Saturday, August 24, 2013

Matti Ijäs in a discussion with Lauri Timonen

Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Short Story and the Cinema seminar arranged by the Novelli palaa! project of Nuoren Voiman Liitto), 24 August 2013

The film director Matti Ijäs talked over an hour with Lauri Timonen, the author of a splendid new book on Ijäs, and I took six pages of notes. Ijäs told how Katsastus was constructed from three short stories by Joni Skiftesvik and the importance of the open ending.

Different authors are interesting for different reasons: Anton Chekhov for his versatility, Veijo Meri for his sparseness.

First of all, good characters are essential. Secondly, the atmosphere can be open to associations.

A novel needs to be approached with a bulldozer, a short story with sharp scissors. A novel is enslaved by plot. A short story needs to be embellished by writing more full versions of secondary characters.

The only writers I have collaborated with are Joni Skiftesvik and Arto Melleri. The other adaptations have been very free, indeed. It is customary to search for additional material from the world of the author.

Tuulikaappimaa is based on the novel by Jari Tervo. The plot is convoluted in the extreme, throwing somersaults, bordering on the incredible. It is exasperating what to throw out. Generally writers give me my freedom. A novel is much more difficult to dramatize.

Martti Joenpolvi is a leading short story writer. Johanneksen leipäpuu has a strange tension, it is a longish short story about the grim fate of a small enterpreneur, who via his focus on his enterprise destroys his own family. Juha Lehtola was a screenwriter also in my other Martti Joenpolvi adaptation, Pala valkoista marmoria.

It would be great to make a ten part series of the best Finnish short stories, from Pentti Haanpää to the 1980s.

Kolme suudelmaa was only inspired by Anton Chekhov, his story A Man in a Case. I added also material from his notebooks and created an account of a contemporary man in a case.

Fables can be a starting point, but I'm interested in conflict, paradox, surprise. A fox who is not sly. A stupid ass with a good heart. The basic structure needs to be clear cut. Then you can introduce twists and turns. Simplicity is great.

Matti Pellonpää had a quick grasp. He was like a sponge. He soaked up influences from everywhere.

Characters create the milieu.

Literary humour and cinematic humour are different things.

Pelistä pois: I admire Jacques Tati. There is often no climax. Yet one needs an uplift. It is more an inner event. Not external.

Something that is little from the exterior but great in the interior, that is a hallmark of a good short story.

I enjoy a good plot, but myself, I'm not good at that. A plot has become a sofa, things made too easy. A different way of storytelling is felt strange.

Weakness makes a character good, it stirs up action. Weakness is human, say, in a night watchman who is afraid of the dark. A hero is always a coward in some respect. Conflict evokes action, plot.

A tension in a story is created from little things, fears, obsessions, secrets. The turning point is about how the characters expand, are revealed.

Language is difficult to translate into images, and especially difficult when there is little external action.

Dialogue was easy in Katsastus, in the Skiftesvik spirit, there is good dialogue there.

Sometimes you can cover ten pages of a story with a single image. Milieu: you do not need to explain it.

Q: In existentialist literature no emotions are exposed or registered. When directors follow them slavishly all protagonists are coole, without emotions. A: There is increasingly a mere registration of things. Nobody can touch the hard-boiled one. For me it is interesting how much is covered. The character is shattered, and the facade is leaking. A cool facade is essential in the movies. Via close-ups you can examine it better than in the theatre.

Q: Which short story would you take to the desert island? A: Chekhov's collected works.

No comments: