Saturday, October 07, 2017

Anna-Liisa (1922) (2013 KAVI restoration in 4K) in Pordenone


Anna-Liisa (FI 1922). In the flashback the farmhand Mikko (Einari Rinne) is in love with Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelöf), the 15 year old daughter of the Kortesuo farm.

FI 1922. D: Teuvo Puro, Jussi Snellman, scen: Jussi Snellman, based on the play Anna Liisa (1895) by Minna Canth, photog: Kurt Jäger (interiors), A. J. Tenhovaara (exteriors), des: Carl Fager, ed: Teuvo Puro, Kurt Jäger, cast: Hemmo Kallio (the master of Kortesuo), Meri Roini (the mistress of Kortesuo), Helmi Lindelöf (Anna-Liisa, the daughter at Kortesuo), Greta Waahtera (Pirkko, her little sister), Emil Autere (Johannes Kivimaa, Anna-Liisa’s fiancé), Mimmi Lähteenoja (Husso), Einari Rinne (Mikko, Husso’s son, now a lumber boss), Axel Ahlberg (provost), prod: Erkki Karu, Suomi-Filmi Oy, filmed: summer 1921 – winter 1922, rel: 20.3.1922, DCP (from 35 mm, 1581 m), 69 min (transferred at 20 fps), tinted; titles: FIN, SWE, subt. ENG by Maarit Tulkki, source: KAVI – Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti, Helsinki.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: The Swedish challenge.
    Grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau.
    Cinemazero, e-subtitles in Italian, 7 Oct 2017.

Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg, Antti Alanen (GCM 2017): "Anna-Liisa, the daughter of a well-to-do farm-owner, is engaged to be married to a wealthy young neighbor, Johannes. She is admired for her upright and decorous nature, but she carries a dark and melancholy secret that once drove her to the brink of suicide. The secret is known to old Husso, the mother of Mikko, formerly a farmhand on Anna-Liisa’s father’s farm. Mikko has made a lot of money as a log-rolling boss and now returns to claim Anna-Liisa as his bride. She does not want him, but she is caught in a bind by Mikko and Husso’s threat to expose her dreadful secret: that she became pregnant by Mikko and in desperation killed her newborn child."

"Even today, making an infanticide the heroine of a story seems incredibly bold. The film was based on the 1895 play Anna-Liisa, written by Minna Canth (1844–1897). Canth was a pioneer of realism on the Finnish stage and a committed participant in the debates on the social position of women and the institution of marriage that raged across the Nordic countries in the 1880s and 1890s. Her strong stance against the oppression of women and the poor made her work controversial, but when the film was made, Canth was recognized as the most popular and prolific Finnish-language dramatist. Adapting one of her plays was therefore a logical choice for a film company wanting to make a Swedish-style national film based on a distinguished literary work. The final result was a success; Anna-Liisa even became the first Finnish film to be exported (it premiered in Stockholm in September 1922)."

"The stage play is quite compact, with all three acts using the same set: everything happens in the main room of Anna-Liisa’s father’s farm. The film effectively opens up the play, moving quite a bit of the action outside and adding little vignettes of Finnish rural life, including a shot of Johannes emerging from a sauna and a scene of Mikko among his fellow log-rollers, visualizing an important type in Finnish films, the virile but sometimes loutish lumberjack. The film also uses flashbacks to fill in the backstory, including gorgeous images of Anna-Liisa’s summer-night tryst with Mikko. All these exterior shots help to give the film a rural pictorial atmosphere which resembles some of the best Swedish achievements of the period. It should however be pointed out that Mikko’s profession as a lumberjack was also an element of the stage play, so this detail is therefore not an addition inspired by Mauritz Stiller’s Sången om den eldröda blomman (Song of the Scarlet Flower, 1919), even if that film was especially influential for Finnish film production."

"Teuvo Puro (1884
1956) was one of the makers of the first Finnish fiction film, Salaviinanpolttajat (The Moonshiners, 1907), in which Jussi Snellman (18791969) played the lead. Puro and Snellman were both actors with the Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki, and the leads of Anna-Liisa, Lindelöf, Autere, and Rinne, also came from there. In 1919, Puro was one of the co-founders of Suomi-Filmi, one of Finland’s two leading film companies during the studio era. Puro went on to make several important silent films, including Meren kasvojen edessä (Before the Face of the Sea, 1926) and Noidan kirot (The Curse of the Witch, 1927)."

