aito Mäkinen, based on a classic work of Finnish sociology, Työläisyhteiskunnan synty Pitkänsillan pohjoispuolelle [The Birth of a Workers' Society North of the Pitkäsilta Bridge] (1932-1934) by Heikki Waris (1901-1989), himself present in the movie. Key fictional studies include the tv miniseries Elämänmeno ([The Way of Life], 1978) based on the novel by Pirkko Saisio and directed by Åke Lindman, and the teleplay Kämppä (1970) which we also screened this week.

The movie is very well photographed. It is bookended by impressive long shots with general views of the districts of Sörnäinen and Kallio. The visual approach is lively and many-sided with illuminating tracking shots from a streetcar.

I like the warm and vivid colour in this digital rendition of this precious documentary.

Kämppä / [The Shack]

Pertti Melasniemi (Pera) and Ilkka Kylävaara (Olli) at the finale of Kämppä.
Aitiopaikka: Kämppä. FI 1970. PC: Oy Mainos-TV-Reklam Ab. D+SC: Veikko Kerttula - based on the novel (1969) by Alpo Ruuth. Cinematography: Mauno Kuusla, Risto Inkinen, Reijo Hassinen, Raimo Leskinen: 16 mm sepmag, 2880 x 2160, camera negative silent 1:1,33 - TV cameras: Pentti Jurvanen, Vilho Kallio, Jukka Pilli, Klaus Relander - b&w - 4:3. AD: Reino Helkesalo. Production manager: Lennart Lauramaa. Production assistant: Tauno Lahtinen. Script supervisor: Tiina Leiwo. S: Harri Pekkala, Pekka Lampela - mono. ED: Aune Kämäräinen.
    C: Pertti Melasniemi (Pera), Veikko Honkanen (gymnastics teacher), Ilkka Kylävaara (Olli), Petra Frey (Sini), Martti Pennanen (father), Asta Backman (mother), Yrjö Järvinen (history teacher), Hannu Lauri (Salminen), Markku S. Salonen (Timppa), Juha Muje (Jokke), Saara Pakkasvirta (Annukka), Martti Romppanen (principal), Vesa Virtanen (young Kari), Ismo Vehkakoski (Eki), Mikko Viherjuuri (Hessu), Tapani Huuskonen (Masa), Kari Pesonen (Manu), Esa Pakarinen (Vode), Matti Poskiparta (Risi), Martti Kuisma (Väiski), Harri Rantanen (older Kari), Kirsti Kemppainen (Kirre), Katriina Rinne (religious teacher), Harri Hyttinen (Virtanen), Erkki Uotila (parson), Marjatta Raita (Swedish teacher), Aarre Karén (the man from the Department of Health), Irma Martinkauppi (the woman from the Department of Health), Kullervo Kalske (Risi's father), Tuula Keuru (drawing teacher), Ritva Arvelo (mathematics teacher) [teacher of Finnish and literature?], Leo Lastumäki (police examiner), Mirjam Salminen (Social Services officer), Taneli Rinne (dark detective), Martti Tschokkinen (fair detective), Tauno Lehtonen (Kalle, geographics teacher), Aimo Tepponen (manager), Hannu Oravisto (Takala), Sylva Rossi (the old lady upstairs).
    There is no composed music score. My notes from the compilation score: "Taistojen tiellä" (Hannes Konno, Knut Kangas), "Maruzzella" (Renato Carosone, Finnish lyrics Sauvo Puhtila) perf. Seija Karpiomaa,  "April Love" (Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster) perf. Pat Boone, "Moonlight Serenade" (Glenn Miller), "Diana" (Paul Anka), "Lazzarella" (Domenico Modugno, Riccardo Pazzaglia, Finnish lyrics Sauvo Puhtila) perf. Laila Kinnunen), "Totuuden henki" (hymn Petrus Tritonius, Germany 1507, Swedish lyrics "Sanningens ande" by Zacharias Topelius, Finnish by Martti Ruuth), "Buona sera signorina" (Peter De Rose, Carl Sigman) perf. Louis Prima, "Illalla illalla" (Chella llà) (Sandro Taccani, Umberto Bertini, Finnish lyrics Sauvo Puhtila) perf. Laila Kinnunen, "In the Mood" (Glenn Miller), "You Are My Destiny" (Paul Anka), "Sävel rakkauden" (Melodie d'amour) (Henri Cording, Felicienne Gabriel Leona, Finnish lyrics Sauvo Puhtila) perf. Vieno Kekkonen, "In the Sun".
    Telecast: 9.3.1970 Mainos-TV [Aitiopaikka] - 126 min
    4K DCP (KAVI 2015) - colour space: X’Y’Z’ - primaries: P3 - bit depth: 12 - sound: 24 - 48 - 6 (5.1) - mono.
    A KAVI screening with Kallio Kukkii / Työväenliikkeen Kirjasto.
    Viewed at the Kino Tulio screening room, Helsinki (Kallio Kukkii / Alpo Ruuth), 20 May 2016

Revisited after 45 years: Kämppä, a high profile television movie directed by Veikko Kerttula for the Finnish commercial television company Mainos-TV, based on the breakthrough novel by Alpo Ruuth (1943-2002) whose fiction was usually set in the working-class neighbourhoods Kallio and Sörnäinen in Helsinki.

The action takes place in the year 1957 but the perspective is from the year 1969. There is an experimental structure in the movie: the linear 1957 action is broken by flash-forwards to 1969, conveyed via passages of key dialogue illustrated by montages of still photographs. The conclusion takes place in 1969 and then pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into context and still images are put into motion in the narrative which, however, remains open-ended.

Kämppä is a growing-up story of the bright teenager and talented basketball player Pera (Pertti Melasniemi) from a poor working-class family where the father is often unemployed. At school he is a "rebel without a cause". The clashes with the teachers get more and more merciless, he drops out, and in the conclusion 12 years later he remains an aimless drifter. While many of the former buddies from the kämppä (the shack), the hanging-out place of the teenagers, have found a firm place in life, Pera has lost his orientation. So far.

Kämppä is also a social novel about post-war Finland with glimpses into earlier history. Pera's parents have suffered from the Great Depression and the long war years, and they have established their family later in life than they would have preferred, but they are proud of their three children. Unemployment, housing, health care and juvenile delinquency are among the topics.

More than I remembered Kämppä deals with the school teaching of the period. Although I went to school some 14 years later there was still much that was similar in my school days. In 1970 I was about the same age as the protagonists of Kämppä and for me there were both familiar and strange aspects in the story. I even lived in the Kallio neighbourhood, next to Sörnäinen where Kämppä is set. The reactionary accents in the history and religious teaching were still a reality for me, and I can identify with Pera's aversion to them. In a funny detail Ritva Arvelo (1921-2003), a great champion of modern dance and drama, gets to play the literature teacher who discusses Brecht with her students.

Kämppä is also a growing-up story in the most general way: a story of the awkward age, the first date, the first approach to sex, the first time of getting drunk, and learning about right and wrong, legal and illegal the hard way. The boys commit burglary, get caught, and are sensibly disciplined by the police and the understanding store manager who only asks for full compensation and nothing more. Pera must work to pay for his share.

Veikko Kerttula is a fine director of actors. The cast is great, with top names appearing even in bit parts. Kämppä ranks high in a distinguished company of stories about growing up as a boy in gangs, including Renato Castellani's Sotto il sole di Roma (1948) and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973). Praising the actors it's hard to start because they are all good but let's acknowledge to begin with that Pertti Melasniemi is convincing in the leading role, embodying both the defiance and the sensitivity of the young man in search of his place in society.

This is a teleplay, and close-ups and extreme close-ups are prominent. There is less distinctive location shooting than I remembered. The most important instance of location shooting is in the finale as Pera is taken to a drive by his pal who has succeeded in life and now owns a car and an apartment while Pera has been "unemployed during every government". The final sound after the image has disappeared is that of the pinball machine.

A special feature of the compilation score, authentic to the period, is the presence of Italian pop songs of the 1950s such as "Maruzzella", "Lazzarella",  "Buona sera signorina", and "Chella llà", many of them inspired by the canzone napoletana tradition. By now they are golden oldies.

The cinematographers have a fine approach in eloquent close-ups and expressive ensemble shots. There is an illuminating 360 degree pan as the boys review the shack for the first time. There are blunt montages of still photographs and expressive long takes when needed. In the otherwise realistic mode there is even a daydream sequence as Pera is distracted by the beautiful legs of the Swedish teacher (Marjatta Raita) (also this sequence is shot in the realistic mode as Luis Buñuel would have done, preferring dream sequences shot with a sober newsreel approach).

Mostly shot on 16 mm film with a separate magnetic soundtrack the movie has been digitally transferred in a way that preserves the lively feeling of the grain, and the black levels are appealing, too. It looks like some passages have been shot on one inch video. An attractive job of digital transformation of a film that deserves to be rediscovered, Kämppä certainly looks better now than when it was originally telecast. A film of permanent and growing value.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

La congiuntura / Hard Times for Princes

La congiuntura. Please click to enlarge the image.

Cent millions ont disparu / Veijarin viuhka / Skojarflax / En miljon dollar i baksätet / One Million Dollars / Auf eine ganz krumme Tour. IT/FR 1964. PC: Compagnia Edizioni Internazionali Artistiche Distribuzione (CEIAD), Fair Film (Rome), Les Films Concordia. EX: Pio Angeletti. P: Mario Cecchi Gori. D: Ettore Scola. SC: Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola. DP: Alessandro D'Eva (Sandro d’Eva) - Technicolor - Techniscope 2.35:1. PD+set dec: Arrigo Breschi. Cost: Ugo Pericoli. Cost Vittorio Gassman: Angelo Litrico. Makeup: Otello Sisi. Hair: Gustavo Sisi. M: Luis Bacalov. Songs: "Lei sta con te" (Sergio Bardotti, GinoPaoli), "Ritornerai" (Bruno Lauzi). ED: Marcello Malvestito. S: Sandro Occhetti, Guido Ortenzi. SFX: Aurelio Pennacchia. C: Vittorio Gassman (Don Giuliano), Joan Collins (Jane), Jacques Bergerac (Sandro), Hilda Barry (Dana), Adolfo Eibenstein (nonno Enrico), Pippo Starnazza (Francesco), Dino Curcio (Salerno), Aldo De Carellis (Eduardo), Halina Zalewska (Luisetta), Paolo Bonacelli (Zenone). Loc: Rome, Florence, Portofino, Rapallo (Italy), Lugano (Switzerland). Helsinki premiere: 16.9.1966, Capitol, distributor: Columbia Films, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Elisa Hillo / Ragnhild Troupp – VET 73855 – S – 2780 m / 102 min
    A vintage KAVI print deposited by Columbia Films viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ettore Scola), 19 May 2016

I saw for the first time La congiuntura, Ettore Scola's second film as a director; he had debuted with the slight but interesting Se permettete, parliamo di donne. In both the star is Vittorio Gassman, a key actor for Scola, and both were shot by Sandro d'Eva. La congiuntura is minor, too, but worth seeing.

Vittorio Gassman was Scola's favourite actor. Scola directed him in nine films, including in his first three feature films (the third one was L'arcidiavolo), and Gassman appeared also in central roles in Scola's later big ensemble pieces (La terrazza, La famiglia, La cena). In Scola's debut film Gassman had no less than eight roles. In each of the eight episodes he was the male lead while the female lead changed.

Gassman was a versatile actor, a great talent of the theatre, and, since the mid-1950s, a tv celebrity (he was also a director and a writer). He played Shakespeare and Ibsen and was Stanley Kowalski in Visconti's A Streetcar Named Desire. In I soliti ignoti he became a key actor for commedia all'italiana, and somehow some of his most memorable performances were in grating and grotesque caricatures of machismo and egoism. He was an unsurpassed "monster" in comedies such as Il sorpasso. In such roles he cultivated parodies of the calculating, cynical and shallow mentality of Italy's economic miracle epoch. Gassman suffered from the bipolar syndrome, and he also made a blessing of that curse in his manic-depressive performances.

