Sunday, January 31, 2016

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. Please click to enlarge.
    Director: Alex Gibney
    Country: USA
    Year: 2015
    Length: 129 min
    Rating: K12
    Format: DCP
    Cinematography: Yutaka Yamazaki, Sam Painter
    Editing: Michael J. Palmer
    Audio: Michael Jones, Marshall Potter
    Music: Will Bates
    Production: Viva Van Look, Alex Gibney, Magnolia Pictures
Language: English
No subtitles
    DocPoint, Helsinki.
    © 2015 Cable News Network
     Savoy Theatre: Wednesday 27.1. at 20:15. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1: Sunday 31.1. at 16:45

Festival catalogue and website: "Steve Jobs: The Man In the Machine, by the award-winning director Alex Gibney, reveals the things that are not mentioned at the Apple product announcement meetings, often reminiscent of religious gatherings. Steve Jobs managed to create an ideology where technology is part of us: it is both lovable and humane. Jobs was like a godfather for a new generation. He did everything in his power to keep the Apple family together. He also treated people badly, threatened his employees, and broke the law. Apple’s factories cause enormous environmental destruction, and the suicide rates of the Chinese factory employees who are tasked with the manufacturing of Apple products are high. But, for the love for Apple, we tend to ignore these facts."

"Steve was so dedicated to his work that it strained his personal relationships. The machines were his children. At a product release event, one of the computers was programmed to say, “Hi, dad,” and when Steve’s daughter’s name, Lisa, was chosen, he was excited because the name was fitting also for a new computer. This documentary raises awareness of important issues, but also depicts a touching account of a lonely, rootless genius, who, until the very last day, believed that he was changing the world.
" - Ilona Tolmunen / Translation: Sanna Parikka

AA: An excellent, intelligent and essential documentary on Steve Jobs. Alex Gibney focuses on the big picture of the contradictory genius. In the beginning the world is mourning his death. The question: why? We follow the trajectory of Steve Jobs from a teenage computer wizard of the 1960s to the CEO of Apple, the world's largest information technology company.

Gibney has conducted interviews with key personalities of the grand story such as Bob Belleville, Chrisann Brennan, Andy Grignon, Daniel Kottke, Fred Anderson, Michael S. Malone, Regis McKenna, Michael Moritz, Joe Nocera, Jon Rubinstein, Avie Tevanian, and Sherry Turkle. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak appear in archival footage.

The film covers an important part of the story of the personal computer and the mobile revolution. It is also an attempt to examine the mystery of the genius of Steve Jobs. His fascination with Bob Dylan. His attempts to find inspiration from Eastern spirituality: first Hinduism, then Japanese Buddhism. In Japan he found a way to focus on simplicity.

Paradoxes are not evaded. The neglect of his first daughter whom he initially tried to disown. His awful conduct towards colleagues and workers. The David who turned into a Goliath. Instances of gross fraud in business conduct, including the practice of backdating. The tax dodging. The violent harassment of workers in China.

The genius of Steve Jobs was that he realized a dream that people had. New devices of information technology became dream machines, extensions of the self. Steve Jobs was a visionary.

Alex Gibney gives a balanced and meaningful structure to his topic and combines deftly talking heads, vintage news footage, commercials, and new animation commissioned for this film. It is a story of big business as well as a human story of a deeply wounded genius.

In the finale Alex Gibney stares at the black screen of his iPhone and starts to see in it his own reflection, replaced by the ghost of Steve Jobs.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Atomin paluu / Return of the Atom

Return of the Atom. Please do click to enlarge the image.
    Directors: Mika Taanila, Jussi Eerola
    Country: Finland, Germany
    Year: 2015
    Length: 110 min
    Rating: S
    Format: DCP
    Cinematography: Jussi Eerola
    Editing: Mika Taanila
    Audio: Olli Huhtanen
    Music: Pan Sonic
    Production: Cilla Werning/Kinotar Oy, Meike Martens/Blinker Filmproduktion GmbH
Languages: Finnish, Polish, German, Russian, French, English
Subtitles: English by Jaana Wiik.
    DocPoint, Helsinki, screener link viewed.
    © 2015 Kinotar / Blinker / ZDF
    Films: Three-Two-One-Zero (US 1954), Zdravstvui, atom (SU 1965), Gammera the Invincible (US 1966) / Gamera (JP 1965), Die Söhne der grossen Bärin (DD 1966).
    Korjaamo / Kulmasali: Saturday 30.1. at 20:00

Catalog and website: "Mika Taanila’s and Jussi Eerola’s documentary Return of the Atom was eventually completed well before its main subject, the third nuclear facility in Olkiluoto that has been under construction for over 10 years now. Eerola’s cinematography reveals both the brigh and the dark side of ”the most electrified county in Finland”. Taanila’s editing is farcical, whereas Pan Sonic’s score reminds of horror films. The film voices the thoughts of both the French ringmasters holding the strings and the workers who have had to suffer all the mishaps and negligence on the construction site. Also a prominent character is a tireless local advocate of nuclear energy."

"At its core, Return of the Atom is a film about rhetoric: how to sell a nuclear facility to the townsfolk; how lobbyists begin to fumble in their pitches; how the safety of nuclear energy turns out to be matter of faith. The Polish construction workers have even brought a spiritual guide of their own with them. The world and the climate of opinion outside Olkiluoto have long ago moved on, but the reactor remains unfinished.
" Tytti Rantanen / Translation: Tapio Reinekoski

AA: Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola's Return of the Atom has been many years in the making, and during the long gestation period Taanila has created other works on the subject.

This feature film itself is an epic documentary on the first European nuclear power plant being built since Chernobyl: the Olkiluoto 5 on the West coast of Finland. The construction was launched in 2005 and was supposed to be finished by 2009. The project was continued despite Fukushima and the fact that meanwhile Germany has made the decision to shut down all its nuclear power plants.

The huge Olkiluoto construction site is covered via spectacular cinematography, including fascinating time lapse sequences.

We see the official story and the story of the doubters. One of the opponents tells she was harassed and forced to move. Another one, a lone protester, gets fired.

The theme is deadly serious but there are droll inserts including vintage pro-nuclear propaganda films from the US and the USSR.

The approach is neutral and deadpan. A lot of serious questions are raised, including issues of security, safety, health, and nature. There is also the fundamental question of planning that is so badly botched so many times. It seems incredible when dealing with something as precarious as nuclear power. Not a laughing matter.

The soundscape is original and fascinating and the cinematography is of high quality.

No Home Movie

No Home Movie. Please do click to enlarge the image.
    Director: Chantal Akerman
    Country: Belgium
    Year: 2015
    Length: 115­ min
    Rating: S
    Format: DCP
    Cinematography: Chantal Akerman
    Editing: Claire Atherton
    Audio: Chantal Akerman
    Production: Chantal Akerman / Paradise Films, Patrick Quinet & Serge Zeitoun/Liaison Cinématographique
    Languages: French, Hebrew, Spanish
    Subtitles: English by Anne-Marie Collins
    Cinematography conducted via low resolution DV, Skype, and Blackberry.
    © 2015 Paradise films - Liaison Cinématographique
     DocPoint, Helsinki, screener link viewed.
     Andorra: Saturday 30.1. at 12:30

Catalog and website: "Branches sway in the wind. Cars stand waiting in the red lights. It is sunny in the park. Someone is walking a dog. In Brussels, Chantal’s mother is sitting by the kitchen table. There’s no need for words, not in the beginning anyway. When Chantal skypes to her mother from USA, words are finally needed and used."

"Chantal Akerman is a pioneer of the experimental feminist film. No Home Movie is Akerman’s personal journey to her mother’s life and back to her own roots. It is a film about times and places, a collage of moments important for Akerman herself. The film is loosely patterned by conversations held and recorded over the last few weeks before her mother’s death. Mother and daughter talk about childhood, mother’s survival from Auschwitz and everything that followed it, and about life in Belgium. Occasionally the camera stops to film the scenery from the car window. We are challenged to interpret and experience what only Akerman herself could have felt and experienced."

"Akerman became an acknowledged film maker at the age of 24, when she directed her masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), a film following the life of a widower who earns her living as a sex worker. In 2012 critics from the Sight & Sound magazine voted the over three hour long film as one of the best 100 movies of all time. Akerman filmed both fiction, documentaries and short films. No Home Movie was her last film. She died in October 2015 at the age of 65. Media has claimed her death to be a suicide.
" - Suvi Nousiainen / Translation: Tuomo Karvonen

AA: The screen is dark. There is a voice in the darkness: "C'est Chantal!".

I was thinking about Visita, Manoel de Oliveira's testament film, while watching Chantal Akerman's No Home Movie, her final film. Both are films about a space. Manoel de Oliveira filmed his beloved house in Oporto which he had to abandon. Chantal Akerman films the final period of her mother at her elegant home in Brussels.

But the title of this film is No Home Movie. It resembles a home movie, but Chantal had no home. She was a nomad, a wandering Jewess, nowhere at home.

A title that also occurred to me was The Waste Land. There are a lot of views of empty spaces and arid landscapes in this film which is largely shot in long shot in long takes, by the film-maker herself, often intentionally with low definition quality including Skype and Blackberry. But there are also shots of exquisite composition and brilliant light which bring to mind Oliveira's beautiful film.

Mostly the focus is in the dialogue between mother and daughter. They talk about everything: the Polish background, the family arriving as refugees to Belgium, the Nazi occupation, the Orthodox Jewish traditions still observed by the father who respected his own parents. From some reports on this film one might imagine that Auschwitz would be among the topics, but it is the absence of a discussion of Auschwitz that is central to this film. The Auschwitz experience was something that mother Natalia (Nelly) never discussed.

The warmth and love between mother and daughter is genuine and touching. On the other hand, there is a profound sense of desolation and alienation. Mother Natalia was the center of Chantal's cinematic universe. Soon after the filming she was gone, and soon after the festival premieres of No Home Movie Chantal Akerman died.

This film moves me for several reasons. My own mother died a year ago. I was born five years later than Chantal. Both of our mothers belonged to a generation that had experienced war. My mother was not in Auschwitz, but she always told that her childhood ended on the last day of November 1939 when a Red Army bomber flew at such a near distance that she could see the pilot in the eye. She was twice evaquated as a child to generous and neutral Sweden.

I remember the presence of Chantal Akerman in Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä. There was an atmosphere of profound solitude around her. I hope she knew how much her work was admired and respected.

Colour Liberated. Finnish Art Reformers 1908-1914 (a Didrichsen 50th anniversary exhibition)

Verner Thomé: Bathing Boys. 1910. Oil on canvas, 108,5 x 130. Hoving Collection / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. Please click to enlarge the images.
Väri vapautuu. Suomen taiteen uudistajia 1908-1914. Aalto - Cawén - Ekelund - Enckell - Finch - Lönnberg - Mäkelä - Oinonen. Exhibition 14.8.2015 - 31.1.2016
    Exhibition committee: Jarno Peltonen, Otto Selén.
    Didrichsen Art Museum, Kuusilahdenkuja 1, 00340 Helsinki.

Catalogue:
Väri vapautuu / Färgernas frihet / Colour Liberated. 144 p. Helsinki: Didrichsen, 2015.
    Introductions by Peter Didrichsen and Risto Ruohonen. Main essay "Painting Shattered by Colour, Light and Brush" by Marja-Terttu Kivirinta.
    Includes complete colour illustrations of the artworks, ordered by the artist, each with a page of introduction.
    Trilingual: Finnish / Swedish / English.

Official introduction: "The Didrichsen Art Museum's 50th anniversary exhibition presents paintings based on pure colours, a new expression of which emerged in Finland in 1908-1914. The comprehensive exhibition shows works by 16 artists, on loan from leading Finnish art museums as well as from the Didrichsen Art Museum's own collections".

"The more than 50 works in the exhibition show examples of motifs from Hogland by Verner Thomé, A. W. Finch, and Magnus Enckell, strong expressionist works by Mäkelä who was influenced by Edward Munch, as well as colourist paintings by Tyko Sallinen."

AA: In autumn 2015 several prominent exhibitions were opened celebrating the revelation of pure colour in Finnish art in the period of early Modernism: the Sigurd Frosterus collection at Amos Anderson Art Museum, the Bäcksbacka collection at Helsinki Art Museum, the Alvar & Ragni Cawén exhibition at Tampere Art Museum - and the Colour Liberated exhibition at Didrichsen. All share many of the same artists from the same period. There is room for everybody, and these four exhibitions complement each other in an exciting way. The Frosterus exhibition is based on the selections of an individual collector and colour theorist. The Bäcksbacka collection is based on artists favoured by a great gallerist and patron. The Cawén exhibition covers two entire careers, in which colour is but one yet essential dimension.

Didrichen's Colour Liberated is a succinct yet richly gratifying and versatile survey into a definite period. It is based on a wide knowledge of the entire scene, displaying well-known masterpieces with less-known but equally fascinating discoveries. The joy of colour can also be seen as an early Modernist reflection of the last decade of la Belle Époque until the beginning of the First World War.

In the process of the liberation of colour the first Finnish artists' groups (Septem and November) were established. Verner Thomé, painter of the Bathing Boys on top, was one of the most talented members of the groups. They also mounted the first group exhibition in Finnish art at Ateneum in 1912.

Magnus Enckell: The Awakening Faun. 1914. Oil. 65,5 x 81. The Hoving Collection, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen.

Magnus Enckell was the leader and the pathbreaker. He had been influenced by Symbolism, and his friends included Sergei Diaghilev and Sigurd Frosterus. While still favouring ideas from ancient mythology he now let pure colours explode. This illustration does not do justice to the bright colour of the painting; in the catalogue the colour is more faithful. Some of Enckell's painting may also be expressions of "secret love".

Magnus Enckell: A Park View from San Remo. 1913. Oil. Turku Art Museum.
Film critics have noticed a trend of the digital age of grading the colours of Hollywood blockbusters to orange and teal. Teal is a greenish blue, not far from cyan. Those were the very colours also favoured by Finnish colourist painters before the First World War.

A. W. Finch: Cliffs at Porto Venere. 1908. Oil. 33 x 44. Collection Nils Dahlström / Turku Art Museum. Photo: Turku Art Museum Archive.
A. W. Finch was a prominent designer and artist inspired by Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh, and, admiring Seurat and Signat, he also became the most important Finnish Pointillist. Born in Belgium he moved to Finland on the invitation of Count Louis Sparre to manage his Iris factory.

Jalmari Ruokokoski: A Girl. 1911. Oil. 64,5 x 54,5. Bequest Ludvig & Aija Wennervirta / Hämeenlinna Art Museum.
The decisive influence for Jalmari Ruokokoski was Edvard Munch. This reproduction is again more subdued than the painting itself, and other paintings of Ruokokoski on display are more stark and colourful, with delicious reds and oranges and Fauvist affinities.

Tyko Sallinen: In the Sauna. 1914. Oil. 64 x 86. Collection Nils Dahlström / Turku Art Museum. 
Tyko Sallinen, also influenced by Fauvism, was a true original, a terrible guy who painted in "agony and ecstasy". There are seven works by Sallinen on display, and it is an interesting and unusual selection of my favourite Finnish artist. Here again I do not think the colour reproduction is faithful. The dominant colour is actually more "teal" or "cyan" than pure blue.

Ellen Thesleff: A Landscape from Murole. 1912. Oil. 44 x 47 cm. Didrichsen Art Museum. Photo: Jussi Pakkala.
Ellen Thesleff was one of the most refined masters of the period. Women artists were not fairly treated at the time, but their oeuvre is their lasting legacy. In this reproduction the reflection should be red and brighter.

The hanging and the lighting are beautiful. Some of the paintings are covered by reflecting glass. Downstairs there is the opportunity to put things into perspective with two refined exhibitions from Didrichsen's own collections: a Pre-Columbian exhibition and an Oriental exhibition. Plus a non-stop video about Viljo Revell, the architect of the Modernist building. In the sculpture park and inside there are samples for instance of Didrichsen's Henry Moore collection. The catalogue is a gratifying companion and a valuable keepsake with complete illustrations of the entire exhibition. The colours in the catalogue are more faithful to the originals, but on the internet the reproductions fail to convey the brightness, warmth, and glow of the paintings.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Miss Sharon Jones!

    Director: Barbara Kopple
    Country: USA
    Year: 2015
    Length: 94­ min
    Age limit: S
    Format: DCP
    Cinematography: Gary Griffin, Tony Hardmon, Kyle Kibbe
    Editing: Jean Tsien, Anne Fratto
    Audio: Jonathan Jackson, David Cassidy, Michael Jones
    Music: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
    Production: Barbara Kopple & David Cassidy/Cabin Creek Films
Language: English
No subtitles
    DocPoint, Helsinki, screener link viewed.
     © 2015 Bling Productions
    Savoy Theatre: Friday 29.1. at 17:00. Kinopalatsi 1: Sunday 31.1. at 14:30

Catalog and website: "When Sharon Jones was young, she was told that she was too short and too dark-skinned to become a successful singer. These days, though, she dances wildly on stage and has been dubbed the ”female James Brown” for her energetic performances."

"When Jones was 57 years old, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In this documentary, the award-winning documentarist Barbara Kopple follows the American artist on her emotional journey through chemotherapy and her ultimate return on the stage in her hometown of New York City. We also get to see how Jones completes the album Give the People What They Want together with her orchestra, The Dap-Kings, and how their music impacts people in an immensely positive way."

"The camera follows Jones to the hospital, to her home, and to the studio. This charismatic woman possesses a great sense of humor and instantly wins over the heart of every person she meets. Jones, who has also performed in Finland, is sheer female energy, all the way from her bald head to her golden toe nails."

"Director Barbara Kopple has won two Academy Awards for her documentaries Harlan County, USA (1976) and American Dream (1990). She has also previously filmed singers in her documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (2006).
"  Elisa Helenius / Translation: Sanna Parikka

AA: "Soul Survivor" was the Village Voice headline on Sharon Jones, the great soul & funk singer who tours and records with her band Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. She beat a vicious cancer and has since released records and made a world tour to celebrate her survival. She is a force of life, full of anima vitae.

Barbara Kopple the master documentarist has made a documentary portrait of this Cantarice chauve - bald singer: Sharon Jones refused to wear a wig having lost her hair in the context of chemotherapy. The dramatic arc is based on the fall and rise in the battle against cancer (which, however, will never be fully overcome).

The film is constructed as a journey to important locations in Sharon Jones's life: the hospital, the Daptone Studio, the "home away from home" of her best friend, the landscape of her childhood, tv shows such as Ellen (DeGeneres), and the world tour. We meet the members of the Dap-Kings band, "the Dapettes" singers, the manager, and the studio professionals. It's like a big family. Their specialty is a reliance on traditional methods of recording and publishing.

The songs and the performances have high intensity, and there is also footage from music videos, even an animated one for "Retreat". The anthology piece of the film is Sharon Jones singing gospel at a church with such power that she is completely exhausted afterwards.

The passionate performances and the narrative about a fight between life and death are balanced by Barbara Kopple with a relaxed approach in the general flow of the movie.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Philip Hoffman III: Experimental Processes

P(l)ain Truth. Please click to enlarge.
Philip Hoffman III: Experimental Processes
DocPoint, Helsinki
Total duration of the screening: 69 min.

Introduced by Sami van Ingen, presented by Philip Hoffman.
After the show there was a discussion with Seppo Renvall, Marjatta Oja, Denise Ziegler, Mikko Maasalo, Philip Hoffman, and Sami van Ingen.
Cinema Orion, 28 Jan 2016

Vapautemme hinta / [The Price of Our Freedom]
Finland / 1990 / 10 min / 16 mm, silent
Director: Seppo Renvall
Production: Helsingin elokuvapaja
National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI)
Catalogue: The faces of Finland's casualties of war stare back at the living, in rapid succession, to reveal "one" tragic image. - AA: The book Vapautemme hinta [The Price of Our Freedom] lists all the casualties of Finland's Winter War 1939-1940. Renvall creates a minimalist monument shooting the images frame by frame, achieving a disturbing fusion of the deceased.

(Dis)Integrator
Finland / 1992 / 4 min / digital
Director: Juha van Ingen
Distribution: AV-arkki
Catalogue: A fragment of a 1950's feature film [The Fly] is copied as many times as possible displaying eventually the seams of the media. - AA: Two lines of dialogue from The Fly about teletransportation ("yes, but this time it's different") are repeated ad infinitum or at least 17 times, each copy fading more and more until there is only static.

Kalvo XI (Membrane XI)
Finland / 1990 / 7 min / digital
Director: Marjatta Oja
Distribution: AV-arkki
Catalogue: Someone is taking pictures behind a plane of glass. One by one the pictures are placed on the glass and slowly develop before our eyes to reveal the subject of the picture taking. - AA: How Polaroid images emerge beyond an armored glass. Finally there is a set-up of six Polaroids filling the screen.

Pyhä yksinkertaisuus (Holy Simplicity)
Finland / 1991 / 4 min / 16 mm
Directors: Mikko Maasalo, Denise Ziegler
National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI)
Catalogue: This Lettrist film is a dazzling blend of text from Das Mondschaft, a poem by the German author Christian Morgenstern, shot from a computer screen, with a relentless looping soundtrack. - AA: A Lettrist film poem blends with the sound of a sacred religious ritual.

Hammu
Finland / 1991 / 10 min / 2K DCP [KAVI 2016], silent
Director: Sami van Ingen
Distribution: Sami van Ingen
Catalogue: Childhood angst is rekindled in this dark meditation on obsession and loss. - AA: The world seen from the viewpoint of a hamster.

Chimera
Canada / 1995 / 15 min / 16 mm
Director: Philip Hoffman
Editing: Philip Hoffman, Vesa Lehko
Music: Tucker Zimmerman
Sound: Philip Hoffman, Vesa Lehko
Production: Chimera Imaging
Distribution: Philip Hoffman
Catalogue: Shot in Helsinki, Leningrad, London, Cairo, Sydney and Uluru, during a time of tremendous change (1989–92), Chimera makes use of the single-frame zoom that builds a ‘splayed reality’, blends and bonds peoples, places and spaces. - AA: A collection of visions of cities. There is a powerful musical rhythm that leads the montage, sometimes building to a flicker effect. The starting-point is figurative, but the film tends towards the non-figurative, driven by blurred colour.

P(l)ain Truth
Finland / 1993 / 15 min / 35 mm
Director: Ilppo Pohjola
Editing: Arto Salo
Music: Glenn Branga
Production: Ilppo Pohjola / Crystal Eye
Distribution: Elokuvakontakti
Catalogue: Internal, psychological space is boldly reflected in P(l)ain Truth. Through an expressive musical score, and with frenetic and kinetic optical printing techniques, changes in mind and body during trans-gendering processes are revealed. - AA: Ilppo Pohjola's furious vision of sex change holds up remarkably well. A shattering but focused and purposeful view of a fundamental transformation and metamorphosis.

By the Time We Got To Expo
Canada / 2015 / 9 min, digital
Director: Philip Hoffman, Eva Kolcze
Script: Philip Hoffman, Eva Kolcze
Editing: Philip Hoffman, Eva Kolcze
Sound: Joshua Bonnetta
Production: Chimera Imaging
Distribution: Philip Hoffman
Catalogue: Re-visiting a significant moment in Canadian history, the film uses found footage imagery taken from documentaries, and re-works them using tints and photochemical techniques to create a vibrant collision of colors, textures and forms in a display of beauty and decay. - AA: New from Philip Hoffman and Eva Kolcze: recycled footage from Canada's 1967 Expo. It starts as a found footage travelogue and builds into a phantom ride in another dimension. Hoffman let the film stock decay with chemicals to show its texture that he then shot digitally.

DocPoint catalogue and website: torn formations / The Films of Philip Hoffman. "The Philip Hoffman “introretrospective” is made up of five screenings that include both Hoffman’s own films and the works of his Finnish collegues. The programme has been curated by Philip Hoffman and the Finnish film maker Sami van Ingen."

"The limits of cinematic expression have changed and expanded, and also our historical awareness has developed. Canadian experimental filmmaker Philip Hoffman has deep and solid roots in Finland. He has worked twice as a teacher in the University of Art and Design Helsinki during the 1990s , and his influence is prominent in the work of several filmmakers who started their careers back then. Highly personal subject matter and experimentation are the key concepts of Philip Hoffman’s work, which, on the other hand, is also a visual body of memory and emotions." Perttu Rastas, Senior Planning Officer, Finnish National Gallery

Experimental Processes

"The program is inspired by the relationship Hoffman had with Finnish film and video artists in the early 1990’s, which assisted in the establishment and development of the first Finnish experimental film cooperative, Elokuvapaja. With funding assistance from AVEK, workshops and screenings were held for and with Finnish film and media artists, and this activity heavily influenced Hoffman’s own work in hand processing and image manipulation. It was a fertile time of beginnings. These collaborations influenced Hoffman in the creation of the Independent Imaging Retreat or ‘Film Farm’ in Mount Forest, Canada, which has just had its 20th Anniversary. Over the years several Finnish filmmakers visited the ‘Film Farm’. As well, Hoffman curated programs of new Finnish work, at Pleasure Dome in Toronto, and at The Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film in Durham Ontario in Canada."

AA: Philip Hoffman's show was a warm family reunion. He has inspired many in Finland. Sami van Ingen, Seppo Renvall, Marjatta Oja, Denise Ziegler, Mikko Maasalo joined him after the show in front of the audience. Others, like Kiti Luostarinen, were also attending. "I came here in the late 1980s", he stated, and about the influences he claimed that "I was probably more influenced by them".

A showcase in approaches in material aesthetics, repetition, meta-film, exposing the seams of the medium, and studying the transition zone from the figurative to the non-figurative. Also in approaches in expressing transience, memory, time, and decay. And extreme mental states in a situation of a disturbing transformation.

Several films were screened in glorious 16 mm without problems. The vintage 35 mm distribution print of P(l)ain Truth betrays that it has been screened many times. Other films have been scanned to digital by AV Arkki and us. Our recent 2K DCP from Sami van Ingen's Hammu did not look bad at all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

passing through / torn formations

passing through / torn formations. Please click to enlarge.
Aikojen halki
Canada / 1988 © 1987 / 43 min / 16 mm
Director: Philip Hoffman
Music: Tucker Zimmerman
Production: Chimera Imaging
Distribution: Philip Hoffman
Language: English
Viewed at DocPoint, Helsinki. Screener link viewed at home.
Home movie footage of the Kaczmarcyck family.
Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 27 Jan 2016

Festival catalogue and website:

torn formations / The Films of Philip Hoffman

"The Philip Hoffman “introretrospective” is made up of five screenings that include both Hoffman’s own films and the works of his Finnish collegues. The programme has been curated by Philip Hoffman and the Finnish film maker Sami van Ingen."

"The limits of cinematic expression have changed and expanded, and also our historical awareness has developed. Canadian experimental filmmaker Philip Hoffman has deep and solid roots in Finland. He has worked twice as a teacher in the University of Art and Design Helsinki during the 1990s, and his influence is prominent in the work of several filmmakers who started their careers back then. Highly personal subject matter and experimentation are the key concepts of Philip Hoffman’s work, which, on the other hand, is also a visual body of memory and emotions.
"

Perttu Rastas
Senior Planning Officer, Finnish National Gallery

Hoffman II: Picturing Home

"The films in this program picture home as a space that must be reclaimed. Philip Hoffman’s passing through / torn formations is a generational saga, laid over three picture rolls, that rejoins in its symphonic montage the broken remnants of his Eastern European family, which has been separated by war, disease, madness, and migration. In Orpojen joulu, Anu Kuivalainen, with passion and grace, seeks and finds the father she had never met. Kiti Luostarinen boldly uncovers difficult repressed family memories, using camera as both probe and witness in Sanokaa mitä näitte (Tell Us What You Saw). “What one does not remember, is the serpent in the garden of one’s dreams”." –James Baldwin

AA: Philip Hoffman's influence in modern Finnish documentary film has been tremendous. A case in point is Kiti Luostarinen's Sanokaa mitä näitte / Tell Me What You Saw, about the wildly incompatible childhood memories of a large family.

The key film of Hoffman's in Finland has been passing through / torn formations, now revisited in a special tribute cycle at the DocPoint Festival. Its beautiful Finnish title is Aikojen halki = "[Passing] Through Time".

Hoffman's film is a work of poetry. Through an intricate web of associative montage it visualizes the movement of the human mind.

There is stark documentary of nurturing a helpless grandmother at her deathbed. There are children wandering on meadows and rivers. There is the curious look of a baby, groping to make sense of life.

This is a document of intimacy. Of immediate experience, of family memory, of a split experience dating back to an European past in Poland. Even the name Dachau is mentioned.

It's free, experimental, and sensitive.

A full array of cinematic means is mobilized. A mobile handheld camera. Reduced colour. Overexposures. Extreme close-ups. Superimpositions. Flickering images. Print defects as signs. Black frames. High contrast. Silhouettes. There is an inner movement towards atavistic imagery, even rock paintings, and primordial memories of infancy.

The soundscape is often hypnotic, sometimes monotonous, with voiceover recitals of texts, inner monologues, amateur rustical musicianship, dialogues. The soundscape is often multi-layered. The composer is Tucker Zimmermann.

A journey to a forgotten world, almost beyond memory.

Sonita

Sonita Alizadeh. Please click to enlarge.
    Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
    Country: Iran, Germany, Switzerland
    Year: 2015
    Length: 90­ min
    Rating: S
    Format: DCP
    Cinematography: Behrouz Badrouj, Ali Mohammad Ghasemi, Mohammad Haddadi, Arastoo Givi, Torben Bernard, Ala Mohseni, Parviz Arefi
    Editing: Rune Schweitzer
    Audio: Benjamin Benoit
    Music: Moritz Denis
    Production: Kerstin Krieg & Gerd Haag/Tag Traum, Aline Schmid/Intermezzo Films, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
Languages: Pashto, English, Persian
Subtitles: English
     Screener link viewed at DocPoint, Helsinki.
    © 2015 Tag/Traum, Intermezzo Films, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami.
    Music: Sonita Alizadeh.
    Kinopalatsi 7: Wednesday 27.1. at 19:15, Savoy Theatre: Thursday 28.1. at 19:00

Festival catalogue and website: "18-year old Sonita is an Afghan refugee living in Iran. She is a rebel, a woman who won’t submit, who won’t be sold. She wants to be a rap artist and with words as her weapons she fights for a world, where young girls won’t be sold as wives to old men. She is no stranger to forced marriage herself. Her family back in Afghanistan needs money desperately and her marriage would help the situation."

"With her guts and talent, she manages to buy herself more time and continue pursuing her dreams. She is helped by a resourceful network of friends, who won’t leave her in trouble. One of them is the director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, does much more than just films the events."

"This is a documentary for the women and it sings with a woman’s voice. It is a story of a woman singing about women’s rights in a country where women are forbidden to sing. This is also a documentary for the women, who have no hope for anything better. There are many of them among Sonita’s friends and she knows their pain. And this is also a film for the mothers. It echoes with a tradition that Sonita can’t respect, even when it is proclaimed by a person she loves almost unconditionally.
" Suvi Annola / Translation: Tuomo Karvonen

AA: A powerful socially engaged film, a memorable portrait documentary, a distinguished music film including a remarkable music video performance, an Afghan rap film.

The young Sonita is a refugee from Afghanistan to Iran since 11 years. She lives without personal ID papers. She fulfills her dream to make a rap video. The result is excellent, and there is an option to perform in the U.S., but for that she needs papers. So she returns to Afghanistan at great risk. There nothing has changed. She does get a passport and performs in the U.S.

We learn to know the story of Sonita's large family and the circumstances of living as a refugee when the basic conditions of life are precarious.

We learn understand the everyday violence against women. Girls can be sold for marriage, and they get beaten and abused at will. Against all that Sonita raps.

Sonita's video "Bride For Sale" is worth revisiting. It is simple and powerful.

The main location is Teheran, but in the last part of the film there is a return to Herat and Kabul, and the very finale takes place in Utah.

The main source of the emotion and the power of the movie is the soulful, agonized and resilient presence of Sonita Alizadeh.

Eleganssi / Elegance

Eleganssi. Please click to enlarge.
    Director: Virpi Suutari
    Country: Finland
    Year: 2016. © 2015
    Length: 26 min
    Rating: K7
    Format: 2K DCP
    Cinematography: Jani Kumpulainen
    Editing: Jussi Rautaniemi
    Audio: Olli Huhtanen
    Music: Sanna Salmenkallio
    Production: Virpi Suutari / Euphoria Film Oy
    Languages: Finnish, Swedish. Subtitles: English by Aretta Vähälä.
    DocPoint, Helsinki. Screener link viewed at home.
    Featuring: Jorma Ollila, Heikki A. Reenpää, Antti Herlin.
    Instruments: cembalo, viola da gamba, fipple flute.
    Andorra: Wednesday 27.1. at 17:00. Kinopalatsi 8: Friday 29.1. klo 17:15

Festival catalogue and website: "Director Virpi Suutari’s Elegance is a real pearl for a film, a carefully planned and constructed masterpiece. Usually portrait documentaries are set in three locations: home, work and play. In this unusual documentary film we follow three powerful leaders only at play, doing something they truly love."

"For hunting is the one thing these leaders have in common. And as we follow them from the office to the forest, we get to glimpse into the private personalities of the legendary publisher Heikki A. Reenpää and the corporate leaders Antti Herlin and Jorma Ollila. Don’t expect any trade secrets, but we do get to see these big shots out of their board room habitat, as players in this ancient, carefully choreographed blood ritual. Sanna Salmenkallio’s cembalo music echoes the centuries past thus emphasizing Jani Kumpula9nen’s composition, which is undeniably influenced by the stilllebens of classic art."

