Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Zir-e darakhtan-e zeytun / Through the Olive Trees





زیر درختان زیتون‎‎ / Zīr-e derakhtān-e zeytūn / Zire darakhtan zeyton / Oliivipuiden katveessa / Under olivträden / Au travers les oliviers. IR 1994. PC: Ciby 2000 (France). D+SC+ED: Abbas Kiarostami. CIN: Hossein Djafarian, Farhad Saba. C: Mohammad-Ali Keshavarz (film director) Hossein Rezai (Hossein), Tahereh Ladanian (Tahereh), Farhad Kheradmand (Farhad), Zarifeh Shiva (Mrs. Shiva), Hocine Redai (Hocine), Zahra Nourouzi (Kouly's daughter), Nasret Betri (Achiz), Azim Aziz Nia (Azim), Astadouli Babani (teacher), N. Boursadiki (Tahra), Kheda Barech Defai (teacher), Ahmed Ahmedpour (Ahmed Ahmedpour), Babek Ahmedpour (Babek Ahmedpour). Released in Sweden by Folkets Bio with Swedish subtitles by My-Text. 103 min
    Closing music: Concerto C 4. Allegro Giusto by Domenico Cimarosa performed by Heinz Holliger.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Abbas Kiarostami), 31 Jan 2017.

Revisited the final entry in Abbas Kiarostami's Koker trilogy. After the Koker earthquake Kiarostami visited the location of his film Where Is the Friend's Home? to find out whether the actors of his masterpiece had survived. The journey resulted in the film And Life Goes On... Through the Olive Trees is a story of two young amateur actors in that second film. Hossein is in love with Tahereh who gives no response.

Why so many films about Koker? "When you find a treasure it pays to keep digging at the same spot" (Kiarostami).

The earthquake has profoundly shocked everyone, including Hossein who has lost 25 relatives, and Tahereh, who has lost her parents. Hossein is poor and uneducated. Tahereh comes from a good family and is getting well educated while Hossein cannot even read or write.

I confess that I did not see the greatness of this movie on first viewing. I found my way to the genius of Kiarostami through other films such as Close-Up, The Traveller, Ten, and, my favourite, Ten on Ten.

Better late than never. Through the Olive Trees is an organic whole. Again there is a narrative that is deceptively slight, but actually the film is about the biggest things in life. The film keeps growing until it reaches a brilliant, elliptic climax.

After the end of the shooting of the film within the film the actors are waiting in a truck to be transported. Tahereh, impatient, decides to walk home. The film director urges Hossein to follow. There is a long walk through the olive trees. Hossein gives a long and impassionate monologue of proposal to Tahereh who does not react in any way. She never says "no" either. Hossein remains at the bottom of a hill while Tahereh zigzags the path to the top. He runs after her and sees her already down in the valley on the path between the trees (see the poster image above). He runs zigzagging down the hill after her, and the camera stays on top. There is a long take and a long shot as we see the tiny dots of Hossein and Tahereh all but disappearing in the distance. Then we see Hossein running, taking a short cut, to fetch the things he had left on the top of the hill to reach Tahereh faster.

We do not know what has happened but clearly there is a note of hope.

A good film print with a vivid colour world.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Shoah (2012 restoration in 2K by Why Not Productions)


Shoah. The first sequence. Simon Srebnik returns to Chelmno.

Shoah / Shoah. FR © 1985 Les Films Aleph. PC: Les Films Aleph / Historia Films. Avec la participation du Ministère de la Culture. D+SC: Claude Lanzmann. Direction de la photographie : Dominique Chapuis, Jimmy Glasberg, William Lubchansky, assistés par Caroline Champetier de Ribes, Jean-Yves Escoffier, Slavek Olczyk, Andrès Silvart ‒ negative: 16 mm ‒ original release format: 35 mm ‒ scanned in 2012 in 4K ‒ restored and released in 2012 in 2K. S: Bernard Aubuy, Michel Vionnet (en Israël). Montage: Claude Lanzmann, Ziva Postec, assistés par Geneviève de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Bénédicte Mallet, Yaël Perlov, Christine Simonot, Anna Ruiz. Montage son : Danielle Fillios, Anne-Marie L’hôte, Sabine Mamou, assistées par Catherine Sabba, Catherine Trouillet. Mixage: Bernard Aubouy. Research assistants: Corinna Coulmas, Irène Steinfeldt-Levi, Shalmi Bar Mor.
    Witnesses:
Simon Srebnik (Chelmno / Israel),
Mordechai Podchlebnik (Chelmno / Israel),
Hanna Zaidel (Israel),
Motke Zaidel (Vilnius / Israel),
Itzhak Dugin (Vilnius / Israel),
Jan Piwonski (Sobibor),
Richard Glazar (Treblinka / Switzerland),
Paula Biren (Auschwitz / Cincinnati),
Mrs. Pietyra (Auschwitz),
Mr. Filipowicz (Wlodawa),
Mr. Falborski (Kolo),
Abraham Bomba (Treblinka / Tel Aviv),
Czeslaw Borowi (Treblinka),
Treblinka villagers,
Treblinka railroad workers,
Henrik Gawkowski (Treblinka / Malkinia),
Rudolf Vrba (Auschwitz / New York),
Inge Deutschkron (Berlin / Israel),
Franz Suchomel (Treblinka / BRD),
Filip Müller (Auschwitz / Czechoslovakia),
Joseph Oberhauser (Belzec / Munich),
Alfred Spiess (prosecutor at the Treblinka trial in Frankfurt 1960),
Raul Hilberg (historian, Burlington, Vermont),
Franz Schalling (Chelmno / BRD),
Martha Michelsohn (Chelmno / BRD),
inhabitants of Grabow,
Moshe Mordo (Auschwitz / Corfu),
Armando Aaron (Corfu),
Walter Stier (executive of Germany's Eastern railway traffic during wartime / BRD),
Ruth Elias (Auschwitz / Israel),
Jan Karski (courier of the Polish government during wartime / professor in the USA),
Franz Grassler (deputy commander of the Warsaw ghetto during wartime / BRD),
Gertrude Schneider and her mother (Warsaw ghetto / New York),
Itzhak Zuckermann, "Antek" (Warsaw ghetto / Israel),
Simha Rottem, "Kajik" (Warsaw ghetto / Israel).
    Telecast in Finland: 17.8.1994 YLE TV2 (Dokumenttiprojekti).
    153 min (I), 120 min (II), 146 min (III), 147 min (IV), total 566 min = 9 hours 26 min
    Digitally scanned in 4K and restored in 2K in 2012, supervised by Caroline Champetier, released by Why Not Productions, available with English subtitles.
    The DocPoint classic documentary of the year: the choice of Mrs. Iris Olsson, the artistic director of the DocPoint Festival.
    2K DCP with English subtitles sampled at Cinema Orion (DocPoint), 28 Jan 2017.

Why Not Productions: Numérisation et restauration (2012)
    "Le but principal était de respecter l’aspect de la copie 35 mm originale en utilisant les possibilités offertes par le scan numérique du négatif 16 mm original. L’ensemble du processus de numérisation et de restauration a été supervisé par Caroline Champetier, directrice de la photographie et assistante sur Shoah."
    "Après de nombreux tests nous avons choisi un scan en résolution 4K, bien que la définition 2K semblait initialement suffisante pour le négatif 16 mm. Les deux principales questions concernant cette numérisation étaient le grain de la pellicule 16 mm des années 1970 et le problème du rendu des couleurs. La difficulté était de conserver le grain comme tel, sans le transformer en bruit numérique ou le supprimer artificiellement. Le 4K permet de rentrer plus profondément « à l’intérieur » du grain. Il offre aussi une plus grande marge de manœuvre pour l’étalonnage et la restauration.
La restauration est restée légère afin de conserver de la vie dans l’image numérique, une image propre qui n’efface pas le passage du temps. Elle a suivi un principe simple: mieux vaut un défaut original qu’un artefact digital."
    "Le mix mono original a été respecté, avec une légère correction de l’égalisation."

     "Restauration produite par Why Not Productions en 2012, avec le soutien de La Fondation pour la mémoire de la Shoah, du Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée et la participation de IFC et Criterion. Scan, restauration, et son: L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologne; Etalonnage, finalisation: Eclair Group, France."

    "I will give them an everlasting name" – Isaiah 56:5
   
AA: As yesterday was the Holocaust Memorial Day, the timing is appropriate to screen Shoah this weekend. Selected by Iris Olsson, artistic director of the DocPoint festival, as the classic of the year, this is the first screening in Finland of the 2012 digital restoration by Why Not Productions of Shoah. There is capacity audience at Cinema Orion, a perfect space for this intimate epic.

How to express something that exceeds the limits of human understanding? That is the problem faced by every artist who has tried to create an account of the Holocaust. Alain Resnais found a classic solution in Nuit et brouillard (1956), but Claude Lanzmann's approach was more radical. There is no commentary, no soundtrack score music, nor a single historical clip in his 9½ hour Shoah.