In La congiuntura Gassman is Prince Don Giuliano, a scion of an old and distinguished family. The story starts in a solemn and dignified atmosphere in a pontificial ceremony in which Giuliano participates in full ecclesiastic dress. Scola cuts abruptly to a dance hall where Giuliano seems to be the unofficial master of ceremonies, able to dictate the playlist of the orchestra, occasionally even substituting the lead vocalist.

Gassman gets to display many skills of his in this role: the mercurial comedian, the athlete, the acrobat, the dancer, and the fighter. Also for Scola this is a special showcase of physical comedy and action comedy. The chase scenes and the fight scenes are funny and well executed. They are not what Scola was best known for, but here we have proof that he was an expert even in them.

The dancing Giuliano, a bored middle-aged playboy, is caught in the crosshairs of the beautiful Jane (Joan Collins in Italian), and Giuliano starts to focus on her. He proposes to escort her to Lugano in Switzerland via Rapallo on the Riviera. Giuliano is chronically frustrated in his attempts to have his way with her, and gradually it turns out that Jane is only interested in his CD (Corps Diplomatique) Mercedes Benz which can pass the border to Switzerland without customs control. It gets even more complicated than that. Everyone has been fooled, and in the finale it seems that the plot has been invented by Giuliano's brother-in-law to smuggle a fortune to the Swiss tax paradise.

La congiuntura is an unromantic comedy. Both Giuliano and Jane are predators, and both fail in their attempts with each other. There is a nominal happy end which remains difficult to believe in. Giuliano is a smooth operator who only meets Jane's cold, hard shell. It is impossible to relate to Giuliano and Jane as human beings, as is sometimes the case in commedia all'italiana and its merciless satire of the price of success.

On the other hand La congiuntura is full of juicy, charming observations. It belongs to the films in which there are no bit parts. The small roles (Adolfo Eibenstein as nonno [the stern grandfather], the hitch-hiker, the little girl with the ice cream, the gang of thieves in Rapallo, its head known as "Il Pulpo", the old Rolls Royce lady...) are full of life while in the lead roles we sense an inner void beyond the external excitement.

Visually La congiuntura, photographed by Alessandro D'Eva, is a feast of location shooting. It is a road movie with Rome, Rapallo, and Lugano as the central locations. The travelogue aspect is very enjoyable.

The colour is intact in the vintage Technicolor print conveying a warm and delightful sense of a joy of life, also a counterforce to the plot which proceeds in the "icy water of egoistic calculation".

OUR PROGRAM NOTE COMPILED BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

La Guerre est finie / The War Is Over


Sota on loppunut / Kriget är slut / Der Krieg ist vorbei / La guerra è finita / Война окончена. FR/SE 1966. PC: Sofracima (Paris), Europa Film (Stockholm). P: Anatole Dauman, Gisèle Rebillon, Catherine Winter. D: Alain Resnais. SC: Jorge Semprún. DP: Sacha Vierny - black and white - 1,66:1. PD: Jacques Saulnier. Cost: Madeleine Lafon, Marie Martine. Makeup: Alexandre Marcus, Éliane Marcus. M: Giovanni Fusco. S: Antoine Bonfanti. ED: Eric Pluet, Ziva Postec. Narrator: Jorge Semprún. Original in French with some passages in Spanish.
    C: Yves Montand (Diego Mora / nom de guerre: Carlos Domingo), Ingrid Thulin (Marianne), Geneviève Bujold (Nadine Sallanches), Dominique Rozan (Jude), Françoise Bertin (Carmen), Michel Piccoli (l'inspecteur des douanes), Paul Crauchet (Roberto), Gérard Séty (Bill), Jean Bouise (Ramon), Anouk Ferjac (Marie Jude), Yvette Etiévant (Yvette), Jean Dasté (le chef du réseau clandestin), Annie Fargue (Agnès), Gérard Lartigau (le chef du groupe d'action révolutionnaire), Jacques Rispal (Manolo), Jean-François Rémi (Juan), Marie Mergey (Madame Lopez), Marcel Cuvalier (inspector Chardin), Roland Monod (Antoine), Bernard Fresson (André Sarlat).
    Loc:  Paris (Boulevard Saint-Germain, Gare de Lyon, Place de la Contrescarpe, Rue Champollion, Rue Soufflot, Rue de l'Estrapade), Ivry-sur-Seine, Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Hendaye, Urrugne).
    Helsinki premiere: 19.1 1968 Ritz, released by: Suomi-Filmi Oy – VET 75159 – K16 – 3360 m / 121 min
     A vintage KAVI print deposited by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Mindele London / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 14 May 2016

In 1939-1975 General Franco was the military dictator of Spain after a bloody civil war and a coup where the legal Republican government was supplanted. Opposition was illegal, forced to act abroad.

In our continuous 50 Years Ago feature (inspired by Bologna's 100 Years Ago) we have reached a very rich year, 1966. Eight great films of 1966 we have recently screened anyway (including Persona, Au hasard Balthazar, and Andrei Rublyov, and Godard's Masculin féminin and Made in USA, too) and there are many more worth revisiting.

La Guerre est finie I had not seen since 1970 when I saw it twice, first in a film society and then on tv. I loved it then, not least because of the beautiful Canadian Geneviève Bujold who looks very young in this international breakthrough role of hers.

La Guerre est finie is a political thriller made by top talent of the movement: Alain Resnais, Jorge Semprún (in his film debut), and Yves Montand, and faces familiar from this kind of film such as Michel Piccoli, Jean Bouise, Jean Dasté, and Bernard Fresson. La Guerre est finie may have been an inspiration to the greatest international wave of the political thriller, films such as Z (1969) directed by Costa-Gavras, also with Semprún, Montand, Fresson, Bouise, and Dasté. At least La Guerre est finie was an anticipation.

La Guerre est finie, like Godard's La Chinoise (1967), is also an anticipation of the young radicalism of the year 1968. In La Guerre est finie there is a group of young radical leftists who want direct and immediate action: terrorist bomb attacks against tourism to shatter Spain's growing popularity as a tourist paradise. They have had enough of the slow and patient strategy of the traditional Spanish Left. The weary Diego (Montand) tries to talk sense with the group who are not even Spaniards.