"Men and hunting dogs create a new pack, a new tribe, and finally we see the powerful trio in a different light, as men instead of suits. The hunting dogs and their unruly behaviour even allow us to smile at the mortality of these moguls. As we follow the quarry from the hunting grounds to the hands of chefs and white-gloved butlers, and all the way to the fancy dining halls, we are following an allegory of the society and the pedigree of both men and dog.
" Kira Schroeder / Translation: Tuomo Karvonen

AA: Renowned for her remarkable portraits of the marginalized (Joutilaat [the title means about the same as I vitelloni] with Susanna Helke, and Hilton!) in cinéma vérité style Virpi Suutari now creates a film about the business elite in the style of Dutch Golden Age painting.

Two years ago Suutari released a delightful documentary feature called Eedenistä pohjoiseen / North of Eden. It was about gardens as expressions of relationships. The splendid cinematography was by Heikki Färm, and the wonderfully playful score by Sanna Salmenkallio. All protagonists were memorable, but especially impressive was Mr. Heikki A. Reenpää, a great cultural figure, also an unforgettable presence in that movie.

Elegance is about hunting trips. Three of the greatest Finnish executives, Jorma Ollila, Heikki A. Reenpää, and Antti Herlin go hunting in late summer and in the autumn. They hunt grey partridges in the company of their white setters and other hunting dogs. There are also Finnish forest reindeer (metsäpeura, tbc). In the final sequence they join a formal dinner to feast on their prey.

These men are highly public figures, but this is no time to talk business. Hunting is for focusing the mind on something different. Hunting is not an elite preoccupation in Finland. It is the thing to do in the countryside. We might expect a satirical or ironical angle in a film like this. There isn't any.

Jorma Ollila tells about the hunter who remembered the entrance of every moose but not every prime minister. The great storyteller is Reenpää (born in 1922!). In Düsseldorf there was a picnic on the grass with Gräfin Gorgonzola and Françoise Dorléac. Also a King of Sweden appears in an anecdote.

The wonder cinematographer this time is Jani Kumpulainen. Elegance is a feast for the eye in each shot. Again Sanna Salmenkallio creates a delightful and original score, this time with Baroque instruments.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sota ja mielenrauha / War and Peace of Mind

Sota ja mielenrauha. Please click to enlarge.
FI © 2016 Kinocompany. P: Liisa Juntunen. D: Ari Matikainen. DP: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. M: Janne Haavisto. S: Janne Laine. ED: Matti Näränen. 2K DCP with English subtitles by Marko Pyhähuhta. 75 min
    Scholars: Ville Kivimäki, Juha Mälkki, Jenni Kirves, Markku Jokisipilä, Tuomas Tepora.
    The sources of the quotes used in the film are detailed in the final credits.
    In the presence of Liisa Juntunen and Ari Matikainen who introduced the film and the production team and the experts taking the bow afterwards.
    Viewed at Savoy Theatre (DocPoint Opening Gala), Helsinki, 25 Jan 2016

 Festival catalogue and website: "The opening film of DocPoint 2016 is the beautiful and topical War and Peace of Mind by Ari Matikainen. The film explores the effect wars in Finland have had on the national mind-set. How many generations does it take for the traumas and mental wounds to heal?"

"The soundtrack consists of recited letters and journal entries written between the front line and home. Intimate recollections of people shot in present time intersperse with never-before-seen archive footage of the 1940s. Together all these vistas reveal a people traumatised by a civil war; souls only to be broken further by yet another war. Private experiences are adeptly juxtaposed with the entire nation’s history in interviews with scholars who reflect on both war and the depths of the human mind."

"After the wars, Finns kept shtum about their fears and traumas, and the issue has not been properly taken on since. This has been partly due to the guilt of co-belligerence with Germany which has for decades since been spoken mainly in euphemisms. War and Peace of Mind works through history and connects the real dots in our nations broken and distorted memory. It gives a voice to those who have been made to remain silent.
" - Ulla Simonen / Translation: Tapio Reinekoski

AA: A novel approach to the wars of Finland in WWII in 1939-1945. It makes us think that such extremely violent experiences need to be seriously processed "by the third and the fourth generation".

In Sota ja mielenrauha Ari Matikainen has first of all discovered a lot of little known original documents: films, photographs, correspondence, et cetera that make us see the wars anew. Besides documents on the the battles on the front the film covers trench warfare, the nurses' viewpoint, the rehabilitation of veterans with prosthetic hands, arms, etc. There are scenes of sport exercises before and after the war. There is footage of refugees from Eastern Karelia. Also footage of war prisoners and viewpoints from refugees with an Orthodox background.

The veterans could not convey what they had experienced because it was impossible for outsiders to understand. But younger generations need to deal with those wars, too.

We confront first-hand documentation of the war in images and written testimonies (read here by actors). And there are top experts interpreting the experience from a contemporary viewpoint.

There is a strong mental soundscape in the film (music by Janne Haavisto, sound by Janne Laine). Sometimes it evokes sounds from another reality.

The imagery has been processed via cinematic means such as slow motion. Sometimes there is a heavily duped visual quality in the original footage.

Fassbinder

Fassbinder. Please click to enlarge.
    Director: Annekatrin Hendel
    Country: Germany­
    Year: 2015
    Length: 92 min
    Rating: K16
    Format: DCP
    Cinematography: Martin Farkas
    Editing: Jörg Hauschild
    Audio: Patrick Veigel
    Music: Christian "Flake" Lorenz
    Production: Maria Wischnewski / IT WORKS! Medien
Language: German
Subtitles: English
    Featuring: Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Juliane Maria Lorenz, Hanna Schygulla, Harry Baer, Hark Bohm, Hubert Gilli, Wolf Gremm, Günter Rohrbach, Fritz Müller-Scherz, Volker Schlöndorff, Thomas Schühly - archival footage: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
    In collaboration with Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation.
    DocPoint, Helsinki. Screener link viewed at home.
    Andorra: Monday 25.1. at 18:00. Korjaamo / Galleria-sali : Thursday 28.1. at 18:30. Kinopalatsi 7: Sunday 31.1. at 21:15

Festival catalogue and website: "In 1981, Rainer Werner Fassbinder died at the age of 37, holding a bloody manuscript for a film about Rosa Luxemburg’s life. During the preceding decade, the manic film director had already created almost 50 films for the silver screen. Fassbinder’s death marked the end of an era, leaving West Germany struggling to understand its history in absence of its most relentless critic."

"Through rare interviews, those close to Fassbinder talk with honesty and love about what it was like to live and work with the drug­addicted political critic. The film paints a picture of a charismatic tyrant whose life goal was to break the post­war taboos of his country. Neither people nor ideas were saved from Fassbinger’s sharp critique. Sexual norms, Hitler’s legacy, bourgeois culture, and leftist terrorism – they all received the same treatment."

"But the unconditional and extreme lifestyle came with a high price: series of strained personal relationships and a complete burnout. The documentary features a comprehensive selection of archival material that effectively guides us into the expansive web of work, love, and obsession that was to become his fate.
" Saara Tamminen / Translation: Sanna Parikka

AA: This is a period of excellent documentary portraits of film artists. Annekatrin Hendel's authorized portrait of Rainer Werner Fassbinder belongs to the same class with Stig Björkman's Jag är Ingrid and Ron Mann's Altman. They are all intimate portraits with authorized access to the artist's personal archive with a lot of previously unknown material, including home movies, outtakes, and other special items. They can be added to the artist's oeuvre as distinguished posthumous reflections and overviews. All are rewarding for a programmer as introductions to the artists.

First of all I must say I especially enjoyed the clips from Fassbinder's movies themselves. I have seen many but not all, and some not for a long while. There are also true rarities such as outtakes from Liebe ist kälter als der Tod or glimpses from Fassbinder's theater production of Miss Julie with him as Jean. Volker Schlöndorff's comments on Fassbinder's contribution to Deutschland im Herbst are remarkable. Besides the best-known Fassbinder star ensemble it is touching to see and hear Margarethe von Trotta in Der amerikanische Soldat.

Gradually we learn to understand something of the miracle of Fassbinder's creativity and productivity. He learned to work with a small team and keep many projects going: one in production, one in pre-production, one in post-production. And he had a strong and trusted team.

I like all the interviews. It cannot have been easy to get them. Fassbinder was a terrible guy, and in this movie we learn that two of his male lovers died after he had abandoned them, including the leading male actor of Angst essen Seele auf, who was a decent and calm guy. "I had to lead the life I led".

I like the honesty, I like the fact that there is a mystery and a contradiction, with no neat solution or explanation. This is a story of Fassbinder, but this is also a story of a talented group of artists, of New German Cinema, and of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The documentary compilation contains many kinds of materials, including tv footage and amateur footage. There is also animated material specially produced for this feature. The interviews are beautifully photographed.

FILMPORTAL INFO:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Scipione l’Africano / Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of Hannibal

Scipione l'Africano. Please click to enlarge.
Scipio Africanus, Afrikan valloittaja / Scipio Africanus [Swedish title]. IT 1937. PC: Consorzione ’Scipio l’Africano’ / Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinemato-grafiche (ENIC) / L.C.J. Editions & Productions. [EX: Vittorio Mussolini, n.c.] P: Frederic Curiosi. D: Carmine Gallone. SC+story: Carmine Gallone, Camillo Mariani Dell’Aguillara, Sebastiano A. Luciani – [Silvio Maurano (n.c.)]. DP: Ubaldo Arata, Anchise Brizzi. PD: Pietro Aschieri. Set dec: Carmine Gallone. Cost: Pietro Aschieri. Makeup: Mario Giuseppe Paoletti. M: Ildebrando Pizzetti. S: Vittorio Trentino. ED: Oswald Hafenrichter. War advisors: Francesco Poggi, Alberto Riggi.
    C: Annibale Ninchi (Publius Cornelius Scipio), Camillo Pilotto (Hannibal), Fosco Giachetti (Captain Massinissa), Francesca Braggiotti (Queen Sophonisba) [dubbed by: Giovanna Scotto], Marcello Giorda (King Syphace), Guglielmo Barnabò (Furius, a fat Roman), Isa Miranda (Velia, a Roman woman), Ciro Galvani (Quinto Fabio Massimo), Carlo Lombardi (Lucio), Marcello Spada (Arunte), Lamberto Picasso (Hasdrubal, Hannibal's advisor), Raimondo Van Riel (Maharbale), Alberto Sordi (comparsa soldato romano), [Alberto De Martino (Scipio's son, n.c.)]. Helsinki premiere: 25.12. 1937 Kino-Palatsi, Savoy, released by: Suomi-Filmi – classification 21198 – K16 – 3250 m / 119 min
    Produced in collaboration with the Armed Forces of the State.
    A Cineteca Nazionale print by permission of Ripley's Film, 115 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema: Fascist propaganda), with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio, 21 Jan 2016

Once a year we screen a Fascist propaganda film. This time it was a grand war epic about Scipio Africanus, one of the greatest warlords in history. The film starts in the middle of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). Startlingly, it begins with the defeat of Rome on the battlefield of Cannae where 86.000 Roman troops are slaughtered, one of the most horrible defeats in war history.

Hannibal from Carthage (here portrayed by Camillo Pilotto sporting a black eyepatch on his right eye) is overwhelmingly victorious. He has conquered the Mediterranean, Iberia, Gallia, the Alps, and most of Italy. But Scipio (Annibale Ninchi) has a bold strategy. Instead of attacking Hannibal on the Italian peninsula he embarks against Carthage itself. This compels Hannibal to return to Africa. The film builds towards the terrifying climax of the Battle of Zuma. Before that, Scipio and Hannibal meet eye to eye, but they cannot accept each other's peace terms. Hannibal is crushed. Rome becomes a ruler of the world.

The film does justice to much of the complexity of the history of the tremendous war with lessons of strategy in battles that are still studied in military academies. The physical production values are of top quality. The war machines, armoured elephants and dresses feel convincing.

Scipio Africanus is Fascist propaganda in a way that is incompatible with great art. It is a militaristic and nationalistic film based on ideals of a war state.

But Scipio Africanus is too complex and honest to be good propaganda. The Second Punic War already had a slaughterhouse approach, but it was kindergarten stuff in comparison with the total war of the machine age which everybody had become familiar with in WWI. Somehow there is a half-conscious feeling here that the film-makers are determined to act militaristic while they know better than that.

A prominent and recurrent gesture in the film is what we know as the Nazi salute, which was believed to be at the time a Roman salute. It was in fact an invention of the 19th century, accepted by d'Annunzio, incorporated in the film Cabiria (1914), and adopted by Italian Fascists and the German Nazis. The mass salutes highlight the nightmarish topical connection of the film with the impending WWII.

In the narrative arc the determination to revenge the battle of Cannae is the driving force. "Vendichiamo Cannae!" From the slaughterfield in the first image of the film a single Roman banner is raised. The battle of Zuma finally provides the full satisfaction of retribution. Scipio can return home to his family again. "Tomorrow we can start to sow".

The film builds on great traditions of Italian historical epics and divismo. Francesca Braggiotti creates a memorable Queen Sophonisba who we can believe could be able to thwart Massinissa from the warpath. Isa Miranda in a smaller but recurrent role plays Velia whose love affair with Arunte is crushed by the war.

The director Carmine Gallone has a familiar touch in his account of a period of ancient Roman history. Among the military campaigns, political debates and public orations there are popular scenes, viewpoints of the common soldier, moments of joy and relaxation, and bits of comedy, romance, and private suffering. Character-wise this is mostly a story of Scipio and Hannibal.

A beautiful print of a restored version from Cineteca Nazionale.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY PETER VON BAGH:

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Two Mules for Sister Sara

Two Mules for Sister Sara. Please click to enlarge.
Dos mulas para la hermana Sara / Sierra Torrida / Kourallinen dynamiittia / En handfull dynamit / Han kom - han så - han skød. US/MX 1970 © 1969 Universal Pictures. PC: Universal Pictures (US) / The Malpaso Company (A Universal-Malpaso Company Picture) - in association with Sanen Productions. S.a. (MX). P: Carroll Case, Martin Rackin. D: Don Siegel. SC: Albert Maltz. Story: Budd Boetticher. DP: Gabriel Figueroa - ass. Robert Surtees [nc] – negative: Eastman 100T 5254 - 35 mm - lab: Technicolor (Hollywood) – Panavision 2,35:1. AD: José Rodriguez Granada. Set dec: Pablo Galván. Makeup: Margarita Ortega, Frank Westmore. Hair: Evelina Casas. M: Ennio Morricone. "Sam Hall" (trad.) sung by Clint Eastwood as the arrow is removed. "La paloma" (Sebastián Iradier, 1863). M dept: Stanley Wilson. S: Jesús González Gancy, Ronald Pierce, Waldon O. Watson. ED: Robert F. Shugrue. Stunts: Buddy Van Horn (n.c.). C: Clint Eastwood (Hogan), Shirley MacLaine (Sara), Manolo Fábregas / Manuel Fábregas (Colonel Beltran), Alberto Morin (General LeClaire), Armando Silvestre (1st American), John Kelly (2nd American), Enrique Lucero (3rd American), David Estuardo / David Povall (Juan), Ada Carrasco (Juan's mother), Poncho Cordoba (Juan's father), Jose Chavez (Horacio). In English with Spanish and French. Helsinki premiere: 13.3.1970 Boston, released by: Väinän Filmi – VET 78402 – K16 – 3030 m / 111 min. [IMDb: 116 min, unreliable]. Originally: 114 min
    Loc: Mexico: Morelos (Jantetelco, Tlayacapan, Cuatla), Sonora (Bavispe).
    I do not understand the title of this film but according to an expert friend the second mule is Hogan.
    Vhs in Finland: 1986 Esselte Video. Dvd: 2002 and blu-ray: 2013 - Universal Pictures Finland. Tv: 28.3.1988 MTV1, 14.7.1995 MTV3, 8.6.2007 YLE TV2
    A vintage DFI Technicolor print, dansk tekst, 111 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Colt Concert), 16 Jan 2016

Two Mules for Sister Sara takes place in Mexico around 1865-1867, after the U.S. Civil War. Benito Juárez's Mexico has been occupied by France which has established the Second Mexican Empire under the puppet rule of Emperor Maximilian. There is a French-Mexican war going on which will lead to the victory of Porfirio Díaz.

A picaresque Western where the Mexican revolutionary Sara (Shirley MacLaine) disguised as a nun is saved from gang rape by the roguish mercenary Hogue (Clint Eastwood). Hogue is also helping the revolutionaries but he is only in it for the money. The incongruous couple, Sara and Hogue, travel towards the French garrison at Chihuahua, joining forces with Colonel Beltran's revolutionaries. Both save each other's life twice.

The screenplay by Albert Maltz based on an original screenplay by Budd Boetticher is strong and intriguing. Both Americans were Mexican citizens at the time.

The cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa provides a splendid sense of landscape, atmosphere and colour (for instance in the fruit and vegetable market scene). Figueroa had started with Eisenstein and worked with Fernández, Ford, Buñuel, Gavaldón, and Huston. There had been an Eisenstein-inspired Gabriel Figueroa school of filming Mexican landscape (low angles, stark silhouettes, foreboding clouds, imposing monuments, majestic national characters), but here the approach is different and original, suitable to the picaresque character of the story.

Shirley MacLaine has her name above the title in the film proper (but not on the poster), and while the Western as a rule is a masculine genre, MacLaine is predictably believable as the survivor and rebel Sara. Sara has range from tender femininity to tough resilience. She faces danger and hardship fearlessly. MacLaine is a master comedienne. Her timing in Albert Maltz's dialogue is impeccable. She creates a memorable Western woman. A revelatory scene is the encounter with the Yaqui. Sara dazzles them with her crucifix and advises Hogan not to display weakness although he has been shot.

Clint Eastwood was expanding his horizon after his breakthrough in Sergio Leone's dollar trilogy. After Hang 'Em High he had discovered the director Don Siegel at Universal in Coogan's Bluff, made an Alistair MacLean war adventure (Where Eagles Dare) and even filmed a musical (Paint Your Wagon).

Two Mules for Sister Sara was partly a return to the dollar trilogy, but the man now has a name, there is a lot of dialogue, and the landscape is authentic. The violence and the gore of the war story are depicted unflinchingly. The characters are more humanly believable, and most importantly, Clint is co-starring with the formidable MacLaine. Clint is clumsier and his range is much more narrow than MacLaine's, but their chemistry is always interesting.

Don Siegel directs the picture with a genial rapport. Two Mules for Sister Sara is not among his best action films. There is a more relaxed and rambling approach to the chaotic circumstances of the war in Mexico. Comedy and humour are more prominent than in Siegel's films usually. The cynicism and the pessimism are balanced with currents of tenderness and humour.

Among the spectacular action setpieces the explosion of the railway bridge is made exciting by the fact that it is dependent on the marksmanship of Hogan who is stone drunk.

The grand finale at the taking of the French fort is more rambunctuous than believable. Yet there is a sense of gravity in the story - in the moving and human scene of the execution of the Mexican rebel by the French army, and in the Gatling gun bloodbath in the finale.

A key scene is Hogan's getting shot by a Yaqui arrow. The sense of pain is genuine in the extended scene where both Hogan and Sara display their survival skills in the careful removal of the arrow which has pierced through Hogan's chest not far from his heart. Liberal helpings from bottles of whisky help Hogan through the ordeal as Sara saves his life for the second time.

Ennio Morricone in his first American score builds on the quirky, hypnotic dollar trilogy sound world. He understands the dynamics of solo instruments and human voices. The guitar, the Jew's harp, and castanets are among the instruments. Wailing female voices display the religious dimension. Near the finale we start to hear martial horns and drums. In the piñata sequence we hear traditional Mexican tunes. Let's also note the moving elegic theme to the mourning of the family of the executed Mexican rebel.

A mostly brilliant vintage Technicolor print (shot in Eastmancolor, the first run prints of Two Mules for Sister Sara were made in Technicolor). Only the very beginning is scratched and choppy with jump-cut joins. The colour is rich and full in true Technicolor fashion, prominently also in the final image where Sara has changed from dark habits to a red dress.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY LAURI LEHTINEN: