Friday, October 28, 2011

Där vi en gång gått / Missä kuljimme kerran / Where Once We Walked

FI © 2011 Helsinki-Filmi. P: Aleksi Bardy, Annika Sucksdorff. D: Peter Lindholm. SC: Jimmy Karlsson - based on the novel Där vi en gång gått by Kjell Westö (2006, translated into Finnish by Katriina Savolainen, 2006). DP: Rauno Ronkainen. AD: Kaisa Mäkinen. M: Mauri Sumén. Cost: Anna Vilppunen. Makeup: Mari Vaalasranta. ED: Anders Refn. Cast: Jessica Grabowsky (Lucie), Jakob Öhrman (Eccu), Andreas af Enehielm (Allu), Oskar Pöysti (Cedi), Niklas Groundstroem (Ivar Grandell), Martin Bahne (Henning), Alma Pöysti (Aina), Elmer Bäck (Enok). 121 min. Original in Swedish. Distributed by Scanbox with Finnish subtitles by Maria Wiren-Malo. Viewed at Tennispalatsi 2, Helsinki, 28 Oct 2011 (day of premiere).

Kjell Westö's acclaimed novel Where Once We Walked covers the turbulent years 1905-1944 in the history of the Swedish-speaking world of Helsinki. It follows the struggle for Finnish independence, the Civil War, the reconstruction, the jazz age, the depression, the extreme right in the 1930s, and the WWII tragedy. The civil war spring of 1918 is the most important turning point in the novel, and from the vantage point of White Finland it also covers the spiritual degradation of those who participated in the vigilante action of the retribution patrols of the winners. Kjell Westö reveals a magnanimous spirit as a writer of a historical novel, refusing to take sides, instead opening new significant horizons of understanding to traumatic chapters of Finnish history.

The novel has 600 pages in its Finnish translation, and there has already been a theatrical play adaptation. A six-part television series will be transmitted during the winter 2011-2012. The theatrical movie has been edited from the television series footage.

I look forward to the tv series. This 121 min theatrical movie version covers basically the complete novel but suffers from a lack of a well-laid-out structure and from jerky editing in which scenes are not allowed to grow to their full power. The movie is to some degree a "highlights from Where Once We Walked".

Even so, I was grateful to see this adaptation, most importantly because of the actors in the roles of the two young rebels, one from the white Helsinki, the other from the red Helsinki.

Jessica Grabowsky is a revelation as Lucie, the new woman, an incarnation of the jazz age, but always a surprising and original personality, full of life, refusing to defend the atrocities of her brother. Her development is the most fascinating aspect of the movie.

Andreas af Enehielm is convincing as Allu the working-class hero, the sailor, the football player, the rebel from the other side of the Long Bridge. He has a charisma that can be compared with John Garfield, John Lennon, Robert De Niro, or Sean Penn. Kjell Westö idealizes nobody, and neither do the actors.

There are reflections of a similar impossible love story in two Finnish movies with contemporary subjects made this year, Elokuu, and Roskisprinssi, but in them, the male figure is the well-to-do partner. The poster image of Where Once We Walked featuring Jessica Grabowsky and Andreas af Enehielm is misleading, but both performances are first rate.

Digital is getting better, but issues of nature footage and a tendency for the clinical remain.

It has been commented that this all-Swedish speaking movie misrepresents the multi-lingual Helsinki. It is also true that almost all Finnish movies misrepresent the language world of our country. The Unknown Soldier is good in the many dialects, though.

The novel is strongly rooted in the districts, streets, and addresses of Helsinki, and a reader born in Helsinki such as myself can easily follow and locate the events to actually existing places. In the movie adaptation this aspect is lost, but I'm grateful for it for the fresh approach it brings to events of history.

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