There is a sense of first hand experience in the subject, no doubt thanks to the presence of Jorge Semprún not only as the screenwriter but also as the narrator - there is a lot of narration in the movie, particularly in the beginning.

In a curious scene towards the end a seasoned policeman comes to check the passport of Monsieur Sallanches (an alias of Diego Vega) which Nadine (Bujold) diligently provides. The photograph in the passport has been expertly switched, and everything is ok. The policeman reveals to Nadine a piece of information crucial to saving Diego, and also states that "sometimes resistance men are suddenly ministers".

Jorge Semprún Maura (1923-2011) was a Resistance veteran during the Nazi occupation of France (he was deported to Buchenwald) and an active member of the PCE (Partido Comunista de España) until 1964. His grandfather Antonio Maura had been a prime minister of Spain, and after Franco's death Semprún served as Minister of Culture in Spain from 1988 to 1991.

Of Alain Resnais' feature films La Guerre est finie is the one that most resembles mainstream. It is a suspense thriller with an original touch but clearly Resnais is aware of Hitchcock (the direction of looks, the suspense in chase scenes), Bresson (the focus on the meaningful close-up), and Antonioni (the sense of displacement and alienation).

The storytelling is mainly linear in this film, but there is a repeated feature of puzzling rapid montage sequences: anticipatory montages, montages providing a variety of alternatives, montages of association, repetitions, montages of women...

The montages contribute to a sense of being constantly on the alert, never at ease, always ready for an explanation.

Resnais's documentary passion is evident in the realistic detail of the clandestine action: the message hidden in a toothpaste tube, the banned flyers hidden in the body of the car, the workshops where passports are routinely forged.

"Les héros sont fatigués", the title of an earlier Yves Montand film, would fit this one, as well. Although Diego is weary, and there is a contradictory situation in which a part of their network has been exposed and Diego himself has been tailed, and there is a distrust in his educated remarks how things should be done in Spain, he verges towards the decision to actually move back to Spain for good. In France "nobody likes what I tell about Spain". His partner Marianne wants to join him in Madrid and have his child. "Nobody wants to die an exile".

Then there is the crazy bunch of French extreme radical kids to which, it turns out, even Nadine belongs. Diego is patient even with them. Nadine saves him twice. First in the beginning when she utters the right words when the police places a control telephone call to the Sallanches house. And in the end when she immediately alerts Diego's network having understood from the visiting policeman that Diego is being tailed.

La Guerre est finie is Resnais's most sensual film. The two love scenes are beautiful and original. They follow the approach of the beginning of Hiroshima mon amour which Godard developed in Une femme mariée (1964). They are based on close-ups of naked flesh, discreet and erotic, pars pro toto. A close-up of Nadine's naked thighs parting feels more thrilling than today's "show it all" approach. In the love scene with Marianne the cunnilingus leading to her climax is conveyed via indirection and with no need for explicit footage. In a droll montage we see love and a party meeting alternating.

Beyond carnal love scenes, La Guerre est finie is sensual thanks to the soulful close-ups of its characters. There is a warmth and a tenderness in them that is exceptional for Resnais. That gives a special flavour to its meaningful exchanges of looks, including those between Nadine and Diego. Everything that will happen is already anticipated in her eyes.

Diego's life is in many ways a mess. He lives in a constant lie, behind false identities and invented explanations. In a memorable sequence Marianne's friends' looks and behaviour betray indisputably that they do not believe Diego's account at all although they make a point of pretending to. They would actually welcome and support the truth but Diego has no way of telling which ones to trust.

In this sense Diego's life resembles that of a criminal, and here is the strongest affinity with Hitchcock, his stories of innocent fugitives who are simultaneously chased and chasers.

Giovanni Fusco's music is special and interesting with wordless song, a guitar and a Baroque keyboard instrument (tbc).

Sacha Vierny was Resnais's trusted cinematographer (before this he had shot Nuit et brouillard, Hiroshima mon amour, L'Année dernière à Marienbad, and Muriel) and Nuit et brouillard was a breakthrough film also for him; later he photographed also for Marker, Buñuel (Belle de jour), and Greenaway, among others. In La Guerre est finie his approach is realistic and sensual.

There is an appealing bite in the vintage print. The "rain" in the changeovers betrays that it has been heavily used, but it has been well loved, and the patina of time does not hamper the appreciation of the print which looks like it has been struck from a source near to the original negative.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON ALAN WARD AND ANDREW SARRIS:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

La terrazza / The Terrace

La terrazza. Please click to enlarge.
Terassi / Terassen / La Terrasse. IT/FR 1980. PC: Dean Film / International Dean / Les Films Marceau-Cocinor. P: Pio Angeletti, Adriano De Micheli. D: Ettore Scola. SC: Age & Scarpelli, Ettore Scola. DP: Pasqualino De Santis – 35 mm - color: Technospes – pellicola: Kodak Eastmancolor - IMDb: Technicolor. PD: Luciano Ricceri. Cost: Ezio Altieri. Makeup: Franco Freda. Hair: Corrado Cristofori. M: Armando Trovajoli. S: Cesare D’Amico (sound editor), Danilo Moroni (sound mixer). ED: Raimondo Crociani.
    C: Vittorio Gassman (Mario), Ugo Tognazzi (Amedeo), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Enrico D’Orsi), Marcello Mastroianni (Luigi), Stefania Sandrelli (Giovanna), Carla Gravina (Carla), Ombretta Colli (Enza), Galeazzo Benti (Galeazzo), Milena Vukotic (Emanuela), Stefano Satta Flores (Tizzo), Serge Reggiani (Sergio Stiller), Age (Vittorio), Leonardo Benvenuti (a guest), Ugo Gregoretti (a guest), Lucio Lombardo Radice (himself), Francesco Maselli (himself), Mino Monicelli (the CEO of RAI), Claudio Sestrieri, Lucio Villari (il padrone di casa), Helena Ronee (la padrona di casa), Marie Trintignant (Isabella), Olimpia Carlisi (a feminist guest), Remo Remotti (a guest), Margherita Horowitz (a guest), Elena Fabrizi (signora Costanza), Maurizio Micheli (Bruno Cerioni, press agent), Marie-Claire Solleville (Marcella Dorazio), Fabio Garriba (film director Campi). Jean-Louis Trintignant's voice: Francesco Carnelutti.
    Not theatrically released in Finland – tv: 18.8.1990 TV3, 14.9.1997 Yle TV1 – dvd: 2009 Future Film – VET 208017 – K13 – 154 min
    A SFI / Filmarkivet print with Swedish subtitles by Stig Björkman screened with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ettore Scola in memoriam), 12 May 2016

A key work of Italian film history screened in our memorial retrospective of Ettore Scola (1931-2016). La terrazza was Scola's chef-d'œuvre.

Ettore Scola belonged to the masters of the multi-character study like Otto Preminger and Robert Altman. He cultivated this approach in films like C'eravamo tanto amati, Brutti, sporchi e cattivi, La Nuit de Varennes, Le Bal, La famiglia, and La cena but nowhere better than in La terrazza. Scola, like Preminger and Altman, was a master of the great ensemble and a distinguished director of actors in whose films some of the greatest actors gave some of their finest performances.

La terrazza is in some ways an experimental film. Five times it starts all over from the invitation to a big terrace banquet. Five times it starts from the same moment of invitation, and the sixth time it starts in the same location two months later. Some moments are repeated in a new context or angle. The initial chaos and cacophony starts to make sense as the film proceeds.

Like in Alain Resnais's Mon oncle d'Amérique made in the same year there are film or television inserts to add a weird or illuminating point to the major characters. There is little composed score music but there are some interesting soundtrack selections, most importantly the final communal sing-along (untranslated in our screening).

From the terrace party the movie branches out to stories of the screenwriter Enrico (Jean-Louis Trintignant), the film critic Luigi (Marcello Mastroianni), the television producer Sergio (Serge Reggiani), the film producer Amedeo (Ugo Tognazzi), and the communist politician Mario (Vittorio Gassman).

Enrico's is a horror story of the writer's block. It brings to mind Jack Torrance in The Shining by Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, the film adaptation also made in the same year. Enrico's story climaxes at a horror moment with an electric pencil sharpener which also resembles the climax of Marco Ferreri's La dernière femme. Enrico survives; it seems that the hospital into which he is taken is a mental one. This episode is about the agony of being unable to create and lying chronically about meeting deadlines.

Luigi's story is about his relationship to the feminist lawyer partner Carla. We see a striking television news flash about her in a rape trial in which victims are cast as the guilty ones by male judges. Carla is not happy when she learns that Luigi is in the habit of claiming to be her Pygmalion. They have a reunion dinner in a special restaurant where they had their first romantic meeting 15 years ago but it turns into a catastrophe and at the end we see Luigi performing a version of Chaplin's dance of the rolls in Gold Rush. Luigi cannot help being a stronzo (his self-definition) in his relationship with Carla.

Sergio's story is the most tragic one. Although he is already very thin he is on a severe diet, constantly checking his weight and subsisting on an ascetic selection of vegetables and finally mere olives. He is opposing the trend at RAI towards trivial entertainment but also suffers from the avantgardistic approach to a tv dramatization of Théophile Gautier's Le Capitaine Fracasse. (NB. Ettore Scola directed his film adaptation Il viaggio di Capitan Fracasse in 1990). In passing we learn that he is a Holocaust survivor. He is being demoted, and his office is abruptly reduced by a half with a mobile wall. The deeply depressed Sergio descends to die on the fake snow set of Le Capitaine Fracasse. When Luigi learns about this he comments that Sergio had resigned from life long ago. Sergio is a belated Holocaust victim.

Amedeo is a successful producer lonely at his luxurious villa, alienated from his wife. To have an excuse to spend some time together with his wife he agrees to finance a film for the pseudo-artistic director Campi favoured by the wife. We see the finale of Campi's film with full frontal nudity and an explicit splatter act of castration.

Via Mario we have a glimpse at the activity of PCI (Partita Comunisto Italiano) at the time when it was still organizing massive party conferences but also struggling with forces of stagnation. Experimentally Scola and De Santis adopt a bleak colour world into the PCI conference footage, taking their cue from sloppily developed colour documentary film. The political world is mainly a background for the story of the relationship of Mario with the young radical Giovanna (Stefania Sandrelli). As they clash violently at first sight at the terrace dinner they happen to touch each other on particularly vulnerable spots. Mario regrets and apologizes immediately, Giovanna bursts into tears, they embrace, and a passionate relationship starts. "This train is not leaving" we hear towards the end of this story as there is a wild railway strike.

The epilogue is summed up by Galeazzo Benti who is about to leave for Venezuela: "Stay as you are!" intended as the worst possible insult for everybody. The protagonists join for a sing-along. But the outsider, our first figure of identification, the young Isabella (Marie Trintignant) with her boyfriend remains in the foreground as heavy rain falls and the camera of Pasqualino De Santis tracks back slowly in a long take and a long shot.

At first when we follow Isabella, a young stranger at the party, I was thinking about Judy Holliday at the satirical party scene of Vincente Minnelli's last Alan Freed musical Bells Are Ringing. In the finale she and her boyfriend remain outsiders, harbingers perhaps for something fresh into this world of stagnation and self-loathing honed to an art form.

Jacques Lourcelles in his remarkable comments on La terrazza pays attention to the fact of the age of Vittorio Gassman (1922-2000), Ugo Tognazzi (1922-1990), Serge Reggiani (1922-2004), Marcello Mastroianni (1924-1996), and Age (1919-2005) and Scarpelli (1919-2010). They all belong to the same generation - a generation which grew up and reached adulthood during Fascism.

Lourcelles points out that the age difference between them on the one hand and of Ettore Scola (1931-2016) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (born in 1930) on the other is significant.

Lourcelles also discusses the role of women in La terrazza. Although none of the protagonists are women I claim that there is an approach relevant to feminism in La terrazza. Men are in positions of power not because they are better but because the structure of the society dictates so. We hear remarks that there are male idiots on the Parnassus, and that divorced women tend to succeed fabulously when they are no longer married.

