Thursday, January 31, 2013

The State Hermitage

Государственный Эрмитаж, The Palace Embankment, Dvortsovaya plochad 2, Saint Petersburg - by the River Neva, near the beginning of Nevsky Prospekt, facing the Alexander Column. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 10.30 till 18.00, Sunday from 10.30 till 17.00. Visited on Thursday, 31 January, 2013.

Wikipedia: "The State Hermitage [gəsʊˈdarstvʲɪnɨj ɪrmʲɪˈtaʂ] is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise nearly three million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. Apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building are also part of the museum. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad. The Hermitage is a federal state property. Since 1990, the director of the museum has been Mikhail Piotrovsky. Of six buildings of the main museum complex, four, named the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage and New Hermitage, are partially open to the public. The other two are the Hermitage Theatre and the Reserve House."

I spent a day at the Hermitage - over seven hours, that is, almost for the entire duration of the opening hours. The people at the Finnish Institute had advised me to buy a ticket in advance online to avoid queues, which I did. As I arrived among the first ones the queues were not that long anyway, but it could very well have been otherwise. The ticket offices are efficient.

I smiled when I saw the sign to the "little" garderobe - for 1400! There was three times that much room in the big garderobe. The next time I visit the Hermitage in winter I must remember to take indoor shoes. The rooms are warm, and you spend the whole day walking. Also next time I won't wear a jacket. A single shirt is enough. And perhaps a light backpack. During the day I took two coffee breaks at the Hermitage Café. There are several cafés, and one of them is especially good. There are also many bookstores, and one of them is clearly the best.

I had prepared in advance by studying a good compact guide:

The State Hermitage Guide. Compiled  by Tatyana Mamayenko. Edited by Yelena Dianova and Olga Fesoseyenko. Edited by the Organizing Committee: Mikhail Piotrovsky, Georgy Vilinbakhov, Vladimir Matveyev, and Yevgeny Fiodorov. Texts by 48 experts. Saint Petersburg: The State Hermitage Museum, 2000.

I would have made some purchases at the bookstores, but closing time came too soon. Afterwards, I have been studying the website which has a comprehensive digital collection. ("Welcome to the Digital Collection, the new virtual gallery of high-resolution artwork images from the State Hermitage Museum.") It is good for fact-checking but the images do not convey the aesthetic impact of the originals. Maybe it's intentional, but the visual quality of the artworks on the website is underwhelming.

In the Russian language, the floors are called the first, the second, and the third floor, which is also the way we say it in Finnish. In the English language they are called the ground floor, the first floor, and the second floor, which is confusing at first.

The place is huge but reasonably easy to navigate. The staff is big, knowledgeable and helpful. There are intelligent senior people guarding the treasures in a benign atmosphere.

The key to the navigation is to be aware of the room numbers at all times. Room 100 (Ancient Egypt) is a good starting point on the first floor.  Room 202 (Medieval Italy) is good for starting the exploration of the second floor, and room 325 (French 19th century - room 326 which would normally be the starting point was closed today) on the third floor.

I like the Russian way of celebrating art in the country's finest palaces. There were many school classes and guided tours there all day long. When I entered the Renoir room it was empty. The next moment there were two big groups with guides there, and when I left, it was empty again. The rooms are so vast that they don't feel cramped even when they are full with people.

The sense of history is powerful. When I looked out of the window of the third floor of the Winter Palace towards the magnificent Dvortsovaya Square I was thinking about Eisenstein and how he staged the storming of the Winter Palace in his film October. Now the Winter Palace is being stormed daily by art lovers of the world.

I hadn't visited the Hermitage in 40 years, and then it was just a couple of hours on a conducted tour. It was a bit like Alexander Sokurov's movie The Russian Ark, yet not, however, like the breaking of the record of how fast one can run through the Louvre in Godard's Bande à part.

I managed to scan half of the collections on display, with moments of reflection every now and then. The Hermitage is a place to visit many times.

My complete listing of the rooms which I managed to visit this time is beyond the jump break.

Some of my favourites included: 
1. Matisse: in three rooms, with a fine wit of observation and a bold sense of colour.
2. Three skylight rooms with Spanish and Italian masters (a favourite: Palma: Apostles at the Virgin's Tomb - looks magnificent in this room)
3. The Hermitage is the place to go for those who love the four big R's: Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rodin. Favourites: Rembrandt: The Return of the Prodigal Son, Renoir: Dans le jardin, and Rodin: Le Poète et la Muse.
4. Much of the art of ancient Greece survives as duplicates made in ancient Rome - the Hermitage provides an epic survey into those centuries. The collection of the coins with images of the emperors is touching, and a reminder of the words of the Christ: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's". There is also literally a coin with the image of Julius Caesar in the collection.
5. Towards the end of the visit I saw The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich. It was like a shot of vodka after a heavy dinner with many courses. We were perfect strangers watching it with a jolt, and we all started to smile and laugh. In the previous room we had seen busts by Bourdelle (Beethoven, etc.).

I also smiled at the hedonistic bias in some of the rooms (245, 331). Tolstoy would have disapproved of such art.

In rooms 323-325 I detected possible roots for some of the historical quality paintings of the Finns Edelfelt and the teenage Schjerfbeck. They had studied the French academic masters closely.

The quality of presentation is world class, of course. From this viewpoint my favourite rooms are the skylight rooms and the halls with reliefs and sculptures. The sum is bigger than the parts even when the parts are as magnificent as this. Some rooms with Dutch masters are dimly lit; perhaps there is a reason for this.

Since the digital transition I have become more sensitive to seeing art, also in museums. Seeing a painting covered with reflecting glass is like making love with an ill-fitting condom. There is not much annoyingly reflecting glass in the Hermitage; the worst instance is Picasso's Two Sisters trapped in a glass booth like Eichmann in Jerusalem. As a rule at the Hermitage one can admire the naked surface or the work protected by non-reflecting glass.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bullet train to Saint Petersburg

Since December 2010 there has been a high speed train from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg. This TGV (train de grand vitesse) is called Allegro, and it has proven even more hugely popular than was expected. The trip only takes three and a half hours (3:36'), and the scheduling is excellent. The first train leaves at 5.12 am in Helsinki.

In 2011 Russians declared that they have had enough of turning back time and decided to stay in the daylight saving time (DST) all year long. This is understandable, because there are more time zones in Russia than anywhere else - sixteen.

Thus, while there is only a time difference of one hour in principle, the current winter time difference between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg is two hours. Which is why it is already 10.48 local time when the train arrives in St. Petersburg.

On the Allegro train, before crossing the border to Russia, it is possible to change currency to rubles at the best price, better than Forex. There is no wireless network on the train, and an internet widget functions only on the Finnish leg of the journey.

The last train leaves St. Petersburg at 20.25 and arrives in Helsinki 22.01. Very nice: after a full day in St. Petersburg you can still spend a full night in Helsinki.

I have been invited by The Finnish Institute in St. Petersburg to give a lecture to the opening of an exhibition of Finnish silent films called The Fatal Look, beautifully curated and produced by Mr. Kai Vase of KAVA (National Audiovisual Archive / Finland).

I was prepared that there would be an audience of five, maybe one or two of them Russians. But the auditorium was full, and almost all were Russians. There is currently a vivid interest in Finland in Saint Petersburg, and even the popularity of studying the Finnish language is growing. The audience is intelligent and knowledgeable, and there are many questions and interviews. It would have been too late to catch the evening train after the lecture, and the Institute, foreseeing this, has arranged me a hotel in the same block.

We are in the center, at Bolshaya Konyushennaya, within a walking distance of many of the city's attractions. I have a big lunch in the relaxed atmosphere of the Barcelona Tapas Bar (quick, good quality, a lot to eat, good value for money) and dinner at the elegant Arka Restaurant, both on the Bolshaya Konyushennaya. Next morning I have a full Russian style breakfast at my hotel, the Nevsky Hotel Grand. The wireless network at the hotel is perfect.

I dedicate the second day to a visit to the Hermitage. It is quite close, but I manage to do the "flanirovat po Nevskomu" - be a flaneur on the Nevsky Prospekt - on my way there. It's a perfect day for the Hermitage - gray and thawy and slushy outdoors. St. Petersburg drivers are no gentlemen even on the Nevsky Prospekt. It would be a good idea to wear gumshoes on days like this. After the closing time of the Hermitage I have time for a quick salmon salad at the attractive Grand Café Literaturnoe whose emblem is the image of Pushkin. The Pushkin Museum, situated in his final apartment, is nearby on the embankment of the river Moika. I like the music selections in the cafés and restaurants I visited. No junk playlists here.

The taxi takes me to the evening traffic jam and across the Litenyy Most (Litenyy Bridge) to the Finland Station. I'm thinking about Edmund Wilson's classic book To the Finland Station. The station is still there, the name remains the same, and more than 20 years after the fall of the wall there is still a Ploshad Lenina (Lenin Square) around the railway station.

It's 40 years since I last visited the city, then called Leningrad. I participated in a conducted tour, affordable for a poor student. Now, thanks to the Allegro bullet train, the trip to Saint Petersburg is faster than to our summer place at Saimaa. The temptation is great to make a next visit soon.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

DocPoint Vanishing Point: Rose Lowder

DocPoint Vanishing Point, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 26 Jan 2013.
Curators: Mika Taanila, Sami van Ingen. In the presence of Rose Lowder.

Mika Taanila: "Born in 1941, the French filmmaker Rose Lowder travelled the world from an early age after her parents’ work. Later on her studies took her between Lima, London and Paris."

