Friday, February 22, 2013

Anssi Mänttäri: How My Films Were Made (a lecture)

Anssi Mänttäri: Miten elokuvani ovat syntyneet? Lecture in the series organized by the HYY:n Elokuvaryhmä / The Film Society of The Student Union of the University of Helsinki. Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 22 Feb 2013.

Feature-length movies and series: Pyhä perhe / [The Holy Family] (1976), Toto (SMK = under the pseudonym Suvi-Marja Korvenheimo, 1982), Regina ja miehet / [Regina and Men] (SMK, 1983), Huhtikuu on kuukausista julmin / [April Is the Cruellest of Months] (SMK, 1983), Kello / [The Clock] (1984), Rakkauselokuva / [The Love Film] (1984), Viimeiset rotannahat [The Last Rat's Skins] (1985), Ylösnousemus [Resurrection] (1985), Morena (1986), Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan / [The King Goes Forth to France] (1986), Salama (dok, 1986), Näkemiin, hyvästi [Farewell, Goodbye] (1986), Tyttö ja bassokitara [The Girl and the Bass Guitar] (tvm, 1987), Isku suoneen I–III / [A Stab into the Vein] (tv-sarja, 1988), Isku vasten kasvoja / [A Slap in the Face] (tvm, 1988), Jumalia ei uhmata / [Don't Defy Gods] (tvm, 1988), Anni tahtoo äidin / [Anni Wants a Mother] (1989), Terveysasema / [Health Care Center] (tv-sarja, 1989), Annabel Lee (Tvm, 1990), Lumisade / [Snowfall] (tvm, 1990), Muuttolinnun aika / [Bird of Passage] (1991), Petterin parempi elämä / [The Better Life of Peter] (tvm), Mestari / [The Master] (1992), Marraskuun harmaa valo / [The Grey Light of November] (1993), Kake 40 v. / [Kake, Forty Years Old] (tvm, 1994), Mahdottoman tavallinen Jorma Laine / [The Impossibly Regular Jorma Laine] (tv-sarja, 1995), Jäähyväiset ilman suudelmia / [A Farewell without Kisses] (tv-sarja, 1995), Kuubalainen serenadi / [A Cuban Serenade] (dok, 1997), Romana (dok, 1997), Palkkasoturi / [Soldier of Fortune] (1997), Kulttuurikolari Mosambikissa / [A Cultural Clash in Mosambik] (1999), Jäähyväiset ilman kyyneleitä / [A Farewell without Tears] (tv-sarja, 1999), Dirlandaa (tv-sarja ja elokuva, 2000), Joensuun Elli / [Elli from Joensuu] (2004), Sata vuotta, tuhat taistelua – Suomen Elintarviketyöläisten Liitto 100 vuotta / [A Hundred Years, a Thousand Fights - the Centenary of the Finnish Food Workers' Union] (dok, 2005), Varpunen jouluyönä / [A Sparrow on Christmas Night] (2005), What Is This? – Eero Koivistoinen ja musiikki / [What Is This? - Eero Koivistoinen and the Music] (dok, 2008), Tarkastaja / [The Inspector] (2011), Saunavieras / [The Sauna Guest] (2012)