Luigi's story among others demonstrates an innate contradiction in these men born in the 1920s: they would like to be progressive but they have learned a fundamental reactionary instinct in sex roles.

Lourcelles sees in La terrazza a grand testimony of the Italian cinema by Age and Scarpelli, screenwriters to many of its masterpieces.

The golden age of Italian cinema had ended when this film was made, and La terrazza is also even more generally an inside story of the spiritual impasse of the Italian intelligentsia - the lack of ideas (Enrico's story), the tendency to compromise (Amedeo's story), the end of political radicalism (Mario's story), the male chauvinism (Luigi's story), and the still unhealed disaster of Fascism (Sergio's story).

La terrazza may be seen as the story of five old farts, yet with a sense that a completely different story could be told by and about their women, not to speak about the younger generation. Significantly, children are missing, and the only news about pregnancy concerns Tizzo's quinquagenarian mother, causing Tizzo totally to explode with anger.

I saw La terrazza for the second time, and this time it felt different. I look forward to a next viewing and predict that it will feel different again.

Excellent translations by Stig Björkman and Lena Talvio in an exceptionally loquacious film.

The print is clean and complete but from a source with a somewhat duped look in a regular kind of way.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE FROM JACQUES LOURCELLES:

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Reading classics of ancient Greece and Rome II: Anabasis


Xenophon: Anabasis
The March Up Country / The Persian Expedition / The Expedition of Cyrus / The Anabasis of Cyrus / Ξενοφῶν: Ἀνάβασις. Written in Scillus (Elis, Peloponnese, governed by Sparta). Written in the 380s BC. Written in classical Greek. Divided into seven books. Originally published in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines). Read in Finnish:
Ksenofon: Kyyroksen sotaretki. Translated into Finnish by J. A. Hollo. Introduction by Edwin Linkomies. Glossary by J. A. Hollo. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 278 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1960

Xenophon, born during the Peloponnesian War, continued directly from where Thucydides stopped in his great historical work Hellenica. But his most famous book is Anabasis which has been continuously read during centuries, from Alexander the Great till today's Greek classes and military academies.

The difference is marked compared with the profound and balanced accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides. Those works are magnanimous, sober, and tragic reviews of turning-points in world history.

Like Thucydides, Xenophon also writes from first hand experience, and even more so, since he was a protagonist, a general of the ten thousand Greeks on the Persian expedition.

But the essential difference is that Xenophon was a mercenary on an expedition in a foreign country to achieve fame and fortune. Not a cynical mercenary, however, if we are to trust this self-portrait of his, and I sense no reason to doubt it.

There is a fundamental ethical message here, as well, and that message is also central to the military teaching. On a mission like this is better to attack than to retreat. It is essential to keep the army united. It is more shameful to betray than to be betrayed. Never break a promise. Those whose word is their bond can achieve more by words than others can by force.

Xenophon quotes himself speaking to Seuthes who has tried to betray him and his men: "I believe that no fairer or brighter jewel can be given to a man, and most of all a prince, than the threefold grace of valour, justice, and generosity. He that possesses these is rich in the multitude of friends which surround him; rich also in the desire of others to be included in their number. While he prospers, he is surrounded by those who will rejoice with him in his joy; or if misfortune overtake him, he has no lack of sympathisers to give him help."

Anabasis is a straightforward action adventure, still one of the greatest and most exciting. I am not aware that it has ever been filmed although it has certainly been an inspiration to adventure stories, especially those of the "mission: impossible" variety. The expedition of Cyrus the Younger ends already in the first book of the seven. The rest of the story is an account of a desperate return trek in a country abruptly turned hostile, ten thousand men against a million, against overwhelming obstacles such as deserts, mountains, and snow. The famous exclamation "Thalatta! Thalatta!" ("The sea! The sea!") when the army finally catches a view of the Black Sea happens in the middle of the adventure. It gets no less desperate after that.

Reading Anabasis I was thinking about the brutalizing impact of the Peloponnesian War. Amazingly, the Golden Age of the culture of Athens coincided with the Peloponnesian War, and Xenophon was a student of Socrates. He displays great leadership in crises and patience in securing the legitimacy of his decisions. It is important that everybody is engaged. But there is a fundamental sense of futility in the endeavour. Unlike in Herodotus and Thucydides this is not about fighting for your own country and its freedom.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Reading classics of ancient Greece and Rome

Héctor Leroux: Pericles and Aspasia visit Phidias' studio (ca 1870). Phidias is at work with the sculpture of Pallas Athena for the Parthenon. Please double click to enlarge. (Pericles and Aspasia are featured in the first books of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War).
Much of my last Christmas holiday I spent organizing our home library, incorporating holdings of recently inherited family libraries, our parents now in corpore having moved to happier hunting grounds. During the holiday I only managed to cover fiction (and such writers of great non-fiction that belong to Weltliteratur). I detected things like that we miss one volume of In Search of Lost Time (there are ten volumes in the Finnish edition), but more seriously, the exercise was a special and personal journey of exploration into the history of literature, mixing classics with special interests, our own and our parents', including cherished local collections.

I also became aware of many books that we do not have and that I have not read, starting with key Greek and Roman classics. Thus I placed an order at Kimmo Välkesalmi Antiquarian Book Store to complete a series called Antiikin klassikot [Classics of Ancient Greece and Rome] to start with, buying one title every week. I even planned to read one book from the series every week but soon realized that these books are too good to read that fast.

These stories have inspired art from the beginning, and film-wise these stories have been avidly filmed since the early days, especially since the Film d'Art movement 110 years ago, and with the emergence of the historical epic in Italy. High quality examples include Rudolph Maté's taut The 300 Spartans and Manfred Noa's magnificent Helena: Der Untergang Trojas. There seem to have been no unforgettable film interpretations of Pericles, Aspasia, and Alcibiades. Most importantly, these classics have influenced and inspired storytelling in general, including in films.

I am impressed by the tragic grandeur of Herodotus and Thucydides. Although they seem to believe in destiny, they repeatedly introduce turning-points with fundamentally different strategic alternatives. Experienced leaders propose the road of wisdom, which is, alas, not followed, and instead we are taken to a road that leads to disaster. Greatness is within their reach, and it is not some supernatural force but all too human weaknesses that make them fail utterly.