"Educated as a painter and a sculptor, she moved on to filmmaking in 1976 with encouragement from Jean Rouch. She had gathered experience in filmmaking in the 1960’s, when she worked as an assistant editor for the BBC to pay for her studies."

"Lowder’s works have a markedly handcrafted feel to them and her films are loaded with sensitivity. She is considered to be one of the most innovative characters in structural film. She calls her technique, in which she shoots films frame by frame, as “knitting inside a camera”."

"The films in her Bouquets series make up the core of her oeuvre. They are impressionistic 60 second documentaries about places she has particular interest in. These include shots from organic farms and macrobiotic centers in France, Switzerland and Italy."

"Voiliers et coquelicots provides powerful romanticism from Marseille in the form of boats and poppies. In Les Tournesols we see sunflowers wobbling with every frame having a slightly different focus point in a static landscape."

"Jardin du soleil and Sous le soleil reflect in the blinking of solar panels. Jardins du Marais is a tremoring momental lapse from the Loire-Atlantique natural park while  Rien d’ extraordinaire takes us to the garden of a Swiss hotel."

"Habitat is simply a film about frogs and Jardin du sel depicts the manufacturing of sea salt. The final episode Sources has an organic farmer’s vegetable paté in the starring role." (Mika Taanila | translation by Juha Nurminen)

Les Tournesols, 1982, 3 min, silent - "En faisant reposer l'image sur des éléments extraits de la réalité filmée, inscrits successivement sur la bande, il est possible d'obtenir une fluidité d'agencement des constituants visuels de l'image. Tout en gardant l'avantage de la mobilité des éléments graphiques, Les Tournesols tente de faire gagner une certaine stabilité à l'ensemble de la représentation spatio-temporelle. Dans ce film, la mise au point est successivement réglée image par image, selon une série de partitions sur des plantes spécifiques situées à différents endroits de plusieurs champs de tournesols contigus. Les petites unités de photogrammes, enregistrées les unes après les autres, apparaissent, simultanément sur l'écran, lors de leur projection, sous forme de diverses configurations induisant des mouvements insolites. La relative stabilité de l'image amena aux recherches qui conduirent à la série des Scènes de la vie française. Les Tournesols et Les Tournesols colorés peuvent être également projetés ensemble, côte à côte en double projection." (Rose Lowder) - The French word says it all: sunflowers turn with the sun. They seem to tremble and dance in time-lapse photography.

Bouquet 1, 1995, 1 min, silent - "Filmed on the Mount Ventoux, Vaucluse, from the peak (1912 m) to the Grozeau spring. Amongst yellow poppies and various mountain flowers, people eat their lunch, scramble or cycle up the slopes leading to the summit where they are greeted by the sale of local products: organic épautre, the local ancient form of wheat, and coloured candies." (Rose Lowder) - Flash edit, superimposition, a richness of images, a richness of colours. The letters of the words identifying the movie appear one by one.

Bouquet 2, 1994, 1 min, silent - "Filmed near the village of Brantes, amongst other things, a school cycling party passing through fields of flowers on the borders of Vauculse and Drome". (Rose Lowder) - A bombardment of shots of gentle pastoral views, the flowers of the meadows, poppies, with a moment of calm, and then flashing on again.

Voiliers et coquelicots, 2001, 2 min, silent - "Little is necessary for everything to appear differently. The date, the hour, the weather, the space's layout, one's glance or presence of mind... can make everything change. The boats sail out of the Vieux port in Marseille to be amongst the poppy fields." (Rose Lowder) - Flash edit and superimpositions of sailboats and poppies, accelerating into flicker, colour changes, thistle.

Bouquets 21–30, 2001–05, 14 min, silent - "Bouquets 21-30 (2001-2005) is a part of the ecological Bouquets series, consisting of one-minute films composed in the camera by weaving the characteristics of different environments with the activities there at the time. The filming basically entails using the film strip as a canvas with the freedom to film frames on any part of the strip in any order, running the film through the camera as many times as needed."
    "Thus each bouquet of flowers is also a unique bouquet of film frames."
    "Bouquet 21 (2001) was filmed in a tiny paradise which took years to create, La Baraque, an organic farm situated 2 kms from Aujac, in the far corner of Gard, sandwiched between Lozère and Ardèche."
    "Bouquet 22 (2001) meanders over the mountain pastures near the summit of the Grand Perron des Encombres, not far from a macrobiotic centre at Bettaix, in the Belleville Valley, Savoie."
    "Bouquet 23 (2001) shows Terre Vivante, a centre focusing on ecological issues, located on a site of fine cultivated, or wild, flower and vegetable gardens strewn over a hillside amongst ponds. Open to the public, it organizes numerous events and publishes excellent books and a magazine."
    "Bouquet 24 (2001) was filmed in a pastoral setting around Beausite, an inn which provides organic meals in its preserved 1912 ambience, in Chemin-dessus, on a mountain slope 7 kms from Martigny, Switzerland."
    "Bouquet 25 (2002) was shot in Cantal, around Le Tahoul, the Falgoux Valley and the Aulac Pass. This reel mingles the few flowers uneaten by the Salers cows with the village residents going about their affairs."
    "Bouquet 26 (2003) was filmed in the middle of the animals of a small farm, La Terra di Mezzo, perched on hillside terraces of Liguria, Italy."
    "Bouquet 27 (2003) moves around a macrobiotic centre in St. Gaudens, Haute-Garonne. Amongst glimpses of the surrounding countryside leading to the village of St. Béat, it shows its residents working on the land, repairing items or making rice biscuits."
    "Bouquet 28 (2005) takes place on a farm, Mas de Cocagne, Aujac, Gard, which has developed from an abandoned coal-mining area into an agricultural-ecological site over twenty-five years. The topics include abundant floral vegetation, the Château d'Aujac on the hillside in the distance, work on the farm, builders erecting a roof, washing being hung up and to end a contented frog amongst the pink water lilies."
    "Bouquet 29 (2005) shows a very isolated 18th c farmhouse, Fra Boyer, on the borders of the Forêt Domaniale de l'Oule, near Montmorin, Hautes-Alpes. The floral vegetation attracts numerous butterflies and other flying insects, the family grow vegetables and collect the cherries while two donkeys help themselves."
    "Bouquet 30 (2005) treats the farm of Le Lanteïrou, Champagne, near Les Vastes, Haute-Loire. One sees the cows, the farmer by the house, a member of the family in the bed he has built, complete with bedside lamp, under a nearby tree, and an elderly neighbour walking between the two white chairs set up at either end of her field amongst the vegetable patches." (Rose Lowder)

Habitat, 2006, 8 min 30 s, silent - "In this film we move away from the notion of a work preconceived to adjust the visual characteristiques of the image in order to allow us to enter the temporal dimension of a pond full of frogs. In front of such creatures that tend to be elusive there arises a question of more general interest as tohow can one record moments that are meanful, how can one render visible,present a moment that is alive and connect the items forming the different recorded moments up together?" (Rose Lowder)

Bouquets 11–20, 2005–09, 14 min, silent - "Bouquets 11-20, filmed in Italy, Switzerland and France, was delayed by the weather and a series of related technical/aesthetics incidents. The ten little films (1 minute or 1440 frames each, with the exception of 23 frames or nearly a second more for n°16), continues the work begun with the series Bouquets 1-10 and 21-30. This consists of weaving in camera visual aspects of the filmed reality in order to bring into existence specific features of the cinematographic image, hopefully placing us on a boundary outside the traditional rôles of description or abstraction."
    "Content-wise the graphic-aesthetic procès is related to social/economical politics and philosophy. Nearly every civilization disappeared due to mayor environmental issues and we are, in heading in that direction, repeating history. R.L."
    10 Bouquets, each one minute long, all filmed at ecological sites.
Bouquet 11 - Oasis de la Roche Bleue, near Plaisans, Drôme
Bouquet 12 - Farm de la Mhotte, Saint Menoux, Allier
Bouquet 13 - Site agroécologique de la Baraque, Aujac, Gard
Bouquet 14 - Le Vieil Eclis, Asserac, Loire-Atlantique
Bouquet 15 - Azienda Agricola Cascina Piola, Serra-Capriglio, Asti,
Nord Monferrato, Piedmonte, Italy
Bouquet 16 - Silvai Confiture (jam), Haute Bléone, Prads, Basses-Alpes
Bouquet 17 - Hôtel –Pension Beau-Site (Label écologique européen), Chemin sur Martigny, Switzerland
Bouquet 18 - Farm de Crozefond, Saint Aubin, Lot et Garonne
Bouquet 19 - Les Jardins du Marais, Parc Naturel Régional de Brière, Hoscas, Loire Atlantique
Bouquet 20 - Site agroécologique de la Baraque, Aujac, Gard." (Rose Lowder)

Jardin du soleil, 2010, 2 min, silent - "Beginning with natural light, an element that played a major role in cinematographic developement, the subject of the film evolves around solar panels in two different places, Cascina Piola, Capriglio, Asti, in Italy, and Le Vieil Eclis, Asserac, in Loire-Atlantique, France. We find ourselves in the middle of sparkling light, exposed to the wind, like the butterflies, the bees and the little clouds." (Rose Lowder)

Jardins du Marais, 2010, 2 min 30 s, silent - "This magnificent garden, in the Parc naturel régional de Brière, in the middle of the presqu’île de Guérande, Loire-Atlantique, in France, covers over a hectare of land. It’s vegetable garden, ornamental garden, small forest and two ponds, make up a continuously evolving space, but also a visual mumble - jumble of wild life that draws one to delve into it in order to explore it cinematographically. In honor of Annick Bertrand-Gillen et Yves Gillen, the creators of this munificent space in the middle of nature." (Rose Lowder)

Rien d’extraordinaire, 2010, 2 min, sound - "Just a glimpse of this beautiful spot around the Hôtel - Pension Beau-Site on the Chemin sur Martigny, Switzerland, situated in a hamlet surrounded by snow-capped mountains." (Rose Lowder) - with the Chilean dancer Pauliva Alemparte

Jardin du sel, 2011, 16 min 11 s, sound - "The production of sea salt flower is a process of concentration-saturation of sea water in order to form crystallization. The agriculture character of the activity is evoked by the term "salt garden". Six poetic pictures, five based on the sun, the wind and the sea, while the last rests on a small park left fallow. Music by François Alexis Degrenier." (Rose Lowder) - The film is like abstract expressionism, accompanied by musique concrète. - The salt crystals are viewed almost as abstractions.

