Friday, June 17, 2016

Mannerlaatta / Tectonic Plate

FI 2016
Ohjaus/Director: Mika Taanila
Teksti/Text: Harry Salmenniemi
Graafinen suunnittelu/Graphic Design: Markus Pyörälä
Leikkaus/Editing: Mika Taanila
Ääni/Sound: Olli Huhtanen
Musiikki/Music: Mika Vainio
Tuotanto/Production: Elokuvayhtiö Testifilmi Oy
Tuottaja/Producer: Jussi Eerola
Esityskopio/Print Source: Testifilmi / Mika Taanila
Esitysformaatti/Format: 2K DCP
Kieli/Language: Finnish version
74 min
    Made without a camera on 35 mm film.
    There is a Finnish version and an English version. Neither can have additional subtitles.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Mika Taanila introduced by Olaf Möller.
    Finnish version screened at the Little Top, Sodankylä, 17 June 2016

Lauri Timonen (MSFF catalog): "Mika Taanila is one of Finland’s most important and internationally acknowledged filmmakers. His Tectonic Plates examines the boundaries of the silver screen and the possibilities of expression. The film about fear of flying, security checks and time zones was made completely without a camera, and the segments of the moving image by photocopying documents about flying directly onto film, in addition of which Taanila utilises darkroom-made photograms, thus piercing out the deeper states of existence of banal objects."

"The text stream of announcements and warnings, at the same time familiar-feeling and nightmarish – almost like the pounding waves towards the bow of l’Atalante – flows hypnotically through the silver screen, challenging its boundaries into a virtually cosmic game. The dizzy feeling connected with fear of flying comes across strong, sometimes even ironically enriching the experience from the shadows of the bottle of heartburn pills."

"Using the methods of Lettrism (e.g. Prince’s music video Sign O’ the Times), Taanila searches for the independent echo of letters, syllables and phones over the conventional meaning of words. The various levels of panic and symptoms open up in a way that will burn in the viewer’s mind even weeks after this unique cinematic experience."

AA: Mika Taanila has always been interested in films made without camera, without image, even. He is aware that the question about the affinity with radiophony, with the radioplay is then relevant. Tectonic Plate, his Lettrist film, created in collaboration with the poet Harry Salmenniemi, is a film of strong visuals and strong sounds.

Taanila links himself to the official wave of Lettrism launched by Isidore Isou in 1945, its cinematic current launched in 1951 by Isou and Maurice Lemaître. In Finland he quotes the influence of the poet Kari Aronpuro, especially his collage novel Aperitiff - avoin kaupunki (1965). Isou acknowledged that the primus motor for Lettrism was Dadaism, especially Tristan Tzara. Also Apollinaire and the Surrealists were relevant. There are influences in Finland since the 1920s (Tulenkantajat = The Torch Bearers), including also Aaro Hellaakoski's Jääpeili [Ice Mirror].

Tectonic Plate is an original and powerful work of modern poetry in the form of cinema. Every great poem reinvents poetry, and Tectonic Plate is such a poem. Internationally there is an affinity with French artists like Godard, Marker, and Resnais. (Lettrism is relevant also in Godard. In his last period even Walt Disney was influenced by Lettrism in his Winnie the Pooh movies).

This is a stream of consciousness movie. It is about jet lag, and like all experimental films, a philosophical study on perception. Flyers, frequent or not, face the categories of time and space. Boarding passes, security checks, bulletin boards, and announcements in terminals become fodder for this poem.

The jungle of signals, the discomfort of modern flying, the fatigue due to a quick passage to a distant time zone, all contribute to a sense of chaos. But in this film there is an order, a structure, and a rhythm, visually and musically. The rhythm is engrossing, and the film is an exercise in making poetic sense out of incoherence.

Tectonic Plate is witty and humoristic. There are poetic insights, satirical remarks, one-liners, and non sequiturs. Harry Salmenniemi's poetry appears as intertitles. Tectonic Plate is a contender to a list of films with the best intertitles.


Flicker - stardust - scratches - announcements
Thunder - dirt - rhythmical graphic patterns
Escalator - crescendo - visual - aural

Noise - interference - jam - as means of expression
Ritardando - accelerando
Sound - image synchrony

Meaningful text (Salmenniemi)
Meaningless text (graphic static)

Musique concrète
Cosmic music
Space music

X-Ray images

The history of poetry and cinema.
Homer. Goethe. Pushkin. Baudelaire. Runeberg. Ibsen. Auden. Salmenniemi.

Rhythm. Calm / hectic
Action and contemplation
Sound and silence

Ultra fast edits.
White light.

Self in the modern world.
Echoes of the space.
Black screen.

Philosophy of perception.

The sound of rain from the outside.
The smell of the wet grass in the Little Top.
Fleeting shadows of the tent structure on the screen when there is light from behind.

Text conveying meaning.
Text as a meaningless carpet of letters of the alphabet.

An ultra long zoom-out from the legal terms of insurance.
Security checks.
Landing strips.

Intertitles as lines of poetry / aphorisms / one-liners.
An affinity with Jean-Luc Godard (Adieu au langage).
And Chris Marker (La Jetée) and Alain Resnais (Je t'aime, je t'aime).

Organic / synthetic.
Reinventing poetry. Reinventing music.
White screen / mindscreen.

Twilight's last gleaming.
An announcement in Japanese.

Jet lag.
Categories of time and space.
Bonus programs for frequent flyers.

Found images and texts.
Attachments of experiences.

The rhythm, the pulse, the sound.
Flight departure announcements.
Flight departure bulletin boards.
Jungles of numbers.

Jacques Tati.
Immanuel Kant: the things that awe me most: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.


El artista y la modelo / The Artist and the Model

Aida Folch and Jean Rochefort in El artista y la modelo. Please click to enlarge the image.

L'Artiste et son modèle
ES/FR 2012.
Ohjaus/Director: Fernando Trueba
Käsikirjoitus/Screenplay: Fernando Trueba, Jean-Claude Carrière
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Daniel Vilar
Leikkaus/Editing: Marta Velasco
Lavastus/Set Design: Pilar Revuelta
Puvustus/Costumes: Lala Huete
Ääni/Sound: Pierre Gamet, Eduardo G. Castro, Bernard Chaumeil
Musiikki/Music: Duke Ellington, Gustav Mahler
Näyttelijät/Cast: Jean Rochefort, Aida Folch, Claudia Cardinale, Chus Lampreave, Götz Otto, Christian Sinniger, Martin Gamet
Tuotanto/Production: Fernando Trueba Producciones Cinematográficas, Bonne Pioche Productions
Tuottaja/Producer: Cristina Huete
Esityskopio/Print Source: 6sales
Esitysformaatti/Format: 35 mm.
Kieli/Language: espanja/Spanish, ranska/French
Tekstitys/Subtitles: englanti/English
105 min
    Shot in digital, camera: Arri Alexa, source format: ProRes 4:4:4 (1080p/2f), master format DI 2K.
    Black and white in scope.
    Mostly in French with some Spanish.
    Inspiré par la vie de l'artiste Aristide Maillol.
    Tourné dans Perpignan et Céret, les Pyrénées-Orientales. Also in Girona (Catalonia).
    The artist's hands: Michel Brigand.
    Rembrandt: Niño que aprende a andar (1656). Londres, Museo Británico. Tinta marrón.
    The discussion on Rembrandt's drawing inspired by David Hockney.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Fernando Trueba introduced by Kaisu Isto.
    Cinema Lapinsuu, 17 June 2016

Otto Kylmälä (MSFF catalog): "It’s the year 1943 in German occupied France. The Second World War has seized the creativity of an aging artist, Marc (Jean Rochefort). One day his wife Léa (Claudia Cardinale) meets a Spaniard Mercè (Aida Folch) who has escaped from a war camp, Léa brings Mercè home with her. Encouraged by Léa, Mercè agreeds to pose for Marc, who is still struggling to rejuvenate his artistic vitality. The screenwriters of the film Trueba ja Jean-Claude Carrière (Belle de Jour, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) have written a sensitive and mature ode to beauty."

"As in many of Trueba’s films the barbaric madness that is savaging the outer world doesn’t deserve the attention of his characters nor will it get any time on the screen. True poets have the ability and skill to stop and admire the beauty in the world and to concentrate on the meaningful things even in the midst of states of emergency. Once again familiar from his other films eroticism is present in this film as well but this time the comedic touch is in minimum."

"Gorgeous monochrome shooting and unrushed rhythm prove Trueba’s masterfulness to refine and approach his personal themes also from a serious perspective. The film is dedicated to Trueba’s sculptor brother, Máximo that inevitably brings a deep personal angle to the topic. Trueba won the Best Director Award for this film at the San Sebastián Film Festival."

AA: A labour of love from Fernando Trueba, a film that he had been hatching all his life. The story of an old artist, Marc, who has been suffering from a creative block for a long time. Along comes Mercè, a young model who inspires him. Mercè is amazed that the portraits do not resemble her. "Like Cézanne, I just consult nature" replies Marc; he does not look for likeness. He wants to have his final say, find something that he has always been looking for. For Marc, God created woman. He did create Eve first, and together with her he had Adam. Adam then was surprised by God together with his mother Eve. That was the original sin. That was when they were banished from paradise.

