Sunday, June 25, 2017

It Always Rains on Sunday

It Always Rains on Sunday. The Sandigate family. Second from left: Googie Withers (Rose Sandigate).

Sunnuntaisin sataa aina / Drama i East End. Director: Robert Hamer. Year: 1947. Country: Gran Bretagna. A Sunday in Bologna.
    Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Arthur La Bern. Scen.: Angus MacPhail, Robert Hamer, Henry Cornelius. F.: Douglas Slocombe. M.: Michael Truman. Scgf.: Duncan Sutherland. Int.: Googie Withers (Rose Sandigate), Jack Warner (detective Fothergill), John McCallum (Tommy Swann), Edward Chapman (George Sandigate), Jimmy Hanley (Whitey), John Carol (Freddie), John Slater (Lou Hyams), Susan Shaw (Vi Sandigate). Prod.: Michael Balcon per Ealing Studios. DCP. D.: 92′
    From BFI National Archive.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Introduce Neil McGlone.
    DCP with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti viewed at Cinema Jolly, 25 June 2017.

Alexander Payne and Neil McGone (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Robert Hamer’s third film for Ealing Studios – until then known primarily for war films and dramas before their celebrated comedies – It Always Rains on Sunday could arguably be considered the first British ‘kitchen-sink’ drama."

"Based on Arthur La Bern’s novel of the same name, the story takes place over 24 hours in Bethnal Green, the East End of London, an area still ravaged by the after-effects of WWII and post-war deprivation. Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) lives in meager conditions with her middle-aged husband and his two daughters from a previous marriage. When her former lover Tommy (John McCallum) turns up as a prison escapee and begs her to hide him, she is torn between her new life and her old."

"Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s work is masterful. A photojournalist during the war, he’d caught the eye of Ealing director Alberto Cavalcanti, who brought him into the studio for For Those in Peril and Dead of Night. Location shooting in crowded streets and markets was at the time still quite experimental in British cinema, but Slocombe’s masterstroke is in the final scene of the convict chased between trains along a railway siding. The noirish chiaroscuro of this night sequence has often been compared with the poetic realism of French cinema of the 1930s, a reminder of Renoir and Carné."

"At the time of its release, the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association declared it “an unsavoury film…with appeal only to those with very broad minds”. Undeterred, the British audience made it Ealing’s box office hit of the year. Novelist Arthur La Bern’s Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square would 25 years later become Hitchcock’s Frenzy."
Alexander Payne and Neil McGone (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: I saw for the first time It Always Rains on Sunday, for William K. Everson the greatest British film noir. As a crime film it is completely different from Alfred Hitchcock's British films of the 1920s and the 1930s. But there are affinities with other contemporary Brit Noir films as well as the films of the "Angry Young Men" ten years later. I was also thinking about the British crime films of Joseph Losey.

A kitchen sink thriller, a criminal investigation, a chase story, a multi-character study, and a cross-section film with a flashback structure. There is some resemblance with the fatalistic French Jean Gabin thrillers of the 1930s such as Le Jour se lève.

In 1947 Robert Hamer was in the middle of his golden period as a director at Ealing Studios under Michael Balcon. He had directed masterfully the The Haunted Mirror sequence in Dead of Night, also with Googie Withers, and he would soon direct the classic black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Also the cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (who died last year at the age of 103) was already at his best here, also having recently gotten started at the Ealing Studios, and also having worked with Hamer in Dead of Night for whom he would also shoot Kind Hearts and Coronets. This is film noir cinematography at its best, especially in the thrilling, fatalistic finale at the railyard.

The composer Georges Auric had an interesting French-British career at the time, switching between Jean Cocteau and Ealing Studios. His sense of la zone brings a special frisson to the British kitchen sink thriller.

Neil McGlone in his introduction told us that the leading actors Googie Withers and John McCallum actually fell in love during the production of this film, and in contrast to the film's tragic finale, they stayed married all their lives, for 62 years.

A competent and obviously digital look in a professionally remastered DCP of a film with a particularly dark and ambitious cinematography, a difficult case for the definition of light.


Soleil Ô (2017 restoration, The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project) (in the presence of Med Hondo)

Soleil Ô. Robert Liensol stars as the Mauritanian in France.

Oh, Sun. Director: Med Hondo. Year: 1970. Country: Mauritania. French and Arabic version with English subtitles. The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.
    Sog., Scgf.: Med Hondo. F.: François Catonné, Jean-Claude Rahaga. M.: Michèle Masnier, Clément Menuet. Mus.: Georges Anderson. Int.: Robert Liensol, Théo Légitimus, Gabriel Glissand, Mabousso Lô, Alfred Anou, Les Black Echos, Ambroise M’Bia, Akonio Dolo. Prod.: Grey Films, Shango Films. DCP. D.: 98’. Bn.
    From: The Film Foundation: World Cinema Project.
    Restored by Cineteca di Bologna in collaboration with Med Hondo at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. Restoration funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project
    The restoration of Soleil Ô was made possible through the use of a 16mm reversal print, and 16mm and 35mm dupe negatives deposited by Med Hondo at Ciné-Archives, the audiovisual archive of the French Communist Party, in Paris. A vintage 35mm print preserved at the Harvard Film Archive was used as a reference. Colour grading was supervised by cinematographer François Catonné.
    Introducono il regista Med Hondo, Margaret Bodde (The Film Foundation) e Cecilia Cenciarelli
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    DCP with English subtitles plus e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti viewed at Sala Scorsese, 25 June 2017.

Med Hondo, “Jeune Cinéma”, June-July 1970 (quoted at Il Cinema Ritrovato): "It was purely by chance that we ended up being artists ‘of colour’, as is the term usually used. In Paris together for basically the same reasons, Bachir, Touré, Robert and I found ourselves right in the middle of a country, a city, where we had to get by, for a lack of better words, where we had to work: being an actor, a musician, a singer. And where we realized immediately the doors were closed […].

As a solution we thought of creating a theater group and, in the meantime, we all made Soleil Ô. In order to make the film we had to overcome every bureaucratic and material obstacles, in other words, find a producer and tell him: “It’s the best story around, because we believe in it”. Like they say: “If you’re good at talking, you’re good at making film”. And so, we made Soleil Ô without money […].

All the scenes were based on reality. Because racism isn’t invented, especially in film. It’s like a kind of cloak put on you, that you’re forced to live with. Even the confession scene, at the beginning: in fact, in the Antilles, where I was born, they taught children that knowing how to speak Creole was a sin to confess.

I know that the cinema you called cinéma-vérité has always avoid saying things of the kind. The only thing it has done in this sense is take black faces and mix them in the crowds. To demonstrate that as the West continues to expand itself economically, the more it will need black labor. And so Africa will always be an underdeveloped continent: saying the contrary is a lie […].

The original idea was to show tourist spots packed with blacks only. All of a sudden you would see Sacré-Cœur, and you would see only blacks. It would have had a powerful cinematographic impact. But the idea remained on paper and wasn’t translated into images."
Med Hondo, “Jeune Cinéma”, June-July 1970 (quoted at Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: I saw for the first time Med Hondo's debut film Soleil Ô which I was very much looking forward to. Sarraounia I have considered a masterpiece since I saw it on its festival circuit in the 1980s. I included it into my film guide of the best films of all times (MMM Elokuvaopas).

Soleil Ô is completely different from the magnificent epic Sarraounia. It is a stark poetic masterpiece, an intelligent film essay on a Mauritanian (Robert Liensol) coming to France as an immigrant.

The film has been produced on a low budget and a high level of wit and invention. There are documentary sections, realistic sequences, limited animation passages, and ritual performances. The disparate elements are bound together by Med Hondo's powerful poetic sense of the connections.

The intelligent immigrant protagonist is received as a second-class citizen. France is nominally tolerant but the undercurrent of discrimination is ubiquitous just beyond the diplomatic surface. There are intelligent conversations that lead nowhere. Frenchwomen are intrigued: "Ever slept with a black man?" There are long looks when a white woman walks with a black man. The verdict after the test: "I heard that Africans in bed were... mais... ".

The finale takes place in the forest where the Mauritanian is invited to lunch with a French family living in the countryside. They are friendly, generous and hospitable, but his sense of being a stranger is heightened, and he walks alone back to the forest. He cries, he shouts, he yells while we hear the sound of the drums of Africa and a cuckoo in the forest.