Herodotus and Thucydides are partial but proud to pursue objectivity. There is a direct line from them to the grand war stories of Tolstoy (The Sevastopol Tales, War and Peace). In all of them "there is but one hero: the truth". I believe this expression appears both in Thucydides and Tolstoy. These three all share a brave, laconic, unflinching awareness of mortality, a fearless attitude to danger, and an irresistible feeling of the life force. There is a sense of fairness in Herodotus' account of Persians, Egyptians, and Ethiopians; here we can deeply comprehend and admire the immense debt of Greece to the older civilizations in the East and the South. There is a true professional military spirit in General Thucydides' respect towards the achievements of the Spartans. War academies have been learning from these books ever since they were written. The most important lesson is already here: in war there are no winners.

Wilhelm Kaulbach: Die Seeschlacht von Salamis, 1868. Please click to enlarge.
Herodotus: The Histories
Ἡρόδοτος: Ἱστορίαι / Herodotos: Historíai. First published in Athens. Year of publication: ca 450-420 BC. Herodotus left his work unfinished when he died in ca 425 BC. Written in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek. Divided posthumously into nine books. Originally published in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines). Read in Finnish:
Herodotos: Historiateos 1-2. Translated into Finnish by Edvard Rein 1907-1910. Introduction by Edvard Rein. Read in the edition published in the series Antiikin klassikot. 763 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1964
    A history of the world as Herodotus knew it covers Continental Europe (mostly the Southern part), Egypt, Middle East, India, and Northern Africa including Libya and Ethiopia. During the book we have excursions into many histories of the territories. But there is a single epic storyline in the magnificent work: the story of the rise of the Persian Empire into the greatest superpower so far. The book climaxes with an account of the second Persian invasion of Greece which took place around the time of Herodotus' birth. The Persian army was ten times bigger than that of Hellas, and Xerxes I conquered Boeotia and Attica and burned Athens. But the allied Hellas persisted, and we have here accounts of the battle of the Thermopylae pass (the 300 Spartans), the world's biggest sea battle so far at Salamis (led by admiral Themistocles), the crushing battle of Plataea, and the final sea battle of Mycale. There is a philosophical vision in all this: an alliance of free men can resist an overwhelming army of a tyranny of enslaved warriors. Thanks to this spiritual message Herodotus's book is still modern and valid. Herodotus is a born storyteller. He can never resist a good story, and sometimes he gives three different accounts of the same event, all hard to believe. Herodotus was the father of history but hardly the father of source criticism, yet he is careful to add qualifications to his accounts. He saw as his mission to put on record the stories he had heard even when he himself did not believe in them (relata refero, "reporting what I was told", is the Latin expression for that). The work is full of instances of oracle predictions which are important for us to be aware of since the warlords themselves took them seriously. A sense of humour and a frank sensuality belong to Herodotus' qualities. A joy of storytelling makes this a living classic of world literature. There are many anthology pieces here, including the full story of King Croesus, complete with his final role as a counselor for Cyrus and Cambyses.

Map of the Peloponnesian War from Wikipedia. Please click to enlarge.

Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
Θουκυδίδης: Ιστορία του Πελοποννησιακού Πολέμου / Thoukudides: Istoriai / Istoria tou Peloponnisiakou Polemou. Written in Athens and Thrace. Year of publication: Thucydides left his work unfinished when he died in ca 396 BC. Written in classical Greek. Divided posthumously into eight books. Originally published in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines). Read in Finnish:
Thukydides: Peloponnesolaissota 1-2. Translated into Finnish by J. A. Hollo. Introduction by Holger Thesleff. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 591 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1964
    Thucydides had his reservations with Herodotus but started his work where Herodotus ended. Thucydides was himself a contemporary and a participant in the 30 year war between Athens and Sparta he covers in his book. The approach is different from the affable, humoristic, and sensual Herodotus. Thucydides is all business, matter-of-fact, aiming at objectivity although he was himself an Athenian general. There is a consistently sober appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Yet it becomes clear for the reader that in the first book we meet one of the greatest statesmen in history: Pericles, a democrat, a patron of the arts, and a warlord of the first two years of the Peloponnesian war. In the second book a central figure is Alcibiades, one of the most amazing turncoats ever: from Athens he fled to Sparta, from there he defected to Persia, then again led the Athenian navy, and after a defeat at sea went to exile in Thrace. The History of the Peloponnesian War is devastating to read. After the heroic victory over the Persian Empire the Greeks massacred each other for thirty years. It is a men's world in the books by Herodotus and Thucydides, but we also meet distinguished women: Semiramis and Artemisia with Herodotus, and Aspasia with Thucydides. An effective narrative device perhaps invented by Herodotus and applied by Thucydides is that turning-points are dramatized via dialogue. We have long engrossing speeches by Themistocles, Pericles, and others, probably invented by the authors, unless they had access to actual records written by scribes. (We learn that there were scorekeepers in historical battles, for instance). Thucydides' style is still a model for today: crisp, uncluttered, dynamic, always moving forward. Well written is well thought.

Pierre-Narcisse Guérin: Énée racontant à Didon les malheurs de la ville de Troie, 1815. Huile sur toile. 2,92 x 3,90. Louvre Purchase 1818. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei, dvd-rom 2002. DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. From Wikipedia. Please click to enlarge.