Marc and Mercè are at first very formal and distant with each other. Gradually they learn to know each other better. A key discussion takes place around Rembrandt's drawing of a child learning to walk (see below). The drawing seems humble and hasty at first sight but on closer inspection it starts to reveal its secrets.

Mercè, it turns out, is a resistance fighter. We are on the Pyrenees next to the Spanish border. France is occupied by Nazis. Mercè helps Jews and other harassed people escape at night through secret mountain passages. She even hides a wounded resistance fighter in the attic of the artist's mountain study.

"Artists and doctors have the right to see a woman naked". Little boys of the neighbourhood want share the view, too. Marc draws and paints Mercè at his study, by a pond, and on the grass in the woods. He molds her in clay and plaster, proceeding to have the work finished in marble. The artist's inspiration is conveyed via delicious superimposed montages of the natural beauty of Mercè. There is an innocence and a purity in the extended nude passages of this movie.

The casting is perfect with Jean Rochefort and Aida Folch in the leading roles. There is an affinity with Limelight in the story of the old dying artist and the young woman who carries the promise of new life. Claudia Cardinale reinvents herself beautifully as the vibrant old wife Léa acting her age. Léa, too, had started as a model. She teaches Mercè that quickly one gets used to nudity in front of artists.

The film has been shot digitally. It is about sculpture, and there is no problem in conveying sculpture in digital. But even the live model, Mercè, looks sculptural in digital. The limitations of digital become evident in the detail of nature. (The limitations of digital are no longer insurmountable as one can see in films such as Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner or Virpi Suutari's Elegance).

Rembrandt: A Child Being Taught to Walk. 1656 © The Trustees of the British Museum. Pen and brown ink on brownish-cream paper.

Sacro GRA

IT/FR 2013
Ohjaus/Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Käsikirjoitus/Screenplay: Gianfranco Rosi, Niccolò Bassetti (tarina/story)
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Gianfranco Rosi
Leikkaus/Editing: Jacopo Quadri
Ääni/Sound: Gianfranco Rosi, Stefano Grosso, Riccardo Spagnol, Giuseppe D’Amato
Esiintyjät/Cast: Cesare, Paolo, Amelia, Roberto, Francesco, Filippo, Xenia, Gaetano
Tuotanto/Production: Doclab, La Femme Endormie, Rai Cinema
Tuottaja/Producer: Marco Visalberghi
Esityskopio/Print Source: Doc & Film International
Esitysformaatti/Format: DCP or HD
Kieli/Language: italia/Italian
Tekstitys/Subtitles: englanti/English
95 min
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Gianfranco Rosi introduced by Otto Kylmälä.
    Cinema Lapinsuu, 17 June 2016

Otto Kylmälä in the MSFF catalog: "When Sacro GRA won the main award at Venice Film Festival, the news came as a surprise to many. However, the win in a top-quality contest was well deserved. The main cause for the surprise reaction was the fact that this was the first documentary ever to win the esteemed award. It is hardly a surprise to the Sodankylä audience that art of this calibre can truly rise above formulaic fiction films."

"The Sacro GRA (= the sacred Grande Raccordo Anulare) is an immensely big ring road that circles around Rome. Rosi’s documentary collage gathers together a cavalcade of colourful characters that all live along the throbbing artery of this metropolis. The group includes eel fishermen, noblemen, aging prostitutes and an empathetic ambulance driver called Roberto."

"Rosi got the inspiration for his two-year filming project from Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo makes up trips to non-existent cities as he explains them to Chinese emperor Kublai Khan. In a Calvino-like manner, Rosi whips up invisible worlds and confronts down-and-out people and the ring road residents through an empathetic lens. The portraits and moments of the film show that the international director’s heart still beats for the Italians, too."

"As a final road map for the viewing experience: the most important thing in the search for the Holy Grail is not the destination but the journey.
" (OK)

AA: Sacro GRA is a documentary film, but it also brings to mind a special group of fictional road movies or road sequences in Godard (Week End), Tati (Trafic), and Fellini (Roma - the most gigantic traffic jam of all times, imagined by Fellini, no doubt inspired by Godard, takes place on the very same GRA).

Sacro GRA can also be seen to belong to the esteemed genre of city symphonies. It is a vision of Rome seen from its outer ring. Fellini explored the eight layers of Rome as if they were Dante's circles of hell. Here we observe the entire spectrum of life from one single circle only.

Sacro GRA also belongs to the tradition of multi-character studies (Querschnittfilm, omnibus stories, Un carnet du bal, La Ronde, Preminger, Scola, Altman...).

We witness ordinary life in tenement houses next to the ring road. Gianfranco Rosi has the talent to win the confidence to access the intimate sphere, the private lives of the people living there. We feel like eavesdroppers but everything was shot via permission only.

We learn to know special people: an ambulance driver, a nobleman in his castle, a world class scientist fighting insects (red palm weevils) that are killing millions of palms around Rome, and people worrying about the fate of eels which need to navigate all the way from the Sargasso sea where they reproduce. There are prostitutes, including transvestites. There are sacred scenes and profane scenes. Rosi himself lives in his van 24 hours observing this night and day.

It is as urban as it can get, yet nature is nearby. There is a flock of sheep grazing on the grass, there are dying palms, imperilled eels in the river; the fate of nature is at stake. Focusing on the GRA ring road we build a view of the world.

Rosi is a terrific director-cinematographer who can achieve amazing intimacy as well as epic views of the thunderous traffic on the GRA. He handles the camera well in illuminating close-ups, in distant shots, and in slow panoramic shots on courtyards.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fuocoammare / Fire at Sea

Seefeuer / Bortom Lampedusa
IT/FR 2016
Ohjaus/Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Käsikirjoitus/Screenplay: Gianfranco Rosi, Carla Cattani (idea)
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Gianfranco Rosi
Leikkaus/Editing: Jacopo Quadri
Ääni/Sound: Stefano Grosso, Vladan Nedeljkov, Giancarlo Rutigliano, Aleksandra Stojanovic
Featuring: Samuele Caruana, Giuseppe Fragapane, Pietro Bartolo, Maria Costa, Francesco Mannino, Maria Signorello, Samuele Pucillo (as themselves)
Tuotanto/Production: Stemal Entertainment, 21 Unofilm, Cinecittà Luce, Rai Cinema, Les Films d'Ici, Arte France Cinéma
Tuottajat/Producers: Gianfranco Rosi, Donatella Palermo
Esityskopio/Print Source: Doc & Film International
Esitysformaatti/Format: DCP
Kieli/Language: englanti/English, italia/Italian
Tekstitys/Subtitles: englanti/English
108 min
    M: no original score but a beautiful soundtrack based on selections of a radio DJ of a request radio program with Sicilian popular songs and an opera number by Rossini. The title of the film is from one of those songs.
    English subtitles by Susan Adler.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Gianfranco Rosi, introduced by Timo Malmi.
    Cinema Lapinsuu, 16 June 2016

Timo Malmi in the MSFF catalogue: "It is not common that everybody seems to agree that The Golden Bear award of Berlin International Film Festival went to the right address this year when it was given to Gianfranco Rosi for Fire at Sea, a stirring movie about today´s most current theme in Europe – the immigration issue."

"It is exceptional that a documentary wins the Golden Bear. Rosi manages to turn a topic that has been worn out by television reporting into a captivating and humane story. Rosi accomplishes this by familiarizing well with the 13 year old Samuele and his home village by spending few years there."

"The journey begins on Lampedusa Island, in the southernmost point of Italy – closer to Africa than Sicily, where thousands of migrants stop by on their way to Europe of their dreams. There, instead of attending school Samuele prefers to spend his time on the beaches and mountains."

"The paths of two peoples from two very different worlds do not seem to cross each other even though a Lampedusan doctor gives a touching speech about our duties and the immigrants become almost as familiar to us as the locals. Wild rescue operations and shocking destinies are seen during the movie, but what we remember in the end is Rosi´s holistic picture about the state of affairs."

AA: One of the key films of the year, Fuocoammare is one of the greatest cinematic interpretations of the Mediterranian immigration tragedy that has been going on for decades and that has truly exploded recently. Gianfranco Rosi confronts the dilemma of documentary ethics (one should not exploit defenseless people) in a humanistic way. His approach is the opposite of exploitation and sensationalism. We see shocking images because we need to be shocked to an awareness of a terrible reality. Rosi's approach is responsible like that of the good doctor of the island. We need to know about the illness in order to cure it.

The nine year old boy Samuele becomes our main conduit, identification figure, providing a child's viewpoint on life on Lampedusa. We follow also other persons' normal life on the island. The islanders have been aware of the tragedy from the start, but the immigrants are not a part of the daily fabric of life on the island.

We spend time on a Cigala Fulgosi category sea patrol ship near the African sea border and witness the reality, the horror there with overcrowded vessels carrying refugees, immigrants. The third major locus is the Lampedusa detention center. A fourth central space is the doctor's office. Dr. Bartolo becomes our second key identification figure, providing the long perspective from an adult viewpoint. He has seen this happening for decades.

The refugees arrive from Somalia, Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, Sudan. We hear nightmarish stories of their flight through Sahara, people dying of thirst, staying in prison in Libya, being raped and killed. On the miserable rafts they suffer from dehydration and malnutrition, and the fuel leaked on the floor causes chemical burns. The ships carrying the refugees turn into death ships.

The soundtrack is provided by the radio DJ playing the listeners' favourites, mostly Sicilian popular songs. Neapolitan songs are world famous; the Sicilian songs are similar but interestingly with even more Mediterranean accents, affinities with Arabic chant and perhaps intimations of ancient Hebrew, Greek or even earlier sounds. The use of the melisma brings a magical sense to this singing. It brings thoughts to ancient tragedies at the Mediterranean, now being repeated. (I have just finished reading Virgil's Aeneid where the survivors of Troy sail via Tunisia and Sicily to Italy).

Gianfranco Rosi is a master in the contemporary rethinking of the documentary film phenomenon. Fuocoammare is a documentary film in the sense of being about reality and featuring people appearing as themselves. It is, however, not about reality caught on the spot, unawares. The cast of characters and the mise-en-scène seem to have been meticulously planned. The characters appear as themselves and play the parts as themselves. While modern, Fuocoammare is also relevant to the Flaherty tradition of film-making: the film-maker becomes a part of the reality he is filming, gaining complete confidence and licence to film the intimate truth about the life lived. We get the inside story. The distinction between documentary and fiction is getting blurred. The experience of Fuocoammare is similar to fictional films of the same subject, like Emmanuele Crialese's excellent Terraferma.

The film is visually so assured that it is incredible that it was shot by the one-man crew of Gianfranco Rosi who was also the cinematographer with his Arri Amira.

P.S. 19 June 2016. Today at the Sodankylä morning discussion Gianfranco Rosi told us that nothing was planned in the shoot. Fuocoammare was a case of parthenogenesis, immaculate conception. The goddess of the documentary was with Rosi, and every time he started to shoot, exciting things took place.

On 16 June when I asked Rosi whether he felt any affinity with neorealism he denied it. Yet while digesting Fuocoammare I kept thinking about Visconti (La terra trema), Rossellini (Stromboli) and Antonioni (he started as a documentarist, there is a strong documentary impulse in L'avventura, and late in his career he made documentaries such as Ritorno a Lisca Bianca, and Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale). All three directors had a documentary impulse and a strong social consciousness.

Rosi's answers to the morning discussion's obligatory questions: 1) the first film you saw: he said that the first film that really impressed him was Antonioni's La signora senza camelie, 2) the desert island film: Buñuel's Los olvidados. His summation of a documentarist's calling was of anthology quality. I look forward to a transcript.

Peter von Bagh (2016 documentary by Tapio Piirainen)

Peter von Bagh interviewing Chantal Akerman at the Midnight Sun Film Festival morning discussion in Sodankylä, 1991. This image is not from Tapio Piirainen's film.
FI 2016
Ohjaus/Director: Tapio Piirainen
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Arto Kaivanto
Leikkaus/Editing: Jorma Höri
Ääni/Sound: Timo Hintikka
Musiikki/Music: Dmitri Shostakovitsh, Agustin Barrios
Esiintyjät/Cast: Peter von Bagh
Tuotanto/Production: Yleisradio (2016), Prontosaurus Oy (2008–2015)
Tuottaja/Producer: Liselott Forsman
Esityskopio/Print Source: YLE
Esitysformaatti/Format: DCP
Kieli/Language: suomi/Finnish, englanti/English, italia/Italian, espanja/Spanish
Tekstitys/Subtitles: englanti/English
68 min
    © 2016 Yleisradio / Finnish Broadcasting Corporation.
    First telecast 16 June 2016 [tonight].
    Featuring: Peter von Bagh, also in lot of new footage shot for the purpose of this film.
    Other interviews made for this film include those with: Simo Näyhä (childhood friend), Lasse Naukkarinen (cinematographer of The Count), Gian Luca Farinelli (Bologna), and Marcela Cassinelli (Buenos Aires).
    Music: the theme from the film Ovod (The Gadfly, SU 1955, directed by Alexander Feinzimmer) played by Dmitri Shostakovich on the piano.
    End credit song: "Nuoruustango" (comp. Kaj Chydenius, lyrics by Anu Kaipainen), the theme from The Count sung by Kiti Neuvonen.
    Finnish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Tapio Piirainen and Liselott Forsman. Introduced by Timo Malmi.
    Cinema Lapinsuu, 16 June 2016

Lauri Timonen (MSFF catalog): "Tapio Piirainen’s newly released full-length documentary about Peter von Bagh may be the most comprehensive one of its subject so far. Abundant interview material and treasures from the archives guide us in retracing the journey from the yard of Peter’s first home – the Lapinlahti Mental Hospital, owing to his father’s occupation – to the film screenings in the Oulu of his childhood, from the fan letter addressed to James Mason to the racy and eventful university years in Helsinki; to the shooting and the reception of his feature film The Count, plus his numerous careers as an author, a documentary director, a maker of radio programmes, the editor-in-chief of Filmihullu magazine, and the Artistic Director of the Midnight Sun Film Festival."

"Philosophical deliberations amid the serene nature of the summer place in Sotkamo and the hectic, irresistibly glowing throb of the magic of the seventh art at international film festivals in Bologna and South America provide additional juxtaposing."

"The humorous, intimate, even serious portrait lets the camera closely examine the bookshelves spreading in all directions in the legendary Iso Roobertinkatu den, and the chaotic store room below it, in the middle of which stands – still unopened – a parcel once sent to Chris Marker by Andrei Tarkovsky, ending up along its own routes of logic to Punavuori in Finland."

"The life of the great cinephile was filled with similar correlations where life and cinema journeyed hand in hand, eagerly engaged in a dialogue with each other."

AA: Two tv previews were screened before the feature.

Preview to Tapio Piirainen's Peter von Bagh documentary with Esko Salminen (FI 2016). Esko Salminen, one of the greatest actors in Finland, covers his lifelong friendship with Peter in a few heartfelt minutes. How Peter always greeted him by imitating a nose rubbing routine from his early performances. "He made me feel important. He hated flattery. He made me feel dignified, ten feet tall. He signed a beautiful dedication to a book for me: 'elämän lähetille', [hard to translate, approximately: 'to an envoy of life']. Nobody else expressed the calling of the actor like that. That is what one can try to aspire. I really miss him." [This quote is not verbatim.]

Preview to Tapio Piirainen's Peter von Bagh documentary with Aki Kaurismäki (FI 2016). For Aki, Peter was the one whom one could wake up at three o'clock in the morning with a film quiz question, and he never failed to give the right answer. He was the Balzac of film history and many other fields. When he programmed the Finnish Film Archive that was when I received my meager knowledge about the cinema. I teased him with questions. We invited him to direct the Midnight Sun Film Festival. His life achievement consists of monuments like The Blue Song tv series and book. With figures like him 90% of the Finnish intelligentsia has vanished. [This quote is not verbatim.]

We were in tears watching this first screening of Tapio Piirainen's film which had been eight years in the making. Peter von Bagh's own autobiographical Remembrance covers the period of his childhood and youth in the city of Oulu. This authorized portrait covers Peter's whole life, or much of it. There are big areas missing (book publishing, music, concerts and events... ).

This film starts with Peter's earliest childhood in Helsinki, at Lapinlahti Mental Hospital, where his father was a physician. Peter remembers how a mental patient saved him from drowning in a pool. His mother's grave is nearby at Lapinlahti Cemetery. She died early of an illness for which there was no cure then. Simo Näyhä remembers that in Oulu Peter liked to visit a neighbouring home in which there was a beautiful mother. He senses in a distant reverence for a beautiful figure in the clouds a connection to Peter's profound love of the cinema.

Peter insists that the biggest achievement of his life was running film societies in Oulu since age 16. Late in life he still has fond memories of the films screened such as The Lavender Hill Mob, Stagecoach, La Kermesse héroïque, Due soldi di speranza...

Back in Helsinki, studying at the university, Peter switched from medicine to literature, but soon his main occupation was writing about the cinema, prominently for the Ylioppilaslehti [The Student Journal] which was then experiencing a golden age. He "threw his consciousness to the wall" every week. The reviews were passionate, polemical, and aggressive. He lambasted Finnish films mercilessly, including those by Finnish New Wave artists like Eino Ruutsalo and Maunu Kurkvaara, singled out by Tapio Piirainen here. Ruutsalo never greeted Peter again. In his recent interviews Peter laments the state of film criticism today.

There were great commercial expectations for Peter's first and only feature fiction film Kreivi (The Count, 1971), but it was a flop at the box office, and as many critics butchered it Peter now got a taste of his own medicine. As I remember, having seen it then, the film was felt to be too weird by the general audience, and film cultural circles were disappointed by its lowbrow dimension and the grating performance of "The Count" Lindgren playing himself in the main role. The film was difficult to like at first sight and much better the second time with no false expectations. Anyway that was the end of Peter's career in fiction.

Peter's career as a director of television features began. He loved popular music artists and found in their work "a history of emotions and a secret memory of the nation". He covered in many features and series the century of Finnish popular music in the film age and interviewed everybody who was still alive. "Tapsa [Tapio Rautavaara] was the closest for me". "He was like Sillanpää, each word was pregnant".

His project grew into "discovering Finland". He states that he was the son of an immigrant: his father escaped the Russian Revolution from St. Petersburg to Finland, and that had something to do with the fact that "I turned into a hurraa-suomalainen (the jingoist Finn)."

Simultaneously, the project was a personal quest in search of lost time. "My stepmother burned all my childhood things, even my stamp collection". The pressure for reconstruction was personal. "My own childhood, its circumstantial evidence, was gone". Peter interviewed hundreds of people. The first great summing-up of that project was the film Vuosi 1952 (The Year 1952). The project grew during the decades, culminating in the Sininen laulu / The Blue Song series and book. By then many of the key witnesses Peter had interviewed over the years were no longer alive. Peter came to realize the dearth of illuminating vintage documentation. "Of Eino Leino and Juhani Aho [who are among the greatest Finnish writers] there is no film footage. Only their burials were filmed".

Films Bigger Than Life was one of Peter's most famous achievements, a radio series (100 films, each covered in a feature of one hour), also edited as two huge books. Peter takes us to his film library, the best private film library in the country. He loves books. He writes notes in them, and creates an index of his own for each. Lots of things lie dormant, and years later they are activated. Virtual knowledge is superficial. "I interviewed a big range of writers. Many of them had started by reading the books of the village library from the beginning to the end. Duration is essential. A book takes its time. A long attention span is vanishing today". We witness Peter's appearances at book fairs. He was excellent there in the twin roles of an interviewer and an interviewee.

There is a section on Midnight Sun Film Festival, the timelessness of the encounters in the long run: in the Sodankylä perspective we have Jacques Demy, Milos Forman and Francis Ford Coppola meeting in a common heaven of world (film) history. The audience creates the festival, the atmosphere. The second year was one of the most miraculous. We see footage of Aki Kaurismäki and Peter von Bagh interviewing each other at a morning discussion. Peter introduces Helsinki Forever at his 70th birthday open air screening at Helsinki Festival at the Citizen's Square in front of the Helsinki Music Center. Does a city have a soul? That is the question.

We come to Bologna. The selection of Peter as artistic director of Il Cinema Ritrovato was made in the lobby of Cinema Orion in Helsinki. Gian Luca Farinelli tells us why, and we see footage from Bologna. Marcela Cassinelli talks about "Peter's heaven" in Buenos Aires.

We visit the creative chaos of the Nosferatu company's production office when everything is being packed for a move.

Peter's private life was private. It was essential and indispensable, also the fact that it was separate from public life. In this movie he is candid about the fact that his family (his wife, children, and grandchildren) raised him. "I would not have been at home as a fiction film or theatre director", Peter confesses, because he felt too out of touch with life (= the daily fabric of life), "life" meaning approximately the same thing as the Russian expression byt, a keyword in the Chekhov tradition. Chekhov was Peter's favourite writer.

"I resigned from the church during the Salama trials" (the last blasphemy trials in Finland took place against the writer Hannu Salama in the 1960s). Peter confesses that he has no connection to religion. But he has understood that in his films, however, there is a religious connection, including in his Mikko Niskanen series An Artist on His Way to Become a Human Being. He sees an affinity in his films with the ceremony of the funeral. They are about remembering and spiritual resurrection. "In the end, life will overcome".

About death: "There is no eternal life." "Many messages will remain". We see footage from our memorial event for Peter von Bagh at Cinema Orion. It had been scheduled as a tribute for Il Cinema Ritrovato, to be opened by Peter.

Peter von Bagh was in combat with cancer for 20 years, but he refused the role of victim. Instead, he insisted on working to the end. Work was his best medicine. His appearance changed dramatically, but that final face is not how I remember him. For me Peter's last years were more and more about a triumph of the spirit.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


FR/US 2015.
Ohjaus/Director: Kent Jones
Käsikirjoitus/Screenplay: Kent Jones, Serge Toubiana
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Nick Bentgen, Daniel Cowen, Eric Gautier, Mihai Malaimare Jr., Lisa Rinzler, Genta Tamaki
Leikkaus/Editing: Rachel Reichman
Ääni/Sound: Robin Aramburu, Matthieu Cochin, Paul Cote, Matteo Liberatore, Mark Patino, Steven Robinson
Musiikki/Music: Jeremiah Bornfield
Esiintyjät/Cast: Mathieu Amalric (kertojaääni/narrator), Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, David Fincher, James Gray, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese
Tuotanto/Production: Arte France, Artline Films, Cohen Media Group (copyright 2015)
Tuottajat/Producers: Charles S. Cohen, Olivier Mille
Esityskopio/Print Source: NonStop Entertainment
Esitysformaatti/Format: DCP
Kieli/Language: englanti/English, ranska/French, japani/Japanese
Kesto/Duration: 79 min
    Finnish subtitles: Mikko Kinnunen.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    Finnish subtitles.
    Cinema Lapinsuu, 15 June 2016

Markku Koski in the MSFF catalog: "François Truffaut's legendary interview book Le Cinéma Selon Alfred Hitchcock was published fifty years ago. It was also published in Finnish in 1983. To mark the anniversary, Kent Jones had a veritable stroke of genius to make a documentary film about the book. Surely books are adapted to the screen all the time, but never such books on cinema. Still, it is appropriate for this era, when film journalism and criticism have gone through tough changes. Despite there having been many documentaries made about Hitchcock, this one isn't about revelling on history and its controversies, but rather placing the emphasis on cinema itself."

"In his film, Jones makes good use of the original interview recordings and the still images selected for the book by Truffaut. Above all, he talks to film-makers like Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Wes Anderson, David Fincher and Olivier Assayas, in whose work Hitchcock has left a deep mark. On the sly, Truffaut's value, deflated for a while, also gains new appreciation. In other words, this film offers a veritable film-making masterclass, an ideal fit for this festival that has offered similar moments many times before."

AA: Kent Jones's acclaimed documentary found an ideal audience at Midnight Sun Festival. There were many among us who could identify with the directors interviewed who reported that their copies of the Truffaut Hitchcock interview book have been in such heavy use that the pages by now only hold together with the help of a rubber band.

The idea to make a feature film about an interview book is mad and inspired. It is inspired because of four reasons.

Firstly, we now hear the voices of Truffaut and Hitchcock as the original tape recordings have been preserved. From a technical point of view we get to witness here the smooth operation of consecutive interpreting within the team: Truffaut spoke French, Hitchcock spoke English, and Helen Scott instantly translated everything sentence by sentence. It is interesting to observe how articulate Hitchcock is on these unedited tapes, and how polished his vocal delivery is even here. There is no real difference with his performances in his television shows and film previews. Two of the most memorable moments in the movie are ones where Hitchcock asks Truffaut to turn the recorder off. The first one is where Truffaut asks whether it is justified to see Hitchcock's work as a case of a Catholic confession of faith. The second one is when Hitchcock starts to explain the sexual allegory of Scottie dressing Madeleine in Vertigo in a sequence which is really about undressing her; he is inspired to tell a risqué joke.

Secondly, Philippe Halsman photographed the interview sessions, and his great photographs are displayed here in extenso.

Thirdly, the Truffaut Hitchcock book was the best illustrated film book that had appeared so far. In this film we get to see the real movie excerpts of key moments discussed. Which also helps to understand that the photo montages of Truffaut's book were not mere illustrations but also illuminating analyses which revealed aspects of the scenes that are not obvious while watching the films proper.

Fourthly there are the many film directors interviewed, all inspired by Hitchcock, all great. Martin Scorsese's remarks are among the most memorable. He comments that after WWII there was a new focus on the actor, a new kind of actor that was more expressive than before: the actor became the main instrument. (Which in my opinion is on the surface in contrast to Hitchcock's approach to the cinema). The Truffaut book is also about Hitchcock learning from experience, but sometimes you learn the wrong things from failure or success. About Psycho Martin Scorsese states that it was ahead of its time, that it anticipated the turbulence of the 1960s.

Memorable passages in the film include: - The discussion of contracted and expanded time in a movie. - The discussion of the original sin, the sense of guilt, and the transference of guilt: we can here sense better than in the book how serious Hitchcock gets until he asks to turn the recorder off. We have entered into private territory. - There was no need to abandon the silent film technique. - Most seriously, Hitchcock contemplates his dedication to the well-made narrative film, the rising dramatic curve. There is the temptation to experiment with a looser form. "Then what happens is that the character takes me with him. There has always been a conflict. I have limited myself to a certain field." (These quotes are approximate and condensed).

When the film ends we have a feeling of having experienced a new and different view of Hitchcock (with Truffaut as the respectful and insightful guide). A real human being who hated phoniness and was passionate about what he did.

The Finnish subtitles should be revised.

Especially in the beginning the film has been edited in regular dvd bonus material mode with rapid cuts and sound bites. I hope Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana would return to this material and produce a longer version with more extended passages from the priceless Hitchcock Truffaut symposium.

Kuun metsän Kaisa / Kaisa's Enchanted Forest

Kaisa Gauriloff (1884-1980) in Kuun metsän Kaisa (Kaisa's Enchanted Forest)
Ohjaus/Director: Katja Gauriloff
Käsikirjoitus/Screenplay: Katja Gauriloff
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Heikki Färm
Leikkaus/Editing: Timo Peltola
Ääni/Sound: Timo Peltola, Jukka Nurmela
Musiikki/Music: Timo Peltola
Tuotanto/Production: Oktober Oy
Tuottajat/Producers: Joonas Berghäll, Satu Majava
Esityskopio/Print Source: Pirkanmaan elokuvakeskus
Esitysformaatti/Format: DCP
Kieli/Language: koltansaame/Skolt Sami, ranska/French, suomi/Finnish, German
Tekstitys/Subtitles: suomi/Finnish
Kesto/Duration: 84 min.
    Singing: Kaisa Gauriloff.
    The voice of Robert Crottet: David Mauffret.
    Drawings: Patricia Ortez Martinez.
    Original film footage of Kaisa Gauriloff: by Robert Crottet.
    Access to the Robert Crottet legacy acquired from Enrique Mendez.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival.
    Introduced by Timo Malmi, presented by Katja Gauriloff and Joonas Berghäll.
    In the presence of the Gauriloff family and dignitaries of the Sami community in full dress.
    Big Top, Sodankylä, 15 June 2016

Lauri Timonen (MSFF Catalog): "Katja Gauriloff’s (e.g. Canned Dreams, 2011) Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest, to be premiered at the Midnight Sun Film Festival, tells about long-term friendship between the director’s Skolt great grandmother and the Swiss author Robert Crottet, and also more expansively about the Sami identity. The magic world of stories, fairy tales, myths and beautiful everyday customs meet the wounding reality of the Second World War, becomes endangered and in practice homeless. The silenced history of the North gains a new voice."

"Crottet came to Suonikylä in Petsamo for the first time already before the World Wars, and was enchanted by the self-regulatory community he met there. Gauriloff skilfully combines documentary material and the most dreamlike layers of the human mind, letting the harmony of the inner voices crash into the chaotic noise of the surrounding world."

"The premiere of Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest, one of the most magnificent Finnish documentaries of the recent years, took place at the respected Hot Docs Festival in Toronto in May." (LT)

AA: An amazing enhanced documentary film from Katja Gauriloff, director of the priceless Huuto tuuleen / A Cry Into the Wind (2007) about the imperiled legacy of the Sami people.

This story is personal, the story of the director's great-grandmother Kaisa Gauriloff (1884–1980), a great seer, poet and mater familias.

Equally this is the story of Robert Crottet (1908-1987), a Swiss author who became a great "foreign member" of the Sami people.

If this story were fiction it would sound incredible. Robert Crottet was born in St. Petersburg and after the revolution moved with his family to Switzerland. He caught tuberculosis and during his illness had strange dreams about the Far North and small bright-eyed creatures there. During his stay Gandhi visited the sanatorium with his message of peace. Crottet realized that "My other half was in the North". The call was so irresistible that Crottet had to get well soon. Crottet made the arduous trip to Ultima Thule, the last leg of it drawn by reindeer. He landed at Suonikylä / Suonnjel / Приречный in 1938 in the community of Petsamo which then belonged to Finland. It was the center of traditional Skolt Sami life. In the Treaty of Tartu in 1920 between newly independent Finland and Soviet Russia (Soviet Union was founded in 1922) Suonikylä had been divided into half, and the all-important Skolt Sami winter village had to be built anew on Finnish territory.

The Sami (there are several tribes among them) are the indigenous people of Finland and Lapland. They belong to the mystery people of Europe like the Basques. My great-uncle Väinö Oinonen who wrote books about Lapland was a friend of the Sami people. He was convinced that they had lived there before the Ice Age and survived thanks to the Gulf Stream (as had special plants and animals).

Crottet discovered this "monde disparu" in the nick of time. "Ici c'est ma maison". He learned about the nomadic Sami life with their three homesites. "I turned into a Skolt myself". Crottet participated in all daily tasks of Sami life. The last summer before the war was fantastic. When WWII started in 1939 Crottet had to return to Switzerland. "I worried about them ceaselessly". Crottet started to write the first of his many books on Lapland; they have been published in many languages. He found a publisher in England, as well.

Nobody in Finland suffered more in WWII than the Skolt Sami. They lost everything. Finland lost Petsamo to Soviet Union in 1944. The Skolt Sami were evaquated to Finland, but they had to abandon everything, including all their reindeer. In Finland they were strangers, having lost their primordial nomadic lands, their tools of trade in fishing and their herds. In Finland they had a strange religion (Russian Orthodox), they had Russian names, and they spoke a language of their own. They caught many illnesses for the first time.

In England in 1945 Crottet did everything to help them. He founded a Skolt Lapp Relief Fund. Cassandra in Daily Mirror wrote a key article. The actress Flora Robson gave an impassioned radio speech. There were 5000 letters sent to the fund. Four million Finnish marks were collected. The Skolt Sami were able to buy new reindeer herds, fishing nets, and so on. A new winter village was, however, never built. The old generation would have considered returning to the other side but the young generation refused to move to the USSR. The process of integration began. Jaakko, the leader of the Skolt Sami, playfully scorned Crottet when they met, but behind his back he stated that Crottet had saved them all.

Most impressed Crottet was by Kaisa who still had direct access to the primordial world of myth. She often spoke in metaphor. She was "une merveilleuse actrise". She could read the northern lights, the aurora borealis. A white feather was helpful in cleaning because evil spirits would mistake it for the wing of an angel. Those spirits were more confused than truly evil with the exception of the wolverine who would kill for sport as Kaisa believed. But a bear was more sensitive than a human being; it could even sense if a woman was expecting a girl or a boy baby. Crottet on Kaisa: "She could not read nor write but she knew everything. She was not rich but she was full of spirit". She sensed divinity everywhere. For her the origins of the northern lights were in fights with sharp weapons. The stabbed ones went dancing in those lights. Kaisa claimed to have met Stalin and mentioned to him that "you have sent people too early to dance in the northern lights". "A wolf is afraid of you if you are not afraid of it". Kaisa talked to the wind and to the clouds.

Kaisa lost everything, and even after the great evacuations her home burnt with all the mementos. She survived all her ten children and took care of the grandchildren. "I never saw her cry" (Crottet).

Kuun metsän Kaisa has been composed with loving care from a rich mix of sources such as Crottet's movies and other documents, documentary films on Lapland, stills, and Crottet's writings. There is also general period footage for illustration. And multi-layered animated passages based on drawn and painted images.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Fröken Julie / Miss Julie (1951)

Ulf Palme (Jean), Anita Björk (Miss Julie). Do click to enlarge the image.
Neiti Julie / Mademoiselle Julie / Fräulein Julie / La señorita Julie / Фрёкен Юлия / 令嬢ジュリー. SE 1951. PC: AB Sandrew-Produktion. P: Rune Waldekranz. D+SC: Alf Sjöberg – based on the play Fröken Julie. Ett naturalistiskt sorgespel (1888) by August Strindberg. DP: Göran Strindberg – b&w – 1,37:1. AD: Bibi Lindström. Makeup: Britt Jansson, Marcus Ström. M: Dag Wirén. S: Lars Lalin – AGA-Baltic. ED: Lennart Wallén. Studio: Sandrew-ateljéerna.
    M selections: "Höga berg och djupa dalar", "Polkan går", "Näverpolka", "Vingåkersdansen", "Hälsingetag", "A hupfata (Klarinett polka)", "Vapperstadsvalsen", "Tyska polkan", Charles Harris: "After the Ball (Efter balen)", Herbert Jernberg: "Lekare polka", Carl Jularbo: "Jularbopolka", "Gubben och gumman", Otto Lindvall: "Konvaljens avsked", "Lundby-valsen", Israel Kolmodin: "Den blomstertid nu kommer" (1694), "Där gingo två fruar", Chopin: "Vals, piano, op. 34, Nr. 2, Ass-dur", Carl Peter: "Der kreuzfidele Kupferschmied", Mendelssohn: "Ein Sommernachtstraum: Hochzeitsmarsch", Chopin: "Nocturne, piano, op. 48, Nr 1", Hesekiel Wahlrot: "Finska valsen (Fleckeras vals)". – This list is from official sources. My addition: Chopin's "Marcia funebre" is mixed with Mendelsson's wedding march in the betrothal scene of Julie and the crown bailiff.
    C: Anita Björk (Miss Julie), Ulf Palme (Jean, servant), Märta Dorff (Kristin, cook, Jean's mistress), Lissi Alandh (Countess Berta, Julie's mother), Anders Henrikson (Count Carl, Julie's father), Inga Gill (Viola), Åke Fridell (Robert, tegelfabrikant / brick manufacturer), Kurt-Olof Sundström (kronofogden / Crown Bailiff, Julie's fiancé), Max von Sydow (stable groom), Margaretha Krook (governess), Åke Claesson (doctor), Inger Norberg (Julie as a child), Jan Hagerman (Jean as a child), Bibi Andersson (dancing, girl n.c.).
    Helsinki premiere: 26.10.1951, Maxim, distributed by Elokuvateatteri Maxim – re-release: 25.1.1985 Nordia, distributed by Walhalla ry with Finnish subtitles (n.c.) – VET 34204 – K12 – 2450 m / 90 min
    KAVI print deposited by Walhalla viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nordic Light), 2 June 2016

Alf Sjöberg's film is based on his theatre adaptation of Miss Julie from 1949. There are only three characters in the chamber play. Sjöberg recast Ulf Palme and Märta Dorff from his theatre production. Inga Tidblad's age would have been revealed in the film, and she was brilliantly replaced with Anita Björk.