There is no "The End" caption, instead a "A suivre" caption.

The music score of the film is stark and impressive, with drum beats, singers with guitars, jazz inserts, and eloquent songs. The title of the film itself is taken from the ancient song "Soleil Ô".

I missed Med Hondo's introduction due to an overlap with the previous screening but I could sense his powerful and dignified presence after the show.

The visual quality of the DCP presentation of the restored copy was good. The blow-up from the 16 mm original has been conducted with good taste.


Domenica d'agosto / A Sunday in August

Domenica d'agosto. Anna Baldini (Marcella), Franco Interlenghi (Enrico).

Domenica d'agosto. Anna Medici (Rosetta the maid), Marcello Mastroianni (the traffic policeman Ercole Nardi).

Elokuinen sunnuntai / En söndag i augusti. Director: Luciano Emmer. Year: 1950. Country: Italia. A Sunday in Bologna.
    Sog.: Sergio Amidei. Scen.: Franco Brusati, Luciano Emmer, Giulio Macchi, Cesare Zavattini. F.: Domenico Scala, Leonida Barboni, Ubaldo Marelli. M.: Jolanda Benvenuti. Mus.: Roman Vlad. Int.: Anna Baldini (Marcella Meloni), Vera Carmi (Adriana), Emilio Cigoli (Alberto Mantovani), Andrea Compagnoni (Meloni), Anna Di Leo (Iolanda), Franco Interlenghi (Enrico), Marcello Mastroianni (Ercole Nardi), Mario Vitale (Renato), Massimo Serato (Roberto). Prod.: Sergio Amidei per Colonna Film 35mm. D.: 80’. Bn
    From: Cineteca Nazionale / Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    A 35 mm print with e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti, Cinema Jolly, 26 June 2017.

Alexander Payne and Neil McGlone (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Following a series of short films and art documentaries made with Enrico Gras between 1938 to 1948, Domenica d’agosto marked Emmer’s first foray into the features that would dominate his prolific output during the 1950s."

"By 1949, at a time when the Italian neorealist movement was still very popular overseas, screenwriter Sergio Amidei managed to raise the finances to produce and co-write a feature that Emmer would direct. The simple, loose premise of the film is contained in the title itself – a Sunday in August. Emmer envisioned neither an omnibus film of different episodes nor a documentary, but, as he said, “a dramatic story of that particular day and those people whose lives suddenly became entangled by fate or coincidence”. He said he wanted the film to be “as sincere and unpretentious as possible” and for it to begin with “a minimal scenario which was later enriched as the work progressed by the inclusion of facts or characters that gradually presented themselves”. The screenplay was completed in just two weeks with contributions from Emmer, Amidei, Franco Brusati, Giulio Macchi, and the great Cesare Zavattini."

"Domenica d’agosto is a marvelous film interweaving five stories of characters fleeing Rome on a sweltering summer Sunday to seek refuge at the beach at Ostia – a girl with her family, a traffic policeman and his girlfriend, a boy and his friends, a young man and his ex-girlfriend, a widower and his young daughter. While the film is undoubtedly a precursor to the popular commedia all’italiana, its aesthetic remains firmly within neorealism and documentary. The film was shot entirely on location, and there was an extensive casting process of non-professional and little-known actors to keep the narrative focus squarely on the lives of ordinary people. However, the film has often been termed as neorealismo rosa (pink neorealism), a short-lived sub-genre in which Italian films offered a lighter tone more in keeping with the improving conditions of the country."

"The cast includes Mario Vitale, Ingrid Bergman’s husband in Stromboli; Franco Interlenghi from Sciuscià; Massimo Serato, who was briefly married to Anna Magnani; Emilio Cigoli from I bambini ci guardano; and an early appearance by Marcello Mastroianni, still not far along enough in his career to have the right to his own voice – he was dubbed by Alberto Sordi."
Alexander Payne and Neil McGlone (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

Wikipedia: "Domenica 7 agosto festa di San Gaetano. Dall'accaldata città di Roma una folla variegata, di ogni estrazione sociale, si muove con mezzi diversi verso il lido di Ostia, per trascorrervi l'intera giornata festiva."

AA: A wonderful film, valuable in the development of the Italian cinema, and also belonging to an international current of holiday films, including works such as Lonesome by Paul Fejos and Treno popolare by Raffaello Matarazzo.

In his first feature film Luciano Emmer benefits from his experience as a documentarist. The neorealist urge is still spontaneous. As a multi-character study Dominica d'agosto is far from even and rigorous but somehow that seems beside the point. From the beginning the movie is full of life in scenes of an overcrowded family car, trains bursting with people, and long queues to the beach paradise of Ostia. This feeling of a joy of life is the very substance of the film.

At the same time the film is frank about social conditions: the modest circumstances of the Meloni family, the pregnant maid who is fired, the policeman living in barracks, Luciana's impressive boyfriend in a fancy car who turns out to work for a procurer of women for a wealthy family, the old relative at the retirement home ("the state I'm in after years of hard work"), the unemployed Roberto participating in armed robbery to be eligible to Luciana.

We visit all walks of life, from the aristocracy to the unemployed and the down and out. There is even a meta aspect: a film producer also on a beach holiday is bursting with ideas. Everything that he sees seems to turn into possible film projects.

Some vignettes are haunting due to the fact that they remain underdeveloped. A single father comes to the beach to leave his little daughter for a while to a children's boarding home to spend some time with his new lady friend who does not like children. He meets a single mother leaving her child to the home, as well (see the second image from above). They meet briefly, and nothing happens between then, but after the encounter the single father does nothing to prevent his lady friend from drifting into the company of a Neapolitan rival, and at the end of the day he takes his daughter back with him from the boarding home. The single mother's understanding looks are the most memorable in the movie.

The soundtrack is full of delightful songs, including the theme song "Domenica d'agosto".

The visual quality of the film screening was often good or fair, but sometimes, including in the beginning it had a look of having been duplicated in many generations in low contrast.


Sunday (1961) (2008 UCLA restoration)

Sunday. Photo: Il Cinema Ritrovato.

Sunday. Israel Young. Photo: IMDb.

Director: Dan Drasin. Year: 1961. Country: USA. Theme: A Sunday in Bologna.
    Int.: Frances Stillman, Howard Milkin, Gerald E. McDermott, Frank Simon. Mus.: Dave Cohen, Jan Dorfman. Prod.: Daniel Drasin. 35mm. D.: 17’. Bn
    Restored in 2008 by UCLA Film & Television Archive, with funding provided by The Film Foundation.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    35 mm print with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, 25 June 2017.

Alexander Payne and Neil McGlone (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Sunday, April 9, 1961. Just 18 at the time, Brooklynite Dan Drasin headed to Washington Square Park to film what was supposed to be a peaceful protest by folk musicians whose permit to play in the park had been turned down. The protestors clashed with New York City police, who ended up making several arrests."

"Drasin was in charge of the equipment room for Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles, and as an employee he was able to grab a 16mm camera for his own project. The film is often cited as a historical document of the countercultural revolution, but today it can also be seen as an early precursor to live news events filmed on mobile phones and posted on social media." Alexander Payne and Neil McGlone (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

Anonymous in IMDb: "Dan Drasin's documentary short, shot in a single afternoon in 1961, is often cited as the first major social protest film of the Sixties. When 19-year-old Drasin and his friends joined folk singers and protesters in Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park, they confronted NYC authorities to protest the cancellation of a standing permit to gather and sing in the park on Sundays. Here are the first signs of the political, racial and cultural issues that would soon erupt during the decade."

AA: Dan Drasin's powerful documentary on the Beatnik Riot in the Washington Square Park on Sunday, 9 April 1961. There is a folk song concert and a demonstration about the right to sing folk songs, as an application for a permission to the park administration has been denied. The police enters to dissolve the protest.

Engrossing interpretations of songs such as "This Land Is Your Land", "Shall We Gather at the River", and "John Brown's Body". As the police violence escalates there is a heartfelt sing-along of the final "folk song": "The Star Spangled Banner".

A fine restored 35 mm blow-up proud to display the 16 mm grain from the original source material.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

El compadre Mendoza / Godfather Mendoza

El compadre Mendoza. Alfredo del Diestro (Rosalío Mendoza), Carmen Guerrero (Dolores). The hacienda owner Rosalío about to be executed by Zapata's revolutionaries.

Director: Fernando de Fuentes. Year: 1933. Country: Messico. Spanish version. Revolution and Adventure: Mexican Cinema in the Golden Age.
    Sog.: Juan Bustillo Oro, Mauricio Magdaleno. Scen.: Juan Bustillo Oro, Fernando de Fuentes. F.: Ross Fisher. M.: Fernando de Fuentes. Scgf.: Beleho. Mus.: Manuel Castro Padilla. Ass. regia: Juan Bustillo Oro. Int.: Alfredo del Diestro (Rosalío Mendoza), Carmen Guerrero (Dolores), Antonio R. Frausto (generale Felipe Nieto), Luis G. Barreiro (Atenógenes), Emma Roldán (María), José del Río (Felipe), Joaquín Busquets (colonnello Bernáldez), Abraham Galán (colonnello Martínez). Prod.: Rafael Ángel Frías, José Castellot Jr., Antonio Prida Santacilia per Interamericana Films. DCP. D.: 81′. Bn.
    Restored by Filmoteca UNAM from a 35mm original negative, property of Filmoteca UNAM. Photochemical restored at Filmoteca UNAM lab, and digitally restored in 2K at Vision Globales, Montréal.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    DCP with e-subtitles in Italian and English by Sub-Ti Londra at Cinema Jolly, 24 June 2017.

Daniela Michel and Chlöe Roddick (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "In 1933 Fernando de Fuentes began a trilogy of work about the Mexican Revolution that included El prisionero 13 (1933), El compadre Mendoza (1933) and Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1935). If 1933 was a year in which Mexican cinematic production exploded (twenty-one films were produced that year, as opposed to just one in 1931), it was also the year that de Fuentes, one of the most important filmmakers in Mexican cinema history, made his mark with this devastatingly critical take on the Mexican Revolution."

"Influenced by Sergej Ejzenštejn – who began work on his fated production Que viva México! in 1931 – and by the aesthetics of German expressionism, El compadre Mendoza tells of the dispute between two Revolutionary factions, by way of the story of a landowner whose allegiance changes depending on who is in control in his village at any one time. The preceding film, El prisionero 13, was heavily censored by the government – who had the ending changed in an attempt to dilute the film’s brutal portrayal of the Revolution – while Vámonos con Pancho Villa was the most expensive film in Mexican history up until that time, with a staggering 1 million peso budget (around four times the average)."

"De Fuentes believed that Mexican cinema “ought to be a faithful reflection of our way of being, bleak and tragic” and, indeed, his trilogy of films, either taken as stand-alone works or as an homogenous whole, offers one of the most authentic explorations of the Revolution, and of the the social and moral devastation that it left behind; a devastation that deeply implicated the collective consciousness of Mexican society for generations to come."
Daniela Michel and Chlöe Roddick (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: I am not a connoisseur of Mexican cinema, and seeing for the first time a film by Fernando de Fuentes makes me eager to see more.

The narrative of El compadre Mendoza is original with unexpected features. The story takes place in the 1910s at the hacienda of Rosalío Mendoza located at the very battlegrounds of the war between the government forces and Zapata's revolutionaries. Rosalío's way of life is a case of Realpolitik. He always celebrates whoever is in charge, entertains their troops, and knows which drink to serve: mezcal or cognac. There is nothing dubious about him. Both sides understand his will to survive.

During the narrative Rosalío meets the beautiful Dolores, much younger than he, and they marry. The looks of Dolores are telling, but it becomes a successful marriage based on love and mutual respect, even more after the birth of their son whom they call Felipe, after a Zapatista general who has saved Rosalío from execution and Dolores from rape. Felipe becomes the godfather (compadre) to the baby son, and he is truly devoted to his godson, teaching him to ride a horse, among other things. Late, towards the finale, he confesses, that he, too, has always loved Dolores, but sublimated this love towards the godson. This beautiful triangle love story is unusual and moving.

There is a tragic finale. Rosalío has been hoping to move with his family to Mexico City with the gains of a successful sale of grain, but the Zapatista revolutionaries sabotage the rails, and Rosalío's grain shipment is destroyed. He sends Dolores and their son to safety to the capital anyway and is pressured by the government forces to negotiate a settlement with the Zapatistas. However, he is betrayed, and while Felipe the general is sitting in his kitchen government soldiers shoot Felipe in the back through the window, and he is hanged on the premises of the Rosalío hacienda. Rosalío's spirit is broken, and Dolores and the little Felipe cry on their way to safety, as if sensing what is going on.

The silent accusing looks of the housekeeper and the accountant at the hacienda are memorable.

The performances are wonderful and engrossing.

The music score is powerful, consisting of war songs, wedding songs, slow waltzes, harmonica playing at campfire, and a final tragic song "What Did That Woman Give You?" (Dolores: "that song drives me crazy").

El compadre Mendoza is an unusual and deeply moving film which I look forward to revisiting.

The visual quality of the DCP presentation was generally quite good, with some unevenness, including occasional low contrast and a video look.

Delhoreh / Anxiety

Delhoreh. Abdollah Bootimar (Behrooz Niknejad).

دلهره / Horror. Italian Title: [Angoscia]. Director: Samuel Khachikian. Year: 1962. Country: Iran. Farsi version with English subtitles. Section: Tehran Noir: The Thrillers of Samuel Khachikian.
    M.: Samuel Khachikian, F.: Ghodratollah Ehsani. Scgf.: Hassan Paknejad. Int.: Irene (Roshanak Niknejad), Abdollah Bootimar (Behrooz Niknejad), Arman (Jamsheed), Shandermani (Babak), Haleh (Fetneh), Reza Beik Imanverdi (l’assassino con il coltello). Prod.: Azhir Film Studio. DCP. D.: 113’.
    From: National Film Archive of Iran.
    Digitized: in 2017 at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Introduce: Ehsan Khoshbakht.
    DCP with English subtitles. E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra. Cinema Jolly, 24 June 2017

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "After the success of Toofan Dar Shahr-e Ma, which saw the newly established Azhir Film make a significant profit, Khachikian became unhappy with his partners’ spending decisions. Instead of supporting the production of his projects, they invested in a dubbing facility for the studio, so as to import foreign films. Feeling betrayed, Khachikian left the studio and lent his talents to the infamous producer Mehdi Misaqiye, for whom he achieved success with Faryad-e Nime-shab. After various incidents, all of which concerned Misaqiye’s interference and taking of undue credit, Khachikian, disillusioned once again, returned to Azhir Film. He then made two films back to back, which became the studio’s biggest hits: Delhoreh and Zarbat."

"A tense story of deceit, blackmail, and murder (with a nod to Les Diaboliques), Delhoreh engaged audiences in a way no other Iranian film had done before. Khachikian creates a unique world, by turns familiar and unfamiliar, mapping the features of an ever-changing country (with some fabrications): the emergence of a new bourgeoisie with their maids, American cars, subscription magazines, western music, houses with staircases (as opposed to traditional flat houses) and the presence of modern architecture and impressive government buildings. Khachikian was so meticulous in creating this new world that even the Persian language didn’t satisfy him – he considered it sluggish. Dialogue scenes were shot at 22 fps (instead of 24 fps) to give them the pace they lacked!"

"By this point in his career, one also has a clearer sense of the way in which Khachikian develops his stories: a dramatic, tightly edited opening; a documentary style tour of Tehran in the middle, abruptly interrupted by a violent incident. Sound is the main means of transitioning between scenes, characters are derived, even in their appearance, from American films and a strong-willed women is introduced as an alternative to the stereotypical depiction of women in Iranian cinema." Ehsan Khoshbakht, Il Cinema Ritrovato

AA: An Iranian entertainment film with lurid pulp energy. Blunt, unrefined, rough, yet with cinematic excitement and fun with thriller conventions. A shrill, overdone score carries us through the fast-moving plot in which there are affinities with The Spiral Staircase and Les Diaboliques. Delhoreh is unsophisticated but with good action sequences, including impressive judo moves.

It is interesting to observe sensual femininity in an Iranian film, considerable charms that have been hidden in Iranian films since 1979.

Ehsan Khoshbakht told us that this film has not been seen in Iran since 1979 and probably never outside Iran. From a film believed lost, a viewing copy has been prepared from sources not in great condition. Delhoreh shows us a Tehran going through modernization. Themes include those of infidelity, a double identity, and blackmail, as Khoshbakht pointed out.

From difficult sources a watchable DCP has been produced.

Ninjo kamifusen / Humanity and Paper Balloons

Ninjo Kamifusen. Chojuro Kawarasaki (Matajuro Unno) and his suffering wife.

人情紙風船 / Italian Title: Umanità e palloni di carta. Director: Sadao Yamanaka. Year: 1937. Country: Giappone. Japanese version with English subtitles. The Japanese Period Film in the Valley of Darkness.
    Sog.: liberamente ispirato all’opera kabuki Kamiyui Shinza (Shinza il barbiere) di Mokuami Kawatake. Scen.: Shintaro Mimura. F.: Akira Mimura. M.: Koichi Iwashita. Scgf.: Kazuo Kubo. Mus.: Tadashi Ota. Int.: Chojuro Kawarasaki (Matajuro Unno), Tsuruzo Nakamura (Genko), Kan’emon Nakamura (Shinza), Choemon Bando (Yabuichi), Rakusaburo Ichikawa (Yakichi), Kikunosuke Ichikawa (Kanekichi), Sukezo Suketakaya (Chobei), Kosaburo Tachibana (Sanzaemon Mori), Kikunojo Segawa (Chushichi), Takako Misaki (Okoma), Shizue Yamagishi (Otaki). Prod.: Masanobu Takeyama per P.C.L. 35mm. D.: 86’. Bn.
    From: National Film Center (Tokyo).
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Introducono XXX (chief curator, National Film Center, Tokyo), Alexander Jacoby e Johan Nordström.
    Cinema Jolly, 35 mm print with English subtitles. With e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra. 24 June, 2017.

Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström (Il Cinema Ritrovato: "Yamanaka’s last and most famous film is a downbeat yet vital account of the life of a tenement community in Edo, brought to life with superb conviction and detail by the Zenshin-za actors. The film dovetails the story of a disappointed ronin (masterless samurai) seeking a position with an account of a fruitless kidnapping scheme masterminded by the local barber. The characters of ronin Unno and barber Shinza are superbly played respectively by Chojuro Kawarasaki and Kan’emon Nakamura."

"The film highlights Yamanaka’s skill at pictorial composition and deep focus, and his use of editing. Loosely based on a kabuki play by Mokuami Kawatake, the film shares its “faithful portrayal of the manners and atmosphere of ‘downtown’ Edo” (Keiko McDonald). But his vision of daily life is given a bleaker inflection as it charts a futile struggle against poverty and despair. Yamanaka changed the play’s flamboyant characters to weaker, more realistic versions of themselves, and further darkened the ending provided in Mimura’s script."

"Yamanaka produces a disenchanted study of a society in which the values of bushido celebrated in more traditional jidai-geki are abandoned or betrayed, and in which people cannot progress. The emblem of his bleak vision is the fragile paper balloons which float in the gutter in the last shot of the film – a shot which seems a premonition of the director’s own tragic death. For Donald Richie, this image “creates an absolute in a world of shifting values. Life is neither more permanent nor more consequential than a mere paper balloon. This haiku-like sentiment is at the base of the metaphor. It makes a statement”.

"Sadao Yamanaka (1909-1938) was the greatest master of the jidai-geki during mid- to late-1930s. His career spanned only six years, but he realised around two dozen films. Alas, only three survive complete, but they fully illustrate his austerity, poetry, realism and wit. Shortly after making Ninjo kamifusen, Yamanaka was drafted into the army and sent to China, where he died a year later in a field hospital. But writing his ‘Last Will and Testament’ in the year of his death, he was still able to celebrate his achievement. “If Ninjo kamifusen should prove to be the last film by Sadao Yamanaka, I would feel a little aggrieved. It is not a loser’s grief”
. Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: I saw Humanity and Paper Balloons for the first time and was struck by the intelligence in the storytelling, the building of the characters, the refinement of the performances, and the assured tempo in the period film. The rhythm is based on the psychology and the reactions of the characters in this disturbing story.

The impoverished, masterless samurai Unno tries to ask for a favour from the mighty pawnbroker Okoma but is always rejected. Humiliated in the rain, he even lies to his wife about his progress with the pawnbroker.

The pawnbroker's daughter is about to be married to money, but she escapes and is captured and hidden by Shinza, the intrepid barber who resists the intimidations of Okoma's thugs. Shinza returns the daughter for money, and even Unno, who has gallantly protected the daughter, is implicated, gets a share, and loses his honour.

There is a final showdown between Shinza and Okomo's thugs at the Emmado bridge. When Unno's wife learns that her husband has been lying all along and taken money for returning Okoma's daughter, she grabs a knife, and proceeds into double suicide.

Only her paper balloons remain.

A tragedy about living in an impasse, with no way out. Yet with a sense of a fundamental dignity and courage that will never die, although the protagonists of this story will perish.

A watchable and seemingly complete print which looks like several generations removed from the original, perhaps even at least partially stemming from a 16 mm source.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sayonara (2015)

Fukushima II: Sayonara. さようなら
Director: Kôji Fukada
Country: Japan, France
Year: 2015
Duration: 1.52
Languages: ja, en, fr
Category: In the Heart of Darkness, Master Class
Fukushima II: When the Human Beings Are Gone
    Introduced by Mika Taanila and Olaf Möller.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    DCP with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu, 18 June 2017.

Olaf Möller (MSFF): "After a disaster that looks suspiciously like the burning of an atomic power plant, death invisible is all around. Masses of people get evacuated, albeit not always fast enough. Others don’t feel like leaving. One of them is a young woman seemingly of South African extraction while fluent in Japanese (and other tongues as well). Her main companion in life is an android: her nanny/maidservant/lady-in-waiting. A boyfriend visits but doesn’t stay. Other people move on as well. After a while, she’s alone, sick with radiation disease, slowly wilting away while the android looks on uncaringly. Or did the machine over the years manage to learn from its mistress the essence of emotions? Will the android become the new human and appreciate the ethereal splendour of a flower in bloom? The at first moodily Rohmer’esque then serenely Sokurov’ian Sayonara marks the highpoint in Fukada Kōji’s collaboration with stage writer-director Hirata Oriza who in many of his productions used androids. Theirs is an art haunted, defined by the way the uncanny can seep into the fabric of life itself. With them, the alien is always among us – while the familiar becomes: strange. A standout piece of film art, even among the masses of major achievements and masterpieces Japan produces year in year out." (OM) MSFF

AA: A haunting and original post-apocalyptic movie, different from On the Beach, When the Wind Blows, Stalker, and Innocent Saturday. There is not a lot of action as we mostly watch Tanya (Bryerly Long) slowly fade away.

A unique feature is that the second lead is played by a robot: Geminoid F created by Hiroshi Ishiguro, the figure to the left on the poster above. James Hadfield has called Sayonara "the first movie to feature an android performing opposite a human actor".

I missed the beginning because I had to rearrange my accommodation for the night.


Monica Z / Waltz for Monica

Director: Per Fly
Country: Sweden
Year: 2013
Duration: 1.51
Languages: sv, en
Category: Per Fly
    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    DCP with English subtitles viewed at The School, 18 June 2017 

Harri-Ilmari Moilanen (MSFF): "For Sweden, jazz singer Monica Zetterlund is an iconic figure beyond measure. The biopic Monica Z (2013) is starred by Edda Magnusson who not only looks a lot like Monica Zetterlund herself but also plays the part of the protagonist exceedingly well. The result is a portrait that likely, for the most part, does justice to the idol. In the film, the character of Zetterlund is an equal combination of determination, sensibility and vulnerability. By default, director Per Fly values multifaceted methods of acting."

"Setting the focus of the events to a five year period between the 1950’s and 1960’s is a smart and practical solution: it offers enough dramatics both in the music and in Zetterlund’s personal life. “The Singer’s Road of Ordeal” would be an apt subheading for the movie."

"It includes events such as Z joining the orchestra of Arne Domnerus, breaking through with the song Sakta vi gå genom stan, the catastrophic Eurovision song contest of 1963 as well as the famous recording session with pianist Bill Evans."

"Furthermore, the broken personal life of Zetterlund is also illustrated; the problematic relationship with her father, various romantic relationships, her motherhood as well as her drinking problem."

"Bassist Sture Åkerberg (Sverrir Gudnason) is portrayed as the great love of Zetterlund and perhaps this was really the case. However, in the context of the aforementioned troubles, a romantic ending is too gentle a way to finish a film that otherwise works so well within the framework of its genre." (HIM) MSFF

AA: I saw for the first time Monica Z, the acclaimed Monica Zetterlund biopic with a fantastic performance by Edda Magnason in the leading role. A popular and critical success, it was the most prized Swedish film of the year. In this jazz musical biopic the quality of the music performances is high. Most amazingly Edda Magnason's interpretations of Monica Zetterlund's hits are worthy of the legendary originals. The production is good-looking, and the 1960s period feeling is convincing.

Monica Z is a well made mainstream entertainment film and a feelgood film. As a musical biopic it follows established conventions. There is a rise and fall scenario, but the film ends on an upbeat note as the matured Zetterlund enters a new stage in her life and career.

Memorable aspects:
    Monica Zetterlund's first New York engagement in the early 1960s is interrupted since it is not possible for a male black jazz band to have a white female singer.
    Zetterlund sings "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" privately to Ella Fitzgerald. Ella's comment: "When Billie sang it she meant it". Soon Zetterlund decides to switch to the Swedish language in her songs. She realizes that she does not know what it means to miss New Orleans. Instead she knows what it is to walk slowly in Stockholm ("Sakta vi gå genom stan").
    The most important relationship is between father and daughter. Monica's father is a frustrated artist who never believes that Monica will become anything. First in the conclusion, after Monica has sung with Bill Evans, father accepts her as an artist. Fine and well, but there is a bit of an one-note approach in this current of the narrative.
    This basic theme has an affinity with what is known in the Nordic countries as "the Law of Jante". It stems from the novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (1933) by the Danish-Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose. There are ten rules in the law, all to the tune of "do not think that you are anything special".
    Funny caricatures of famous artists such as Vilgot Sjöman, Beppe Wolgers, Hans Alfredson and Tage Danielsson.
    Losing in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1963.
    The marriage inferno with an insult contest between Monica and Vilgot.
    Finally Monica stands up to father. "I must try new things all the time. You didn't even dare to try".

The digital projection was good-looking.


Leffaraati / Movie Jury

The Sodankylä Movie Jury hosted by Ville Virtanen with Elina Knihtilä, Tuomas Rantanen, Ida Simes, and Neil Hardwick as the jurors. Photo: Sanni Saarelainen (MSFF).

Host: Ville Virtanen.
Jurors: Elina Knihtilä, Tuomas Rantanen, Ida Simes, and Neil Hardwick.
    Programmed by Petteri Kalliomäki, all in 35 mm.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    The School, 18 June 2017.

MSFF: "YÖTTÖMÄN yön festivaalin moniin spesialiteetteihin kuuluu Ville Virtasen luotsaama, erinomaisen virtaviivainen Leffaraati, jonka alkuperäisenä esikuvana on englantilaisen Juke Box Juryn inspiroima, Jukka Virtasen 1980–1997 juontama Levyraati. Vuosina 1961–1997 ja 2002–2005 pyörinyt, uudemman musiikin sävelteoksille risuja ja ruusuja rakentavassa hengessä jaellut show oli ensimmäinen suomalaisen television formaattiohjelmista – ja edelleen myös niistä ylivertaisesti pitkäikäisin!"

"Pohjoisessa musiikin paikan ottavat luonnollisesti elokuvat, mutta kuten kuvioon kuuluu, täsmällisempi sisältö – samoin kuin ainoan festivaalimme puitteissa toimivan virallisen juryn jäsenten henkilöllisyys – pidetään salassa viime metreille saakka. Hankkiudu siis ajoissa paikalle ennen kuin sarrislaiset pyramidit valahtavat tuhkaksi, kaelilaiset kaanonit kalkitaan kuoppaan, vanhat pantheonit parkitaan pois pelistä ja lopulliset tuomiot jaetaan…" MSFF

1. Maluch / [Toddler] / [Taapero] / Maluch the Little Car (Lucjan Dembiński, PL 1965), colour, 8 min. Wordless puppet animation, object animation, about a baby car's first ride, made with the Polish flair for graphic art.

Dušan Vukotić and the Academy Award for Surogat.

2. Surogat / Ersatz / The Substitute (Dušan Vukotić, HR/YU 1961), colour, 10 min. A wordless drawn and painted animation in a limited style from the Zagreb Film animation studio about a man who can inflate anything from portable geometrical bits, including a woman companion. Finally he realizes that he is an inflatable figure himself.

3. 100 (D: Walter Heynowski, P: Walter Heynowski & Peter Scheumann, DD 1971), Totalvision scope, Orwocolor, 6 min. One hundred push-ups in the U.S. Marine drill exercise where we are indoctrinated to see the Vietnamese as dogs, pigs, and monkeys in the East German agit documentary.

4. Welcome Kirk / Kirk Douglas (Feridun Erol, Marek Piwowski, PL 1966), b&w, 10 min. A delightful documentary on Kirk Douglas's visit to the State Film School at Łodz in Poland. Our tribute to Kirk Douglas who turned a hundred years in December.

5. Lend / Полёт / Polyot / Poljot / Lento / [Flight] (Rein Raamat, EE/SU 1973), colour, 9 min. Estonian drawn and painted animation, a lyrical flight of fancy about flying, with a dazzling chain of associations, sometimes bringing to mind psychedelia and Miyazaki.

A battle of wits ensued from Petteri Kalliomäki's selection of five sharp shorts all made within a period of 12 years in Eastern Europe before the fall of the wall. These films remain timeless and open to a range of interpretations.

Eija Pokkinen and Per Fly morning discussions

Eija Pokkinen in discussion with Timo Malmi. Photo: Sanni Saarelainen (MSFF).

Per Fly in discussion with Liselott Forsman. Photo: Sanni Saarelainen (MSFF).

Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
Eija Pokkinen in discussion with Timo Malmi.
Per Fly in discussion with Liselott Forsman in English.
The School, Sunday, 18 June 2017.

MSFF: Festivaalin viimeisiin aamukeskusteluihin osallistuivat elokuvakääntäjä ja näyttelijä Eija Pokkinen sekä tanskalainen ohjaaja Per Fly.


Eija Pokkinen kertoi tutustuneensa elokuviin vasta lukioiässä, sillä pikkukaupungissa maalla ei 50-luvulla ollut sen paremmin elokuvateattereita kuin televisiotakaan.

Sota oli läsnä Pokkisen ensimmäiset elinvuodet. Perhe lähti evakkomatkalle kun Pokkinen oli vain muutaman kuukauden ikäinen. Nyt hän arvelee, että hänen kielitaipumuksensa liittyvät pakenemiseen: kielet olivat tie toisiin maailmoihin. Opintojen ja kielimatkojen kautta hän päätyi lopulta malliksi Pariisiin, mikä puolestaan oli eräänlainen portti näyttelemiseen.

60-luvun toisella puoliskolla hän esiintyi Filminorin elokuvissa Onnenpeli ja Vihreä leski, jotka nähtiin tämän vuoden ohjelmistossa. Risto Jarvan kanssa työskentelyä Pokkinen muisteli lämmöllä. ”Työskentely oli yhteisöllistä, yhdessä keskusteleminen ja tekeminen oli hänelle tärkeää. Hän oli hyvin rauhallinen ja sydämellinen, en nähnyt hänen koskaan suuttuvan.”

Vihreä leski -elokuvassa Pokkinen näytteli pääosan. Turhautuneen tapiolalaisen kotirouvan elämästä kertovaan elokuvaan liittyi yhteiskunnallisia kysymyksiä, mutta Pokkinen kertoi nähneensä elokuvan ennen kaikkea yksinäisyyden ja rakkaudettoman avioliiton kuvauksena. Pokkinen kertoi ehdottaneensa itse elokuvan nimeksi Vihreää leskeä ja saaneensa siitä palkkioksi korin kaljaa.


Per Fly halusi alun perin muusikoksi, mutta joutui lopulta myöntämään, etteivät hänen taitonsa riittäneet tarpeeksi pitkälle. Lopulta hänen silloinen tyttöystävänsä, nykyinen vaimonsa, näyttelijätär Charlotte Fich kehotti häntä hakemaan elokuvakouluun. Fly oli tehnyt bändinsä julisteet ja videot, joten elokuvien tekeminen tuntuikin heti luontevalta suunnalta. Edelleen hän aloittaa elokuvan syventymällä sen musiikkiin ja äänimaailmaan. Musiikki on Flyn mukaan hyvä tapa ilmaista komplekseja psykologisia ilmiöitä ja hahmon asemaa.

”I’m not a cineaste, I’m a consumer of film. I knew very little about film when I got into film school. Everyone was talking about a girl called Dolly, and in the end I had to ask, Who is Dolly? Of course, they were talking about a camera dolly”, Fly naureskeli.

Flyn ensimmäisen pitkän elokuvan syntyminen otti aikansa. Lopulta hän päätti lähteä kaduille hakemaan inspiraatiota, ja elokuva Penkki syntyikin nimenomaan katujen ihmisten seuraamisesta. Sittemmin hän teki elokuvat myös tanskalaisesta keski- ja yläluokasta. ”I go where my curiosity takes me, not where I stand politically”, hän tiivistää filosofiansa.

Flyn edellinen pitkä elokuva Monica Z kahmi Ruotsin Jusseja eli Guldbaggeja. Fly ylisti erityisesti pääosanesittäjä Edda Magnasonia, joka elokuvamaailman ulkopuolelta tulevana ei osannut kaikkia elokuvan tekemisen sääntöjä ja toi siten teokseen rehellisyyttä. (MSFF)

AA additions

First film: East of Eden (James Dean)
Desert island: Zerkalo (Tarkovsky)

First film: The Three Musketeers (Lester)
Desert island: Berlin Alexanderplatz (Fassbinder)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lerd / A Man of Integrity

Lerd. Reza Akhlaghirad (Reza), Soudabeh Beizaee (Hadis).

Director: Mohammad Rasoulof
Country: Iran
Year: 2017
Duration: 1.57
Languages: fa
Category: Gems of New Cinema
    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    DCP with English subtitles at Cinema Lapinsuu, 17 June 2017

MSFF: "A Man of Integrity tells the story of Teheran-based Reza, a university professor who gets fired from his job after having complained about the food at work after which he, his wife and his young son move to Northern Iran to raise goldfish. The corporation next door wants a piece of Reza’s land and the company’s collaborator Abbas uses some dirty tricks in order to destroy the gold fish hatchery and, eventually, Reza and his family. Reza’s wife Hadis, the local school’s headmaster, tries to blackmail Abbas through his daughter who Hadis teaches, revealing some devious aspects of Abbas – and Reza, too. The entire subregion seems to be under the thumb of the giant corporation. Corruption thrives everywhere, even throughout the highest body of officials. Left with little choice, Reza attempts to keep his head high, not giving in to the corruption despite what Hadis says. “The pride of men creates problems that need to be solved by the intelligence of women”, Hadis says at some point."

"The film is a societal moral story that resembles the famous Russian movie from three years ago; Andrej Zvjagintsev’s Leviathan (2014). Finally, The Man of Integrity questions Reza’s morale too. At the end of the film he turns his back toward the viewer." (VpM)

"MOHAMMAD RASOULOF (born 1973) belongs to the generation of Iranian filmmakers influenced by Abbas Kiarostami (1940–2016) who Rasoulof has (along with Jafar Panahi) considered as a role model. What these two directors have in common is a method of observing the world from a mundane perspective while revealing societal grievances. This has led them both to a permanent state of conflict with the Iranian authorities. In the case of Panahi, it resulted in a prohibition on making movies, which he has continuously disobeyed by working underground and smuggling his films to the international market in memory sticks."

"Rasoulof, in turn, has not been able to screen any of his six films in his home country and at times has been sent to jail for breaking his prohibition on making movies. Once, both Panahi and Rasoulof were arrested on set while they were shooting a joint film. At Cannes film festival in 2011 his film Goodbye received the Un certain regard award which he was unable to collect due to his prohibition on leaving Iran.
" (MSFF)

IMDb: "A drama about the corruption and injustice in the Iranian society. You are the suppressed, or you have to join the suppressor to survive!"

Reza Akhlaghirad (Reza)
Soudabeh Beizaee (Hadis)

AA: I missed the beginning of A Man of Integrity as I was introducing a parallel screening. This is the first film by Mohammad Rasoulof that I have seen, and he seems to belong to the great contemporary Iranian ones along with Panahi and Farhadi.

An engrossing story of a little man against a mafia-like power structure in the North Iranian countryside. The indefatigable Reza seems to be on the path to martyrdom fighting against the odds. Until there is a stunning volte-face.

The tragic quandary reminds me of The Big Heat.
Fighting the mob you risk becoming like one of them... here: even one of them.

"Bei den Erdbeben, die kommen werden, werde ich hoffentlich
Meine Virginia nicht ausgehen lassen durch Bitterkeit
("In the earthquakes that are to come I shall not, I hope,
Let my cigar go out because of bitterness")
wrote Bertolt Brecht. But it does not look good for Reza.

Very well made. Coming too late to the sold-out screening I failed to take notes.

Good visual quality in the digital projection.

In Finnish: "Tulevissa maanjäristyksissä toivon, että katkeruus ei himmennä sikarini hehkua".

Discussion with Finnish film-makers

Discussion: Janne Hyytiäinen, Neil Hardwick, Sinikka Sokka (invisible), Ville Virtanen (invisible), Jouko Aaltonen, Liselott Forsman (standing), Visa Koiso-Kanttila, Paula Vesala (invisible), Selma Vilhunen, Eija Pokkinen (back of head), Simon Al-Bazoon (back), Nuppu Koivu (back). Photo: Anna Björklund (MSFF).

Discussion: Sinikka Sokka, Ville Virtanen. Photo: Anna Björklund (MSFF).

Discussion: Liselott Forsman (back), Visa Koiso-Kanttila, Paula Vesala, Selma Vilhunen, Eija Pokkinen, Simon Al-Bazoon, Nuppu Koivu. Photo: Anna Björklund (MSFF).

Discussion: Ville Virtanen, Eija Pokkinen, Simon Al-Bazoon, Nuppu Koivu. Photo: Anna Björklund (MSFF).

Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä
The Little Top, 17 June 2017

Moderator: Liselott Forsman

Janne Hyytiäinen (Toivon tuolla puolen)
Neil Hardwick (Jos rakastat)
Sinikka Sokka (Lauluja utopiasta)
Ville Virtanen (Armoton maa)
Jouko Aaltonen (Lauluja utopiasta)
Visa Koiso-Kanttila (Kaiken se kestää)
Paula Vesala (Tyttö nimeltä Varpu, Keppihevosten vallankumous)
Selma Vilhunen (Tyttö nimeltä Varpu, Keppihevosten vallankumous)
Eija Pokkinen (Onnenpeli, Vihreä leski)
Simon Al-Bazoon (Toivon tuolla puolen)
Nuppu Koivu (Toivon tuolla puolen)

A wonderful atmosphere in the meeting of Finnish film-makers of many generations and disparate approaches.

Carlos Saura morning discussion in Sodankylä

Carlos Saura indulging in witty repartee with his interpreter Suvi Autio, 17 June 2017. Photo: Midnight Sun Film Festival.

From the Midnight Sun Film Festival website

Saturday’s morning discussion at the Kitisenranta School featured Spanish director Carlos Saura who talked about his long and varied career with interviewer Timo Malmi. Saura often deals with themes of memory and past and said that his father used to entertain the children with a memory board where he collected news clippings, drawings and pictures. The family used to look at the board together and reminisce about the past.

Saura spent his youth moving from city to city following his father’s job. The Spanish Civil War broke out when Saura was four years old. It was a huge upheaval that changed the whole era and Saura thinks that the horrors of war affect all his films, consciously or unconsciously. Like many of his contemporaries, Saura wanted to resist war and militarism with his films.

Saura mentioned that his economic way of making films also developed due to the war. He tries to avoid unnecessary takes and experimentation during the shooting. He prefers to rehearse with the actors beforehand and starts shooting only after everything feels clear. He also prefers to shoot in chronological order to see how the actors develop in their roles.

Saura also reminisced on his father-in-law Charlie Chaplin as well as on his friendship with fellow director Luis Bunuel. Bunuel had said to Saura that after Bunuel’s death he is the only director who could continue the work Bunuel had started. Saura was married to actress Geraldine Chaplin, for whom father Charles was writing his final script. The film was never made but Geraldine and Charlie read parts of the script playing different characters to Saura, who did not know English.

Saura is an enthusiast of many different artforms and filmmaking combines many of his loves, such as storytelling, set design, music, dance and photography. Saura especially considers photography to be the red line running through his diverse career. Recently Saura went through the negatives of his photographs from the 1950’s in preparation for a book. He was surprised by how much Spain has changed during the years. In some photos Spain’s small villages looked almost medieval to modern eyes.

Saura said that he believes in fate and the the influence of luck on life. He advised the audience to sometimes let things roll on their own weight. He considers it hard to control his own existence and likes filmmaking because he can control the end result. For Saura, reality does not consist of only that which is visible – the memories and future possibilities we carry with us are also part of everything. He has also tried to convey this philosophy in his films.

At the end of the interview Saura warned the audience that memories have a life of their own. For example, the photographs of our childhood shape the way we thinks of those times. Because our conception of the past changes constantly, memories can not be trusted.

When asked the traditional final question about his desert island film, Saura explained that everyone carries with them their own film which they see when they close their eyes. He thinks that watching that film is a good practice for anyone – even if they are not stranded on a desert island. (MSFF)

AA: Carlos Saura, at 85, was in high spirits and full of plans for his next three films.

His answer to the ritual first question "What was the first film you saw": Three Little Pigs by Walt Disney.

And to the ritual last question "Which film would you take to the desert island": no film but the complete works of J. S. Bach.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Lauluja utopiasta / Songs from Utopia (world premiere in the presence of Jouko Aaltonen and Sinikka Sokka)

Directors: Peter von Bagh, Jouko Aaltonen
Country: Suomi/Finland
Year: 2017
Duration: 0.57
Languages: fi
Category: Music
    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Sinikka Sokka and Jouko Aaltonen introduced by Timo Malmi.
    DCP with English subtitles by Tiina Kinnunen at the Big Top, 16 June 2017.

Before the film started Sinikka Sokka sang magnificently:
    "Jos rakastat" (Matti Rossi, Kaj Chydenius)
    "Ei puolikasta" / "Нет, мне ни в чем не надо половины!" (Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Kaj Chydenius) – in memory of Yevtushenko (1932–2017)
    "Oppimisen ylistys" / "Lob des Lernens" (Bertolt Brecht, Eero Ojanen)

Liina Härkönen (MSFF): "Before Peter von Bagh passed away in September of 2014, he had, up to his last days, several irons in the fire. One of his unfinished projects was a documentary about the group Agit-Prop, the brightest star of the Finnish Communist song movement. Now, von Bagh’s work has finally been completed by director Jouko Aaltonen, whose 2006 documentary, Revolution, depicted the same left-wing song movement in Finland from a wider perspective."

"Utilizing interviews conducted by von Bagh in the summer of 2014 as well as extensive archival and concert footage, the documentary takes us through Agit-Prop’s career, from its 1960’s folk roots to the politically hectic and internationally active 1970’s, the tragedies of which cast a special kind of emotional intensity to the group’s musical renditions. Later, in the 1980’s, political awareness seemed to be wasting away until being revived by the economical depression of the early 1990’s, which also spawned a whole new generation of AgitProp fans. It is almost lamentable how the songs of the ever-active group still resonate with the social issues of today."

AA: In the summer 2014 Peter von Bagh conducted the interviews that form the core of this new film about Agit-Prop, one of the finest groups in the history of the socially committed song movement. Peter was always a champion of theirs.

After Peter's death on 17 September 2014 Jouko Aaltonen, who has himself directed a documentary on the Finnish political song movement, took charge of the Agit-Prop film. He tried various alternatives and ended up editing it chronologically: the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the revival in the 2010s. The result is a straight linear account, different from the multi-layered memory montages of Peter's late, mature period.

We start with events such as the Helsinki Folk Festival in 1966, and hootenanny tours. The radicalization in the 1970s is covered. The Agit-Prop became an international phenomenon in the East Berlin youth festivals. Vietnam and Chile were among the key topics. In Germany, the Agit-Prop became known as "the Communist ABBA".

The world has changed but the music of the Agit-Prop remains timeless. Justifiedly one may remark that while oppression in Chile and Vietnam was condemned, nothing was said in their songs about circumstances in the USSR and East Germany.

More than 25 years have passed since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Eastern Bloc. Perhaps a time will come when it is possible to assess soberly a song such as Bertolt Brecht's "In Praise of Dialectics" (1931). It is an anthem of a fight against oppression, about never giving up the fight. Such songs never legitimated any oppressive government. And songs such as "In Praise of Learning" were against any monolithic agitation and propaganda.

There is a classic Hanns Eisler composition to "In Praise of Dialectics", but the Agit-Prop sing the superior composition by Kaj Chydenius. Amazingly, there are also lines in Brita Polttila's Finnish translation that are wittier than the Brecht original.

Agit-Prop will be worth re-discovering for a long time to come.

In the Q&A after the screening Sinikka Sokka commented that she never liked the name of the band but learned to adapt. The 1970s for her were a period of a young person's "ehdoton sekavuus", "categorical confusion".

This screening, in memory of Peter von Bagh, was the most deeply emotional of the festival.

"Was du nicht selber weißt
Weißt du nicht.

"What you don't know yourself
You don't know."

– Bertolt Brecht: Lob des Lernens (1931)

Bertolt Brecht: Lob der Dialektik (a poem)

Das Unrecht geht heute einher mit sicherem Schritt.
Die Unterdrücker richten sich ein auf zehntausend Jahre.
Die Gewalt versichert: So, wie es ist, bleibt es.
Keine Stimme ertönt außer der Stimme der Herrschenden.
Und auf den Märkten sagt die Ausbeutung laut:
Jetzt beginne ich erst.
Aber von den Unterdrückten sagen viele jetzt:
Was wir wollen, geht niemals.

Wer noch lebt, sage nicht: niemals!
Das Sichere ist nicht sicher.
So, wie es ist, bleibt es nicht.
Wenn die Herrschenden gesprochen haben,
Werden die Beherrschten sprechen.
Wer wagt zu sagen: niemals?
An wem liegt es, wenn die Unterdrückung bleibt? An uns.
An wem liegt es, wenn sie zerbrochen wird?
Ebenfalls an uns.
Wer niedergeschlagen wird, der erhebe sich!
Wer verloren ist, kämpfe!
Wer seine Lage erkannt hat, wie soll der aufzuhalten sein?
Denn die Besiegten von heute sind die Sieger von morgen,
Und aus Niemals wird: Heute noch!

Bertolt Brecht (1931)


Vääryys etenee tänään varmoin askelin.
Sortajat asettuvat taloksi hallitakseen kymmenen tuhatta vuotta.
Väkivalta vakuuttaa: mikä on, se pysyy.
Ääntäkään ei kuulu, paitsi hallitsevien ääni
ja markkinoilla sanoo riisto ääneen: tämä on vasta alkua.
Mutta sorretuista sanovat monet nyt:
se mihin pyrimme ei koskaan onnistu.

Se joka vielä on hengissä, älköön sanoko: ei koskaan!
Varma ei ole varmaa.
Mikä on, ei pysy.
Kun hallitsevat ovat puhuneet
tulevat hallitut puhumaan
Kuka rohkenee sanoa: ei koskaan?
Kenestä riippuu sortovallan jatkuminen? Meistä.
Kenestä riippuu sortovallan murskaaminen? Myös meistä.
Joka lyödään maahan, nouskoon!
Joka on hukassa, taistelkoon!
Mikä voi pidättää sitä, joka on oivaltanut asemansa?
Sillä tämän päivän voitetut ovat huomispäivän voittajat,
ja ei koskaan on: vielä tänään!

Suomennos: Brita Polttila

Nocturama (in the presence of Bertrand Bonello)

Director: Bertrand Bonello
Country: France, Germany, Belgium
Year: 2016
Duration: 2.10
Languages: fr
Category: Bertrand Bonello    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Bertrand Bonello, introduced by Satu Kyösola.
    DCP with English subtitles at Cinema Lapinsuu, 16 June 2017

Timo Malmi (MSFF): "The newest work of Bertrand Bonello is a real display of skill, a tour-de-force direction that depicts 130 minutes of a terror strike committed by Parisian youth. It flows rapidly without any dead spaces; pure cinema that works without too much dialogue. This cinematographic feast reminds of Holy Motors by Leos Carax, partially set in the same milieu, and Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine."

"Set in two parts and a “break”, Nocturama opens by moving hypnotically in the subway corridors, streets and public buildings of Paris. Youth of various ages and backgrounds commit acts that prove to be terror strikes – and congregate in a consumerist paradise of a luxurious department store (filmed in the famous art deco building of La Samaritaine). In the puzzling finale, these memorable main characters spend their time among the wonders of culinary pleasures, consumer electronics and high fashion."

"” It had to happen. We knew it would.” says the cycling girl in the film´s slower part. Bonello rejects all explanations, moralizations and suggestions of motive in a provocative but admirable manner. He just shows the great plague of our times in a tangible and realistic way. The triller-like form as well as his composition and choice of music (“My Way”!) serve the whole admirably."

AA: A disturbing and original thriller about a terrorist attack against key institutions of the establishment. The attack has nothing to do with ISIS or any other ideology. Bertrand Bonello's story brings to mind Dostoevsky's Demons, Conrad's The Secret Agent (filmed by Hitchcock as Sabotage), and Godard's La Chinoise, among others.

The young people of the film are rebels without a cause. We witness them carry out an ingenious and dangerous plan of sabotage with great success. They hide at night at an empty department store and regress to childhood. Gradually it turns out that there is no substance in the campaign.

No explanation or motivation is given, but there are histories of frustration, unemployment, and alienation behind the young people. An impressive society has been built by previous generations, but these young people feel left outside. They come from all walks of life: from the elite to the marginalized.

The long section in the deserted department store has been inspired by George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, among others. And perhaps even by The Big Store by the Marx Brothers. It is a bizarre vision of the "immense accumulation of commodities" in our consumer society.

Key musical themes refer to the 1970s. The Sid Vicious music video of "My Way", also included in The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle (his way: the one of destruction). "Call Me", the theme of American Gigolo (1 February, 1980, a film with an emphasis on consumerism). And John Barry's theme for The Persuaders which to Bertrand Bonello is a theme of fate, of imminent death, as he explained in the Q&A.

Nocturama is Bonello's first film shot digitally. The cold, hard look befits the subject.


Bertrand Bonello morning discussion in Sodankylä

Bertrand Bonello in discussion with Olaf Möller, 16 June 2017. Photo: Midnight Sun Film Festival.

From the Midnight Sun Film Festival website:

Friday’s morning discussion at the Kitisenranta School featured Bertrand Bonello, one of the directors responsible for expanding the limits of modern French cinema. He was interviewed by Olaf Möller, who asked about the first film Bonello remembers seeing. The director grew up on the countryside near Nice and there were not really any possibilities to see films in a film theatre. However, there are two films that had an impact on him: the Roger Moore starring James Bond film Moonraker (1979) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Bonello’s parents did not allow him to actually see Psycho as a kid, but the incident left an impression on him.

Bonello said that when he was young he and his friends were enthusiasts of horror and porn films. He was introduced via VHS tapes to such major horror directors as George A. Romero, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento and David Cronenberg. Bonello admits to still liking many of their films and they have also been an influence on his own films.

However, it was not self-evident that he would become a filmmaker. At the age of sixteen he still had in mind a career as a musician. He had studied piano playing since he was five years old, but eventually grew tired with the music business.

It was not until after seeing Jim Jarmusch’s Strangers in Paradise (1984) that cinemania truly got a hold of Bonello. After reading interviews with Jarmusch and studying the works of several prominent Italian film directors, Bonello decided to try his luck as a filmmaker. He made his first – partly self-financed – short film in Poland in the 1990’s. His breakthrough came with Le Pornographe (2001), which combined drama with porn. The film was lauded at the Cannes Film Festival.

Bonello’s music studies have not gone to waste, as he also composes the music for his films. He says that he starts the composing already at script stage. Bonello compared music to textures and colours. He finds it is easy to convey with music the atmosphere he is after for a film to the other members of the film crew.

Concerning his working methods, Bonello also revealed that he is fascinated with details. For example, when it comes to costumes, it is not only important what the clothes look like, but also the way they feel. In Bonello’s films the characters often touch objects and other things.

As to directing actors, the most important thing is to have proper discussions before going to the filming location. On location, Bonello only demonstrates how the actors should move in front of the camera: ”Basically I try not to talk too much to the actors. Sometimes the more you talk to them, the more they are lost.”

Bonello does not regard digital film warmly and for him digital cinema screenings are similar to watching films on a giant plasma screen television. The director also lamented that it is getting more and more expensive to shoot on film. He finds that film captures textures and details better than the sharp but flat image achieved with digital cameras.

When asked about his desert island film, Bonello grew silent. After a long moment of introspection he picked Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972). – The Midnight Sun Film Festival website.

AA additions:

The discussion was conducted in English.

Bertrand Bonello's cinematographer before Nocturama was always Josée Deshaies, his wife. Before Nocturama, Bonello shot all his films on 35 mm. "I find cinema very sensuous. Texture, also in voice, in music, is important. I remember texture. Digital is very cold of course. Quality is going down. 35 mm for me is very light, digital is complicated with screens everywhere. Everybody is watching the screens, nobody watches the actors. In Nocturama I didn't want the warm filter of 35 mm."

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Viraali / Virality (world premiere in the presence of Thomas Laine and Peter Laine)

Viraali festival premiere. Jereon Sebrechts, Mika Melender, Thomas Laine, Peter Laine. Photo: Anna Björklund (MSFF).

Director: Thomas Laine
Country: Suomi/Finland
Year: 2017
Duration: 1.50
Languages: fi
Category: New Finnish Cinema
    PC: Runoelma Works.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    World premiere in the presence of Thomas Laine and Peter Laine and members of the cast and the production team.
    DCP with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu, 15 June 2017

LH (MSFF): "In the digitally infused environment of today, social media can either make or break a person’s career. This is one of the key issues depicted in this independent crime film written and directed by Thomas Laine and shot by his brother Peter. In Viral, the world made out of bytes weaves together various fates of people leading seemingly separate lives in Helsinki."

"Kari is an intellectual policeman, who is targeted by the press after a bystander releases an ambiguous video about a shooting incident. Janne is a young rap artist, who is desperate for his career to take off. Mika is a deceitful smartphone salesman, who targets a banker, Harry, with his nefarious scheme."

"The virtual world presents itself as a Pandora’s Box, with the female characters being on hand to keep the men anchored to reality. The most meaningful moments indeed seem to present themselves, when one manages to put down the smartphone and look further ahead." (LH)

AA: An exciting Finnish debut film. Thomas Laine and Peter Laine are independents who have developed this film (and a short film before it) outside the established production and financing structures. They have also grown into film-makers outside the film school system. But their grip in the complex narrative is professional and confident.

The theme is the cyberworld, and the approach is intelligent and original. There are three stories. A misleading video of a police incident becomes viral and almost destroys the career of Kari (Frans Isotalo). The young rap singer Janne (Vili Korteniemi) can become eligible to a contract with a label only if his music video gets enough hits in the social media. The crooked smartphone salesman Mika (Visa Sarparanta) plans an ingenious bitcoin bank robbery. A tormented banker, Harry (Mika Melender), is bullied to become complicit in the scheme.

There is also a love story. Due to the viral video Kari the policeman is laid off and finds himself with a lot of free time in his hands. Which he uses to date Saana who works at a café while studying the double bass at the Sibelius Academy. Her talent is being recognized, and she has great promise for an international career. Saana is played charismatically by Saga Sarkola, impressive also in Saattokeikka.

As a narrative this multi-character study belongs to the Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson school. Alejandro González Iñárritu was particularly quoted by Thomas Laine as an influence in the Q&A. The intersections are plausible, the plotting is intelligent, and the thematic vision is not lost behind the well handled action.

Visual distinctions include aerial drone views of nocturnal Helsinki and the rap music video world relevant to Janne's story: there is a "making of" on his music video Eper: "Näläs" ["Hungry"] being produced.

Most I like in this film the talent for observation of contemporary life. We visit many walks and stages of life. Among the characters is Harry's ex-wife Maarit (Anne Polvi) at her deathbed at the cancer ward at Meilahti Hospital. In Maarit' story the term "viral" returns to its original sense. She is being treated with experimental virotherapy.

Music is all-important in the stories of the rapper Janne and the bassist Saana. In the finale we visit a symphony orchestra concert with Saana at the Helsinki Music Center, and during the end credits we see Janne's finished rap video.

I look forward to more from the Laine brothers.