Virgil: Aeneid
Vergilius: Aeneis. Written in  Rome. Year of publication: Virgil left his work unfinished when he died in 19 BC. Written in dactylic hexameter in Latin. Divided into 12 books. Originally published in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines). Read in Finnish:
Vergilius: Aeneis, kirjat I-IV: Aeneas ja Dido. Translated into Finnish by Päivö Oksala. Introduction and explanations by Päivö Oksala. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 112 p. Helsinki / Porvoo: WSOY, 1972
    Virgil's Aeneid is a mythical epic poem which takes us back to the Trojan War, some 800 years before the Second Persian Invasion and the Peloponnesian War. Aeneid is an official foundation myth written by Virgil for Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor. After the fall of Troy the defeated Trojan Aeneas sails away towards Italy where he becomes an ancestor to the Roman Empire. The edition I read covers only the first four books of the twelve, covering the story of Aeneas and Dido (Queen and founder of Carthage), one of the greatest tragic love stories ever written. In flashbacks we learn much about the Trojan War. As we know, Homer's Iliad only covers passages from the the ninth year of the Trojan war, starting with the decision of Achilleus to withdraw and ending with Hector's funeral. It is from Virgil that we learn about the Trojan horse, the tragedy of Laocoon, and Hector's appearance in a dream to alert Aeneas. Although passionately in love with Dido, Aeneas must follow his divine destiny to seek out the land of Italy.  Book Four ends with Dido stabbing herself with Aeneas's sword upon a funeral pyre. Written in an elevated and eloquent style this has been required reading for millennia, and it still works magnificently also in this ambitious translation with an indispensable glossary and explanations.

William Etty: Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, As She Goes to Bed, 1830. From Wikipedia. Please click to enlarge. (The story of Candaules is included in Herodotus' Histories).

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Kanashimi no Beradonna / Belladonna of Sadness (2016 digital restoration in 4K)

Belladonna of Sadness. From JFilm Pow Wow (Chris MaGee).

哀しみのベラドンナ/ La Sorcière. JP 1973. PC: Mushi Production. Original distributor: Nippon Herald Eiga. P: Tadami Watanabe. D: Eiichi Yamamoto. SC: Yoshiyuki Fukuda, Eiichi Yamamoto - based on the book La Sorcière (1862) by Jules Michelet. CIN: Shigeru Yamazaki. AN: Gisaburo Sugii. M: Masahiko Sato. Songs: Mayami Tachibana (music), Yu Aku, Asei Kobayashi (lyrics). ED: Masashi Furukawa. Narrated by: Chinatsu Nakayama. Voice C: Aiko Nagayama (Jeanne / Belladonna), Katsuyuki Ito (Jean), Masaya Takahashi (Milord), Shigako Shimegi (Milady), Tatsuya Nakadai (The Devil), Tatsuya Tashiro (Witch), Masakane Yonekura (Catholic Priest). 89 min
    Viewed from a screener link.
    Cinema Andorra, Animatricks, Helsinki, 24 April 2016

Eija Niskanen (Animatricks): "Jeanne and Jean are lovers in medieval Europe, during a time when feudal lords had a say in everything, including the first right for the wedding night with Jeanne. The event separates the lovers and Jeanne makes a deal with Satan (voice-acted by Tatsuya Nakadai the well-known film actor) to form a rebel army to fight the ruler."

"The wonderfully rich animation, revealing the talent of the young Gisaburo Sugii at the beginning of his career, provides a delight for the eye with its delicate use of line and color. The 4K restoration brings a must-see classic of animation and Japanese anime finally back to the silver screen.
"

Animatricks: "This is a story about a young and beautiful woman, who has lived a life of hardship. She sells her soul to Satan in order to obtain the powers that enable her to lead a rebellion, but it ends tragically as she is burned at the stake. The story is set in France during medieval times, where Christianity had reached its zenith and the feudal lord was the personification of God. This story was inspired by Jules Michelet’s non-fiction book "Satanism and Witchcraft"."

AA: Hardly any good explicit erotic films exist although that genre is by far the biggest of all.

Of the films that I have seen Eiichi Yamamoto's Japanese anime Cleopatra (1970) has been one of the rare exceptions. Thus I was looking forward to see Belladonna of Sadness, Yamamoto's next film after Cleopatra.

The film starts with a horrible jus primae noctis sequence. (Another case of a cancelled wedding night in the cinema). The young love of Jeanne and Jean is destroyed for good although they stay together.

Recovering, the crushed Jeanne is caught in the spell of the ghost of Eros which awakens in her a new life force, mightier than ever before. The ghost appears as a kind of a phallic shinto shrine. It is alive, keeps growing and shrinking and speaks in the voice of Tatsuya Nakadai. Spellbound and ravished by the ghost Jeanne transforms into a rebel leader, a witch, a healer, a guiding spirit for the villagers.

There is war, and Black Death (in a vision that pays homage to Murnau's Faust). Jeanne is needed now because of her healing powers, including her understanding of the effects of the belladonna flower. She becomes a life-affirming spirit for the village, also arranging wonderful feasts which resemble the Roman Saturnalia or the Nordic Midsummer Night celebrations.

Based on a book of Jules Michelet, the great historian of the French Revolution, one may guess that this animation is not faithful to its letter. But it may be faithful to the spirit of Michelet. Belladonna of Sadness is a film of social indignation, about the oppression of the people in feudal, autocratic France before the Revolution. The final image of the movie is a close-up of Marianne in Eugène Delacroix's La Liberté guidant le peuple (1830).

Jeanne is a rebel and a witch, and there are references in her character to Joan of Arc, Jesus Christ and Marianne. Most of all she is an incarnation of Aphrodite, of Venus, the goddess of love.

Belladonna of Sadness is a rich and fascinating work. It overflows with ideas. There is no unity of style; instead, there is a variety of eclectic and psychedelic approaches in a mix that might be called post-modern. Some of the approaches are kitsch. There is a fundamental gravity and a sense of tragedy. At the same time there is a hilariously irresponsible attitude to the eclecticism of the dozens of styles on display.

Much of the film is not animated at all: instead we follow a series of still drawings. On the other hand, key sequences are veritable fireworks of imaginative animation. For an animation aficionado this is a film worth revisiting, perhaps even for slow-forwarding passages or even stopping to examine amazing and outrageous images.

The historical nature of the story by no means inhibits Eiichi Yamamoto from using pop images and pop music in his movie.

As an erotic movie the grandeur of Belladonna of Sadness is based on the contrast of Eros and Thanatos in its Black Death and Saturnalia sequences. The sense of Eros in this movie is fundamental, volcanic, oceanic, cosmic, divine. In an important sense Jeanne is an incarnation of life itself.

Belladonna of Sadness is far from a flawless masterpiece, but it is a magical, unique and unforgettable achievement.