In Shoah we only meet the witnesses interviewed by Lanzmann for his film, and we are taken to the landscapes of the tragedy by Lanzmann in the present of the film's production.

A documentary film can achieve heights of tragedy. The theme of Shoah could not be more horrendous. Yet Shoah transcends it by the luminosity of its vision and the profound humanity of its witnesses.

Shoah and Vertigo share a basic theme. Both are about death, a journey to the river of death.

Lanzmann emphasizes the mythical connection by starting his film with Simon Srebnik returning to the river at the former concentration camp of Chelmno. The image immediately evokes ferryman Charon at the river of Styx.

This digital restoration of 2012 has been performed with loving care. For digital, nature is the greatest stumbling block, and Shoah starts with haunting imagery of nature. The visual quality has been preserved with excellent taste and judgment with subtle and refined results. The warm humanity of the witnesses' faces, essential for the spiritual balance of this extraordinary film, has also been perfectly conveyed.

Onneli, Anneli ja salaperäinen muukalainen / Jill, Joy and the Mysterious Stranger



Glada, Ada och den mystiska främlingen. FI © 2017 Zodiak Finland Oy. P: Teea Hyytiä, Sari Lempiäinen. D: Saara Cantell. SC: Sami Keski-Vähälä ‒ based on the novel Onneli, Anneli ja orpolapset (1971) by Marjatta Kurenniemi. DP: Marita Hällfors. AD: Minna Santakari. Cost: Auli Turtiainen. Makeup: Anu Rokkanen. VFX: Tuomo Hintikka. M: Anna-Mari Kähärä. S: Pietari Koskinen. ED: Anne Lakanen. Children's casting: Minna Sorvoja.
    C: Aava Merikanto (Onneli), Lilja Lehto (Anneli), Aarni Rämö (Pekki), Jenni Kokander (Minna Pinna), Johanna af Schultén (Mrs. Rosina Rosina), Elina Knihtilä (Tingeltiina), Kiti Kokkonen (Tangeltiina), Joonas Kaartamo (Father Vaaksanheimo), Aleksis Koistinen (Putti), Eija Ahvo (Mrs. Ruusupuu), Jani Toivola (Mayor).
    Loc: Loviisa, Helsinki. Distributor: Nordisk Film. Premiere: 27 Jan 2017. 75 min
    2K DCP with Swedish subtitles (n.c.) viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 28 Jan 2017.

Synopsis based on the official production information: Onneli and Anneli are two ordinary girls, perhaps somewhat luckier than most as they get to live together in a house custom built for them by Mrs. Rosewood on Rose Alley. One day a new children's home is opened nearby, and a boy called Pekki escapes from behind its high fence. He settles into Onneli and Anneli's beach hut and reveals to the girls the dreary circumstances under the rigorous command of Minna Pinna. Onneli, Anneli and Pekki establish a Robber Union and launch a plan to change the children's home into a happier place. The miniature Vaaksanheimo people and other Rose Alley inhabitants rush to help the Robber Union. Magical miracles come to pass thanks to the wonder gardeners Tingelstiina and Tangelstiina, and the mysterious Mrs. Rosewood.

AA: Domestic children's films are enjoying an all-time peak of popularity in Finland. Last year, three of the most popular of all films released in Finland were domestic children's films. They are the very films that also keep local cinemas going all over the country.

The Onneli and Anneli (Jill and Joy) trilogy of the adventures of two little girls, based on the novels by Marjatta Kurenniemi, are among these audience-pleasers. They have been released during three consecutive years, made by the same cast and crew.

The talented director is Saara Cantell who has built a remarkable double career alternating between films for grown-ups and children, both kinds of films reaching high audience figures simultaneously. At the same time Cantell has achieved a doctorate with her dissertation on narration in short films, and held key positions of responsibility in film industry.

Jill, Joy and the Mysterious Stranger is based on the contrast between the stern discipline of a strange children's home and the freedom of Jill and Joy's life at Rose Alley. It is also about the talent to see the magic side of life, denied at first by the harsh director of the children's home, Mrs. Minna Pinna.

It's a fun movie with magic plants, an empathic policeman, flashlight messages in Morse code, bouncy castles, a vain mayor, and a balloon ride for Minna Pinna to the land of the penguins. Shot on location in Loviisa representing here the fairy-tale city Kissanminttu (Catnip).

One does not need to be a psychoanalyst to get interesting associations about the magic plant of Tingeltiina and Tangeltiina.

I am not a member of the target audience, and I have not been following the latest Finnish children's films, but I observe in the approach a resemblance with the Ricky Rapper cycle of children's films, including a tendency to heavy caricature in grown-up figures, and an exaggerated stylization in the colour world. The colour is so sweet and bright that the film looks almost colorized.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tyko Sallinen – HAM’s roots (an exhibition)


Tyko Sallinen: Windy Day in April, 1914 © HAM / Photo: Hanna Rikkonen. Please do click to enlarge the images.

Tyko Sallinen – HAM’s roots (exhibition)
HAM Helsinki Art Museum • 27.1.–27.8.2017
    Curator: Tuula Karjalainen.
    Vernissage introduced by Maija Tanninen, Tuula Karjalainen, and Tuula Haavisto.
    Visited on 26 Jan 2017.

A book to the exhibition:
Tuula Karjalainen: Tyko Sallinen. Suomalainen tarina [Tyko Sallinen. A Finnish Story]. Helsinki: Tammi, 2016. 248 p.

Official introduction: "The exhibition explores the story of Tyko Sallinen (1879–1955), a pioneer in Finnish painting and expressionism. Consisting of 50 works, the show focuses on Sallinen’s most important period, the 1910s. The exhibition also includes works by the artist’s first wife, Helmi Vartiainen, and by their daughters Taju and Eva."

"The thematic focuses of the show are portraits, landscapes and genre paintings. Helmi Vartiainen was Sallinen’s muse, but their relationship was very dualistic, as evidenced by Sallinen’s famous and controversial portraits of his wife, whom he called Mirri. Many of Sallinen’s other portraits, such as Saaren Anni and Dwarf, were also scandalous in their time, seen as being coarse and excessively candid. His landscapes, on the other hand, with their stunning colours and powerful moods, represent the apogee of his expressionist period. Sallinen’s genre paintings combine fanatic religiosity with earthly amusements."

"Tyko Sallinen was a modernist pioneer whose expressionist works had a profound impact on Finnish art in the 1910s. Sallinen and the other likeminded artists in his circle introduced fresh ideas into Finnish art, in spite of the opposition and ridicule of the older generation of artists."

"“As a person, Sallinen was both a victim and a monster. He had had a difficult childhood, but he made the life of his first wife and their daughters even more difficult. As an artist, Sallinen was a rebel, waging a war in which the enemies were Finnish-speaking proletarian artists and traditionalists from the intelligentsia. That war changed the face of the Finnish art world profoundly. Sallinen’s art spawned several ‘Sallinen-strifes’ and left no one indifferent. As if in celebration of Finnish independence, he painted the canvases Devil’s Dance, The Religious Fanatics and The Barn Dance. The people in the pictures look like they have been lifted straight out of the Finnish nightmare of the age,” says Tuula Karjalainen, curator of the show."

"The exhibition is part of a series called HAM’s roots. The series presents research in Finnish art history. The series is founded on the Bäcksbacka Collection, which forms the core of the collection at HAM.
"

AA: I always rush to the exhibition whenever there is a chance to see works of Tyko Sallinen, my favourite Finnish painter. I have written about him recently in this space in the context of the 2012 Retretti exhibition Tyko Sallinen and the Wild Expressionists, my remarks included here, the 2015 Amos Anderson exhibition The Sigurd Frosterus Collection: Art as an Attitude, the 2015 HAM exhibition 100 Years of Taidesalonki and the Bäcksbacka Collection, and the 2015 Didrichsen Colour Liberated anniversary exhibition.

None of these displays have managed to achieve the impact of my first Tyko Sallinen exhibition, his centenary exhibition at Taidehalli, Helsinki, in March 1979, when I experienced something that resembled the Stendhal syndrome. I felt a volcanic force erupting from the display.

The contemporary Tyko Sallinen displays are respectful, at best highly distanced, and always with an undercurrent of hardly disguised contempt. The reason for the contempt is the dubious character of the artist, especially his open misogyny. Because we condemn the artist we also distance ourselves from his work.