Sous le soleil, 2011, 3 min 28 s, sound - "In the heat of summer solar panel reflections blend with butterflies on flowers and a little bird eating the mulberries." (Rose Lowder)

Sources, 2012, 5 min 22 s, sound - "Sources originated from Thomas the Gardener’s wish to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his making vegetable pâté. Leaving urban life behind him in order to renew a relationship with the land, Thomas started up an organic garden in the beautiful area of hot and cold Springs, lakes and rivers, in the upper Aude Valley." "In the middle of making his pâté, the gardener is surrounded, as the water sources of the Aude river rush by, by one of the sources for his recipies, the flowers and spices from his garden." (Rose Lowder) - The gleaming water.

All from France, 16 mm, from Light Cone, total duration 75 min

Splendid colour, a strong feeling for nature and the presence of the sun. The senses are reawakened by the structural changes of time lapse, fast edit, and superimposition. While the music by François Alexis Degrenier is fine in the four last films of the show, the silent ones are even more intensive; maybe the music distracts slightly from the visual intensity. Most of the movies are ultra rapid, even with flicker, but there are moments of almost still life, like Habitat, about the frogs in the pond.

Fine 16 mm prints with fine colour.

The Gatekeepers

DocPoint, Kinopalatsi 2, Helsinki, 26 Jan 2013

Hannes Nissinen: "The designated task of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service, is to defend the country from terrorism. In the film by Dror Moreh, six previous Shin Bet directors speak out publicly for the first time about their views on the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The film covers events all the way from the Six-Day War until today’s utilization of unmanned drone planes. The film composes a picture of heavyweight gatekeepers and decision making of the highest level, where everything is carried out by the middlemen."

"Even though the film brings forth the perspectives of the Israeli security leaders, the moral weighing is left for the spectator. The Gatekeepers won the Best Documentary Award in the LA Film Critics Association annual awards." (Hannes Nissinen | translation by Juha Nurminen)

Director: Dror Moreh
96 min, Belgium, Israel, France, Germany, 2012
Original title: Shomerei Ha’Saf
Format: 2K DCP
Photography: Avner Shahaf
Editor: Oron Adar
Sound: Alex Claude
Production: Dror Moreh, Estelle Fialon, Philippa Kowarsky / Dror Moreh Productions, Les Films du Poisson, Cinephil
Additional info: The Gatekeepers in nominated for the best feature documentary Academy Award in 2013.

In Hebrew with English subtitles

Featuring Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri, and Avraham Shalom.

Wikipedia: "The Gatekeepers (Hebrew: שומרי הסף) is a 2012 documentary film by director Dror Moreh that tells the story of the Israeli Shin Bet from the perspective of six former heads of Israel’s secretive internal security service. It combines in-depth interviews with archival footage and computer animation to recount the role that the group played in Israel’s security from the Six Day War to the present. It is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards."

"In interviews, Moreh explains that he was inspired to make the film after watching Errol Morris’s Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog of War. Having just completed a film about former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he came to realize the decisive role that the Shin Bet had played behind the scenes for the past forty years. Ami Ayalon was the first head of the Shin Bet to agree to be interviewed for the film."

"The problem, according to Moreh, was to get the “Gatekeepers,” or former heads of the Shin Bet to agree to appear on camera to discuss their work. Given the secretive nature of the organization, none of them had ever done this before, and many of the topics he hoped to discuss with them were either classified or highly sensitive."

"Despite this initial difficulty, Moreh contacted one of the “Gatekeepers,” Ami Ayalon, who had since been elected to the Knesset for the Labor Party and was serving as a Minister without Portfolio in the Security Cabinet. Much to his surprise, Ayalon not only agreed to participate, he also helped Moreh contact the other surviving former heads of the Shin Bet: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, and Avi Dichter. The sixth participant in the film, Yuval Diskin, was still serving as head of the Shin Bet at the time."

"Though all the men agreed to participate, some were reluctant initially to discuss various incidents associated with their careers. Shalom, for instance, did not want to discuss his role in the hijacking of the 300 bus and summary execution of two of the terrorists, though the ensuing scandal ultimately led to his resignation. Over time, however, and with careful prodding, he agreed to discuss even that, and it now features as one of the film’s seven segments."

"The film consists of seven segments:

1. No Strategy, Just Tactics: covering the emerging role of the Shin Bet from the Six Day War and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
2. Forget About Morality: about the 300 bus incident.
3. One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter: about the peace process following the Oslo Accords.
4. Our Own Flesh and Blood: about Jewish terrorism, including the Jewish Underground and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
5. Victory Is to See You Suffer: about negotiations with the Palestinians during the Second Intifada.
6. Collateral Damage: about the assassination of Yahya Ayyash and other prominent Hamas activists.
7. The Old Man at the End of the Corridor: consisting of reflections on the activities of the Shin Bet and their ethical and strategic impact on the State of Israel.

"Though the film follows a loose chronological order, each of these segments also delves into topics such as the controversy surrounding collateral damage, the efficacy of torture, and the morality of targeted assassination. These personal confessions and reflections are among the most powerful moments of the film. Especially noteworthy is Avraham Shalom’s statement that, “On the other hand it's a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II. Similar, not identical,” and Yaakov Peri’s statement that, “These moments end up etched deep inside you, and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist.”"

"The events described in the film are illustrated with archival footage and computer-generated imagery that brings historic photographs to life. An example of this is the computer-generated reenactment of the 300 bus incident, based on photographs and eyewitness accounts. The film's computer animations were created by the French company Mac Guff."

Political and historical documentary film making of the highest order. The Gatekeepers not only presents a compelling view of already existing information, but it is in itself a powerful new fact - that all the six directors of Shin Bet share the basic view, deeply committed to the Oslo Accords, deeply concerned about the current politics of the Israeli government. The final discussion is based on Clausewitz, about true victory as a better political reality. If the policy of the Oslo Accords is not pursued, "we lose the war".

The Gatekeepers is more thrilling than most thrillers. Chronologically, the main story starts during the 1982 Lebanon War when Shin Bet acquired new prominence with its effective methods. The Gatekeepers is also a history of the Palestinian situation until the present. There is a feeling of honesty in the account. I kept being amazed by the revelations, small and great. Among the general observations: "intelligence agencies fail to foresee major events".

The Gatekeepers is also an account of Jewish extremist terrorism (the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the plan to destroy the Dome of the Rock).

In the conclusion, there is no old man at the door. Peace can't be made by military means. There is no alternative to talking. "We do not want a Shin Bet state." "When you see a family suffering, it gets etched deep inside." "We do not want to make the lives of millions unbearable." "We have become cruel to ourselves, as well."

The visualizations of Shin Bet premises and vaults are not documentary records of real facilities, and the "surveillance imagery" is computer generated animation made for the movie.

Visual quality: fine 2K digital for the interviews, compilation quality for the rest.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Kino Concert Turksib with Felix Zenger

Turksib poster by the Stenberg brothers.
VOXPoint - Kinophonic Concert: Felix Zenger & Turksib. Mixed by Teemu Korsipää. DocPoint, Bio Rex, Helsinki, 25 Jan 2013.

Peter von Bagh: "Turksib is the most well-known Soviet documentary film along with Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. Its topic is the building of a railway between Turkestan and Siberia, which was a crucial project for Central Asia and the Far East and a massive mobilization of muscles and machines."

"For Turkestan it marked new means for commerce and communication. The wind of change was blowing everywhere as the country and its citizens eagerly awaited wealth and for the utopia to become reality: this is how things stand, not that well perhaps, but a grand dream is about to come true."

"The style of the film corresponds to the greatness of its theme while still retaining its realistic scope. The portrayal of the building project escalates into an accurate, funny and poetic study of a peasant culture facing a still shapeless tomorrow saturated with technology."

"The intertitles read ”nature is tough, but men and the machines are even tougher.” There is no specific conflict, because things always happen in relation to others. The difference of speed between a camel and a locomotive remains unsolved, and a horse is a permanent reminder of the nobleness and sensitiveness of movement in relation to traditions, nature and the working culture."

"The cinematography embodies the bliss of the archaic material: people untouched by the modern problems, or problems at all. For a fleeting moment, this state of parallel blissful consciousnesses was possible in real socialism. Thanks to Viktor Turin’s film, we get a glimpse of socialism’s finest vision in its original level of experience." (Peter von Bagh | translation by Juha Nurminen)

Finnish beatboxer Felix Zenger takes the stage at VOXPoint, creating  a soundtrack for the silent film Turksib. Zenger forms his own, unique style using only his mouth and the microphone. His music video Beatbox has over 30 million views on YouTube.

Viktor Turin
67 min, Soviet Union, 1929
Format: 35 mm
Script: Viktor Turin, Aleksandr Macheret, Viktor Shklovski, Jefim Aron
Photography: Jevgeni Slavinski, Boris Frantzisson
Production: Vostokkino

A Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet print of 1527 m /20 fps/ 67 min * original Russian intertitles * svenska texter by Mouissia Modnar * e-subtitles in Finnish by Onni Nääppä.

Revisited a classic documentary... after 39 years. It still is fresh and biting. The political bias in this Soviet film is minimal, and it is still easy to understand why Turksib became a model for both the British documentary school - and the Finnish documentary tradition, although Finland was fiercely anti-Soviet. Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan bought a print of Turksib and studied it devotedly. The influence is obvious in some of their films from the 1930s, including their films for the Finnish wood industry.

The main asset of the film is the power of observation - of the varying locations from the harbours at the Caspian Sea to the snowy mountains of Siberia - of the many occupations and industries including sheep farming, cultivating cotton, and forest industry - and of the epic processes of the construction of the railway with the giant bridges of Chuisky and Irtysh.

The sense of humour is unobtrusive and the account of the conflict between modernity and tradition is without condescension. There is nobility in the ways of the camel drivers, but the railway can make life much easier.

The feeling for nature is impressive - the power of the Samum wind - the importance of the water - the devastating qualities of the desert.

The DocPoint Festival had engaged the hugely popular beat box artist Felix Zenger to create the music. His strong and inventive rhythms fitted the theme of modernity and the machine world very effectively, and the emphasis on the human sound resonated with the feeling for nature and tradition in the movie.

The print from Svenska Filminstitutet is fine, and the translations seemed good, too, to the film famous for the quality of its intertitles.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

DocPoint Vanishing Point: Stan Brakhage 3: The Text of Light

DocPoint Vanishing Point, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 24 Jan 2013.
Curators: Mika Taanila, Sami van Ingen.
Introduced by Sami van Ingen. 

The Text of Light. 1974. 16 mm; 71 min. Source: Canyon Cinema.

An amazing film - a light show - like a huge art exhibition - consisting entirely of reflections in a glass ashtray.

Like the bottom of the ocean - like stardust in outer space.
Like the clouds in heaven - like the depths of water.
Like frozen cascades.
Macroscopic - microscopic.

Highlighting crystals - highlighting shining surfaces.
Highlighting the glass material - highlighting the quartz crystal cluster qualities.
Like the dusk - like the dawn.
Like Northern lights - like rainbows.
Like embers - like glowing embers - "kuin hiipuva hiillos" = like fading embers.

Like an oil painting - like a watercolour - like an acrylic painting - like a mobile - like tapestry - like kinetic art.
Like film noir imagery - nocturnal streets glistening in the dark after the rain.
Illuminations - transformations.
Constellations - nebulae.
Deep sea creatures beyond the reach of light.

Textures of light.

A fine print of a film which it must be a nightmare for the projectionist to focus. There was trouble in the beginning but it was settled with no harm done.

The House I Live In (2012)

HDCam viewed at DocPoint, Maxim 2, Helsinki, 24 Jan 2013

Anton Vanha-Majamaa: "At the end of the 1960s Ronald Reagan, president of the United States, declares a war on drugs. A battle which is to last for decades begins, resulting in millions of prisoners and burning through billions of dollars without being able to take down the drug markets. Are the measures the right ones? Are the politicians asking the right questions?"

"With his first-hand approach, director Eugene Jarecki reviews these questions in a similar fashion to the series The Wire which unraveled the American society from the micro level up to the top thrones of power. Tying ethnicity into drug policies offers many new issues to bite on. A power game is found behind the criminalization of drugs, by which the hegemony of the white majority is attempted to be preserved. A comparison to the Holocaust is justifiable." Anton Vanha-Majamaa | translation by Asta Mykkänen

Amerikkalainen huumesota (Yle TV1, Dokumenttiprojekti, 30 Sep 2013)
Director: Eugene Jarecki
105 min, United States, 2012
Format: HDCam
Photography: Sam Cullman, Derek Hallquist
Editor: Paul Frost
Sound: Matthew Freed, Timonthy McConville, Arthur R. Jaso
Production: Eugene Jarecki, Melinda Shopsin
Additional info: Executive Producer: Brad Pitt

Wikipedia: "The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki, is a 2012 documentary film about the War on Drugs in the United States."

"As America remains embroiled in conflict overseas, a less visible war is taking place at home, costing countless lives, destroying families, and inflicting untold damage upon future generations of Americans. In forty years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests, made America the world's largest jailer, and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet for all that, drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available today than ever before."

"Filmed in more than twenty states, The House I Live In captures heart-wrenching stories from individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. From the dealer to the grieving mother, the narcotics officer to the senator, the inmate to the federal judge, the film offers a penetrating look inside America’s longest war—a definitive portrait revealing its profound human rights implications."

"The film recognizes the seriousness of drug abuse as a matter of public health, and investigates the tragic errors and shortcomings that have meant this symptom is most often treated as a cause for law enforcement, creating a vast machine that largely feeds on America’s poor, and especially on minority communities. Beyond simple misguided policy, the film examines how political and economic corruption have fueled the war for 40 years, despite persistent evidence of its moral, economic, and practical failures."

The name of the film comes from the song "The House I Live In" (1942, originally in the musical revue Let Freedom Sing). The short film, the Academy Award winning The House I Live In (1945), targeted against anti-semitism, was inspired by it, and in it the song was sung by Frank Sinatra. During the end credits of Eugene Jarecki's film we hear the Paul Robeson interpretation (1948) of "The House I Live In".

One of the most remarkable and thought-provoking films of the recent times in any category.

A bold, brave and devastating documentary film with an epic ambition. Drugs are terrible, but the war on drugs is equally terrible - inefficient and destructive. David Simon: "What drugs have not destroyed the war on them has".

25% of the world's prisoners are in the U.S. Prisons have become an important business.

Policemen get substantial bonuses for arrests. It is easiest to make arrests on drug crimes. Policemen can also earn money from seizures of assets.

When Nixon launched the war on drugs, two thirds of the resources were targeted to rehabilitation, to the treatment of addicts. Now the rehabilitation programs are often the first that get cut.

There is a personal framework to this documentary. The director Eugene Jarecki's family escaped Europe and family members, "we the lucky ones", were thus saved from the Holocaust. He starts to investigate his black nanny's family, following the leads of the drug tragedy and discovering how drug laws are used to destroy families and communities.

A film of a high intellectual complexity and a full command of the means of non-fiction, including interviews and archival footage. The newly shot footage looks fine, and there is naturally a compilation quality in much of the rest.

The Miners' Hymns

The Miners' Hymns on Bill Morrison's website (see also beyond the jump break).
HDCam at DocPoint, Maxim 2, Helsinki, 24 Jan 2013.

Taru Kasandra: "Director Bill Morrison doesn’t need words to describe what everyday life is like in an English mining community. This mostly black-and-white film shows both social and political aspects of the mining industry using rarely seen archive footage. While the narrative is conveyed visually, the film does not remain a silent experience. A deeply powerful accompaniment has been composed by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson."

"Coloured aerial footage and moments from the labour strikes of 1984 act as a striking reminder of what our contemporary culture of consumption is built on. It is touching to witness a man at the pit head kissing his employer-issued head torch, drawing his last breath of fresh air, before he descends into the dark, cramped, dusty mine." Taru Kasandra │ translation by Jouna Keränen

Director: Bill Morrison
52 min, United Kingdom, 2011
Photography: Steve Desbrow
Editor: Bill Morrison
Sound: Jacques B. Pedersen
Production: David Metcalfe / Hypnotic Pictures, Forma

A majestic, noble, haunting requiem to the formerly magnificent English mining community in Durham County in North East England. In the framing images a helicopter flies above, and captions alert us to former sites of collieries (= coal mines): Ryhope, Silksworth, Hylton, Monkwearmouth...

They now only exist in memory. The body of the movie is a compilation of wonderful historical footage about the mining community and also about the legendary Durham Miners' Association and the Durham Miners' Gala which includes a miners' service in Durham Cathedral. This is the background to the title of Bill Morrison's film.

The historical footage ends with violent demonstrations. The policemen beat demonstrators during 1984-1985 when the British mining industry was crushed by the Thatcher administration.

There is no spoken sound in the film but a strong score by Jóhann Jóhannsson with aspects of a requiem and an emphasis on brass instruments - brass bands were an essential part of the culture in the mining communities.

While watching this movie with admiration I was not able to relate to its slightly melancholic and resigned atmosphere.

The visual format: HD, alas, but the digital transfer has been performed from excellent film elements with a good artistic sense.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

DocPoint Vanishing Point: Stan Brakhage 2: The Pittsburgh Trilogy

DocPoint Vanishing Point, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 23 Jan 2013
Stan Brakhage 2: The Pittsburgh Trilogy.
Curators: Mika Taanila, Sami van Ingen.

Introduced by Sami van Ingen.

eyes. 1971. 16 mm; 35’00
Deus Ex. 1971. 16 mm; 33’00
The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes. 1971. 16 mm; 32’00
All silent.
Total screening time: 100 min, source: Canyon Cinema.
Rated 18.

