Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lastuja - taiteilijasuvun vuosisata / [Splinters - A Century in a Family of Artists]

FI 2011. PC: Illume Oy. P: Jouko Aaltonen. D+SC: Peter von Bagh. Music and sound editing: Martti Turunen. ED: Petteri Evilampi (Tuuba Oy). Archival editor: Anna Korhonen. Special expert: Jussi Brofeldt. Researchers: Erja Manto, Eero Saarinen, Peter von Bagh. Commentary recorded by: Timo Hintikka (YLE). Assistant producer: Venla Hellstedt (Illume Oy). Assistants: Ella Ruohonen, Marianne Mäkelä (Illume Oy). Commentary read by: Eero Saarinen, Erja Manto, Peter von Bagh. Dedicated to Sven Hirn. The films excerpted are not listed in the end credits. 74 min. First transmitted on tv on YLE Teema on 10 Sep 2011. Viewed from my DVR at home, Helsinki, 25 Dec 2011.

The official presentation on the YLE website: "Lastuja - taiteilijasuvun tarina is Peter von Bagh's new documentary essay about the writer Juhani Aho, his oeuvre, the family that grew around it, and the spiritual tensions and the electric power field of ideas and works in tune to which modern Finland emerged. The edges of many generations were enriched side by side with Juhani Aho and after him by the painter Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, the film-makers Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan and the photographer Claire Aho. The film moves between different periods of time: things are repeated, they develop and are transformed. The focus in on a half a century of Finland's many-sided history".

"Juhani Aho boiled down the most memorable and the most startling images on how a traditional community starts to transform into 'modern Finland'. In his oeuvre the old and the new clash, what has great emotional value and remarkable cultural heritage yields, and the modern steps into its place", stated Peter von Bagh while planning the documentary. "The common denominator in the material that penetrates decades is in a way genetic: Juhani Aho's heirs are as fond as he was in the aesthetic principle of the lastu [splinter] and the hajamiete [random thought]." (The official presentation, translation mine.)

Lastu is the splinter of wood that flies away while chopping wood with an axe. Juhani Aho published seven volumes of short stories with the title Lastuja [Splinters]. Hajamietteitä kapinaviikoilta [Random Thoughts on the Mutiny Weeks] was his sober three-volume account of our terrible Civil War in 1918.

Juhani Aho (1861-1921) (born Johannes Brofeldt, the Swedish family name meaning "a meadow field", the Fennified name Aho meaning "a meadow"; the family name Brofeldt is also still in use) was un homme de lettres, a man of the world, and a leading cultural figure during the golden age of Finnish art and the struggle for democracy and independence. He was a part of the inner circle of leading artists, composers, and writers, and one of the original forces involved in the most important newspaper Päivälehti / Helsingin Sanomat. He was also influential as a man of the theatre, as a member of the Bible translation committee, and as a translator of contemporary international literature. He was the first Finnish professional writer and the first with a typewriter. His wife Venny Soldan-Brofeldt (1863-1945) was a talented painter, designer and illustrator. They had two sons, Heikki Aho (1895-1961), and Antti Aho (1900-1960). Juhani Aho had also a son by Venny's sister Tilly Soldan: Björn Soldan (1902-1953). Antti Aho wrote a remarkable biography of his father in two volumes. Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan were the Robert Flaherty of Finland: they established the artistically ambitious tradition of documentary film in their productions in the years 1924-1961. Heikki Aho's daughter Claire Aho (born 1925) joined the Aho & Soldan company but most importantly established an independent career as a top colour photographer.

Lastuja is a remarkable contribution to two grand projects of Peter von Bagh: the cultural history of Finland, as reflected in his great tv series Oi kallis Suomenmaa 1-8 and Sininen laulu 1-12.  It is also an addition into his project of covering the history of Finnish cinema in ambitious television series such as SF:n tarina 1-6, Suomi-Filmin tarina 1-5, Fennadan tarina 1-3, Tähtien tarina 1-6, and Ohjaaja matkalla ihmiseksi: Mikko Niskasen tarina 1-3.

The approach is at once distilled and rhapsodic. This À la recherche du temps perdu moves simultaneously in different periods of time, from the 1870s to the 1960s.

Peter von Bagh is a master of the compilation film, and Lastuja is distinguished by the emphasis on the visual quality of the excerpts. In Lastuja, Bagh is constantly seeking correspondences between Juhani Aho's literary insights and his sons' cinematic visions. This is the original and appealing central feature of Lastuja.

The invaluable film legacy of the Aho & Soldan company has mostly been lost thanks to gross neglicence of the brothers themselves in preserving their heritage. After the Aho & Soldan company dissolved the Finnish Film Archive experts, most prominently Lauri Tykkyläinen, managed to retrieve from several different sources important missing films. I have had the pleasure to study this legacy most remarkably in the Tampere Film Festival's Aho & Soldan retrospective in 1992, curated by Lauri Tykkyläinen, with many vintage nitrate prints, and in a smaller selection during the DocPoint festival in 2010 where no nitrate prints were screened.

From a thankless starting point (with most of the Aho & Soldan film material lost) Bagh has created a beautiful compilation. Many images strike me like I've never seen them before (and probably haven't). Lastuja is both an homage to a great family of artists and an artwork of independent value.

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