Anssi Mänttäri (*1941, Sippola) is one of the most experienced veterans in the Finnish cinema, active since over 50 years. He got started during the last years of the studio era in the early 1960s and proceeded to establish his own production companies in the 1980s. He has directed some 20 theatrical feature films, usually wearing three hats as screenwriter, producer, and director, and sometimes a fourth one as an actor. He has been equally productive in television. The budget has been low, and the issues have been big. Mänttäri's oeuvre is an original vision about his life and times, the state of the society, the relations between men and women and their children. He has discussed alcoholism (Pyhä perhe), swinish men, female tv journalists and Bohemian writers (in the "Suvi-Marja Korvenheimo" trilogy Toto, Regina ja miehet, Huhtikuu on kuukausista julmin), the failure of rapport between men and women (Kello), childlessness (Rakkauselokuva), neo-Bohemian life (Viimeiset rotannahat, Morena), fake suicide (Ylösnousemus), violence and power in a historical drama by Paavo Haavikko (Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan), a legendary modern Finnish writer (Salama), the situation of a single parent (Näkemiin, hyvästi), a single father's daughter who wants a new mother (Anni tahtoo äidin), the alienation of a divorced mother's child from her father (Muuttolinnun aika), scandal journalism around the ski champion Matti Nykänen (Mestari), Tallinn underground (Marraskuun harmaa valo), the state of the world seen from a pub as a man is enlisted to the Balkan war as a mercenary soldier (Palkkasoturi), Finnish holiday culture in Spain (Dirlandaa), women leaving the countryside during the great structural change when Finland urbanized in the 1960s and the 1970s, based on a novel by Heikki Turunen (Joensuun Elli), fraud in the financial world (Tarkastaja), and a hitman being invited to the sauna by his unsuspecting victim (Saunavieras).


Half of my movies are difficult to explain, half of them I don't remember so well.

It all started in Inkeroinen when as a kid I was nailing movie posters to utility poles. I got to see some four films a week. That's how I got acquainted with genre films. The word "genre" itself I learned much later, but genre I always found interesting, although few of my films are genre movies. Perhaps there is a Mänttäri genre. Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan is science fiction. Anni tahtoo äidin is a children's film and a musical. That's about it.

The Western is dearest for me, and there's film noir on the side. In Marraskuun harmaa valo there is a hunch of film noir. A Western I have yet to do. It would not be an Aarne Tarkas style Northern nor a Finnish Italowestern.

My Western would be based on Runar Schildt's short story "Hemkomsten" ["Homecoming"] from 1919, about the circumstances after the civil war of 1918. For 36 years I have tried. My original choice for the leading role, the actor Juha Mäkelä, has retired. Daniel Olbrychski was interested, but nobody in the Finnish Film Foundation knew him. Ville Haapasalo is busy. Now I have to find yet another candidate. But a Western there will be.


Writing is a part of directing. I claim that I cannot imagine myself making a film to which I would not have written the final screenplay. There are always many ideas from others available, but my own idea always gets there first.

Three of my theatrical movies are based on works of others: Pyhä perhe is based on a play by Claes Andersson, Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan on a radioplay by Paavo Haavikko, and Joensuun Elli on a novel by Heikki Turunen.

It was the year 1974, the bottom year in Finnish film production, and only two films were released: Karvat ["Body Hair"], and Viu-hah-hah-taja ["A Streaker"]. That's when I decided to start directing.

Claes Andersson's play provided clear cut problems for the film Pyhä perhe: - the fight for power in a family - and alcoholism. There were but few locations and a limited number of characters. Jörn Donner accepted the project pretty easily.

Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan was trickier. The idea came from Heikki Katajisto, my cinematographer.

In Joensuun Elli I was mistaken to believe that it would be a commercial subject. Money has usually been a very rare phenomenon in my productions.

The collaboration with the writers went well. Claes Andersson was a gentleman, and he presented no conditions. With Paavo Haavikko the collaboration went particularly well. We went to Rivoli, not far from here. "We won't talk art". We talked cars, although we understood nothing about cars. ("I have a Ford", I once said on location. "It's a Volkswagen", corrected my DP.)

I have filmed 6-7 detective novels of Pentti Kirstilä for television. We were in Sicily in which one of the stories is set. One morning he had a hangover. "May I kill the wife of that merchant?" "Go ahead".

Heikki Turunen had no comment having seen Joensuun Elli. "My son praised the music". Markku Pölönen had just made Kivenpyörittäjän kylä, which was a popular success, and my film was not quite like that.

Film-making for me is also personal therapy. The work must be fun, and it must be therapy, as well.

There are 4-5 quite personal films that I have made. I have made changes such as switched the sexes of characters, made two characters out of one, and one character out of two. You cannot track down the real-life models that easily.