The Pittsburgh Trilogy: three films about the raw immediacy of perception.

Stan Brakhage's police film called eyes introduces interestingly features that have become part of the language of television's police series and police films (first cutting edge, then even mainstream) - including the recent End of Watch which incorporated mobile phone video footage. The handheld look, the blurred vision, the lights at night, the theme of surveillance, the lack of a point of reference in many shots, ocean waves and neon waves, factual footage shot in a way that borders on abstraction. The police team faces people in calamity, in extremis.

Deux Ex is shot at different departments of a hospital, including the emergency room and the maternity ward, and shows surgeons at work. We see fragmented images of patients, surgeries, people in wheelchairs, reflecting surfaces. These films are about limited vision, partial views, changes of perspectives. Babies are born and put on special care. A patient is operated on, and details are seen in extreme close-up.

The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes is shot at the morgue. Unceremoniously we get to see autopsies, much of it in extreme close-up. These people have reached the end, the final destination, the spirit is no longer there, the vibrant quality of life is gone. Corpses are turned, the heads and the stomachs are opened, the brains and the intestines are removed, the skin of the face is peeled. The corpses are nothing but lifeless bundles. Also the exposed sex organs are dead. Only the shells remain, only the peels of the human being. The subject-matter is the same as in splatter films, but there is no shock, no frisson here. These are images about professionals at work, it's all matter-of-fact. The concepts of "beauty / ugliness" have no relevance here, and neither has the concept of "sublime" (in the meaning of something that overwhelms or transcends our capacity of perception). It's about something basic, primordial about the physical existence. Seeing the physical body without life makes me think differently about life.

Common to these studies of perception is that there is a sense of learning to see for the first time, like a little child.

All films were seen in good prints from Canyon Cinema.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hilton! Täällä ollaan elämä

Hilton! DocPoint Opening Gala, Bio Rex, Helsinki, 22 Jan 2013. English subtitles in the beginning of the movie.

The Festival opened by Ulla Bergström - Apollo Prize awarded to the editor Tuula Mehtonen, by Erik Söderblom and Erkki Astala.

The opening film introduced by the producer Markku Tuurna and the director Virpi Suutari who welcomed many of the people featured in the film and the crew on stage.

Erja Dammert in the DocPoint Catalogue: "The roughly beautiful Hilton! gives the viewer a glimpse of life in a modern society, a life that young persons lead. Janne, Toni, Mira, Pete and Make live in a tenement owned by a youth foundation. Their attempts to take control over their own lives have been in vain. Toni says that it is gruesome to see oneself as socially excluded, but apparently he is just that. Despite of these facts, the group sticks together. Make, the father figure, has his freezer full of food: nobody has to leave his place hungry."

"Life gives each one a quantum of care, and the main characters find a little something to lean on in the world. Make cleans his apartment and by doing so, he also cleans the mess that his life has turned into. A baby girl Luna is born and fills her young mother with love. Hope lives in the heart of the tenement and its inhabitants." Erja Dammert | translation by Emmi Kivinen

Virpi Suutari
71 min, Finland, 2013
Format: 2K DCP
Photography: Heikki Färm
Editor: Jussi Rautaniemi
Sound: Olli Huhtanen
Production: Markku Tuurna / Filmimaa

Featuring: Janne, Toni, Mira, Pete, and Make.

The screening was dedicated to Make, who died today.

The title Hilton is the ironic nickname given to the tenement house maintained by Itä-Helsingin nuorisosäätiön vuokratalo (the social security system).

The young drop-outs: a devastating situation, a vicious circle, an evil chain reaction. In fiction film we know Wild Boys of the Road, A Passport to Life, Sciuscià, Los olvidados...

Virpi Suutari goes inside the tenement house and we get to follow a group of young people in situations of amazing intimacy. It is incredible that we can get this close to a terrible reality. We see how they live, and as the film proceeds, we get to learn about how they have come this way. On the other hand, a child is born. A recurrent mofif: invoices are torn in pieces, and pieces of paper fly around like snowflakes.

There is a good sense of structure and rhythm in the film.

The ethical dilemma in movies like this is extreme. Literally it's a matter of life and death, a play with fire. The protagonist of Reindeerspotting died. One of the protagonists of this movie is now dead, too. I frankly do not know what to think about non-fiction films with protagonists who may not be equipped to defend themselves. Yet I fully trust in the ethical standpoint of Virpi Suutari and Markku Tuurna.

The visual quality: low definition, sometimes extremely low definition (mobile phone video footage), used as a means of expression.

DocPoint Vanishing Point: Stan Brakhage 1

DocPoint, Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 22 Jan 2013.

The screening was introduced by Sami van Ingen.

Sami van Ingen (DocPoint Catalogue): "Stan Brakhage (1933–2003) was a visionary artist who made over 300 films. They explore our perceptions of our outer and inner worlds as well as the viewing process itself."

"Brakhage’s persistent and uncompromising working methods generated masterpieces, which give novel perspectives on film as a medium and on us humans as psychophysiological entities."

"Brakhage 1 consists of short but powerful pieces. The themes alternate between the conflicting emotions set forth by a birth of a child (Window Water Baby Moving) and the mysticism of a deserted city (Visions in Meditation #2) all the way to an analysis of death and existence (Mothlight)."

"An appropriate finale for the screening is the last piece of work from the artist, which he scraped on celluloid with his nails while lying on his deathbed. It has been said that watching Chinese Series is like a dash through a bamboo forest."

"The well-known Pittsburgh-trilogy by Stan Brakhage documents the everyday work of police patrols, surgeons and pathologists. The main character is the human body: the constraint of its movements (by the police in eyes), fixing it up (by the surgeons in Deus Ex) and studying it after the spirit has already parted (in The Act of Seeing with one’s own eyes, which takes place in the morgue)."

"The trilogy explores the metaphysical questions of our existence related to chaos, suffering and dying while avoiding witty remarks or pointing fingers. Brakhage displays the carnal side of human existence almost laconically but at the same time he is not afraid to approach his subject matter with thorough fervor. After one transcends the initial sensations of horror and repulsion, the spectator may even see the poetic beauty in a skinned human body."

"Stan Brakhage’s profound interest towards the qualities of light can be perceived throughout his work, but in The Text of Light it becomes the main theme. This film is art by light. He studies how light refracts as it travels through different materials and, at the same time, how light alters its form during the cinematic processes."

"As a starting point Brakhage uses William Blake’s idea of seeing the world in a grain of sand, even though instead of a grain of sand he uses an ashtray he borrowed from Gordon Rosenbaum’s office." (Sami van Ingen | translation by Juha Nurminen)

The Wonder Ring. US 1955. 16 mm; 6’00 - visions of urbanity from the train
Window Water Baby Moving. US 1959. 16 mm; 12’00 - childbirth in extreme close-up, a Courbetian vision of the origin life, raw sensuality, yet tender and respectful
Cat’s Cradle. US 1959. 16 mm; 6’00 - fast edit about the cat's view of the world
Mothlight. US 1963. 16 mm; 3’00 - a masterpiece made without a camera by moth's wings exposed on film - breathtaking, like seeing a huge art exhibition flashing by in three minutes
Here I had to leave for the DocPoint Opening Gala, which overlapped.
The Dante Quartet. US 1987: 35 mm; 6’00
Visions in Meditation #2. US 1989. 16 mm; 17’00
Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse. US 1991. 16 mm; 8’00
Interpolations 1-5. US 1992. 35 mm; 12’00
Black Ice. US 1994. 16 mm; 2’00
Chinese Series. 2003. 35 mm; 2’30
Total duration: 74’30
All prints silent, all except Mothlight from Canyon Cinema. The quality of the prints is good, the colour looks right.

Walking towards Bio Rex I was thinking about the silence which is perfect for Stan Brakhage: the films are so intensive, and need to be seen on film and without music. They fill up the senses just like that.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

52 Souls - Symbolist Landscape 1880-1910 (an exhibition)

52 sielua - symbolismin maisema 1880–1910. Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, 16.11.2012 - 17.2.2013. Viewed on 12 Jan 2013.

The Finnish edition of the catalogue: Symbolismin maisema 1880-1910. By Rodolphe Rapetti, Richard Thomson, Frances Fowle, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, and Nienke Bakker. National Galleries of Scotland (Edinburgh) / Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam) / Ateneumin taidemuseo (Helsinki) / Mercatorfonds (Brussels), 2012. - The editor of the Finnish edition: Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff. - Publisher: Mercatorfonds.

A touring show, different editions of which have been:
Dreams of Nature. Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 2012)
Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1920 (Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh)

The official presentation: "Ateneum Art Museum’s year 2012 culminates in an international exhibition devoted to Symbolist landscape painting. The exhibition 52 souls presents a wide selection of poetic, mystical and sensual interpretations of nature, painted between 1880 and 1910, including landscapes by such masters as Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Claude Monet and James McNeill Whistler. Finnish Symbolist art will be represented by Väinö Blomstedt, Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Hugo Simberg and Ellen Thesleff. In all, the exhibition will show works by 52 artists."

"The exhibition has been made possible thanks to Ateneum's close cooperation with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the National Galleries of Scotland. The curators of the exhibition are two internationally renowned art experts, Rodolphe Rapetti and Richard Thomson. Ateneum’s team in charge of the exhibition has been led by Curator Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff. The exhibition architecture is by Osmo Leppälä."

"The paintings in the exhibition are being lent by the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, Tate in London, MoMA in New York, the Munch Museum in Norway, and the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, to name but a few. In addition, paintings have been made available by major private collections in New York, Paris and Italy."

"A richly illustrated exhibition catalogue with articles by art experts was published by Mercatorfonds of Belgium in spring 2012. The catalogue is available in six languages – English, French, Flemish, German, Finnish and Swedish – and can be purchased for 34,50 euros."


"Symbolism was one of the most influential trends in European art in the period 1880-1910. It was characterised by the desire to describe feelings and moods, a passionate pursuit of spirituality and a strong interest in mythologies. Symbolism was not a style, but rather an attitude and vision. It was in part a reaction to industrialisation and materialism that made artists focus on the richness within ourselves rather than on external realities. Visual artists, poets and composers inspired each other, and the interaction between the arts flourished."

"Landscapes were an ideal subject for symbolists. The pulsating vitality of the sun, the rage of storms and the mystical twilight are familiar and recognisable experiences for everyone. Nature and its elements served as the raw materials that were shaped by the artists to express a certain state of mind."

"From the Finnish perspective, 52 Souls – Symbolist Landscape 1880-1910  is a continuation of the exhibition Illusions of Reality, which presented international naturalism at the Ateneum Art Museum in the first half of 2011. 52 Souls also links Finnish art history with international trends."


"Symbolist artists were interested in ancient mythologies, but also depicted paradises that they found in the modern world. Many escaped from the materialism of the present into the mystical Arcadia of antiquity, where they found peace and harmony with the nature around. The temple ruins and legendary human characters they portrayed looked back to lost civilizations and express their longing for an age of innocence. The wild and dramatic scenery found in their paintings underlined the smallness of man when faced by the magnificence of nature."


"Night-time and dusk were popular subjects among these artists. They portrayed darkness as a kind of frontier zone which turned the day-to-day world into something mysterious and even frightening.  The softness of dusk wraps the world in a soft blanket and generates a sense of mystery. This is expressed equally in a piano Nocturne by Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin, a poem by Finnish poet Eino Leino, and many late 19th century landscapes.  The Midnight Sun of the far north was felt to be particularly magical."


"We have all experienced powerful emotions in the face of nature. We tend to link certain emotional states with different kinds of landscape, natural phenomena and times of year. To the Symbolists, landscape offered a wonderful opportunity for the expression of powerful feelings and states of mind. One of their favourite subjects was forest, the magical spell it casts, its primeval wildness or its impenetrable darkness. Many Nordic artists, specifically, painted trackless wilds, mountains and lakes, often to underline their own national identity and personal feeling for nature."


"Rapid developments in the sciences at this period had a powerful impact on artists, too. In 1859 Charles Darwin had shaken the scientific world with his Origin of Species, while Louis Pasteur’s experiments with bacteria opened up amazing insights into the world of micro-organisms. This new knowledge about man’s origins and evolution, and that of the universe itself, showed that man was just a tiny part of an enormous cosmos. Artists depicted the world as a process of constant movement and life-flow, a process of endless change and renewal. One crucial element in all this was the sun, which represented cosmic energy, a higher power or the unity of all living things."

"Psychology was another challenging science in the 1890s, expanding human knowledge about man’s mind and subconscious. In particular, Sigmund Freud’s theories about the meaning of dreams, sexuality and death inspired many artists. The Symbolists depicted inner visions and dreams, as both nightmare-like horrors and poetic manifestations of the spirit world."


"Migration from rural to urban areas accelerated throughout Europe in the late 19th century. Industrialization changed the face of ancient cities, turning them into bold new metropoli of the modern world, buzzing with life. The response of Symbolist authors was to write about abandoned and rejected towns. Artists painted dreamlike, nostalgic, even ghostly, visions of cities such as Bruges and Venice, their misty streets empty of people: here time seemed to have stopped."


"Interaction between different spheres of the arts was important to the Symbolists. Works often contained references to music, and compositions underlined harmony between form and colour. In the early 20th century many artists grew interested in theosophy and search for the spiritual, leading partly to more simplified and abstract expression. In his major manifesto Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911) Wassily Kandinsky wrote of the unity of colour, feeling and music: ”Colour is the keyboard. The artist is the hand playing, falling variously on the keys and causing the soul to vibrate.”"

A powerful exhibition, and a perfect pedagogic exercise to see next to the Expressionist retrospective at the Sara Hildén Museum - these two great exhibitions share one remarkable artist. Wassily Kandinsky is the final artist in this Symbolist show, and the earliest artist in the Expressionist exhibition.

Reading the excellent catalogue I realize that key works (The Shout by Munch, Isle of the Dead by Böcklin) are missing from the Helsinki selection. It does not matter, because there is "too much" to see anyway. I needed to rest two hours afterwards. On the other hand, there are works included in the Helsinki selection which are not even mentioned in the catalogue's list of artworks.

Amongst the most memorable paintings on display: Vision antique by Puvis de Chavanne, In the Dust Storm by Jacek Malczewski, Nocturne: Grey and Silver by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Alpine Landscape I by August Strindberg, The Sower by van Gogh, and Landscape with Red Spots (Landscape with Church) by Wassily Kandinsky.

All of it is film-relevant. The cinema was born during the age of Symbolism, and the great masters like Lang and Murnau knew these works and were influenced by them.

To begin with, there are direct links such as The Shout > Scream, and Isle of the Dead as the inspiration to the eponymous Val Lewton horror film.

Symbolism directly influenced the cinema in Italy (Febo Mari: Fauno), Russia (Yevgeni Bauer's Vertigo-like Daydreams / Gryozy was based on Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach, as was Korngold's opera Die tote Stadt / The Dead City), and America (Maurice Tourneur: The Blue Bird).

The concept of the landscape as soulscape started in the U.S. (the early Westerns, Ince, Griffith) and was grasped even more consciously by the great Swedes (Sjöström, Stiller).

The discovery of dreams and nightmares became essential in Symbolism as well as in the cinema. Fin-de-siècle decadence was displayed in both. The great powers of Eros and Thanatos became prominent. In commercial exploitation cinema they still run rampant as the mighty twin powers called sex and violence.

The grey nightscapes of Sidaner have affinities with Dreyer's Vampyr. The eerie, abandoned cities of Symbolists were echoed in Clair's Paris qui dort. The chain of influences goes to Chirico and Antonioni and the urban modernism and poetry of alienation in the 1950s and the 1960s.

The isms are of course inventions of critics, gallerists, and historians, and artists don't take them seriously. But this symbolistic survey is exciting in the way it takes us to the foundations of the huge transformation from naturalism to abstraction which took place within a few decades.

The artworks are well lit and the unreflecting glass is so unobtrusive that it is almost unnoticeable. In the Silent Cities section I had the feeling of missing the black levels, but the "low contrast" is obviously a concept of the works themselves. The reproduction of the artworks in the catalogue is pretty good.

Inspired by the show I revisited a favourite book of mine:
Edmund Wilson: Axel's Castle. A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930, published in 1931. It is a series of studies about Symbolism in literature, the chapters titled - Symbolism - W.B. Yeats - Paul Valéry - T.S. Eliot - Marcel Proust - James Joyce - Gertrude Stein - and Axel and Rimbaud. Axel is a novel or prose poem by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam; there is also a discussion on Axel's soul brother Des Esseintes in À rebours by J.K. Huysmans. Because all these writers are still so relevant, the book is also a reminder of the continuing relevance of the Symbolist interconnections. 

Anna Karenina (2012)

Anna Karenina / Anna Karenina. GB © 2012 Focus Features, LLC. PC: Working Title Films. P: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster. D: Joe Wright. SC: Tom Stoppard - based on the novel (1873-1877) by Leo Tolstoy - there are three Finnish translations, the first of them by Eino Kalima (1910-1911, many reprints). DP: Seamus McGarvey. PD: Sarah Greenwood. Cost: Jacqueline Durran. Hair and make-up designer: Ivana Primorac. VFX: One of Us. M: Dario Marianelli. Choreographer: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. S: Craig Berkey. ED: Melanie Ann Oliver. C: Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), Jude Law (Karenin), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Vronsky), Kelly McDonald (Dolly), Matthew Macfadyen (Oblonsky), Domhnall Gleeson (Levin), Ruth Wilson (Princess Betsy Tverskoy), Alicia Vikander (Kitty), Olivia Williams (Countess Vronsky), Emily Watson (Countess Lydia Ivanovna). Ball dancers and French theatre dancers. The extras are mostly Russians living in England. - Studio: Shepperton. Loc: England: - Ham House (Richmond-upon-Thames) - Hatfield House (Hertfordshire) - Miller's House (3 Mills Studios, East London) - Didcot Railway Centre (Oxfordshire) - New Forest (Hampshire) - Salisbury Plain -- Kizhi Pogost (Lake Onega, Karelia, Russia). 130 min. Released by Finnkino with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Minna Franssila / Markus Karjalainen. 2K DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 10, Helsinki, 12 Jan 2013 (weekend of Finnish premiere).

Technical specs from the IMDb: - Camera: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2, Panavision E-, G-Series, ATZ and AWZ2 Lenses - Laboratory: Company 3, London, UK (digital intermediate), DeLuxe, London, UK - Film length (metres): 3549 m (7 reels) - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219) - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format) - Printed film format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

Лёвин should be pronounced "Lyovin" and should perhaps also be transliterated so, although the received transliteration is Levin.

I read the pressbook with 60 single-spaced pages with text only. There I learn that the approach of theatricalization came first two months before the start of principal photography, much after the finished screenplay by Tom Stoppard, but the dialogue in the screenplay was not altered. Joe Wright was inspired by Orlando Figes' Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2002) "where he's describing St. Petersburg high society as people living their lives as if upon a stage. Figes' thesis is that Russia has always suffered from an identity crisis, not quite knowing whether it's part of the East or part of the West. During the period Anna Karenina was written in and about, Russians decided they were definitely part of Western Europe and that they wanted to be cultured like the French". Wright decided that “the action would be taking place within a beautiful decaying theatre, which in itself would be omnipresent, a metaphor for Russian society of the time as it rotted from the inside. Yet we would also adhere to Tom’s adaptation, with the story taking place oblivious to the artifice surrounding it."

The pressbook on the costume design: "Wright asked Jacqueline Durran to ensure that Anna’s costumes be in the style of 1950s couture, though still with the silhouettes of the 1870s.“ Anna’s image was to be one of pure luxury, befitting her status as a Russian aristocrat who wore French clothes. Durran notes, “Had nothing else in the production been stylized, we would have been out on a limb. But I knew this would fit in to the visual-feast approach within the theatre.” The costume designer’s research included looking at French fashion plates Balenciaga and Dior, and period photographs; the other characters, with the exception of Princess Betsy, would hew closer to the story’s time period. Durran comments, “I thought that Joe’s idea was genius because a lot of 1950s couture was itself looking back to an earlier time. We looked at some images from the time next to fashion pictures from the 1870s and although they were eight decades apart, the two periods meshed together very well."

Young girls of 10-15 years of age appeared in the cinema lobby in front of the Anna Karenina posters dressed in beautiful ball gowns, photographing each other with their mobile phone cameras, probably in order to publish the images immediately on their Facebook accounts.

My first impression of this balletic, theatrical adaptation of Anna Karenina in waltz time was that it is a version for very young girls. The movie cover edition of Leo Tolstoy's novel is prominently displayed in Helsinki.

I have nothing against an adaptation like this, especially if it inspires young people to read the best novel ever written. When I read it as a teenager I was too young to understand, but I was able to follow the plot and some of the ideas, and when I read it again much later I was grateful that I had read it as a teenager because the book read me and told me how little I knew then.

I admire Keira Knightley and her ambition to tackle the most difficult and challenging roles. But I have difficulty in accepting her as Anna Karenina - as I do with Greta Garbo, and Vivien Leigh. Anna Karenina is a well-established woman, a mature, intelligent, and balanced woman of the world, fluent in many languages, ordering cases of the latest books from England. She is also a red-blooded, passionate and full-figured woman whose natural feminine needs have been fatally neglected. Of the cinema's Anna Kareninas, Tatyana Samoylova is good, and although Alexander Zarkhi's film adaptation is rather anemic, academic and pedestrian (and chopped: I wonder if there is a long director's cut lurking somewhere in the vaults), there is a performance in that movie that is truly masterful: Nikolai Gritsenko as Karenin. Jude Law is interestingly cast against type as Karenin in Joe Wright's interpretation, and the final image is haunting: Karenin and Anna's two children playing in the fields after their mother has thrown herself under the train.

I like the chemistry of Domhnall Gleeson as Lyovin and Alicia Vikander as Kitty. The sequence with the letter bricks, the lovers guessing each other's thoughts via the first letters of words (THEN I DID NOT NOW) is powerfully moving. Tolstoy would have approved the touching interpretation of this scene which was based on his own proposal to his wife-to-be.

I like also Kelly McDonald as the long-suffering Dolly, and Matthew Macfadyen as his incorrigible, philandering husband Oblonsky. Also the other parts are well cast, but the incomprehensible casting decision remains that of Vronsky. He does seem like a gloss photo from little girls' romantic fantasies. In Tolstoy's novel he is a pretty sober, well groomed officer who wakes up from a somewhat superficial lifestyle into a full responsibility of his actions. The casting of Vronsky pulls the rug from under the entire love tragedy.

The artifice, the pastiche, and the unrealism are of course un-Tolstoyan, and for me they are distractions. This adaptation is not for me, but it inspired me to read a couple of Tolstoy biographies and Eino Kalima's memoirs - he got to meet Tolstoy while he studied in Russia, wrote one of those Tolstoy biographies while the writer was still alive, and finished an excellent translation of Anna Karenina soon after Tolstoy's death.

Seamus McGarvey on the cinematography in the pressbook: Anna Karenina was filmed with anamorphic lenses ... Theatre-style lighting was rigged for the duration of the shoot ... A net filter gives a sense of distance through the gauze of time, but it also smoothes over the edges, or the proximity that you have to these artificial environments. It's sort of blurred a little bit, which I think helps create a more painterly look ... we tried to enhance the image in a very physical way. The photography is not meant to be ostentatious; it's meant to have levity, to dance around and move with the drama.

The rich and warm visual quality is based on photochemical 35 mm film, and much of that quality has been successfully sustained in the digital intermediate. Because of the unrealism of the theatrical approach the aspects of digital feeling are not annoying, but even the nature looks denatured, and that does not contribute to the balance of the film (urbanity vs. nature).

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jussi Awards Nominations for the best Finnish films of 2012

Kohta 18 / Almost 18 –  Maarit Lalli
Miss Farkku-Suomi / Miss Blue Jeans – Outi Rousu, Markku Flink
Niko 2 - lentäjäveljekset / Niko 2 - Little Brother, Big Trouble – Petteri Pasanen, Hannu Tuomainen
Puhdistus / The Purge – Maria Avdjuško, Kristian Taska, Jukka Helle, Markus Selin
Vuosaari / Naked Harbour – Pauli Pentti, Liisa Penttilä

Antti Jokinen  – Puhdistus / The Purge
Maarit Lalli  –  Kohta 18 / Almost 18
Aku Louhimies  –  Vuosaari / Naked Harbour

Samuli Edelmann  –  Tie pohjoiseen / Road North
Vesa-Matti Loiri  –  Tie pohjoiseen / Road North
Eero Ritala  – Kulman pojat

 / Fanatics

Laura Birn  –  Puhdistus / The Purge
Pamela Tola  –  Härmä / Once Upon a Time in the North
Pamela Tola  –  Kaksi tarinaa rakkaudesta / Must Have Been Love

Peter Franzén  –  Tie pohjoiseen / Road Noth
Santtu Karvonen  –  Juoppohullun päiväkirja / Gloriously Wasted
Juha Muje  –  Risto Räppääjä ja viileä Venla

 / Ricky Rapper and Cool Wendy

Laura Birn  –  Vuosaari / Naked Harbour
Niina Nurminen  –  Kohta 18 / Almost 18
Liisi Tandefelt  –  Puhdistus

 / The Purge

Matti Kinnunen –  Miss Farkku-Suomi / Miss Blue Jeans
Maarit Lalli, Henrik Mäki-Tanila  –  Kohta 18 / Almost 18
Hannu Tuomainen, Marteinn Thorisson  –  Niko 2 - lentäjäveljekset

 / Niko 2 - Little Brother, Big Trouble

Tuomo Hutri F.S.C. –  Vuosaari / Naked Harbour
Rauno Ronkainen F.S.C. –  Puhdistus / The Purge
Rauno Ronkainen F.S.C., Harri Räty, Ian Nyman – Kohta 18

 / Almost 18

Karsten Fundal – Säilöttyjä unelmia / Canned Dreams
Pessi Levanto  –  Rakkauden rasvaprosentti / Body Fat Index of Love
Stephen McKeon  –  Niko 2 – lentäjäveljekset / Niko 2 - Little Brother, Big Trouble

Ivo Felt, Seppo Vanhatalo – Rat King
Micke Nyström – Kaksi tarinaa rakkaudesta / Must Have Been Love
Kirka Sainio  –  Puhdistus / The Purge

Benjamin Mercer – Vuosaari / Naked Harbour
Riitta Poikselkä  –  Kovasikajuttu / The Punk Syndrome
Jenny Tervakari, Maarit Lalli – Kohta 18
/ Almost 18

Mikko Pitkänen – Niko 2 - lentäjäveljekset/ Niko 2 - Little Brother, Big Trouble
Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen – Vuosaari / Naked Harbour
Ulrika von Vegesack – Iron Sky

Tiina Kaukanen – Vuosaari
 / Naked Harbour
Anna Vilppunen – Puhdistus / The Purge
Tiina Wilén – Miss Farkku-Suomi / Miss Blue Jeans

Marjut Samulin – Miss Farkku-Suomi / Miss Blue Jeans
Marjut Samulin – Vuosaari / Naked Harbour
Riikka Virtanen – Puhdistus / The Purge

Kovasikajuttu / The Punk Syndrome – ohjaajat Jukka Kärkkäinen, J-P Passi
Säilöttyjä unelmia / Canned Dreams – ohjaaja Katja Gauriloff
Venäjän vapain mies / Russian Libertine – ohjaaja Ari Matikainen

85th Academy Awards nominations

"Amour" - Nominees to be determined
"Argo" - Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney, Producers
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" - Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald, Producers
"Django Unchained" - Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone, Producers
"Les Misérables" - Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh, Producers
"Life of Pi" - Gil Netter, Ang Lee and David Womark, Producers
"Lincoln" - Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
"Silver Linings Playbook" - Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
"Zero Dark Thirty" - Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow and Megan Ellison, Producers

Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln"
Hugh Jackman in "Les Misérables"
Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master"
Denzel Washington in "Flight"

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts in "The Impossible"

"Amour" - Michael Haneke
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" - Benh Zeitlin
"Life of Pi" - Ang Lee
"Lincoln" - Steven Spielberg
"Silver Linings Playbook" - David O. Russell

Alan Arkin in "Argo"
Robert De Niro in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master"
Tommy Lee Jones in "Lincoln"
Christoph Waltz in "Django Unchained"

Amy Adams in "The Master"
Sally Field in "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway in "Les Misérables"
Helen Hunt in "The Sessions"
Jacki Weaver in "Silver Linings Playbook"

"Amour" - Written by Michael Haneke
"Django Unchained" - Written by Quentin Tarantino
"Flight" - Written by John Gatins
"Moonrise Kingdom" - Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
"Zero Dark Thirty" - Written by Mark Boal

"Argo" - Screenplay by Chris Terrio
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" - Screenplay by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
"Life of Pi" - Screenplay by David Magee
"Lincoln" - Screenplay by Tony Kushner
"Silver Linings Playbook" - Screenplay by David O. Russell

"Brave" - Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
"Frankenweenie" - Tim Burton
"ParaNorman" - Sam Fell and Chris Butler
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" - Peter Lord
"Wreck-It Ralph" - Rich Moore

"Adam and Dog" - Minkyu Lee
"Fresh Guacamole" - PES
"Head over Heels" - Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly
"Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare'" - David Silverman
"Paperman" - John Kahrs

"Anna Karenina" - Dario Marianelli
"Argo" - Alexandre Desplat
"Life of Pi" - Mychael Danna
"Lincoln" - John Williams
"Skyfall" - Thomas Newman

"Before My Time" from "Chasing Ice" - Music and Lyric by J. Ralph
"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from "Ted" - Music by Walter Murphy; Lyric by Seth MacFarlane
"Pi's Lullaby" from "Life of Pi" - Music by Mychael Danna; Lyric by Bombay Jayashri
"Skyfall" from "Skyfall" - Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
"Suddenly" from "Les Misérables" - Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil

"Anna Karenina" - Seamus McGarvey
"Django Unchained" - Robert Richardson
"Life of Pi" - Claudio Miranda
"Lincoln" - Janusz Kaminski
"Skyfall" - Roger Deakins

"5 Broken Cameras" - Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
"The Gatekeepers" - Nominees to be determined
"How to Survive a Plague" - Nominees to be determined
"The Invisible War" - Nominees to be determined
"Searching for Sugar Man" - Nominees to be determined

"Inocente" - Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
"Kings Point" - Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider
"Mondays at Racine" - Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan
"Open Heart" - Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern
"Redemption" - Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill

"Argo" - William Goldenberg
"Life of Pi" - Tim Squyres
"Lincoln" - Michael Kahn
"Silver Linings Playbook" - Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
"Zero Dark Thirty" - Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg

"Amour" (Austria)
"Kon-Tiki" (Norway)
"No" (Chile)
"A Royal Affair" (Denmark)
"War Witch" (Canada)

"Anna Karenina" - Jacqueline Durran
"Les Misérables" - Paco Delgado
"Lincoln" - Joanna Johnston
"Mirror Mirror" - Eiko Ishioka
"Snow White and the Huntsman" - Colleen Atwood

"Hitchcock" - Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" - Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane
"Les Misérables" - Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell

"Anna Karenina" - Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" - Production Design: Dan Hennah; Set Decoration: Ra Vincent and Simon Bright
"Les Misérables" - Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson
"Life of Pi" - Production Design: David Gropman; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
"Lincoln" - Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

"Asad" - Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura
"Buzkashi Boys" - Sam French and Ariel Nasr
"Curfew" - Shawn Christensen
"Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)" - Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele
"Henry" - Yan England

"Argo" - Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn
"Django Unchained" - Wylie Stateman
"Life of Pi" - Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton
"Skyfall" - Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
"Zero Dark Thirty" - Paul N.J. Ottosson

"Argo" - John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia
"Les Misérables" - Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes
"Life of Pi" - Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin
"Lincoln" - Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins
"Skyfall" - Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" - Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White
"Life of Pi" - Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
"Marvel's The Avengers" - Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick
"Prometheus" - Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill
"Snow White and the Huntsman" - Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Senses of Cinema World Poll 2012 online

There are many "best films of 2012" lists online, all interesting. The largest compilation may be in Senses of Cinema, published on 8 January, 2013.

A long and rambling chain of lists of the best films of the year can be found in Dave Kehr's blog under the headline "Hello, I Must Be Going", launched on 26 December, 2012.

Both sites acknowledge both new films and rediscoveries of classics.

I have copied on my site also
Sight & Sound: The Best of 2012
Academy Awards: Nine foreign film nominees
Village Voice Film Poll 2012
Film Comment: 50 Best Released Films of 2012
Film Comment: 50 Best Undistributed Films of 2012
Cahiers du Cinéma: Le Top Ten 2012

I compiled my own top list originally for Senses of Cinema in early December, covering the films I saw in January-November. I updated it slightly for Dave Kehr's blog, and revised it a bit more in a version of My Best Films of 2012 on my own blog on 1 January 2013.

Finnish lists of the best films of 2012 include:
Kalle Kinnunen: Top Ten
Kalle Kinnunen: Thirteen More
Jutta Sarhimaa: Top Twenty
Jukka Kangasjärvi: The Best of 2012
Sami Pöyry: The Best of 2012
Olli Sulopuisto: The Best of the Finnish Film Bloggers 2012 (15 lists)
Alina Kangasluoma: The Best of 2012
Lauri Ojanen: The Best of 2012 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Amour / Love (2012)

Rakkaus / Amour [Swedish title]. FR/DE/AT © 2012 Les Films du Losange / X Verleih AG / Westdeutscher Rundfunk / France 3 Cinéma / ARD Degeto / Bayerischer Rundfunk / Westdeutscher Rundfunk. P: Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz. D+SC: Michael Haneke. DP: Darius Khondji - film editing: LISTO Videofilm - lab: Digimage Cinema - digital cinema supervisor: Tommaso Vergallo - grading: Didier Le Fouest, Willi Willinger. PD: Jean-Vincent Puzos. Cost: Catherine Leterrier. Makeup: Thi Loan Nguyen. Hair: Frédéric Souquet. M (no score music): - Schubert: Impromptu op 90 no 1 - Schubert: Impromptu op 90 no 3 - Beethoven: Bagatelle op 126 no 2 - J.S. Bach / Ferruccio Busoni: Prélude Choral "Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ" -- perf. on the piano by Alexandre Tharaud - rec. Ircam Centre Pompidou. S: Guillaume Sciama, Jean-Pierre Laforce. ED: Monika Willi, Nadine Muse. C: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges), Emmanuelle Riva (Anne) - avec la participation de Isabelle Huppert (Eva). - Supporting C: Alexandre Tharaud (Alexandre), William Shimell (Geoff), Ramón Agirre (le concierge), Rita Blanco (la concierge), Carole Franck, Dinara Droukarova (les infirmières). Loc: Paris. Released by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila / Saga Wickström. 4K DCP screened at 2K at Andorra, Helsinki, 8 Jan 2013 (preview).

Technical specs from the IMDb: - Camera: Arri Alexa, Cooke S4 and 5/i Lenses - Laboratory: Digimage Cinéma, Paris, France, LISTO Videofilm, Vienna, Austria - Film negative format: ARRIRAW - Cinematographic process: ARRIRAW (source format), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format) - Printed film format: 35 mm (spherical), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 1.85 : 1.

Official synopsis: "Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple's bond of love is severely tested."

Amour is one of the finest films of recent years, and I would recommend it even to those who hardly ever visit the cinema.

In many of his films Michael Haneke has studied the eruption of violence in a dysfunctional family. He has also studied how violence in social power structures is reflected in a nuclear family. He has taken seriously the trivialization of violence in entertainment fiction. He has also made a case study of sadism and masochism among refined artists in high musical culture.

Amour is a new departure for Haneke. It is a love story of an octuagearian couple, one of them facing mortal illness. There is a tenderness new to Haneke's films. There is a violent act, but violence and cruelty are not among the main themes. Death and love are. Death is the ultimate test of love like in the Song of Songs:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
    like a mighty flame

The casting is eloquent with two great stars of la Nouvelle Vague who had their international breakthroughs over 50 years ago. Jean-Louis Trintignant had his breakthrough in Et le Dieu... créa la femme, with Brigitte Bardot.

Emmanuelle Riva's breakthrough took place in Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour as the woman whose first love affair has been with a German soldier during the Occupation and who meets a Japanese architect in Hiroshima. The horrors of Nazism and nuclear destruction are reflected in their intimate affair.

Memories of such characteristic roles in movies that have been in wide circulation for decades add a special depth to the performances, but Haneke is not surfing on past reputations. Instead he focuses on entirely new dimensions of his stars. The youth and the glamour are gone. The bodies are decaying, but the spirit remains. But then even the spirit starts to disappear...

Visually, Amour is a warm, luminous and tender work of art. Amour has been shot digitally unlike Haneke's previous films (including Das weisse Band and Funny Games), but previous films by Haneke have been processed via digital intermediates that have given them a digital look even when the negatives have been photochemical.

Amour has been painted with light, and Darius Khondji's work is refined. I do not find cause to complain about the digital quality. To be sure, Amour has been shot almost entirely in interiors, and the few exteriors are of an urban, built space. The composition is for the big screen. Amour will lose a lot if viewed on a small screen.