The print

"A new digital restoration based on a duplicate positive was carried out by KAVI (The National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki) in 2013. The material was scanned at 2K but because of frame-line issues in the first-generation material the image had to be scanned twice; the best alternative was selected scene-by-scene. The restoration was conducted using DaVinci Revival and PFClean software programmes. Almost all scenes have been stabilized, and flicker, dirt, scratches, tears, splices, and all manner of patina have been removed when possible. Contrast has been corrected, and colour has been added according to original models using DaVinci Resolve software; the DCP has a colour solution similar to tinting." Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg, Antti Alanen

AA: I have already blogged about this restoration of Anna-Liisa in 2014.

The subject-matter is distressingly topical, including this week in the U.S. Congress as the Donald Trump administration seeks to roll back the birth control mandate.

Infanticide is a heavy topic. Minna Canth in her final work confronted it boldly, aware of how acute it was in reality. In the 1890s the 15 year old Anna-Liisa, daughter of a prosperous farmer, cannot marry her lover Mikko because he is only a farmhand without means. Abortion is illegal, and to keep a baby out of wedlock would destroy Anna-Liisa's life. Nobody would marry her. Nobody would take care of her. (This week in Pordenone we have seen films of young mothers in similar situations in Der gelbe Schein and Fante-Anne. In both the mother dies and the orphan baby is left in the care of others).

This is Anna-Liisa's coming of age story. At first she is a victim of circumstances; in the finale she transcends them. She takes full responsibility of her actions although the world has been unfair to her. Doing so she wins everybody's respect, and Johannes will be waiting for her when she is released from prison. This is a story of Anna-Liisa's growth to her full strength of character.

Infanticide is not an exceptional theme in world art. It is central in Goethe's Faust, in the tragedy of Gretchen / Margarethe.

It was also a key theme also in Tolstoy's play The Power of Darkness which Canth had not yet read or seen, but Canth was deeply Tolstoyan, and their minds moved along similar tracks. The Power of Darkness had its Finnish premiere in 1896, the year after Anna-Liisa.

Selma Lagerlöf's great international breakthrough novel Jerusalem (19011902) starts with infanticide. Gerhard Hauptmann's play Rose Bernd (1903) also deals with infanticide; its Finnish premiere was in 1914. Carl Th. Dreyer's first film The President (1919) is a trial drama about infanticide. As is Victor Sjöström's first American film Name the Man (1924) based on a novel by Hall Caine.

In D. W. Griffith's Way Down East (1920, based on a play by Lottie Blair Parker) the seduced girl (Lillian Gish) becomes pregnant and the baby dies. While it is not a story of infanticide the tragedy is similar to Goethe, Tolstoy, Canth, Lagerlöf and Hauptmann.

Anna-Liisa the 1922 adaptation belonged to the early prestige works of the Finnish cinema. Based on a compact play that obeys the three unities it has been successfully opened up cinematically (with flashbacks, dream sequences and lumberjack scenes), and yet it retains the explosive intensity of the tragedy in the psychologically complex finale.

Among the weaknesses is the casting of Helmi Lindelöf (18841966) in the leading role of Anna-Liisa who is 20 years old during the present of the narrative (and 15 in the flashbacks). Lindelöf would have been at the right age to play Anna-Liisa's mother rather than Anna-Liisa. There are instances of overacting.

Einari Rinne (18901933) is photogenic in his first film role as the lumber boss Mikko, now a man of independent means who returns to reclaim Anna-Liisa whom he had seduced five years earlier. Einari Rinne was the eldest of three charismatic actor brothers. Jalmari Rinne and Joel Rinne had long careers in the theatre and the cinema, and the family is a continuing presence on the Finnish stage.

Because of Einari Rinne's effortless masculine presence we may sense that Mikko might have been the right one for Anna-Liisa if the social conditions would have been fair to both. However, Mikko's temperament is too violent, whereas Johannes's presence remains too tame.

Watching this Finnish film in an international festival I became aware of the high literary quality of the intertitles which the translation fails to convey. Finland is bilingual, but already the original Swedish intertitles missed the poetry. The English translation is faultless and accurate but without literary flair. The same probably goes for the Italian translation. (There was a moment of amusement in the audience when the titles in four languages appeared for the first time.)

Gabriel Thibaudeau focused on the interior development of the psyche in his subtle and lyrical musical interpretation.

The DCP has been expertly created from excellent source materials. As always, I have my reservations on simulations of tinting on digital.

Cinemazero was so packed that there was a long queue of festival patrons who were left out of the screening.

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