August Strindberg's introduction to his play is famous. He stated that playwrights such as Shakespeare and Molière had focused too much on one dominant trait in their characters. Strindberg demanded that characters must be shown as dissonant, driven by many contradictory impulses.

Revisited the best August Strindberg film adaptation, one of the best adaptations of a classic play, one of the best literary adaptations, one of the greatest Swedish films, and a film with one of the greatest performances of all time, that of Anita Björk.

Along with Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Miss Julie is also a key Midsummer Night story, enhanced with the natural magic of the Nordic midnight sun. (There is a Shakespeare reference in the movie in the use of Mendelssohn).

August Strindberg had a hard time getting his play published. The Bonnier publishing house refused to print it. Strindberg found it also impossible to have his play produced. He had no alternative but to establish a theatre himself abroad (in Copenhagen), taking his inspiration from André Antoine's Théâtre Libre, founded the year before.

Miss Julie is a naturalistic play and an intimate play which obeys the classical unities of time, place, and action. The original play happens entirely during Midsummer Night in the kitchen of the manor.

Alf Sjöberg, a master of Swedish theatre and cinema, solved the challenge of film adaptation in a bold and unique fashion. He opens it spatially from the single set of Strindberg's play to the whole expanse of the Count's estate. He opens it temporally to cover the entire lives of Julie and Jean, literally from their births, and even before. This is made possible via an original flashback structure, the most famous feature of this film, as the present and the past co-exist in the same shot. The greatness of Sjöberg's achievement is in the fact that this in no way diminishes the compact force of the drama. There is a rare understanding here of the space of the theatre and the space of cinema. From pure theatre Sjöberg creates pure cinema.

I sense a connection here to Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries which takes place during one summer day's journey which also becomes a journey to the past with memories, flashbacks, dreams, and nightmares. There is a similarity in the fluidity of the movement in time dimensions. (Sjöberg had filmed Bergman's first screenplay, Hets / Torment, to a good reception. Let's note Max von Sydow here in his second film role. Bibi Andersson has her first screen appearance here as one of the midsummer night dancers, but I was not able to recognize her).

Miss Julie is a drama of class and sex. We are still in the old world of the estates of the realm, of noblemen and servants. There was never full feudalism in Nordic countries, there was no serfdom, but this is still the pre-bourgeois world of ancient titles and divisions. The servants are not slaves, but Hegel's insight about the dialectics of master and slave is valid: where there is slavery nobody is free. The Count's noble family is also enslaved by the rigid social structure. Miss Julie is an excellent dramatization of the world before the bourgeois liberation.

Neither are servants idealized in August Strindberg's world. Jean is a proud servant who has seen the world, learned French in Switzerland, strong and masculine. But when the Count rings the bell there is a Pavlovian reflex which switches him into servant mode. And when Jean gets his way with Julie he is certainly no nobleman, nor a loving man, not even a decent man. He behaves like a bum. He is able to stage a big lie to get to his purpose, and he never utters a tender word. Jean has no problem in choking Miss Julie's beloved cage bird, a green bunting,

Miss Julie is a supreme tale of sado-masochism. There are no sex scenes of what we today superficially call sado-masochism. The theme is built in the very structure of the drama. It stems from the relationship of Carl and Berta. Carl has been expecting a son; Berta's ultimate revenge is in giving birth to a daughter. There is a montage sequence about Julie's being dressed and educated as a boy. The entire work procedure on the estate is turned upside down as women start to do men's work and men try to accomplish women's work. Until Julie gets desperate about her beloved doll Blenda and the father turns and starts to love her daughter as a girl.

Miss Julie is also an example of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding. When Count Carl finally decides that he must marry Berta (who would prefer living together unmarried and has given birth to Julie out of wedlock) there is a huge wedding party where everybody has been invited after years of social isolation. Only the bride is missing. Suddenly there is smoke. Berta has set the manor on fire, even leaving little Julie inside to burn with Blenda; there is a last moment rescue by Carl. Carl is ruined and must start everything anew on money lent by Berta's lover. Actually the money is Berta's, circulated via her lover. Carl attempts suicide but having recovered takes excellent care of Julie.

Julie has been conditioned by her late mother to hate men. Berta has also taught her to think and act like a man. The result is demonstrated in the courtship of Julie and the crown bailiff whom Julie treats worse than a dog, with a ritual of dressage which the man refuses, breaking Julie's stick. A time bomb has been set by Berta to the tragedy's shattering outcome. The film's last image is of the cruel smile in Berta's portrait. There is no "The End" title card.

The reissue print is clean, complete and watchable but not of first generation quality, and there are soundtrack issues.

P.S. 5 June 2016. Julie and Jean have similar but opposite dreams and obsessions of climbing up and falling down. In a piece of dialogue that Strindberg was asked to cut and that is not included in the film Julie compares her experience of Jean with an act of bestiality. A pleasure of falling down and enjoying degradation are elements in Julie's conflicted psychology. "Degradation for love" was one of the obsessions of Alfred Hitchcock, and one can imagine the casts of The Paradine Case (Alida Valli and Louis Jourdan) and Under Capricorn (Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten) playing Julie and Jean. A tragedy of Miss Julie is that this love is one-sided and deeply disturbed also on Julie's side.

Hitchcock was so impressed by Anita Björk in Miss Julie that he hired her to I Confess in 1952. "However, when Björk arrived in Hollywood with her lover Stig Dagerman and their baby, Jack L. Warner, the head of Warner Bros., insisted that Hitchcock should find another actress" (from Wikipedia). The role was given to Anne Baxter.

On one of its elementary levels Miss Julie is also a variation of a Biblical theme. The Count's noble family has everything, but one thing is missing – love – which is why they lose everything and are left with nothing. Leo Tolstoy remarked in passing, in his comments about the cinema (his words condensed here): "we have a palace – in a palace there is always tragedy".


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dramma della gelosia (tutti i particolari in cronaca) / Jealousy, Italian Style

Dramma della gelosia. Please click to enlarge.
Mustasukkaisuutta italialaisittain / Svartsjuka på italienska / El demonio de los celos / The Pizza Triangle / A Drama of Jealousy (and Other Things) / Drame de la jalousie / Eifersucht auf italienisch. IT/ES 1970. PC: Dean Film, Jupiter Generale Cinematografica (Rome), Midega Film (Madrid). P: Pio Angeletti, Adriano De Micheli. EX: Mario D’Alessio. D: Ettore Scola. Ass D: Giorgio Scotton, Adriano Incrocci. SC: Age & Scarpelli, Ettore Scola – based on the story by Age & Scarpelli. DP: Carlo Di Palma – Panavision 1,85:1 – Technicolor. ED: Alberto Gallitti. PD: Luciano Ricceri. M: Armando Trovaioli / Armando Trovajoli. Cost: Ezio Altieri. Makeup: Giuseppe Banchelli, Nilo Jacoponi. Hair: Ada Palombi. S: Vittorio Massi.
    C: Marcello Mastroiani (Oreste Nardi), Monica Vitti (Adelaide Ciafrocchi), Giancarlo Giannini (Nello Serafini),  Manolo Zarzo / Manuel Zarzo (Ugo, dubbed in Italian), Marisa Merlini (Silvana Ciafrocchi), Hércules Cortés (Ambleto Di Meo), Fernando Sánchez Polack (District Head of the Communist Party), Gioia Desideri (Adelaide's friend), Josefina Serratosa (Antonia, Oreste's wife), Juan Diego (Antonia's son, dubbed in Italian), Bruno Scipioni (pizza maker), Giuseppe Maffioli (lawyer), Paola Natale (flower seller), Brizio Montinaro (restaurant night guard).
    Helsinki premiere 12.2.1971 Ritz, released by Warner Bros. with Finnish / Swedish subtitles – VET 79021 – K16 – originally 3130 m – Finland: 2940 m / 107 min
    A vintage KAVI print deposited by Warner Bros. viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ettore Scola in memoriam), 29 May 2016

Dramma della gelosia still belongs to Ettore Scola's lengthy early period before his final serious breakthrough with films such as Trevico-Torino and C'eravamo tanto amati.

For the first time Scola got to direct Marcello Mastroianni, Monica Vitti, and Giancarlo Giannini. Mastroianni would become one of his key stars, appearing in six of Scola's feature films. For Giannini this was one of his first leading roles, shortly before his breakthrough in Lina Wertmüller's international success films.

In farces like this Monica Vitti was as different as possible from her characters in Michelangelo Antonioni's modern masterpieces of space age alienation. She is wild and free, and full of vitality, most prominently in funny fairground and dance scenes, but also tragic in her unfortunate choices of male partners.

Especially important Dramma della gelosia was for Mastroianni who all his life was determined to demolish his international image of the "Latin Lover" immortalized by La dolce vita. (That film was profoundly satirical yet generally misunderstood as a celebration of the way of life it was meant to satirize). Mastroianni embraced films where he could play impotents, gays, and losers.

In Dramma della gelosia Mastroianni is Oreste, a proletarian and a Communist who is married to a harridan and has lost his appetite for life before he meets Adelaide, Monica Vitti's character. It is not the passive Oreste who takes the initiative in the relationship; it is Adelaide who notices Oreste and comes to the front.

The subject-matter and the narrative arch of the commedia all'italiana is indistinguishable from tragedy. Dramma della gelosia is about marginalization, loneliness, poverty, pollution, unhappiness in love, suicide, madness, and violence in relationships. Both Oreste and his wife beat Adelaide so badly that she is hospitalized, and in the final row Adelaide is stabbed (accidentally) to death.

It is a unique quality of the commedia all'italiana that a film can be simultaneously tender and passionate and brutally honest about violence and abuse. There is a running gag about Adelaide's perpetual visits to the hospital, including the final one when she is a corpse on the stretcher. The limits of comedy are stretched to the utmost.

Beyond its wild and crazy farce surface Dramma della gelosia is deadly earnest about its undercurrent about Liebestod. Adelaide knows that Oreste is dangerous but she cannot resist him although he literally drags her to the garbage dump, to a triangle drama of murderous jealousy, and finally to death. Although her death is not a murder she has landed into a vortex of destruction and self-destruction. She incorporates both vitality and the death drive.

The address of the movie is special. It is structured as an enacted police investigation which starts with a return to the scene of the homicide. The testimonies are dramatized, and there is no strict distinction between a testimony and a performance of the actual event. In the middle of the action the characters may address us directly or react to a different level of the narrative. Even Adelaide gives her comments from beyond the grave.

There is a documentary dimension in the account of the life in Rome, and Oreste's work as a bricklayer, Nello's as a pizza baker, Adelaide's as a flower seller, and Ambleto's as a big meat merchant. The Festival dell'Unità has a central role in the story; soon Scola would make a documentary film on it. We witness a huge demonstration in which both Oreste and Nello are badly beaten by the police. We also witness how the police disguises itself and infiltrates into the demonstration. Politics does not help the lovelorn Oreste. "I am alone amongst comrades".

Comedies such as La congiuntura had a colourful travelogue aspect with dazzling touristic views and exquisite costumes. Dramma della gelosia is the diametric opposite to that. The locations are definitely anti-touristic: we get to see a noisy street market, a garbage dump, a desolate ring motorway, a flower stand next to the city cemetery, a quickie pizza place, a dance pavilion by the Tiber, and a beach littered with trash. The costume designer acquired the dresses from the sale offers of Cola di Rienzi.

Dramma della gelosia is a study in unhappy love, in destructive love. The love between Oreste and Adelaide is passionate and true; leaving Adelaide would be for Oreste "like leaving myself". After Adelaide has met Nello at the pizzeria Oreste senses that things change. "It is like the autumn sun: it shines but does not warm". There is an attempt of a trio relationship like in Design for Living or Jules et Jim. Nello does not believe in owning another person, but Oreste is madly jealous. However, there is a comic attempt at an erotic trio arrangement at a hotel bed. It evaporates before it has even started.

A memorable moment of meta-film is a café scene where American tourists observe that Italians were happier when they were poorer. "Yes, we are now rolling in prosperity, but we are still the happy Italians", retorts Oreste, just before a scene of jealous violence breaks out.

For various reasons Dramma della gelosia does not quite work. Armando Trovaioli's pseudo-entertaining music is jarring, and there is too much of it. The approach of the film is unique and difficult, and it feels out of tune. Externally Mastroianni, Vitti, and Giannini look great, but there is something unconvincing about the inner truth of their proletarian characters. Individually, they are brilliant but I do not believe in a desperate love affair of theirs.

There is a lot of dialogue, and I suspect that the Finnish and Swedish translations have been conducted on the basis of an American dialogue list. (For instance festa del lavoro had been translated from the American expression Labor Day, and the translator has missed the Finnish vappu = First of May). I would like to see this film again with a really good translation based directly on the original screenplay by Age & Scarpelli & Scola.

The print is complete and ok with rain in changeovers. Sources tell this is a Technicolor film but the print looks like Eastmancolour with the colour slightly turning to red.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Absolute Beginners

David Bowie as the advertising executive Vendice Partners, Patsy Kensit as the model Crêpe Suzette, and Eddie O'Connell as Colin Young, an alter ego of Colin MacInnes, the author of the novel on which the musical is based.
Absolute Beginners / Absolute Beginners. GB © 1986 Goldcrest Films, Virgin Films. Original distributor in UK: Palace Pictures, in the US: Orion Pictures. P: Stephen Woolley, Chris Brown. D: Julien Temple. Based on the novel by Colin MacInnes (1959, in Finnish: Alkusoittoa, translated by Antti Nylén / Desura, 1999) – developed for the screen by Michael Hamlyn. SC: Richard Burridge, Christopher Wicking, Don MacPherson – add. dial. by Terry Johnson . DP: Oliver Stapleton - negative: 35 mm - process: Super Techniscope - Rankcolor with b&w sequences - 2,35:1 - also released in 70 mm blow-up. PD: John Beard. AD: Stuart Rose, Ken Wheatley. SFX: Mark Meddings. VFX: David Smith. Cost: Sue Blane, David Perry. Makeup: Peter Frampton. Hair: Elaine Bowerbank. S: David Grimsdale, Derek Holding, Eddy Joseph, Howard Lanning. ED: Michael Bradsell, Gerry Hambling, Richard Bedford, Russell Lloyd. Casting: Leonara Davis, Susie Figgis, Mary Selway.
    M: Gil Evans. M: "Hancock's Half Hour", "Here Comes the Bride", "Rock a Bye Baby", "Sleepy Lagoon", "Teddy Bears' Picnic". M songs: "Santa Lucia", "Landlords and Tenants", "Absolute Beginners", "That’s Motivation", "Volare", "Riot City", "Quiet Life", "Having It All", "Selling Out", "Rocking at the 21's" "Bongo Rock", "Little Cat", "Napoli", "Hey Little Schoolgirl", "Rock Baby Rock", "Killer Blow", "Scorpio", "So What", "Have You Ever Had It Blue", "Ted Ain't Dead", "Rodrigo Bay", "Boogie Stop Shuffle", "Better Git It In Your Soul", "The Naked and The Dead", "Va Va Voom", "Switching It Off", "Great Balls of Fire", "My Mammy".
    C: Patsy Kensit (Crêpe Suzette), Eddie O'Connell (Colin Young), David Bowie (Vendice Partners), James Fox (Henley of Mayfair), Ray Davies (Arthur), Mandy Rice-Davies (Mum), Eve Ferret (Big Jill), Tony Hippolyte (Mr. Cool), Graham Fletcher-Cook (Wizard), Joseph McKenna (Fabulous Hoplite), Steven Berkoff (The Fanatic), Sade (Athene Duncannon), Tenpole Tudor / Edward Tudor-Pole (Ed the Ted), Bruce Payne (Flikker), Alan Freeman (Call-Me-Cobber), Anita Morris (Dido Lament), Paul Rhys (Dean Swift), Julian Firth (The Misery Kid), Chris Pitt (Baby Boom), Lionel Blair (Harry Charms), Gary Beadle (Johnny Wonder), Robbie Coltrane (Mario), Jess Conrad (Cappuccino Man), Ronald Fraser (Amberley Drove), Irene Handl (Mrs. Larkin), Peter-Hugo Daly (Vern), Amanda Jane Powell (Dorita), Johnny Shannon (Saltzman), Sylvia Syms (Cynthia Eve), Robert Austin (Slim Brother), Johnny Edge (Trader Horn), Carmen Ejogo (Carmen), Paul Fairminer (Eddie Sex), Jim Dunk (Slim Brother), Sandie Shaw (Baby Boom's Mum).
    Helsinki premiere: 30.5.1986 Gloria with Finnish / Swedish subtitles n.c. – telecast: 29.8.1990 YV3, 16.8.1997 YLE TV2, 28.3.2003 Subtv – vhs: Alfa-Panorama Film / Video, Karelia Food, Videofirma Makuuni – VET 93771 – K14 – 2940 m /  108 min
    A vintage KAVI print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (David Bowie 1947-2016), 28 May 2016

Julien Temple started his film career with Sex Pistols, also directing their music video for "God Save The Queen". His feature film debut was The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, one of the most unforgettable rock films ever made, recording the incredible, volcanic energy of Sex Pistols, and also the fraud involved in it all, seen from the viewpoint of Malcolm McLaren, alienating the Pistols.

Temple was a pioneer of the burgeoning music video phenomenon, trusted by David Bowie, The Kinks, and Sade among others (Temple directed the "Smooth Operator" video for Sade). Out of this creativity grew also the feature film adaptation of Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes's novel about the birth of youth culture in Britain.

One of the most expensive British films, Absolute Beginners became a magnificent musical in Temple's hands. It flopped awfully. Although I admired The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle as a masterpiece, thought highly of Temple as a music video director, and read a lot of coverage about Absolute Beginners, I did not go to see it and saw it now for the first time.

The film musical as a genre of creative brilliance died with the Hollywood studio system during the five or so years after Funny Face. Much that is good has been made since, but the assured creative panache never returned. The atmosphere, the professional teams, and the infrastructure for the film musical vanished for good. After the rock revolution of the 1950s great pop films have appeared in many forms but the show business musical genre is not the most propitious of them. In fact, the musical is an ideal form for the preceding popular music culture against which the rock generation rebelled.

Absolute Beginners is a well made film, it features top talent, and the production values are high, but there is a lack of an irresistible dynamic surge in the structure as a whole. Patsy Kensit and Eddie O'Connell are very attractive in the leading roles, but the roles are underwritten, and we never have a sense of a compelling feeling for the characters they play.

Having said that there is much to like. Absolutely Beginners is firmly grounded in its historical moment, the year 1958. Britain has struggled first with the war and then with the post-war reconstruction. Colin is called by his parents "a blitz baby". Life has been hard and grey. Finally it is time for colour to break out. The ultra-saturated colour world of Absolute Beginners is an expression of that urge, that turn.

The new youth culture is open to people of all colours and sexual orientations, but there is an escalating reactionary opposition. Violent street gangs and neo-fascist task forces attack liberals and people of colour. There are street fights, houses are burnt, people of colour are brutally harassed. Our protagonists unite for freedom, against oppression.

Julien Temple invents new kinds of production numbers for his musical. The soundtrack is rich with musical idioms relevant to the period, from Italian pop ("Volare") to skiffle, jazz ("So What" from Miles Davis's Kind of Blue) and early ska.

The "Quiet Life" production number by Ray Davies can be compared with the satirical music video "Predictable" that Temple had directed for The Kinks. It is overflowing with ideas; both share a set that resembles The Ladies' Man by Jerry Lewis. Also in The Rolling Stones's "Neighbours" video, not directed by Temple, a similar set was used. Ray Davies plays Colin's father; his mother is played by Mandy Rice-Davies, no relation to Ray Davies but notorious from the Profumo scandal and an actual Soho veteran of the era depicted.

"That's Motivation", David Bowie's production number, can be compared with Frank Tashlin (Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) in its satire of the 1950s advertizing world.

Tenpoint Tudor's "Ted Ain't Dead" number is a wild and menacing showcase of the Teddy Boy phenomenon.

The most beautiful number is Sade's "Killer Blow" at the Chez Nobody jazz club where Colin is getting drunk and smoking a joint after a humiliating experience at a television show where the host completely misrepresents everything. Afterwards the stoned Colin has a dangerous accident at his scooter.

The powerful music arrangement is by the great jazz musician Gil Evans who had worked with Miles Davis since the 1940s. There is a general feeling of engrossing crescendo towards the final numbers during the end credits (the second appearance of David Bowie's theme song and "Va Va Voom"), a sense of an exhilarating energy that forces of reaction cannot contain.

There is a lot going on in Absolute Beginners, too much, in fact. There are attractions in every shot but no sense of a natural rhythm or breathing. Everything is on the surface, and there is no feeling of psychological depth.

The print is complete, and the saturation of the warm colour feels right.


Friday, May 27, 2016


Sicario / Sicario. US © 2015 Sicario Movie, LLC and Lions Gate Films, Inc. P: Basil Iwanyk, Thad Luckinbill, Molly Smith. D: Denis Villeneuve. SC: Taylor Sheridan. DP: Roger Deakins – source: ARRIRAW 3.4K – digital intermediate 4K – colour – 2,39:1 – release: D-Cinema. PD: Patrice Vermette. AD: Paul D. Kelly. Set dec: Jan Pascale. SFX: Stan Blackwell. VFX: ObliqueFX. Cost: Renée April. Makeup: Donald Mowat. Hair: Jennifer Bell. Prosthetic makeup: Caroline Aquin. Corpses: Adrien Morot. M: Jóhann Jóhannsson. S: Alan Robert Murray. ED: Joe Walker. Casting: Francine Maisler.
    C: Emily Blunt (Kate Macer), Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro), Josh Brolin (Matt Graver), Victor Garber (Dave Jennings), Jon Bernthal (Ted), Daniel Kaluuya (Reggie Wayne), Jeffrey Donovan (Steve Forsing), Raoul Max Trujillo (Rafael). Loc: Albuquerque (New Mexico), El Paso (Texas), Mexico City. In English and Spanish. Helsinki premiere: 18.9.2015 Kinopalatsi, released by: Nordisk Film Theatrical Distribution Oy – DCP – MEKU K16 – 121 min
    4K DCP from Nordisk with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Ditte Kronström viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jatkoaika / Extra Lease of Life), 27 May 2016

Background: the Mexican Drug War. Since the demise of the Colombian drug cartels in the 1990s the Mexican ones have been dominant. The death toll has been some 150,000 killed. Earnings from drug sales may be as high as 40 billion dollars annually.

Many quality cinemas (Maxim, Engel, Rex) are temporarily closed in Helsinki which has few cinemas left anyhow. That is why we have this summer a special feature, "an extra lease of life", for distinguished new releases which would have deserved many more weeks of showtime in theatres.

Denis Villeneuve's acclaimed Sicario, based on the screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, is a powerful account of the Mexican Drug War as seen from the American side. Against the paramilitary action of the drug cartels is organized a special task force which is not official although it is generously funded by the U. S. Government. The task force violates the law at all stages.

The outsiders, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) are committed to play by the book, but they are only used as an official front by the seasoned veterans of the task force, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Kate and Reggie are appalled at what they see.

It turns out that Alejandro is also a veteran of the 1990s Colombian drug cartels and that the Mexican cartel boss Fausto Alarcon has had Alejandro's wife's throat cut and his daughter thrown to a vat of acid. Sicario means "a hitman". The hitman is Alejandro who as a consequence of the ingenious ruse of the task force finally confronts Alarcon and his family at dinner.

Sicario turns out to be a revenge story. Revenge is not justice. It is the opposite of justice. It means a continuing spiral of often escalating violence, which is exactly what has happened in the Mexican drug war.

In the finale Alejandro advises Kate to "move to a small town where a rule of law still exists". "This is a land of wolves now". Those are the words of the ex-gangster who is now a gangster on the U.S. Government payroll. Alejandro and Matt have turned cynical operating in a gray zone where they resort to the same methods as their adversaries, including torture and murder. I was thinking about the Twilight series where all are vampires and no counterforce remains.

The account of the surveillance methods of the special task force is amazing. They are overwhelmingly superior, but are they achieving lasting success?

Sicario has been compared with The Silence of the Lambs, and Emily Blunt in the leading role is excellent, but her role is underwritten. The power of darkness on both sides is overwhelming.

Sicario is a political thriller with a strong aspect of the horror film starting with the discovery of a secret prison with dozens of corpses of tortured and mutilated prisoners in Arizona.

The powerful, elementary score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is of the highest order. The soundscape designed by Alan Robert Murray contributes essentially to the atmosphere, especially noticably in passages of zero visibility.

Denis Villeneuve has created an original visual look to the movie together with his cinematographer Roger Deakins, the trusted DP of the Coen brothers. There is a firm center of fully photorealistic imagery and a rich variety of special approaches including sun-bleached footage, grim horror darkness, stunning aerial footage, grand epic views of Mexico, split screen surveillance footage, and a long night sequence shot in a simulation of infrared vision. The negative footage brings to mind Murnau's Nosferatu and its sense of a zone between life and death, also relevant in Sicario. We have entered a world of the undead.

The 4K digital performance is excellent. The visual base with the fine, rich, and full detail is essential for the pictorial range where also low definition is used in key sequences as a means of expression.

P.S. 29 May 2016. The War on Drugs and the Mexican Drug War are some of the most epic projects of law enforcement in history. Much has been accomplished, yet it does not look like these wars can be won.

Like everybody in my generation I know many who have died or whose life has been irrevokably ruined by drugs. Yet I tend to think more and more: "legalize it". It is a similar situation as was with Prohibition. In Finland we had prohibition simultaneously with the U.S. It was a golden age for crime and violence.

In Finland we are following an epic multi-year trial case against a former narcotics police chief who is accused of having acted as a hidden boss of illegal drug traffic and related crimes. This is a serious blow to Finns as we are proud of our low corruption level. The difference with the Mexican Drug War is that no violent crime is involved.

A book on my nighttable is the modern classic by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (2012). One of its key locations is the border between Arizona and Mexico - the location of Sicario. The book is about the curse of oligarchy; without abolishing a structure of oligarchy a nation is bound to fail. One can predict no good outcome for the Mexican Drug War. Only an ongoing bloodshed. A striking feature in that war is the taste for executions, "take no prisoners". In regular war there are many times more wounded in ratio to casualties.

Mexicans have protested against the presentation of Mexican authorities in Sicario, as if the combat against Mexican drug cartels were mostly or entirely an U.S. American affair. In fact Mexico is engaged in a ferocious war against the cartels, in full military mobilization.