Tyko Sallinen: Mirri, 1910 © HAM / Photo: Hanna Kukorelli

The focus of the controversy is Sallinen's cycle of Mirri paintings inspired by his then wife Helmi. They are raw and wild and figuratively quite unlike the model. They are nightmare portraits, "monsters from the Id". I have written before that to me they are not really portraits of Helmi at all but eruptions from the depths of the tormented artist's psyche. They might be seen as emanations of the painter's deranged anima. We can compare those portraits with contemporary French artists like Picasso and van Dongen, and the entire school of German expressionism. "Madame Bovary, c'est moi". These portraits are a cycle of distorted mirrors of the artist, himself, who was uncomfortable with his powerful sexuality and his own marked feminine side.

There are three rooms in this exhibition, focusing on Landscape, Mirri, and the November group. We start with elegance, proceed to the passionate Mirri colourism, and end with the muted November approach of brown and gray "colours".

Tuula Karjalainen's book is illuminating and worth reading. We are reminded that Tyko Sallinen's parents still remembered the great famine of the 1860s. Sallinen had a stern religious background in the Laestadian revival movement in which sex equalled sin. He never overcame it. In Paris Sallinen was influenced by Matisse, van Dongen, and Rouault. He was taught by Bonnard.

I agree with Karjalainen's view on the Mirri mystery. She finds its source in the self-hate of the artist based on his forbidden sexual desire (pages 99 and 133).

Tyko Sallinen: Strongman, 1917 © HAM / Photo: Hanna Rikkonen

The word "beautiful" is occasionally used in the context of Sallinen's works, but to me his oeuvre is a consistent attack on the very concept. In this he was a true modernist. There is an overwhelming passion and energy flooding in Sallinen's work, and there seems to be an especially marked joy when the artist succeeds in conveying this via characters that might be conventionally seen as "ugly". Sallinen never tries to prettify, sweeten, sugar-coat, embroider, or varnish over. Quite the contrary. Nobody wanted to stand model to him because he made everybody look uglier. Or rather, Sallinen's art was beyond "ugly and beautiful", in touch with the basic high voltage electricity of being. He tore away the varnish and exposed us to the throbbing elementary force of life.

Tyko Sallinen: Hihhulit / The Religious Fanatics, 1918 © Private Collection / Photo: HAM / Hanna Kukorelli

A subject worth exploring: I do not know if anyone has studied the impact of the prohibition of the image in Laestadianism in the life of Tyko Sallinen. Not only was sex sin but also Sallinen's very talent and career was in service of the Devil from the viewpoint of his religious community.

Tyko Sallinen: Alders in Spring, 1911 © HAM / Photo: Hanna Rikkonen

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kiehumispiste / Boiling Point



    Director: Elina Hirvonen
    Country: Finland
    Year: 2017
    Length: 90
    K12
    Format: DCP
    Cinematography: Jarkko M. Virtanen
    Editing: Timo Peltola
    Audio: Kimmo Vänttinen
    Production: Sami Jahnukainen, Timo Vierimaa / Mouka Filmi
    Languages: Finnish, English
    Subtitles: English, Finnish
    Viewed at Savoy Theatre, DocPoint Opening Gala, 23 Jan 2017
   
    The DCP screened had opening and closing credits in English only.
    Opening gala introduced by Ulla Bergström and Iris Olsson.
    Boiling Point introduced by Sami Jahnukainen, Timo Vierimaa, and Elina Hirvonen.
    The crew and the participants were introduced after the film at the strength of twenty.

DocPoint introduction: "To the border, to the border!’ rang the calls back in 1939. Cut to 2016, when an asylum seeker arriving in Finland may have crossed up to 11 states’ borders during their journey. When asking if a country almost the size of Germany has room for immigrants, the issue isn’t about acreage. Arguments for and against are heard everywhere from the Parliament to Lapland and the locker rooms of public saunas. *Finland is an insane country that is violating its own laws and international human rights.’ ’The disease of tolerance leads to death.’ ’One can say that there are positive things.’"

"Director-writer Elina Hirvonen’s first feature, Boiling Point, depicts Finland in the 2010’s, where ’social justice warrior’ has turned into a derogatory term, breadlines are growing, Soldiers of Odin patrol the streets and there are calls to ‘stop this game’ – and we’re not talking about the Finnish hockey team, supported by many ethnic groups. The camera is taken inside protests against immigration, racism and the government’s austerity measures. In one scene, we follow asylum seekers, in another, supporters of the ’Finland First’ movement. The protagonists are not stereotypes but multidimensional people."

"Boiling Point was created as a reaction to the changes happening today. They are depicted without pathos, but at the same time, the film is brimming with emotions. In the end, no one really knows who will take care of us in our retirement homes.
" Tii Starck / Translation: Liina Härkönen

AA: The debut feature film of the writer Elina Hirvonen offers something new.

We are living in an age of controversy. A flood of refugees is coming to Europe where great numbers of the working people and the middle classes are deeply hurt by globalization as jobs disappear to countries with low-pay circumstances, and profits vanish to tax paradises. Populist movements incite the poor to fight one another.

Meanwhile, progressive, green, and leftist movements remain in self-satisfied bubbles, having lost touch with the people.

Boiling Point starts with montages of discord, even bringing historical records of WWII into play. Hate speech and xenophobia are rampant. "We have had enough" is the message of the populist protesters. "What is wrong with Impivaara?" is among the lines of dialogue. Impivaara is the mythical hideaway of The Seven Brothers in Aleksis Kivi's classic novel as the brothers escape the challenges of school, marriage, society, and the world to deep forest.

In Elina Hirvonen's film we visit refugee reception centers, The Night of the Homeless, and Nordic Resistance rallies. "Finland First. Forssa First" is among the slogans. We meet representatives of everybody: immigrants, nationalist Suomen Sisu activists, and a kindly teacher who teaches Finnish to the refugees. Elina Hirvonen challenges prejudices and records surprising encounters which border on violence but also may show a promise of dialogue.

A recurrent feature, simultaneously serious and humoristic, is a series of debates between Tapio Salminen and Oula Silvennoinen at the Kotiharju Sauna [Kotiharju = Home Ridge].

Visually, the film juxtaposes heated montages of controversy with serene aerial shots and extreme high angle visions, as if wanting to put things into perspective. Some of the sauna scenes are comically dignified. A touch of the sublime towards the end is provided by J. S. Bach's Christmas Oratorium. Towards the end a family of refugees gets to move to a new home in Jyväskylä.

There was an extraordinary feeling after the film, as Tapio Salminen led us to a sing-along of the classic Finnish tango "Satumaa" ["Wonderland"]. As Napoleon said, there is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous, and that tango embraces both.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Paterson



Adam Driver (Paterson), Golshifteh Farahani (Laura).

Paterson / Paterson. US/FR/DE © 2016 Inkjet Productions. PC: Amazon Studios / Animal Kingdom / Inkjet Productions / K5 Film / Le Pacte. P: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan. D+SC: Jim Jarmusch. DP: Frederick Elmes – digital – Arri Alexa Mini, Arri Alexa Studio – SxS Pro – ProRes 4:4:4 (2K) – DI (2K): Harbor Picture Company – colour – 1,85:1 – release format: D-Cinema. PD: Mark Friedberg. Set dec: Lydia Marks. Cost: Catherine George. Makeup: Marjorie Durand. Hair: Jennifer Serio Stauffer. M: Jim Jarmusch, Carter Logan, Sqürl. S: Robert Hein. ED: Affonso Gonçalves. Casting: Ellen Lewis, Meghan Rafferty.
    The poems written by: Ron Padgett. The little girl Marie's poem written by: Jim Jarmusch. A poem by William Carlos Williams: "This Is Just To Say" (1934).
   C: Adam Driver (Paterson), Golshifteh Farahani (Laura), Rizwan Manji (Donny), Barry Shabaka Henley (Doc), William Jackson Harper (Everett), Chasten Harmon (Marie), Rizwan Manji (Donny), Masatoshi Nagase (Japanese poet), Kara Hayward (female anarchist student), Jared Gilman (male anarchist student), Method Man (Method Man), Sterling Jerins (young poet).
    Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are the stars of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.
    Dog: Nellie the bulldog as Marvin.
    Loc: Paterson, Passaic County, New Jersey, including the Great Falls Historic District with the Great Falls of the Passaic River.
    118 min
    Helsinki premiere: 20 Jan 2017.
    2K DCP released by Finnkino (Scanbox) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Tarja Sahlstén / Nina Ekholm, viewed at Kinopalatsi 2, Helsinki, 21 Jan 2017.

Official synopsis (Festival de Cannes, 2016): "Paterson is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey – they share the name."

"Every day, Paterson adheres to a simple routine: he drives his daily route, observing the city as it drifts across his windshield and overhearing fragments of conversation swirling around him; he writes poetry into a notebook; he walks his dog; he stops in a bar and drinks exactly one beer; he goes home to his wife, Laura. By contrast, Laura´s world is ever changing. New dreams come to her almost daily."

"Paterson loves Laura and she loves him. He supports her newfound ambitions; she champions his gift for poetry."

"The film quietly observes the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.
"

Director’s Statement

"Paterson is a quiet story, its central characters without any real dramatic conflict. Its structure is simple, following just seven days in the lives of its subjects. Paterson is intended as a celebration of the poetry of details, variations and daily interactions and a kind of antidote to dark, heavily dramatic or action-oriented cinema. It’s a film one should just allow to float past them—like images seen from the window of a public bus, moving like a mechanical gondola through a small, forgotten city."

—Jim Jarmusch


AA: Jim Jarmusch is at his best in Paterson.

We who have followed him affectionately since Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise recognize his spirit alive here, but there are subtle changes.

The most interesting one is a growth in serenity. A peculiar sense of humour is a Jarmusch hallmark; now it feels even deeper; there is a sense of a smile everywhere.

In many films of Jim Jarmusch, a basic concern has been about being hip, being cool. Jarmusch has always spoofed it, satirized it, and parodied it, but it has been a key obsession. He has played variations of it in contexts such as the Western, the Samurai code, the Melvillean hitman, and the Vampire.

Now Jarmusch casts aside genre trappings and hip and cool concerns. He does not need these supports now.

In the ordinary he sees the extraordinary. That is a definition of art and poetry, and Paterson is a film devoted to poetry. William Carlos Williams is a guiding spirit. Mr. Paterson the bus driver is a poet, and he is drawn like by magnetism to others that turn out to be poets, as well.

Adam Driver is in demand in big budget films but projects a subtle inner force in a laid back performance here. Golshifteh Farahani has a distinguished career in Iranian and Western films, and her presence is itself poetic, leading thoughts to Iran as a land of poetry.

The spirit of the place is strong in Paterson. Name-dropping references from William Carlos Williams to Lou Costello are a running joke in the movie. A cinephile remembers the area as a location of one of the very first movies, Edison's Passaic Falls, New Jersey (1896). Thanks to those falls, the area became also a center of big textile industry, also a location for the famous documentary The Passaic Textile Strike (1926).

The cinematography by Frederick Elmes is exquisite. Having started with David Lynch in Eraserhead (he also shot Blue Velvet) this is his fourth movie for Jarmusch. The colour concept: the autumn colours of New Jersey. There is a refined, unobtrusive intensity in the photography. The composition, the light, and the colour are expressive, fitting for a film that is about seeing, not just looking.

Quaint little visual twists include a recurrent visual effect of the hands of a watch moving in time lapse photography and another recurrent device, a threefold superimposition where we see Paterson writing his poems.

Further remarks: – Favourite objects include Ohio Blue Tip matchboxes, the lunchbox every morning lovingly customized by Laura, Paterson's "silent magic watch" that wakes him up without an alarm sound, and Doc's games of chess at the bar where Paterson is a regular. – Laura is a design artist specializing in black and white, some patterns of whose have an affinity with Marimekko. – Laura becomes "the cupcake queen of Paterson". – Having earned well with her cupcakes at the farmer's market she treats Paterson to a dinner and a movie: Island of Lost Souls in a repertory cinema. – In one day, thanks to dvd lessons, she learns to play to the guitar the folk song "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1894). She wants to become a country & western star and designs for herself "a harlequin guitar".

Poet references include Allen Ginsberg, Emily Dickinson, and Petrarca's sonnets to Laura. When the couple's pet bulldog has eaten Paterson's notebook of poetry he gets depressed and states that poems are words written on water. Robert Frost's remark "poetry is what gets lost in translation" is not quoted in this film. Instead, a Japanese traveller remarks that poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on. The Japanese gives Paterson a new notebook and states that "an empty page is full of possibilities".

There is a fairy-tale approach in the film that resembles Wes Anderson and the recent work of Aki Kaurismäki. There is also a structural similarity with La La Land which we saw a week ago. It is also about two protagonists who encourage each other to fulfill their greatest aspirations, to exceed their limitations.

All through the picture Paterson is writing a love poem. The film Paterson itself is a love poem.

The structure is based on daily repetition but this film is not a vision of monotony, alienation, or "quiet desperation". The episodic form, the vignette approach, is familiar in Jarmusch's films. The repetition of the seven days does not underline the sameness but the difference of each day. The episodes and vignettes are full of life. The passengers and passers-by in Paterson's life are memorable and worth remembering.

The seven days in Paterson the movie are seven stanzas of the love poem.

An appealing display of digital cinematography with warm and juicy colour and fine soft detail.

William Carlos Williams: "This Is Just To Say"



William Carlos Williams

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

1934

"A found poem": a note on the kitchen table.

Armoton maa / Law of the Land



Land utan lag. FI/NO 2017. PC: Making Movies Oy / FilmCamp A/S / Sweet Films A/S. P: Kaarle Aho, Kai Nordberg. D+SC: Jussi Hiltunen. DP: Tuomo Hutri – post production: Post Control Helsinki. PD: Markku Pätilä. Cost: Nina Erdahl. Makeup: Natalia Davadi. M: Kirka Sainio. S: Seppo Vanhatalo, Ivo Felt. ED: Kimmo Taavila.
    C: Ville Virtanen (Lasse Kuntonen), Antti Holma (Jaakko), Mikko Neuvonen (Erkki Syväjärvi), Malin Buska (Cindy), Outi Mäenpää (Inkeri), Pernilla August (Britta), Jørgen Langhelle (Gunnar), Andreas af Enehielm (Jesse), Taisto Reivo (Elmeri), Petter Lukkari (Jaakko's friend), Kristoffer Isaksen (Jaakko's friend), Tarja Heinula (Erkki's mother), Vesa Wallgren (Tuomo), Sinikka Mokkila (bar keeper), Minna Koskela (drunken woman), Jarmo Koski (drunken man).
    Loc: Norway. Bilingual in Finnish and Swedish. 90 min
    Premiere: 20 Jan 2017.
    2K DCP released by Nordisk Film Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Heidi Nyblom-Kuorikoski / Janne Kauppila viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 21 Jan 2017.

Official synopsis: "A remote Finnish village in Lapland, just across the Swedish border. A retiring police officer learns that his illegitimate son has been released from prison and is terrorizing the area. The young man has found out the big family secret and seeks for revenge by assaulting people close to the police officer – including his other legitimate son."

"The hatred between the two brothers leaves the area in a state of vengeance and violence forcing the villagers to take the law in their own hands. While trying to prevent the brothers from killing each other, the police officer is forced to face his past mistakes."

"The final showdown takes place in the arctic desert of the North.
"

AA: Jussi Hiltunen has displayed talent in short films such as Hiljainen viikko / All Hallows' Week (2011), Perintö / The Legacy (2014), and last year's Talvisydän / Winterheart (2016, also starring Ville Virtanen). All have been about violent crime in Lapland, and the debut feature film Law of the Land is a logical step for Hiltunen whose father and grandfather have worked as policemen in Lapland. In all of Hiltunen's films there is a sense of urgency to come to grips with the "history of violence" in the dark North.

This is a grim tale of retribution and manhunt. There is a retired policeman, Lasse (Ville Virtanen), whose estranged son, Erkki (Mikko Neuvonen), is after a young ex-convict, Jaakko (Antti Holma), who, it turns out, is also a son of Lasse.

The landscape is wild and desolate, the fells are ominous and awesome. It is winter, the darkest time when the sun is largely absent. This is also a borderland story, set in a village next to the Swedish border. Law of the Land is also a valid entry in the quasi-genre of Lapland films which has grown into prominence recently.

The countryside is getting deserted. When Lasse the local policeman retires there will be no replacement. There is a joyless atmosphere at Bar Atmos.

The film's strengths include magnificent long shots of Lapland, including aerial views of the rugged landscape. The protagonists trek the landscapes in their bulky SUV's and snowmobiles equipped with professional quality hunters' rifles.

The psychological core of the tale is fatherlessness. It has been a curse of many generations in Finland since the wars of 1939-1944, and even since the bloody civil war of 1918. Sons lose their compass growing up without a model, good or bad, of being a man.

Ville Virtanen is charismatic as Lasse, and the popular young stars Antti Holma and Mikko Neuvonen display raw force as his sons. Equally strong are the female leads, Malin Buska as the young mother, Outi Mäenpää as the long-suffering Inkeri, and Pernilla August as the tough Swedish policewoman.

There is a nightmare quality in the story. Lasse suffers of insomnia, and having not slept enough he lands into a dangerous accident. An illegal wolf hunt turns into a manhunt with lynch mob mentality. In real life there are in the entire Finnish Lapland eight counts of homicide (attemps included) a year. This one film seems to cover them all.

The stark composition of Tuomo Hutri's cinematography needs to be seen on a cinema screen to be fully appreciated. The quality of light, colour, and grayscale must be extremely difficult to record in the dark winter circumstances of Lapland, and unfortunately this screening did not fully satisfy my expectations.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Die Tochter des Samurai / A Daughter of the Samurai


Cover art by Josef Fenneker to Arnold Fanck's book to the film. German Film Poster Collection website.

Illustrierter Film-Kurier: Nr. 2628. Scan from a blog no longer in existence.
Teruo (Isamu Kosugi) aboard a ship bound to Japan with her friend Gerda (Ruth Eweler). Photo: KAVI (vintage photo from the 1937 Finnish release).
Mitsuko (Setsuko Hara) is looking forward to the return of her fiancé Teruo (Isamu Kosugi). Photo: KAVI (vintage photo from the 1937 Finnish release).

Mitsuko (Setsuko Hara) learns that Teruo now believes in individual freedom and no longer wants to obey tradition and marry her. Quelle: DIF / Filmportal.

Samurain tytär / När jorden brinner. JP/DE 1937. PC: JO-Studio and Towa Shoji-Film G.K. (Tokio) / Dr. Arnold Fanck-Film (Berlin). P: Nagamasa Kawakita, Yoshio Osawa, Arnold Fanck. P manager (Aufnahmeleitung): Karl Buchholz. D: Arnold Fanck. SC: Arnold Fanck, Itami Mansaku. CIN: Richard Angst, Walter Riml, Isamu Ueda. AD: Kenkichi Yoshida. Miniatures: Mofu Asano. Cost: Matsuzakaya department store. M: Kosaku Yamada. Song lyrics: Hakushu Kitahara, Yaso Saijo. S: Teijo Nakaoji – R.C.A. ED: Alice Ludwig, Arnold Fanck, Fumiko Kishi. Story advisor: Kashiko Kawakita.
    C: Setsuko Hara (Mitsuko Yamato), Ruth Eweler (Gerda Storm), Sessue Hayakawa (Iwao Yamato), Isamu Kosugi (Teruo Yamato), Eiji Takagi (Kosaku Kanda), Haruyo Ichikawa (Hideko Kanda), Yuriko Hanabusa (maid), Kichiji Nakamura (priest Ikkan), Max Hinder (German teacher), Misako Tokiwa (mother), Kanae Murata (child).
    Shooting: 1936, the screenplay was written in April–June. Loc: Japani ja Manchuria (Manchukuo). Studio: JO-Studios (Kyoto and Tokio). In Japanese and German. Finnish length at classification 2750 m / 101 min – Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv 1979: 3146 m – original length 3292 m / 105 min
    Premieres: 3.2.1937 Tokyo (Teikoku Gekijo), 23.3.1937 Berlin (Capitol am Zoo).
    Helsinki premiere: 21.11.1937 Gloria, released by: Adams-Filmi Oy – classification 21075 – S
    Japanese parallel version: Atarashiki tsuchi / 新しき土 / [New Earth]. D: Itami Mansaku.
    A Bundesarchiv Filmarchiv print of 111 min in Japanese and German with no subtitles on print, courtesy of Matthias Fanck, viewed with e-subtitles in English (also courtesy of Matthias Fanck) operated by Lena Talvio at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), 18 Jan 2017.

"There is a dangerous storm brewing over the earth. For you it is coming from the East. For us it comes from the West. Report back to your country that here in the far East a people are holding watch on their rocky island. The storm will break on our shores." – the samurai Iwao Yamato (Sessue Hayakawa) to the German guest Gerda Storm (Ruth Eweler).

A Daughter of the Samurai was an official German-Japanese co-production made to celebrate the Anti-Comintern pact launched in 1935 and concluded between Germany and Japan in November 1936, a few months before the premiere of the film.

Arnold Fanck was a master of the mountain film, and also here he excels in his sense of the sublime of the nature. Besides magnificent views of a volcano and the snow-covered Mount Fuji there are visions of earthquakes and storms. There are also industrial montages displaying the efficiency of the huge factories of Japan, not forgetting lively montages of the night life of Tokyo. Some of these montages have documentary value, for instance a scene of a huge crowd following a bout of sumo wrestling. Fanck observes Japanese life with the attentive eye of a foreigner.

The storyline is about Teruo (Isamu Kosugi) returning from a long stay in Germany. He now believes in individual freedom and wants to call off the arranged marriage with Mitsuko (Setsuko Hara) in the traditional samurai family into which he has been adopted as a son to carry family tradition.

All her life Mitsuko has been preparing for this marriage. There is a dream montage sequence of her training in physical exercises, fencing, sewing, gardening, tea ceremonies, flower ceremonies, and playing traditional instruments which I believe include the koto and the samisen.

Setsuko Hara in her debut role is already deeply moving – and already giving us a performance of a woman caught between tradition and modernity. Mitsuko's disappointment in Teruo is bottomless, and she decides to commit suicide by jumping into the nearby volcano.

Meanwhile, Teruo meets his priest at a Buddhist temple. The priest reminds Teruo that community is important, and an individual is important only as a member in a long chain of tradition. "What matters for us is the totality of Japan." Before returning to the city Teruo rejoices in ringing the huge bell of the temple. He overcomes his confusion and depression and decides to return to Mitsuko after all.

The culmination of the film is the double ordeal of Mitsuko and Teruo. The woman is climbing towards the top of the mountain, and there is a last minute rescue as Teruo prevents her from jumping to the volcanic crater. This sequence is exciting, and it is a display of Fanck's thrilling sense of the landscape and the atavistic mystery of the mountain imagery.

It would be interesting to watch A Daughter of the Samurai and Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli back to back. There are relevant affinities in imagery and symbolism in the two films. With the fundamental difference that Rossellini made a film relevant to reconstruction after the war, and Fanck directed a film that was a contribution to that very war.

The coda takes place in Manchukuo, the puppet state established in Manchuria after Japan's attack to China in 1931, the first prelude to World War Two. The huge natural resourches of Manchuria made possible the building of Japan's war machine for its war campaign in Greater East Asia and the Pacific Ocean. The film ends in the happiness of Mitsuko and Teruo in conquering the new earth of Manchuria.

There is a lot of music and singing in the movie.

The print seems very complete, and the film is fascinating to watch, but it does not always seem to stem from sources close to the original negative.

Mitsuko (Setsuko Hara) in Manchukuo. Quelle: DIF / Filmportal.
Mitsuko (Setsuko Hara) and Teruo (Isamu Kosugi) in Manchukuo. Photo: KAVI (vintage photo from the 1937 Finnish release).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Poil de Carotte (1926) (2007 restoration by Lobster Films)



Poil de Carotte. Comédie dramatique en cinq parties d'après l'œuvre de Jules Renard / [Porkkanapää] / Styvbarnet / [The Red Head]. FR 1926. PC: Majestic Film / Films Legrand. D: Julien Duvivier. SC: Jacques Feyder, Duvivier – based on the tale (1894) by Jules Renard. CIN: Ganzli Walter, André Dantan. AD: Fernand Delattre.
    C: André Heuzé (François Lepic dit "Poil de Carotte"), Henry Krauss (M. Lepic), Fabien Haziza (Félix Lepic), Charlotte Barbier-Krauss (Mme Lepic), Suzanne Talba (Annette), Renée Jean (Ernestine Lepic), Lydie Zarena (Gaby), Yvette Langlais (Mathilde).
    This first film adaptation of Poil de Carotte was not released in Finland.
    Original length: 2900 m /22 fps/ 115 min
    Restored by La Cinémathèque française (1985): /22 fps/ 88 min
    Julien Duvivier's sound remake: Poil de Carotte (1932).
    Restored by Lobster Films (2007): 2K DCP – 109 min
    The Lobster Films DCP with an orchestral soundtrack score composed by Gabriel Thibaudeau and performed by Octuor de France, with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio (1992, revised 2017), viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Julien Duvivier), 17 Jan 2017.

"La famille est la réunion sous un même toit de plusieurs personnes qui ne peuvent pas se sentir" (François / Poil de Carotte at the school's composition class). ("The family is an assembly of several people under the same roof who cannot stand each other.")

Revisited Julien Duvivier's masterpiece which I have loved since I saw the Cinémathèque française restauration in 1992. I do not remember that restoration in any detail, but this Lobster Films edition makes an even more profound impression.

Jacques Feyder had found a rich and rewarding set of inspiring themes in films about childhood starring the talented Jean Forest in Crainquebille (1922), Visages d'enfants (1924), and Gribiche (1925). Feyder also wrote the screenplay for Poil de Carotte to be directed by Julien Duvivier, a diligent and versatile young professional with a smooth and entertaining touch. Recently Duvivier had been focusing on ambitious projects on religion and the history of the cinema. Evidently Poil de Carotte struck a special chord in Duvivier because he would also direct a high profile sound remake six years later.

Poil de Carotte is a fine example of the novelistic tradition in French cinema. Far from an "illustrated classic" it is an inspired and original interpretation full of cinematic panache. It is also a masterful entry in the realistic school of French cinema. There are even aspects of documentary value in Poil de Carotte. Most of Duvivier's masterpieces are not especially realistic as his forte would be much more on the side of stylization. But Duvivier had started his career as an apprentice of André Antoine who had also encouraged him to enter the world of cinema, and Poil de Carotte is worthy of the great tradition of Antoine who had also made the original stage adaptation of Jules Renard's autobiographical tale 25 years ago.

François / Poil de Carotte is a boy with red hair and a freckled face in a small provincial town. He is systematically bullied at home and at school. When the family is on its way to a spend its holiday near the mountains he observes a happy family. "Nobody loves me like that". François is so badly neglected that he considers himself an orphan. However, he does not live entirely without love. There is Annette the maid and the little Mathilde who like him a lot and express tenderness towards him.

Nevertheless, the isolation and marginalization of François is so desperate that he considers suicide, and the suicide theme is the dark current of the movie. "Grange – poutre –corde" are his obsessive words: death by hanging at the attic of the barn.

Meanwhile, his father is being considered for a candidate in a forthcoming election of the mayor. But people find in this a cause for scorn as the condition of François has not remained unnoticed, nor the reckless abandon of his thieving big brother Félix who lives with a kept woman, the saloon singer Maria Milon, "chanteuse réaliste". Monsieur Lépic receives the advice that "you should take care of business at home first" which comes as a surprise to him as he has not noticed anything to worry about. Briskly Monsieur Lépic restores discipline with Félix, and there is a last minute rescue when he saves François from his attempt to hang himself in the barn attic.

The performances start on a note of grotesque caricature in the French tradition of introducing characters on a "one-note" basis like in Molière and Balzac. Some characters grow more complex and are revealed in more vivid detail as the story proceeds. An exception is the monster mother, but even her we start to understand at the end of the movie when the secret of the bullying tragedy is revealed by Monsieur Lépic to his long-suffering son: "Tu es venu trop tard au monde contre la volonté de ta mère. Elle ne te l’a jamais pardonné." The late-comer François has been an unwanted baby whom his mother has never been able to forgive.

The mountainous landscapes are revealed in exciting plein air cinematography. Shot next to the Morvan mountains because of the modest size of the budget some critics complained that it was not made at the top of the Alps. The cinematography is brilliant and eloquent, and the film is visually inventive starting with the portrait credits. There are expressive superimpositions, trick images and satirical montages. Towards the end when things are about to change there are inventive transitions achieved with turning mirrors.

The restoration by Lobster Films has been conducted with loving care. Black and white, beautiful toning, and tinting alternate during the film.

Gabriel Thibaudeau is at his best in his wonderful original score for Poil de Carotte.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Der Stier von Olivera / The Bull from Olivera (2017 digital preservation by KAVI)


Der Stier von Olivera poster featuring Hanna Ralph. Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection. Design: Strehl, Paul Helwig. Chromolithograph
Der Stier von Olivera poster featuring Hanna Ralph. Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection. Design: Paul Helwig.

Der Stier von Olivera, KAVI frame enlargement. Heinrich Zandor (Napoleon) and Emil Jannings.

Der Stier von Olivera, KAVI frame enlargement. Acting with his back: Emil Jannings.

Der Stier von Olivera, KAVI frame enlargement. Heinrich Zandor (Napoleon) and Emil Jannings.

Der Stier von Olivera, KAVI frame enlargement. Emil Jannings.

Der Stier von Olivera, KAVI frame enlargement. Hanna Ralph, Emil Jannings.

Oliveran härkä / Oliveralainen sonni / Tjuren från Olivera. DE 1921. PC: Messter-Film GmbH. Im Auftrag von: Universum-Film AG (Ufa). D: Erich Schönfelder. SC: Erich Schönfelder, Ludwig Tell, Dimitri Buchowetzki – based on the libretto by Richard Batka to the opera (1918) by Eugen d’Albert – based on the play (1910) by Heinrich Lilienfein. CIN: Willibald Gaebel. AD: Kurt Richter. M for cinema orchestra: M. Ter-Tatevosjan. Cost: Ernö Metzner.
    C: Emil Jannings (General François Guillaume), Hanna Ralph (Donna Juana), Hans Sturm (Marques de Barrios), Fritz Schultz (Don Manuel), Carl Ebert (Don Perez, Juana's fiancé), Carl Rückert (Bishop of Olivera), Ferninand von Alten (Priest Antonius), Heinrich Zahdor (Emperor Napoleon), Magnus Stifter (Knightmaster Marchand), Albert Paulig (Corporal Poussin), Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur (Ltn. Herbaut), Karl Platen (Lopez, De Barrios's servant), Grete Lönsson (Aminta, Juanita's maid), Max Zilzer, Harry Nestor.
    Studio: Ufa-Messter-Atelier (Berlin-Tempelhof).
    Uraufführung: 26.1.1921 Ufa-Palast am Zoo (Berlin) – 1714 m (1694 m).
    Helsinki premiere: 6.6.1921 Civis, released by Maxim – classification 11224 – K16
    Preserved by KAVI on 4K from a vintage toned, tinted and black and white nitrate print with Swedish / Finnish intertitles only. 77 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Finnish Film Archive 60th Anniversary), with Ilari Hannula at the piano, 15 Jan 2017.

Der Stier von Olivera was produced in the peak year of German film industry. In 1921, a record 646 feature films were released in Germany. Astoundingly, many of these films had lavish production values, as did Der Stier von Olivera. It is a historical tragedy from Napoleon's Spanish campaign. The brutal French general François Guillaume (Emil Jannings) falls in love with the Spanish noblewoman Donna Juana, played by Hanna Ralph, Jannings's wife at the time.

Der Stier von Olivera is not a masterpiece of the Weimar cinema, but there is a passion, a drive, and a sweep in the historical vision. It is yet another perfect Emil Jannings vehicle – another tale of a mighty man who perishes utterly. There is a wild, compelling force in his performance. We see his amazing grimaces. But again he is at his most eloquent when "acting with his back". He is almost a monster, a war invalid with only one eye, and deeply deranged, too.

Cinematographically the film is rich, ranging from epic general views to illuminating special close-ups. Visual means of expression include masks and vignettes. There is an authentic realistic feeling in scenes of the military campaign. The toning is rich and pleasant, and there are wild red tinted passages for scenes of conflagration.

This is a war film, and the woman, Donna Juana, is the main victim, separated from her fiancé, wed and raped by the general who falls under her spell. When Napoleon separates Guillaume from Donna Juana, Guillaume deserts, and the action proceeds to a full-blown tragic finale.

Preserved by us, under the curatorship of Mr. Juha Kindberg, from a battered vintage print with nitrate / water damage stretches, it is fully possible to follow the narrative. The print itself is a battleground, a document of a combat with the ravages of time. Somehow the damage turns into a special effect in synchrony with the tragic war story.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

La La Land (2016)



La La Land / La La Land. US © 2016 Summit Entertainment, LLC. P: Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt. D+SC: Damien Chazelle. DP: Linus Sandgren – 2,55:1 CinemaScope – colour – shot on 35 mm film – DI 2K: EFilm – released on D-Cinema. PD: David Wasco. AD: Austin Gorg. Set dec: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. Cost: Mary Zophres. Makeup: Torsten Witte. Hair: Barbara Lorenz. SFX: Jeremy Hays. VFX: Kathy Chasen-Hay. M: Justin Hurwitz. CH: Mandy Moore. S: Mildred Iatrou – Dolby Atmos. ED: Tom Cross. Casting: Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood.
    C: Ryan Gosling (Sebastian), Emma Stone (Mia), John Legend (Keith), Rosemarie DeWitt (Laura Wilder), Finn Wittrock (Greg Earnest), Jessica Rothe (Alexis), Sonoya Mizuno (Caitlin), Caillie Hernandez (Tracy), J. K. Simmons (Bill), Tom Everett Scott (David), Meagen Fay (Mia's mom), Damon Gupton (Harry), Jason Fuchs (Carlo), Josh Pence (Josh).
    Filmed / taped at Hollywood Center Studios, Hollywood, California. Filmed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, California. Loc: Los Angeles and elsewhere in California. 128 min
    DCP released by Nordisk Film Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Ditte Kronström viewed at Tennispalatsi Scape, with Dolby Atmos, Helsinki, 14 Jan 2017 (Finnish premiere 13 Jan 2017)

I was not sure what to expect from Damien Chazelle after Whiplash, a jazz film that was not a celebration of freedom, spontaneity and improvisation, instead bringing to mind Full Metal Jacket.

I was happily surprised to discover in La La Land a work worthy of the classics of the golden age of the Hollywood film musical. That golden age started in the late 1920s and ended in the early 1960s. Major studios had their own musical units, and there was a marvellous sense of a meaningful corpus covering practically every musical. Even the worst ones usually had that one brilliant number that brought something new to the development of the genre.

The Hollywood musical never died, but the general sense of its overwhelming magical fertility vanished with the fall of the studio system and the rise of rock'n'roll and other music styles not instantly compatible with the idiom of the Hollywood musical genre.

That magic has been rediscovered by Damien Chazelle and his talented team.

Certainly they have been profoundly influenced by Jacques Demy, in whose work the mastery of the film musical genre continued directly after the fall of the Hollywood studio system in five films with a verismo approach made from 1964 till 1988: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, Une chambre en ville, Parking, and Trois places pour le 26.

The musical is usually associated with joy, energy, and abundance, but it is equally adept in conveying sadness, disappointment and desperation, certainly in the Jacques Demy musicals, but also before him in e.g. the "Let's Face The Music" number in Follow the Fleet and It's Always Fair Weather, Stanley Donen's magisterial "sequel" to On the Town. Such a full emotional scale is mastered by Chazelle and his lead actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

La La Land is a big production but there is always an intimate, lyrical and relaxed touch, a sense of interiority and a chamber play approach to the story of the relationship between Mia and Sebastian.

This is not a story of love at first sight. It all starts in an atmosphere of negativity, frustration, and anger. A lack of rapport is evident. Mia and Sebastian experience mostly sadness and disappointment with their artistic aspirations and with each other. It all ends with a coda "five years later" when Mia is married with a child with someone else.

But in between magic happens, when Mia and Sebastian discover Los Angeles and get an insight in each other, something that no one else has ever had. They love each other and the special talent of each other. They unwaveringly trust in each other's talent and urge each other beyond a point of giving up for good. That makes their love immortal, although in their private lives they go separate ways.

In the account of this magic and this insight Damien Chazelle achieves greatness worthy of the best of the genre.

The original music by Justin Hurwitz is wonderful. The cinematographer Linus Sandgren has caught the visuals stunningly on 35 mm photochemical film in full 2,55:1 CinemaScope.

The digital projection was perfect watched on the giant screen of Finland's premier cinema, Tennispalatsi Scape, sitting in the first row.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kinetta



Κινέττα. GR 2005. PC: Haos Film, Baby Films, Modiano, Top Cut, Stefi Productions. P: Athina Rachel Tsangari. D: Yorgos Lanthimos. SC: Yorgos Lanthimos, Yorgos Kakanakis. CIN: Thymios Batakakis – 35 mm – 1:1.66. PD: Anna Georgiadou. Cost: Caroline Koener. Make-up: Sissiy Petripulou. ED: Yorgos Mavropsarides. S: Stefanos Efthymiou. C: Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Kostas Xikominos, Youlika Skafida (victim), Ektoras Kaloudis. 95 min
    2K DCP of 98 min from Haos Film with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (New Greek Film), 12 Jan 2017

IMDb synopsis: "At a Greek hotel in the off-season, a chambermaid, a man obsessed with BMW cars, and a photo-store clerk attempt to film and photograph various badly re-enacted struggles between a man and a woman."

I fail to relate to this film.

The meta approach, the people avoiding to live their own lives.

The low budget quality used as a means of expression.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Lobster


The Lobster. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.

GR/IE/NL/GB/FR 2015. PC: Film4, Irish Film Board, Eurimages, The Netherlands Film Fund, Greek Film Center, British Film Institute (BFI). EX: Fiona Morham. P: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday. D: Yorgos Lanthimos. SC: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou. CIN: Thimios Bakatakis. AD: Jacqueline Abrahams. Cost: Sarah Blenkinsop. Make-Up: Lucy Browne, Sharon Doyle. ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis. S: Johnnie Burn.
    C: Colin Farrell (David), Rachel Weisz (Shortsighted Woman), Léa Seydoux (Loner Leader), John C. Reilly (Lisping Man), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Doctor), Jessica Barden (Nosebleed Woman), Olivia Colman (Hotel Manager), Ashley Jensen (Biscuit Woman), Ariane Labed (the Maid), Angeliki Papoulia (Heartless Woman), Michael Smiley (Loner Swimmer), Ben Whishaw (Limping Man), Ewen Macintosh (Hotel Guard).
    Finnish premiere: 19 Aug 2016, released by Cinema Mondo – K12 – 118 min
    2K DCP with Finnish subtitles only viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (New Greek Cinema), 11 Jan 2017

VARIETY: "Yorgos Lanthimos' first English-language feature is a wickedly funny, unexpectedly moving satire of couple-fixated society."

"Longevity and lifelong fertility are among the reasons why a human may wish to become the eponymous creature, explains Colin Farrell’s protagonist at the outset of “The Lobster.” The tasty crustacean’s rich associations with the Surrealist movement appear to have slipped his mind, but not that of Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose supremely singular fifth feature — his first in English — takes his ongoing fascination with artificially constructed community to its dizziest, most Bunuelian extreme to date. A wickedly funny protest against societal preference for nuclear coupledom that escalates, by its own sly logic, into a love story of profound tenderness and originality, this ingenious lo-fi fantasy will delight those who already thrilled to Lanthimos’ vision in “Alps” and the Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth,” while a starry international cast should draw as-yet-unconverted arthouse auds into his wondrously warped world."

"As usual, Lanthimos eschews an original score in favor of existing classical and pop compositions, which aggressively punctuate an otherwise quietly thrumming soundscape with brute impact. Beethoven, Shostakovich and Stravinsky all put in prominent appearances, but the most evocative selection here may well be Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s morbid country-Gothic ballad “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” with its plaintive plea for unrestrained love: “Do you know where the wild roses grow, so sweet and scarlet and free?” Perversely romantic almost in spite of itself, “The Lobster” doesn’t offer the answer, but it suggests we keep looking.
" - Guy Lodge/ Variety (from the distributors pr material)

Τι είν' αυτό που το λένε αγάπη
τι είν' αυτό, τι είν΄αυτό
που κρυφά τις καρδιές οδηγεί
κι όποιος το 'νιωσε το νοσταλγεί

Τι είν' αυτό που το λένε αγάπη
τι είν' αυτό, τι είν΄αυτό
γέλιο, δάκρυ, λιακάδα, βροχή
της ζωής μας, και τέλος κι αρχή

Ποτέ, ποτέ κανένα στόμα
δεν το 'βρε και δεν το 'πε ακόμα

Τι είν' αυτό που το λένε αγάπη
τι είν' αυτό, τι είν΄αυτό
που σε κάνει να λες το σκοπό
σ' αγαπώ, σ' αγαπώ, σ' αγαπώ

Τι είν' αυτό που το λένε αγάπη
τι είν' αυτό, τι είν΄αυτό
στο λεπτό που σου δίνει φτερά
κι είναι λύπη μαζί και χαρά

Τι είν' αυτό που το λένε αγάπη
τι είν' αυτό, τι είν΄αυτό
γέλιο, δάκρυ, λιακάδα, βροχή
της ζωής μας, και τέλος κι αρχή

Ποτέ, ποτέ κανένα στόμα
δεν το 'βρε και δεν το 'πε ακόμα

Τι είν' αυτό που το λένε αγάπη
τι είν' αυτό, τι είν΄αυτό
που σε κάνει να λες το σκοπό
σ' αγαπώ, σ' αγαπώ, σ' αγαπώ 


- the song during the end credits


AA: I fail to relate to this film.

I like the compilation soundtrack (see full list copied from the IMDb beyond the jump break). During the end credits we hear the beautiful and haunting theme song from Boy on a Dolphin, "Ti ein' afto pouto lene agapi" / "Tι΄ναι αυτό που το λένε αγάπη" / "What Is This Thing They Call Love?", the duet sung by Tonis Maroudas and lip-synched by Sophia Loren to the voice of Marni Nixon, one of the greatest movie tunes of all times.

The digital cinematography is needle sharp like in the realm of death.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pépé le Moko



Pépé le Moko. Tiré d'un roman d'Ashelbé. FR 1937. PC: Paris-Film. P: Raymond Hakim, Robert Hakim. D: Julien Duvivier. SC: Julien Duvivier, Détective Ashelbé – adaptation: Jacques Constant – dialogues: Henri Jeanson – based on the novel by Ashelbé [Henri La Barthe]. DP: Jules Kruger, Marc Fossard. AD: Jacques Krauss. M: Vincent Scotto, Mohamed Ygerbuchen. Song: "Où est-il donc?" (paroles André Decaye / Lucien Carol, musique Vincent Scotto), sung by Fréhel. Song: "Pour être heureux" (paroles Géo Roger, musique Vincent Scotto), sung by Jean Gabin. ED: Marguerite Beaugé.
    C: Jean Gabin (Pépé le Moko), Mireille Balin (Gaby Gould, la belle Parisienne), Gabriel Gabrio (Carlos, un homme de la bande), Lucas Gridoux (Slimane, l'inspecteur algérien), Dalio (L’Arbi, un mouchard), Saturnin Fabre (Le Grand Père), Fernand Charpin (Régis, l'indicateur), Line Noro (Ines), Gilbert Gil (Pierrot, le jeune ami de Pépé), Charles Granval (Maxime Kleep, protecteur de Gaby), Gaston Modot (Jimmy, un homme de la bande), René Bergeron (l'inspecteur Meunier), Paul Escoffier (Chef inspecteur Louvain), Roger Legris (Max, un homme de la bande), Jean Témerson (Gravèr), Robert Ozanne (Gendron), Georges Péclet (Barsac), Line Noro (Inès, la maîtresse de Pépé), Fréhel (Tania), Olga Lord (Aïcha), Renée Carl (la mère Tarte), Philippe Richard (l'inspecteur Janvier), Franck Maurice (un inspecteur), Antoine Mayor (un figurant dans le bled).
    Helsinki premiere 3.10.1937 Rea – classification 20948 – K12 – 94 min
    Lieux de tournage: Casbah d'Alger, Sète, Marseille. Studios: Pathé Cinéma.
    "Moko est un mot d'argot désignant un marin de la Marine nationale naviguant en Méditerranée, dont le port d'attache est Toulon. S'écrit plus généralement moco." (Wikipédia).
    An Institut Français print with English subtitles by Lenny Borger viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Julien Duvivier), 10 Jan 2017

Revisited a classic of French cinema, the gangster film, and poetic realism, a key influence for film noir, the great breakthrough for Julien Duvivier and Jean Gabin, remade and parodied several times, and an important influence for other films including Casablanca. Popular cinema at its best, featuring an all star cast, mixing thrilling action with romance, and even key music numbers.

Julien Duvivier was the director who groomed Jean Gabin to mythical stardom in five films, culminating in Pépé le Moko. After Duvivier, Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné gave him further signature roles. But already here fundamental elements were in place: the full scope from a jovial and genial friend and lover to a callous and brutal gangster with fearsome fits of rage. And a fatal self-destructiveness, culminating in suicide.

The sense of place is essential: the casbah, also mythical, a city jungle which protects its predators, a jumble, full of dark chasms. It is a refuge for Pépé - and also a prison outside of which he has no place to hide. "You are already under arrest", comments Inès to Pépé. Police informers are sneaking everywhere. Only Gaby, a fatal woman from the outside world can lure Pépé out of his hideaway.

As often in Duvivier, there are illuminating song sequences. When Pépé is at his happiest, in love with Gaby, he sings "Pour être heureux", a sunny rhumba from Gabin's music hall days. At the other extreme we hear Fréhel giving a harrowing interpretation of "Où est-il donc?", as dark as a blues by Bessie Smith.

The finale is devastatingly pessimistic. There is no way out, and the handcuffed Pépé, watching the parting ship from behind the harbour grille, kills himself with a knife. Not since the Russian cinema before the Revolution had popular cinema been as obsessed with tragic endings.

The print seems like a painstaking reconstruction from disparate elements. There are stretches of good visual quality, and others that seem to have been preserved from second rate sources.

Khaneh-ye dust kojast? / Where Is the Friend's Home?



خانه دوست کجاست / Khane-ye doust kodjast? / Missä on ystävän talo? / Ystävä hädässä (tv) / Var är min väns hus? / Hvor er min vens hus? IR 1987. PC: Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. D+SC: Abbas Kiarostami. CIN: Farhad Saba. ED: Abbas Kiarostami. C: Babak Ahmadpour (Ahmad), Ahmad Ahmadpour (Mohamad-Reza Nematzadeh), Khodabakhsh Defaie (teacher), Iram Otari (mother). 83 min
    A 35 mm print, dansk tekst by P. Pouramed and L. Jensen, e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Abbas Kiarostami in memoriam), 10 Jan 2017

Revisited a masterpiece by Abbas Kiarostami (1940–2016). I confess I was not in the right wavelength when I saw Where Is the Friend's Home for the first time, and my Kiarostami conversion took place with the more conventionally accessible Close-Up. This time I did not feel at all this to be "slow cinema". Instead, I felt a high intensity, even suspense, which is finally released in the very last shots of the movie.

This film is a soul battle in the hearts of little children in a poor village. An authoritarian teacher threatens his pupils with expulsion if they fail. When Ahmad accidentally takes his mate Mohamad-Reza's school exercise book, he puts him in great danger, and his is a desperate journey to save him.

Kiarostami's approach is direct and laconic. The performances of the children are astonishingly poignant and unaffected. One might call this a slight narrative, if there were not such gravity at play. A sense of a wider resonance is omnipresent. This quest grows into a cross-section of society. There is also a metaphysical dimension which is not incompatible with a sacred interpretation.

We see the severity in the world of the grown-ups and the generosity in the world of the children. Ahmad's big adventure is a lesson in solidarity.

The cinematography by Farhad Saba is stark and refined. The composition is devout, sometimes enigmatic (the wind in the sheets).

The print is brilliant and looks like it has been struck directly from the original negative. The colour is perfect.

Tyttö nimeltä Varpu / Little Wing



FI © 2016 Making Movies Oy, Final Cut for Real. P: Kai Nordberg, Kaarle Aho. D+SC: Selma Vilhunen. CIN: Tuomo Hutri - ARRI Alexa. ED: Samu Heikkilä. PD: Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen. M: Paula Vesala, Jori Sjöroos. Songs: ”Auringon lapsi”, by Pekka Streng, perf. Paula Vesala. ”Älä droppaa mun tunnelmaa”, comp. Paula Vesala, Matti Mikkola, Joonas Angeria, lyr. Paula Vesala, perf. Paula Vesala. ”Animals (Varpu version)”, comp. Jori Sjöroos, lyr. Ringa Manner, Caroline Taucher, Jori Sjöroos, perf. ROOXX.  S: Tuomas Klaavo. Cost: Tiina Kaukanen, Hanna Kainulainen. Makeup: Pia Mikkonen. Ilmari's paintings: Mikko Ilmari Hannikainen. C: Linnea Skog (Varpu), Paula Vesala (Varpu's mother Siru), Lauri Maijala (Varpu's father), Antti Luusuaniemi (the namesake of Varpu's father), Santtu Karvonen (Bo, Siru's boyfriend). Helsinki premiere: 23.9.2016 Kinopalatsi 1 – MEKU: K12 – 100 min
    The English name of the film is a reference to "Little Wing" by Jimi Hendrix, the favourite song of Varpu's parents.
    In the presence of Linnea Skog and Lauri Maijala hosted by Jari Sedergren.
    2K DCP with English subtitles by Aretta Vähälä from SELO viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (SELO), 10 Jan 2017

There is an affinity between The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki and Little Wing, two offbeat Finnish films of 2016, both about a crucial contest in which the protagonist fails while winning something bigger in life.

Little Wing, the feature film debut of Selma Vilhunen, is the saga of the 12 year old Varpu in search of her father.

Her favourite occupation is riding her pony Svante. All through the film she is preparing for the final pony riding contest. There is a sense of tenderness in the pony sequences of the film.

Her mother Siru fails the driving school repeatedly, while the underage Varpu has little trouble in driving whenever she has a chance. First in the finale we see Siru proudly driving her own car.

There is a sense of humour in the account of Siru's dating efforts and Varpu's scorn at the result: Bo the kind-hearted boyfriend.

When Father's Day is approaching Varpu gets interested in getting in touch with her father, an effort discouraged by her mother. She finds tender drawings by her father, finds out that his name is Ilmari Hukkanen and that he lives in Oulu

One night she just starts driving from Helsinki to Oulu (600 km to the north) and appears at the door of Ilmari Hukkanen. It is a day of embarrassments at the home and the office of Ilmari, a big boss whose wife is excepting a baby any day. He is callous, but his wife comforts Varpu.

Siru arrives at Oulu to fetch Varpu and confirms that she has met a wrong Ilmari Hukkanen. They meet the real one, a bohemian and marginalized painter who never leaves Oulu and possesses no electronic means of communication.

He gives a promise to attend to Varpu's pony riding contest, a promise believed neither by Siru nor Varpu. But Ilmari does drive to Helsinki and spoils everything by smoking, acting paranoidly with the omnipresent pads and mobile phone cameras, and making a big scene which distracts Varpu so that she must interrupt her participation.

Varpu has been bullied by her pony riding friends because of her tales of her father. Now Varpu faces them with the facts of her father's schitzophrenia. The girlfriends actually start to respect her.

There are many strong assets in this offbeat saga. The account of the teenager gangs is fresh and original. Varpu's survival with her dysfunctional parents has a fairy-tale quality: the tables are turned so entirely that Varpu is the most grown-up of the three. The performances of the actors are subtle and convincing. The sound world is tender and impressive. Overall I liked the assurance in the intensity and tempo of the storytelling.

The visual quality is good, with a sense of fine soft detail preserved in the digital presentation.