Most of my films are based on my own ideas.

The screenplay is usually quite precise, especially the dialogue, and also the scenes.

But the actor can adapt the dialogue to fit his own mouth.

I have observed that people as a rule talk much, and this is the case in my movies, as well.

I would compare dialogue to improvisation in jazz. People meet face to face, and often they talk past each other.

The first line of dialogue is the most difficult.

Pretty often I imagine the actor while writing dialogue. The figure of the actor gives the stimulus.


To a great extent I hear the music while writing the screenplay. I use a lot of source music - there is usually a radio on - or a performer in a restaurant, and so on.

I have never used stock music.

When I make King Lear I'll use Bach. In the Filmtotal production complex Aki Kaurismäki did Hamlet and Pauli Pentti directed Macbeth. I was supposed to do King Lear. I still need to do it.


Many actors owed me since I paid for their drinks at bars. Palkkasoturi I cast based on which actors owed me. "Anssi, give me a line of dialogue" =  a shot of Koskenkorva. Matti Pellonpää had collected a big role, indeed, until he died.


In many cases I don't remember where my story ideas have come from. Saunavieras was inspired by... not an urban legend... but a rural legend about a hit ordered on an artist living in Loimaa. The hitman had been hired by a payment in Koskenkorva [the native title of Finlandia vodka]. He happened to arrive just in time for sauna, and he started to drink with the victim, and they became friends.

Another true story which I would like to film I heard from my cleaning person. It is about a Japanese pen friend of youth. Decades later there is the tsunami in Japan, and the Japanese man's entire family is washed out, destroyed. The man gets the advice to move away as far as possible to forget the trauma. So, after decades, he finally arrives into Finland. There is a shot where he is ice fishing, and a spacecraft appears on the sky. It will be an anti-nuclear power film. You have to fight nuclear power because ihminen mokaa aina = a man always blows it.

My latest idea is "How one should not write at the Eerikin Kulma" [a bar one block from Cinema Orion]. A woman was waving at me at a distance of 30 meters. She seemed unfamiliar, but at close range I recognized her. We had exchanged a few words once. I started to think that this could be a good pick-up strategy: starting to wave at unknowns. In my story I changed the sexes, and the same man would play six roles, as the woman would imagine who the waving man is. But a plot structure is not the subject of the film. It would turn out that the woman has a serious case of a fear of commitment. Her parents are divorced, and she will never want to have a serious relationship.


This is a case in point of how I use source music.


I never use a storyboard. Nor have I images on the pages of the shooting script. My cinematographer Heikki Katajisto [who has shot most of Mänttäri's films until and including Tarkastaja] also thinks it makes no sense to visualize the script twice.

I usually shoot on location, in the real circumstances, not in studios. The places are dominating. It is fun to do a film so that the place gives impulses.

With the cinematographer we show films to each other.

The actual breakdown to shots takes place as we are going on.

Sometimes we had an argument with Heikki Katajisto. The best idea won. Usually the cinematographer knew what he was talking about. Each shot is precisely defined.


Casting is the most important aspect in the direction of actors.

I prefer to work with familiar actors. Then there is little need to talk. A case in point is Antti Litja. If there is a need for a second take or more takes, each time he plays it differently. That is his way to sustain the freshness in the performance. Ei sun tarvitse mulle selittää = You don't need to explain for me. When I told "how" he knew at once "why".

If an actor is very insecure, I cajole him/her to an even greater insecurity. Then he strains himself to give everything.

They say film acting is pientä = understated. It isn't. Iso = overstatement can be great. Take Welles. Akim Tamiroff in Touch of Evil. Or Dennis Weaver. Real life is full of these characters. Go to Eerikin Kulma. You'll meet similar figures there.

Some actors are good in giving an impression of acting naturally, yet they don't understand at all what they are talking about. You realize it first in the cutting room. Even the director can be fooled. They can act although they don't understand.


No understatement in the performance of Harri Nikkonen, an opera singer. [Lasse Pöysti had one of the leading roles.] Lasselta meinas mennä repliikit sekaisin = Lasse almost fumbled his lines. Harri Nikkonen had been an opera actor during the term of Alfons Almi. In vain he asked for a raise from Almi. "Give me at least a part in which I can eat on stage".


The most time-consuming part is putting the financing together.

Pyhä perhe I made in 1976, and since 1977, for 36 years, I have been soliciting financing for the Schildt project.

Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan was six years in preparation, Joensuun Elli for 24 years. Reima Kekäläinen at the [Finnish] MTV was also interested, and I would have been just the producer. "Anssi, sä oot liian vanha roikkumaan täällä jonossa" = "Anssi, you are too old to hang out in this queue anymore". A few hundred of thousand I managed to get from MTV for a tv series version of Joensuun Elli. The feature film became good, the series bad. The feature film was cut first, following the original screenplay pretty accurately. But for the tv series version we were forced to use all we had. We should have written a separate script for the tv series.

A project that we have not yet made is a movie on the Estonian / Russian relations. Yle [tv company]: what if you would just direct. SES [The Finnish Film Foundation]: what if you would just write. And Tuomas Sallinen would direct.

For Anni tahtoo äidin I asked Raili Rusto to direct and Pirkko Jaakola to write. Then Raili got ill, and Pirkko could not write. So I wrote the screenplay myself and sent it to SES without a writer's name. Pia Lallukka at the SES enthused how well that Pirkko can write. Raili was still ill, and so I got to direct, as well.

I have made a lot of movies without public funding. Television money has always been available.

Previously I was funded by KOP [Kansallis-Osake-Pankki, one of the two biggest private banks then in Finland] and [after it folded] Merita. There were four art-friendly bank managers in a row. We shared the same bank with SES, and Ilmo Mäkelä, then chairman of its board, said to our mutual banker: "mitä sinä sitä Mänttäriä rahoitat" = "why do you keep financing that Mänttäri".

When you are close to two million in debt it is much easier to get funding. Without SES. Without Yle. Quite a bit I have received from MTV.

In this way nobody has fumbled around with my screenplay. I hear a lot about 12-15 script versions circulating at the Finnish Film Foundation.

I pretty often use the first version.

Includes a great, definitive Jörn Donner monologue, written by Mänttäri.

As I wrote this film I saw the locations from my window. We had access to Filminor's Kleinbus, and when we were about to settle the gasoline bill it turned out that the car had not been fuelled once. [The locations were that close.] Matti Pellonpää plays an artist who sells his paintings to his own mother and then steals them to sell them again.

Jörn Donner's fee for his performance was four bottles of whisky.


Editing for me is simpler than for most.

There are hardly any scenes that can be left out.

Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan was edited by Irma Taina.

The beginning.
♪ "Poimi minut puolukkana, maista minut mansikkana", sung by Sari Kaasinen.
There you hear that music that puzzled Heikki Turunen, how his son could have liked it.


As a rule I shoot on location. In the studio I have only done three tv jobs, with multiple cameras, and I don't count them as movies.

On location I don't even want to change things that much. What counts is that the milieu should fit the character.

In Isku suoneen I blew it. Jukka Puotila plays the rapist, a drug dealer. There were too many book cases with good books in that apartment.

Sometimes the decision about the location takes place on the evening before. I realized that I did not have the location for the next morning's scene supposed to take place in a wealthy cultural home. I called Taru Mäkelä who knew one of the personal physicians of Kekkonen, and in the morning we indeed had access to his home. We got there in the morning, and there was not a single bookcase there.

In Näkemiin, hyvästi, in Espoo, I got to shoot at the home of my current car dealer. Lasse Pöysti was supposed to read a book, and there was not even any "How do I open my motor" brochure. So we bought the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper at the nearest gas station.

In Regina ja miehet I had access to the paintings of Max Salmi. Matti Pellonpää was playing a good artist.

Ilkka Kylävaara, believed dead, sneaks into his own home and surprises his wife's lover (Kari Väänänen) in the bathtub. At the subway escalators his wife (Eeva Eloranta), going down while Ilkka Kylävaara is going up, is profoundly shocked.

There we have an apartment where nothing had been changed. It's the story of a fake suicide, about a man who prentends to have committed suicide to get to see the mourning of his close ones.

Let's skip the documentaries.


Let's move to the subjects that are forthcoming.

I have literary subjects: William Shakespeare, and Runar Schildt. Joel Haahtela intrigues me: Tule risteykseen seitsemältä [Come to the Crossing at Seven], and Lumipäiväkirja [Snow Diary].

I am also interested in the African novels of Paulina Chiziane from Mozambique, about polygamy. She has a story about five wives who are not aware of each other.

Then I have that story against nuclear power. I have also a Christmas story and a Kurdish story. There is also "Divorce, Finnish style".

I have also three subjects about great men. - Urho Kekkonen: we did shoot three days based on a Paavo Haavikko screenplay. I may revive it.  - The 1930s: Vihtori Kosola [an activist of the extreme right]: he was not one of the key men, but he was the figurehead. It would be a musical. - Then there is the Jesus movie. It was to star Gérard Depardieu before he started this fooling around in Russia. Jesus would be old, almost on the verge of retirement. Now the number one casting alternative would be John Malkovich. Jesus would have a look at the world and become jumalankieltäjä = an atheist. There would be no other way.


This film had 190 spectators during its theatrical run. Is there anybody here who has seen it? [More than ten hands are raised.] There is a poem by Einari Vuorela. "I am a lake person". "An ocean is so big that it is impossible to understand." "Well, isn't it great when there is a hell of a lot of zeroes in a number". "I am rather an ocean person".

In many of my movies I quote poems. There are three criteria of selection, all of which have to be met: 1) I like the poem, 2) the character likes the poem, and 3) the poem needs to be good.

Q & A

FILM OR DIGITAL. If I could decide I would shoot on film. But there is a big difference in the cost. Now they are getting rid of 35 mm, anyway, there is no stock, there are no labs, and there is no other choice. One has to do it on video.

ACTING YOURSELF. The big roles I have played have not been to save money. I have also acted for fellow directors at MTV, Ilkka Vanne, and Pauli Virtanen.

SOULMATES. Eric Rohmer, John Cassavetes.

FUNDING SAUNAVIERAS. I got an advance from my dvd sales. SES pondered over it for three and a half years before they refused funding. By then the film had already been released.

It is unavoidable to land in debt. After the first million it gets easier. The banks are more difficult now. Previously I explained the situation frankly to the bank manager who said: siinäpä rehellinen mies = there's an honest man. No more do I get to see the manager. Pankkisuhde ei enää toimi = the banking relationship is no longer working.

Usually I have a finished screenplay, but of Kello I had written 14 pages. Yet we decided to do Kello next week, and by Thursday it had been shot.

I write fast, but the material has been brewing in my mind for a long time. The speed is illusory. I have been thinking about the subject for years.

Kuinka myöhään valvoo blues [How Late Is the Blues Staying Awake]: I wrote it daily while we were shooting. It gives a feeling of freshness at times, most of the times.

Q: HILKKA EKLUND: she declared to be a member of the Anssi Mänttäri Fan Club, meaning that she has seen all his films and paid for the ticket for all of them. - Previously small budget films stayed in the repertory for a longer time. - "I have said to Jörn Donner that Regina ja miehet is the best thing you have done."

After the lecture, on our way to Corona Bar, Anssi Mänttäri added Jacques Demy to his list of soulmates, especially Demy's debut feature film Lola.

Anssi Mänttäri's selection for the film to be screened after the lecture was Marraskuun harmaa valo.

The visual quality of the excerpts, taken from the Anssi Mänttäri dvd collection (VL-Musiikki, 2012-2013), was very good.

No comments: