Saturday, June 22, 2019

State Fair (1933) (2019 restoration by 20th Century Fox)

State Fair (1933) with Norman Foster (Wayne Frake), Janet Gaynor (Margy Frake), Louise Dresser (Melissa Frake) and Will Rogers (Abel Frake).

Onnen kiertokulku / Lyckans karusell / Montagne russe.
    US 1933. Director: Henry King. Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1932) di Phil Stong. Scen.: Paul Green, Sonya Levien. F.: Hal Mohr. M.: Robert Bischoff. Scgf.: Duncan Cramer. Mus.: Louis De Francesco.
    Int.: Will Rogers (Abel Frake), Janet Gaynor (Margy Frake), Lew Ayres (Pat Gilbert), Sally Eilers (Emily Joyce), Norman Foster (Wayne Frake), Louise Dresser (Melissa Frake), Frank Craven (il negoziante), Victor Jory (l’ambulante del tiro coi cerchi).
    Prod.: Winfield R. Sheehan per Fox Film Corporation. 35 mm. D.: 97’. Bn.
    Copy from 20th Century Fox. By courtesy of Park Circus.
    Restored in 2019 by 20th Century Fox.
    Introduce Ehsan Khoshbakht.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato / Soul and Craft: A Portrait of Henry King) with e-subtitles in Italian, 22 June 2019.

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "King’s second collaboration with the effortlessly lovable Will Rogers, who stars as the head of a family anxiously preparing for a state fair. In the event, the family members will encounter new experiences (sexual, emotional) before returning home, each with their own memories and a sense of longing. King, movingly yet lightly, encapsulates life in 90 minutes: “A State Fair is life – begins lustily – offers everything… And too soon, it’s all over!”. Made three years before Jean Renoir’s Partie de campagne, in this quiet masterpiece there are no big tragedies except the passing of time itself."

"King discovered and suggested the Phil Stong book to the studio. The film version, made during a time of financial problems at Fox (summer 1932), was a success, critically and commercially, and so was remade twice, as a musical in 1945 and 1962 (directed by Walter Lang and José Ferrer, respectively). By this time King had already mastered his style of invisible direction, as if the camera were operating unconsciously. Like Over the Hill it’s the story of a family maturing over time but unlike that film, State Fair is settled, Chekhovian, and static. There are none of the ceaseless camera movements of two years earlier. Having found the language which suited his sense of storytelling, King set this grammar in stone, and would adhere to it until the end of his career. This allows for powerful moments hitherto unseen in American films, such as when the family is driving up to the fair at dusk in eerie silence, later broken by the mother, who says it feels like they are the last people in the world. King establishes moods and moves swiftly from one to the next. The combination of simplicity and a rising emotional intensity makes this one of the crowning jewels of 1930s cinema. It was Gregory Peck in The Snows of Kilimanjaro who said, “The world is a market, emotions are the currency”. At this fair, emotions are the driving force of the narrative; in fact they are the narrative." Ehsan Khoshbakht

AA: I saw for the first time State Fair, a well-known unknown film. I have been aware for a long time that it is a key American movie, especially regarding the Fox studio, for which it is a foundation film of the sound era. In my country Henry King's film has not been seen since the first run, and perhaps the mediocre reputation of its musical remakes has harmed the reputation of the original, as well. I had been under the impression that this is a film that every American knows but I have erred. Even illustrious American film historians saw Henry King's film for the first time in the Bologna screenings.

State Fair is a Will Rogers vehicle, made at the height of his popularity, when he was the highest paid Hollywood star. I have always loved John Ford's Will Rogers films (Doctor Bull, Judge Priest, Steamboat Round the Bend), but Henry King directed him first and equally well, having himself been preceded by Frank Borzage, among others, as a director of Will Rogers vehicles. Rogers is great here but does not dominate what is essentially an ensemble piece.

The state fair is an event characteristic for a Fox production. Similar events featured memorably in Young Mr. Lincoln (the Fourth of July in Springfield, Illinois), Nightmare Alley (the touring carnival) and Bus Stop (the Phoenix rodeo), among others. The approach is different in comparison with directors like Billy Wilder (Ace in the Hole) or Robert Altman (Nashville). Loud vulgarity is not toned down, yet the film-makers are not laughing at the people but with the people. At Fox, film-makers celebrate the popular entertainments of the great festivals and identify with them.

There are documentary values in the account of the state fair, including in the presence of Will Rogers, originally a rodeo star himself. Pickle and mincemeat contests, a hog competition and a harness race are among the main episodes. The approach is farcical for instance in the "hog dialogue" scenes. Henry King handles all aspects of the film well. The action scenes are funny and entertaining. There are amusing reactions shots and comic studies, for instance in the photography session.

Most importantly, there is genuine psychological insight in the ensemble play. The characters are introduced in sharp outlines and we might expect them to remain close to caricature, but as soon as we have a tentative grasp of them, complexities, nuances and surprises emerge. The characters and their attitudes resist stereotyping.

The Frakes are hard-working farmers, and the Iowa state fair offers much awaited variety to the annual calendar. It is an opportunity to see the world. The daughter Margy (Janet Gaynor) dates the newspaperman Pat (Lew Ayres), and the son Wayne (Norman Foster) meets the trapeze dancer Emily (Sally Eilers).

The Fox studio had a tradition of its own in portraying "the woman as spectacle". But Emily is not merely an object in this story; she is the subject.

State Fair is an account of a week-long éducation sentimentale for Margy and Wayne. Emily is the active partner in her affair with Wayne, who is shy and unexperienced but eager to learn. Margy is reticent with Pat; their attraction is of the deepest kind.

Henry King directs all this without pre-Code cynicism. There is deep feeling in the love scenes between Margy and Pat, worthy of Borzage. Equally memorably there is a special tenderness and fun in the casual love scenes between Emily and Wayne, which, speaking of Fox, bring to mind the humoristic encounters of Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch. (In Fox films the male partner is often clumsy and awkward).

The parents, Abel (Will Rogers) and Melissa (Louise Dresser) are aware of all this but maintain a diplomatic distance. They realize that young people must see the world and meet more people than is possible in a little village. The state fair is an opportunity also for the parents to revive their relationship outside the daily grudge.

Out of ordinary material Henry King creates something extraordinary. State Fair is a tale of everyday expectations and disappointments. King has a talent of observation in the telling detail. In his unobtrusive way, reminiscent of Chekhov, Ozu and Kiarostami, he displays wisdom and an understanding of life.

According to AFI Catalog Online sources disagree concerning the running time (80 min or 100 min). In that same catalog the length is given as 8894 ft which means 2711 m which means 98 min at sound speed. Thus the print screened is close to complete. Only pre-Code nudity in the love scene between Emily and Wayne is missing.

A rewarding visual experience of a film restored in this year from partially challenging sources with some battered footage, jump cuts, and nitrate or water damage. Perhaps the best source materials were destroyed in the DeLuxe Laboratories fire in Little Ferry, New Jersey, on 9 July, 1937?

Anticipating Henry King in Bologna

Henry King directs Twelve O'Clock High, starring Gregory Peck. Photo: Il Cinema Ritrovato.

Ehsan Khoshbakht:
Soul and Craft: A Portrait of Henry King

"Henry King’s world can be likened to the basement of Paradise, if ever there was one. His films are often idyllic, yet they are set in a less comfortable corner of Paradise, one which falls short of perfection, and even accommodates darkness. The lower aspects of a higher plane fascinated King, and that’s where the real stories unfold. Telling graceful tales of Americana in an almost Chekhovian style became King’s signature. If small town USA was taken for Paradise, King’s gaze was directed at the fall of this idealised world, at what happens when a dream ends. The dreamers become drifters and King remained faithful to the actors who portrayed them. Tyrone Power, King’s own discovery, appeared in 11 films directed by his mentor; Gregory Peck in six."

"King was religious, or became so when he converted to Catholicism during the making of Romola (1924) in Italy. Yet his films show a disdain for self-righteous bigotry and institutionalised religion. Nonetheless, many of his characters are like biblical figures – archetypal, determined, larger than life. The two worlds – spiritual and material – co-exist in his films, and the dialectic between the two, often manifesting in the form of a clash between head and heart, or duty and humanity, remained central until his very last film, made in 1962."

"King lived long (96 years) and lived well. He made close to 120 films, starting in 1915. He even acted in some between 1913 and 1917. He became a star director during the silent years and started his own film company, Inspiration Pictures. When sound arrived, King remained loyal to Fox, where he made the majority of his films, including many of those in this retrospective. He both borrowed from the studio system and standardised it, establishing a new grammar. Throughout his career, he retained control over editing his films, guaranteeing that the final work would match his early vision of the story. (In an unparalleled collaboration, Barbara McLean edited twenty-nine of the films.) Not surprisingly, the end of his career coincided with the demise of the studio system."

"This celebration of King is a celebration of cinema in all its forms and shapes, and the way the collective and personal meet and give birth to something that preserves the characteristics of both. Considering the sheer number of films he made and the scarcity of some, take this programme as a first glance into a profound world. King once said: “the director’s whole soul goes through the camera and there must be a little poetry in his soul to be able to express things”. Hopefully, these eleven titles reveal some of the poetry in King’s soul, and also his brilliant craftsmanship." Ehsan Khoshbakht (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: Bologna's Henry King retrospective was the third sustained opportunity for me to get a grip of the great director's oeuvre. It is a mighty task to make sense of Henry King as a director. Internet Movie Database lists 116 films in which he is credited as the director. I had admired for a long time films such as The Gunfighter, Twelve O'Clock High and Tol'able David. Jesse James I had seen on home video but not truly understood its calibre.


Le Giornate del Cinema Muto mounted a silent Henry King retrospective in the Centenary of the Cinema year. I focused most on the main theme of the festival, the unique early non-fiction retrospective, not neglecting China, Before Israel and Fleischer Brothers. For me, Henry King came fifth, but nevertheless:

I saw:
A Perilous Ride (1913) X
The Medal of Honor (1913) X
Who Pays? 1: The Price of Fame (1915) *
Who Pays? 2: Toll and Tyranny (1915) *
The Crooked Road (1916) X
Little Mary Sunshine (1916) **
The Climber (1918) X interestingly naturalistic
Tol'able David (1921) *** George Eastman House 35 mm print
Stella Dallas (1925) *** David Shepard 16 mm print
The Woman Disputed (1928) **
The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926) ***½ Cineteca del Friuli 16 mm print
14.10.1995  Ridotto del Verdi: Ricordo di Henry King - David Shepard, David Gill

I missed:
Told at Twilight (1917) 16 mm
Hearts or Diamonds? (1918) 16 mm
The Devil's Bait (1917) midnight screening
Six Feet Four (1919) 16 mm
Romola (1925) late screening of a long film
The Sporting Chance (1919) 16 mm
The Seventh Day (1921)
The White Sister (1923) midnight screening of a long film
14.10.1995  Ridotto del Verdi: Ricordo di Henry King - Kevin Brownlow, David Shepard, Frank Thompson

Together with Peter von Bagh we edited a Henry King dossier for the Filmihullu magazine (“Ihmisen tunteen tasolle nostettu kamera. Henry King ja mykät elokuvat” [”Camera Elevated to the Level of Human Emotion. Henry King and the Silent Cinema”], Peter von Bagh & Antti Alanen, Filmihullu 2 / 1996). Peter valued highly The White Sister and Romola which I missed because they were late screenings of very long films. His favourites also included The Woman Disputed whose distinction I failed to see in Pordenone. Perhaps I was not in the proper wavelength.

For me, Tol'able David, Stella Dallas and The Winning of Barbara Worth were the masterpieces of the retrospective. I paid attention to the fact that all three had strong screenplays: by Edmund Goulding in the first case, and by Frances Marion in the other two.


Ten years later I tried to view as completely as possible the Twentieth Century Classics dvd series. The visual quality of the transfers was excellent, but because there were dozens of titles, I indulged in binge watching and may have overlooked qualities. Henry King was never a flamboyant director, and his best films deserve full focus and concentration. During this project I saw in 2006:

- In Old Chicago (Chicago palaa, 1936)
- A Yank in the R.A.F. (Meidän lentäjien kesken, 1941)
- The Song of Bernadette (Bernadetten laulu, 1943)
- Twelve O'Clock High (Ilmojen kotkat, 1949) revisited, I had seen our 35 mm print before.
- The Bravados (Bravados, 1958)

I saw The Bravados for the first time in these dvd binge sessions and recognized it as a quality Western but did not fully understand its grandeur in these circumstances.

It was, however, rewarding to study these 20th Century Fox series in extenso because the viewings helped make sense of the "genius of the system" within a single studio. The stock companies of actors and talents. The genres, the stars, the directors. The continuities and the discontinuities from the mid-1930s till the 1960s. The special commitment to war themes. The affection for country life, not least in Westerns. This was not a studio of sophistication like Paramount, or glamour like MGM. The female stars had often a girl-next-door appeal. The male star could be Tyrone Power but often also an ordinary Joe. Great directors thrived at Fox: Ford, Walsh, and Borzage already with William Fox, not forgetting Murnau. Henry King moved to William Fox in the early sound period and after 20th Century Fox was established he worked for it exclusively.


I had read a bit about Henry King while preparing the 1996 Filmihullu dossier and writing about him for my 2006 encyclopedia of film-makers, paying special attention to the Pordenone book by David Shepard and Ted Perry (the interviewers) and Frank Thompson (editor): Henry King: Director: From Silents to 'Scope. Los Angeles: Directors' Guild of America / Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 1995.

Titles I was especially looking forward to included State Fair and Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie. On my "most wanted" list are still also She Goes to War, Alexander's Ragtime Band and I'd Climb the Highest Mountain. And The White Sister and Romola, both starring Lillian Gish, both shot in Italy.

Henry King is not a director a cinephile is likely to fall for in the early stages of his passion. Rather he is a master whose grandeur becomes evident only after one has "seen it all". That seemed to happen to Peter von Bagh whose appreciation of Henry King kept growing until the end. This coincided with his own change of style. Known as the man of superlatives von Bagh made an abrupt turn around the year 2006 and started to avoid hyperbole.

To coincide with the Bologna retrospective, MUBI Notebook published Peter von Bagh's final Henry King essay, called "Henry King: Beyond the American Dream", on 17 June 2019, in a translation specially prepared for the occasion.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sonora Broka in Sodankylä 2019

Sonora Broka in Sodankylä, 15 June 2019. Photo: Sami Sorasalmi / Midnight Sun Film Festival.

Sonora Broka.

Mia Öhman (Midnight Sun Film Festival): "Sonora Broka has studied audiovisual culture in the Latvian Academy of Culture and worked since 2005 in the National Film Centre of Latvia. She is the artistic director of the Riga International Film Festival founded in 2014. The festival first took place when Riga was the European Capital of Culture. The event has since become annual and grown into a sizeable and comprehensive arena of European film and a presenter of Latvian film industry, that provides a meeting place for the viewers and the makers. The 2018 festival had 22 000 people taking part."

"Sonora Broka values the chance given to the movie audience to take part in events, such as in lectures about movies, and see all kinds movies and talk about them in an environment promoting the movie culture. In the festival the viewer is free to get a cross section of the indigenous movies made during the year, or see what has been made in the Nordic countries. According to Broka, children’s movies are important in raising new generations of viewers, and the festival is a natural environment for it. If a child can sit and watch a movie in a theatre and then gets to talk about what they saw and felt, he or she may later be able to accept something other than just gift-wrapped Hollywood productions."

"As a festival director Broka especially enjoys getting to watch the reactions of the audience and witness a movie finding its viewer. Broka is an expert and a supporter for Baltic movie culture, and in Sodankylä she holds master classes about Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian movies from the 1960s to this day."
Mia Öhman

Četri balti krekli / Elpojiet dziļi... / Four White Shirts (2017 / 2012 restoration from Nacionālais Kino centrs)

Četri balti krekli / Four White Shirts (1967) with Līga Liepiņa (Bella) and Uldis Pūcītis (Cēzars).

Quatre chemises blanches / Четыре белые рубашки / Дышите глубже...
    Director: Rolands Kalniņš
Country: Latvian SSR
Year: 1967
Duration: 1.16
Languages: Latvian / subtitles in English
Category: Baltic 101, Master Class, Master Class: Sonora Broka.
    Colour. Scope 2,35:1.
    2017 / 2012 restoration from Nacionālais Kino centrs.
    Introduced by Sonora Broka, hosted by Timo Malmi.
    2K DCP viewed at Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival, 16 June 2019

Sonora Broka (MSFF): "Cesar, a telephone mounter, writes songs and texts in his spare time, playing together with his friends in an ensemble. However, in order for the ensemble to reach the public, it is necessary to go a long way in obtaining permits. Anita Sondore, a member of the Culture Committee, listens to Cesar’s songs and criticizes them, but afterwards she can no longer stop the various public discussions, which she has instigated."

"Rolands Kalniņš’s films contain more formal, stylistic, conceptual references of French and Czech new waves, than any other Latvian filmmaker of his generation. This, of course, is also the contribution of cinematogapher Miks Zvirbulis, whose camera sensitively captures the streets and contemporaries of Riga in the 1960s, but the playful sequence of film’s opening titles has become one of the most iconic fragments of Latvian films."

"Four White Shirts was censored right after the completition, put on shelf, and premiered in Riga only 19 years later, in 1986. However, songs, written for the film, gained a wide popularity, serving as the only reminder of its existence for two decades."

"In May 2018 the film was included in Cannes Classics programme. 96 years old director, Rolands Kalniņš together with his cinematographer Miks Zvirbulis were present at the screening." (Sonora Broka / MSFF)

AA: Sonora Broka presented in Sodankylä a masterclass series of four Baltic films: Četri balti krekli / Four White Shirts (Rolands Kalniņš, Latvia 1967), Velnio nuotaka / Devil's Bride (Arūnas Žebriūnas, Lithuania 1976), Zirneklis / The Spider (Vasilijs Mass, Latvia 1992), and November (Rainer Sarnet, Estonia 2017). The first two films are musicals from the Soviet period.

Unfortunately I missed three films in Sonora Broka's series because I don't focus well in late screenings but am grateful to have caught Four White Shirts, a Latvian film from the late Soviet Thaw era, one of the brilliant achievements of that period of relative freedom which were instantly shelved and only released 20 years later during Glasnost, through the Conflict Committee. On the copy itself the present version is announced to be a 2012 restoration, but all the official information gives the year 2017. The true international breakthrough of Four White Shirts took place at the Cannes Classics presentation in 2018.

Four White Shirts belongs to the rare species of the serious musical, the master of that species being of course Jacques Demy. The director Rolands Kalniņš worked from a distinguished play by Gunārs Priede, and the catchy songs were composed by Imants Kalniņš (no relation) with such a success that although the film was banned, the songs became immensely popular. (The soundtrack listing is beyond the jump break).

Four White Shirts is quite open about its theme, which is, remarkably enough - censorship. The band called The Optimists are defiantly pushing the envelope with their programme. The representative of the Cultural Committee Anita Sondore (Dina Kuple) tries in vain to convince the songwriter Cēzars Kalniņš (Uldis Pūcītis) to water down his lyrics.

The account of censorship is offbeat and unpredictable. It has been said that the plot of Four White Shirts was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously Anita Sondore is suffering from the situation which can hardly be seen as anything less than ridiculous. Besides, she seems to find Cēzars attractive as a man, but Cēzars has a relationship with Bella (Līga Liepiņa).

I like the intelligent, soulful looks of the characters. The eyes convey a loss and a sorrow beyond words. I also like the urban montages and the montages of visual art. The costumes are stylish. Much of the meaning is in the subtext, but surprisingly much is out in the open.

The copy is fine and watchable, but perhaps this edition is based on a source that has not been processed in the best possible resolution.

Sodankylä morning discussion with Pernilla August

Pernilla August in the Sodankylä morning discussion with Liselott Forsman on 16 June 2019. Photo: Anniliisa Lassila / MSFF.

Pernilla August in discussion in English with Liselott Forsman.
90 minutes instead of the usual 120 min because August needed to reach a flight at the airport.
Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, The School, 16 June 2019.

16th of June: Morning discussion with Pernilla August

MSFF: "In the Sunday morning discussion, Swedish actor-director Pernilla August told the audience lively stories about her long career in film and theatre."

"August grew up in Södermalm, Stockholm where she lived with her mother after her parents divorced when Pernilla was two-years-old. August’s photographer father influenced her relationship with camera from early on."

"“I can see in my eyes that I’m very aware of that I’m looking through the lens into him.”"

"As a child and later a teenager, August made use of the tricks of theatre in school. She didn’t consider it acting but merely her way of being. Already at the age of eight she discovered how to create a contact with the audience. August says that intuition is her most important tool in working. At the age of 15 she ended up acting in a commercial by Roy Andersson through a friend’s father. Afterwards Andersson asked August to play a small role in his movie, Giliap (1972). It was at that time when August really started to get excited about filmmaking."

"“I want to be with all these people on the other side of the camera. They seem to have so much fun over there. I didn’t think I want to be an actor, more I wanted to be a part of crew.”"

"She was still in the middle of her theatre studies when she got offered a role in Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1985). It caused some problems as it was forbidden to act in movies during her studies. August’s situation was solved by organizing a voting with the students and the staff, which, she says was horrible. She describes Bergman as a brilliant writer and a director with a personal touch who was mostly whispering instructions. August ended up in George Lucas’s Star Wars movies after getting to know the producer Rick McCallum in the filming of the tv show The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In the filming of The Phantom Menace (1999) August was at first nervous about her English and accent but Lucas assured her she shouldn’t worry as her character is from a Swedish galaxy."

"Later on, as a director August has been able to live her dream of being behind the camera. For her the most important thing as a filmmaker is to create a sensation that what is being filmed is realistic because it’s the only way to make a contact with the audience."

"To a desert island Agustin would take John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence (1974).


Mia Öhman (MSFF): "Pernilla August (b. Mia Pernilla Hertzman-Ericson, later Wallgren, Östergren) is one of the award-winning actors from Ingmar Bergman’s magic circle. She was a discovery of the director legend’s late period."

"Born in 1958, Pernilla started acting at the age of eight, making her film debut in Roy Andersson’s Giliap in 1975. After finishing school, Pernilla worked with physically challenged children before being accepted to Stockholm’s National Academy of Acting in 1979. She got her first Bergman role during her studies in the director’s last “cinema” film: Maj, the sweet, gushing nanny with golden hair and a limp conquered the screen in the Jörn Donner -produced Fanny and Alexander (1982) which deservedly won four Oscars."

"Bergman had a strong influence on Pernilla’s film and theatre career for over two decades, and she was hired in Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre in 1986. For the theatre-loving Bergman, this emotive-faced actress was even the ultimate reason to take on certain plays. The Royal Dramatic Theatre’s Hamlet (premiere 20.12.1986) starred Peter Stormare, but Bergman’s adaptation heavily highlighted the role of Pernilla’s Ophelia, as if the events took place in Ophelia’s nightmare. Her Ophelia was praised as the most touching ever seen, and the actress was compared to Harriet Andersson in Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972). Bergman also conjured up the grown woman who might have otherwise remained hidden: In Pernilla, the director found the Nora he had been searching for to realize Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House for the theatrical stage (1989). Other strong theatrical roles under Bergman’s direction included the title role in Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart (2000) and Mrs. Alving in his farewell piece, a radical reworking of Ibsen’s Ghosts (2002)."

"At Bergman’s request, Pernilla played his mother in The Best Intentions (Den goda viljan, 1992) the TV series and film written by Bergman and directed by Bille August. For the role of Anna, she won the Best Actress Award at Cannes Film Festival. The work continued in two more TV productions written by Bergman: Private Confessions (Enskilda samtal, 1996), directed by Liv Ullman, and in Bergman’s own direction, In the Presence of a Clown (Larmar och gör sig till, 1997)."

"Internationally, Pernilla is best known for a small but impressive role in two episodes of George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise. In Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) and Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), she plays Shmi Skywalker, a resident of the planet Tatooine and the mother of Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader. Pernilla has also played the mother of Jesus (Christian Bale) in the American TV drama Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999). In her personal life, she has three grown daughters, one with novelist-screenwriter Klas Östergren and two with Bille August."

"After dozens of theatre, film and TV roles Pernilla became a screenwriter and director. Beyond (2010) is based on the novel Svinalängorna by Susanna Alakoski. The director received both the UNESCO-backed Ambassador of Hope Award and the International Critic’s Week Award at Venice Film Festival, and the Foreign Press Award at Filmfest Hamburg. Beyond also won several Guldbagges in 2010 and the Nordic Council Film Prize in 2011." Mia Öhman / MSFF

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Five Tales Told - Experimental Shorts (Mika Taanila masterclass)


Kategoria: 16 mm, 35 mm, Kokeelliset elokuvat, Lyhytelokuvat, Mestariluokat, Mestariluokka: Mika Taanila
    Curated and presented by Mika Taanila. In the presence of Johann Lurf.
    Viewed at The School, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival, 15 June 2019

Mika Taanila (MSFF): "The experimental short film screening theme  is music and absurdism. We will review the subject through five accumulated angles of attack. The stories of these films – “tales” – infiltrate the various sectors of the subconscious without a forced plot design. As a thought experiment, one could well watch the whole screening eyes closed."

"Ivan Ladislav Galeta’s structuralist water polo film Water Pulu 1869 1896 belongs to the aristocracy of sports films. As South Korean and French teams face each other few days before the Zagreb Universiade, the ball stubbornly stays in the image’s epicentre throughout the players’ double exposed choreography. As the chlorinated water glistens in the sun, Debussy’s “La Mer” turns into a stunning wall of sound of underwater recordings."

"According to some experimental film dogmas, the use of music in films is too lazy manipulation of emotions. This preoccupation inspired Lewis Klahr to set the dark-toned cruising film April Snow entirely around songs by The Shangri-Las and Bruce Springsteen. Klahr – himself a master of paper collages – has called his film “a mixtape”."

"Johann Lurf ’s Twelve Tales Told slices up twelve studio logos, replete with sound, triggering a hysterical adrenaline surge. Film researcher Michael Sicinski has described Lurf ’s film as “a comedic Schoenbergian twelve-tone nightmare of corporate dissonance”."

"Comfort Stations by Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy is one of the most energetic and cryptic short films made in the past few years. What do we see when we see quivering jelly? The familiar evergreens on the soundtrack are interrupted time and again, producing an uncomfortable and uneasy sensation of nature’s elemental power."

"The screening concludes with a modern social documentary that can also be approached as a twisted musique concrète film. Nervous animal sounds create a foundation for the minimalistic composition. Nina de Vroome’s A Dog’s Luck (Het geluk van honden) depicts the training of police dogs, both in theory and in practice." Mika Taanila (MSFF)

WATER PULU 1869 1896
Director: Ivan Ladislav Galeta
Duration: 0.09
Country: Yugoslavia
Year: 1988
Language: no dialogue
Format: 35 mm
Print source: Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen

AA: A meta vision of water polo. The superimpositions grow into a cosmic dimension. Debussy's La Mer carries the resonances of the world ocean.

Director: Lewis Klahr
Duration: 0.10
Country: USA
Year: 2010
Language: no dialogue
Format: DCP
Print source: LUX (London)

AA: The Shangri-Las: "Out on the Streets" (1965) and Bruce Springsteen: "Racing in the Street" (1978) are the songs structuring the movie in the fashion established by Kenneth Anger in Scorpio Rising. A reduced cutout stop motion animation on the world of cruising.

Director: Johann Lurf
Duration: 0.04
Country: Austria
Year: 2014
Language: no dialogue
Format: 35 mm
Print source: sixpack film (Wien)

AA: A meta-morphosis of the opening credit logo sequences of the big movie studios: Paramount, Universal, MGM, Fox... Transcending the realm of the sublime in popular culture imagination.

Directors: Anja Dornieden, Juan David González Monroy
Duration: 0.26
Country: Germany
Year: 2018
Language: no dialogue
Format: 16 mm
Print source: Light Cone (Paris)

AA: Life itself, the birth of life in the world of organisms including snails and frogs. A sexual vision in a pre-human sense. Sex precedes us. The wonder of nature. The nature as a wonder of recreation. In vibrant, juicy, photochemical 16 mm.

Director: Nina de Vroome
Original title: Het geluk van honden
Duration: 0.23
Country: Belgium
Year: 2018
Language: no dialogue
Format: DCP
Copy source: Blauwhuis

AA: The training of police dogs in cold, bright digital: clean, glossy. Some visual effects are used such as slight time lapse and slow motion.

Film concert Oblomok imperii / A Fragment of an Empire (2018 restoration) (Stephen Horne score)

A Fragment of an Empire. This shot was retrieved for the 2018 restoration.

Обломок империи / Imperiumin sirpale.
Director: Friedrich Ermler
Country: Soviet Union
Year: 1929
Duration: 1.49
Languages: intertitles in Russian / e-subtitles in Finnish
Category: 35 mm, Silent Films.
    Print source: Library of Congress.
    Film concert, composer: Stephen Horne, performed by Stephen Horne (piano, flute, accordeon) and Martin Pyne (drums, percussions).
    Introduced by Timo Malmi.
    Viewed at The Big Top, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival, 15 June 2019.

Mia Öhman / MSFF: "Friedrich Ermler is an surprisingly unknown film-maker in the West, even though he was highly regarded by his fellow colleagues Eisenstein, Chaplin and Pabst. Fragment of an Empire (Oblomok imperii) is Ermler’s last silent film, a final account of the 1920’s Soviet film aesthetics and an ending to the zeitgeist of an era. Back in the day the film received a triumphant reception throughout the Soviet Russia, and in Berlin the film was met with a standing ovation. At the festival we get to enjoy the 35 mm copy of the film accompanied with the film score composer Stephen Horne and percussionist Martin Pyne. The restauration of the film in the Netherlands was supervised by film historian Pjotr (Peter) Bagrov, who wrote in his essay about Ermler; ”More than anyone else in Soviet film, he spills the beans.” Therefore, one might argue, Fragment of an Empire depicts the reality of the times with precision and succeeds in an intellectual somersault – showing it through the feelings of the protagonist – something that was required in the abrupt shift from Tsarist rule to socialism."

"In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to the Russian sergeant Filiminov, played by the expressive actor Fjodor Nikitin. Filiminov lost his memory in the First World War and is completely oblivious of the October Revolution in 1917. His greatest pride and treasure is his medal, the Cross of St. George, an emblem from the institution which was abolished after the revolution. When Filimonov coincidentally sees his wife (played by Ljudmila Semjonova, known for Abram Room’s film Bed and Sofa / Tretja Meshtshanskaja, 1927) in a window of a train waiting at a station, memories begin to painfully unfold. After finally realising who he is, Filiminov heads home to Saint Petersburg. The city has now been renamed Leningrad and a bust of Lenin has been set up next to the old statues. Former houses have been replaced by massive building complexes. Filimonov goes to meet the head of a factory where he worked from 1910 to 1914. The factory manager and his wife share Filiminov’s longing for the good old days. Now there is no manager but instead a factory committee. A modern revolving door triggers off a clash between Filiminov’s mind set in the time of the tsar and the surrounding modern times, building up to outright screams of fright."

"The developed top visual techniques of the silent film era navigate the viewer through Nikitin’s tumultuous experience. In an explosive montage a stitching sewing machine needle turns into a machine gun, a rolling thread spool into a cannon barrel, and Filimonov travels deep into his memories fighting with an enemy he shares the same language with and finds himself crawling in the snow towards a gas masked Jesus hanging on the cross. The religious scene was directly influenced by Freud and the actor Nikitin was eventually churning in such deep emotional plight, unable to work, that the director threatened to shoot him. In the end, the film was completed but the rift between Nikitin and Ermler was unmendable." (Mia Öhman / MSFF)

AA: I blogged eight years ago about Pordenone's Canon Revisited screening of A Fragment of an Empire. On display then was a print from Österreichisches Filmmuseum.

We at KAVI in Helsinki have ourselves an interesting, high quality print of A Fragment of an Empire, a sonorized one with a soundtrack with the original avantgardistic score by Vladimir Deshevov.

I now saw for the first time the 2018 restoration by EYE Film Institute, Gosfilmofond and San Francisco Film Festival, restored by Peter Bagrov, Robert Byrne and Annike Kross, curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynacki. Missing shots and intertitles were retrieved from a Cinémathèque Suisse print, including the famous shot with the crucified Jesus wearing a gas mask (see image above).

A Fragment of an Empire is an incoherent text. With a more profound conviction than hardly anybody, Friedrich Ermler, wanted to promote the agenda of the Communist Party. At the same time his honesty as an artist was so great that he always failed to produce a work of convincing propaganda. Some of his key films are in fact terrifying in their implications, although they were produced in the heart of the Bolshevist system.

Socialist realism had not yet become the enforced dogma of the Soviet art world when A Fragment of an Empire was made, and the film is very far from that doctrine. In the beginning of his film career Ermler had distanced himself from the montage school, but in this film he indulges in extraordinary montage sequences and proves to be a master of the flash montage in the league of Griffith, Gance and Eisenstein. Key montage sequences include: the recovery of the memory the stranger in his home town the memory of the war startingfactory engines the montage of the props the alarm.

In the movie there are both aspects of naivism, heavy-handedness and caricature, and sophistication, complexity and subtle psychology.

I seldom visit the Sodankylä film concerts because I usually already know the films and their music solutions. Thus I was surprised unlike other regulars by the audience reaction the enthusiastic applause and the sing-along to L'Internationale. I was puzzled and did not know what to think about it, and nobody could explain it to me except that it is a Sodankylä tradition. The audience seemed to be applauding the Bolshevist message of the picture. I could understand the applause to the intertitle about the difference between capitalist competition and socialist contest [kilvoittelu], the socialist contest involving help to the weakest, not leaving anybody behind, taking everybody further. Also the satirical anti-patriarchal and feminist message remains topical.

A brilliant restoration and a memorable event with an exciting score by Stephen Horne.

Кек / Mest / Revenge / The Reed Flute / La Vengeance (2010 restoration World Cinema Foundation / Cineteca di Bologna)

Кек / Месть.
Director: Yermek Shinarbaev
Country: Soviet Union
Year: 1989
Duration: 1.39
Languages: Russian / sous-titres français [no English subtitles]
    Restored in 2010 by World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna / L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in association with Kazakhfilm Studio, the State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Ermek Shinarbaev. Restoration funding provided by Armani, Cartier, Qatar Airways and Qatar Museum Authority.
    Category: 35 mm, Master Class: Kent Jones
    Print: Cineteca Bologna.
    Introduced by Kent Jones, hosted by Timo Malmi.
    Viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, 15 June 2019.

Wikipedia: The film is divided into 8 segments.
Prologue (set at the Korean royal court of the Kingdom of Joseon in the seventeenth century)
Tale 1 - Yan (small Korean village in 1915)
Tale 2 - Tsai
Tale 3 - The Mute One
Tale 4 - The Monk
Tale 5 - Elza the Romanian
Tale 6 - Revenge
Tale 7 - The House

"In the beginning of the 40s, hundreds of thousands of Koreans that had lived in the Russian Far East since the XIX century were forcibly displaced overnight according to Stalin’s orders. They were regarded as traitors and public enemies. Women, children, old people, were sent away with no explanation. The Korean diaspora, with a population of over a million, has been a forbidden topic for many years. Revenge is the first film telling the story of their tragedy." (Ermek Shinarbaev, May 2010)

The Criterion Collection: "A child is raised in Korea to avenge the death of his father’s first child in this decades-spanning tale of obsession and violence, the third collaboration between director Ermek Shinarbaev and writer Anatoli Kim. A study of everyday evil infused with philosophy and poetry, this haunting allegory was the first Soviet film to look at the Korean diaspora in central Asia, and a founding work of the Kazakh New Wave. Rigorous and complex, Revenge weaves luminous imagery with inventive narrative elements in an unforgettable meditation on the way trauma is passed down through generations."

Mia Öhman (MSFF): "When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Kazakh New Wave quietly emerged in Kazakhstan’s cinema. It peaks in Yermek Shinarbaev’s and screenwriter Anatoli Kim’s collaboration. The most touching and harshest of their three mutual films is the amazingly beautiful geographical and psychological odyssey Revenge, finished in 1989 and premiered internationally at the 1991 Cannes film festival."

"The film is divided into eight parts, of which the first takes place in the 17th century Korea: the emperor’s son is trained as a soldier, but his best friend grows to be a violence-abstaining poet. In 1915 a teacher kills his student, a little girl, in a fit of rage. The girl’s father promises to revenge the act and follows the teacher to China, but is unable to carry his plan out. At his deathbed, the father asks his young son to revenge for him the death of the stepsister."

"Instead of telling a straightforward story of the sweetness of revenge, the film problematizes the topic by showing various situations and relationships. Towards the end the narrative condenses into a dream-like visual experience. The great cinematographer Sergei Kosmanyov finds his way to deliver feelings and dimensions that have rarely been depicted in cinema in such a convincing way. Revenge has been restored as part of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project."
(Mia Öhman / MSFF)

AA: I am embarrassed to confess that I saw Revenge / The Reed Flute for the first time and even more embarrassed that this is my first experience with Kazakh cinema in general.

I am deeply impressed by the force of the imagery in this movie directed by Ermek Shinarbaev based on a screenplay by Anatoli Kim. Revenge is a work of atavistic poetry whose theme of the blood feud has an affinity with Tengiz Abuladze's Vedreba, based on the poem by Vazha Psavela. At the same time it is a work of epic resonance, dealing with the tragedy of Stalin's forced deportation of a million Koreans to Central Asia.

There is highly charged quality in the eight segments that span decades and even centuries. Revenge is a film that needs to be seen more than once.

"Injustice is not fertile ground for poetry", states the poet in the prologue. Paradoxically, the poetry of this film stems from epic injustice. Haunting images include turtles, rugged mountains, immense expanses, sickles of vengeance, a Romani woman, Elza, attempting to seduce a young man to impregnate her, and the awesome sea. Intended victims die accidentally before the avenger manages to catch them. "Love I have forgotten". "Most of all I have been afraid of the sea". "Birds escape the fire". "The flames of sunrise".

There is a unique, overwhelming quality of luminosity in the film. It is as if oversaturated with light. Very appropriate for Midnight Sun Film Festival.

The gorgeous print does justice to the wonderful cinematography.

This Kazakh film was seen in a Russian version. Even Korean dialogue was overdubbed in Russian (we heard a little bit of Korean, and the same male actor spoke in Russian over all the Korean dialogue).

Presidenti / The President

Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Country: Georgia, France, United Kingdom, Germany
Year: 2014
Duration: 1.59
Language: Georgian. English subtitles.
Category: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
    Print: BAC Films.
    Introduced by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, hosted by Timo Malmi.
    DCP viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), The Big Top, Sodankylä, 15 June 2019.

Mia Öhman / MSFF: "If you have the authority, you can land a helicopter next to a herd of sheep and pick the lamb you like – and show the lamb how wonderful your country is from way up in the air. Written and directed by Iranian Mohsen Makhmalbaf, The President (2014) presents a ruler and his family enjoying a life of luxury and unlimited privileges until a revolution changes everything. The wife and daughters leave the country in haste but the former president is suddenly left alone with his grandchild, having to rely only on the help of his bodyguards."

"Finally the two fugitives must flee to the countryside and sell their parade uniforms. Soon the dethroned dictator realises that he is a wanted criminal. Thus begins a journey toward the coast, from where escape to another country is possible. The travellers disguise themselves as wandering gypsies and join a group of recently released political prisoners. The former ruler is just a grandfather and his little protégé just a grandchild of whom he must take care in any possible way. Along their journey, they see what the country has become under dictatorship and feel the hatred that oppression has caused among the people. The original inspiration for the film came from the director’s visit to the mistreated Darul Aman Palace in Kabul. The work was also influenced by revolutions of the Arab Spring in 2010–2012." (MÖ)

AA: There are no big subjects and small subjects, as Claude Chabrol has reminded us, only big and small approaches to all kinds of subjects.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf has chosen a big subject, and there is a grandeur of vision, too. The President has been inspired by the downfall and abject end of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Ghaddafi. I am also reminded of Herodotus's tale of Croesus and Leo Tolstoy's unfinished story "The Posthumous Notes of the Starets Feodor Kuzmich". And also Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator and Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator.

Overnight the almighty president loses his standing, as does his grandson, and while they are escaping incognito through the country they witness in close-up the pain and demoralization caused by their authoritarian regime. Demonstrations are crushed violently, but the rebels emerge victorious. The refugees learn to wash their asses with their own hands. While shaving the ex-President a barber's hand is shaking perilously like in Chaplin's film. The country is in ruins. The industry is primitive, child labour is common, corruption is ubiquitous. Renegade soldiers are on a rampage of rape and robbery. Even a bride on her way to her wedding is fair game for them. In a brothel where they seek asylum the President meets a woman he once seduced. Everybody curses the President.

The open finale of the movie reflects Makhmalbaf's philosophy about the cycle of violence. Himself a former political prisoner and a victim of torture, he has witnessed his former prison mates turning into new tyrants. There is no end to atrocities if the cycle is not broken.

Sodankylä morning discussion with Fernando Meirelles

Fernando Meirelles in the Sodankylä morning discussion with Mika Kaurismäki, 15 June 2019. Photo: Juho Liukkonen / MSFF.

Fernando Meirelles in discussion in English with Mika Kaurismäki.
Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, The School, 15 June 2019.


MSFF: "On the Saturday morning discussion, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles told about his versatile career, which has included various works from video art to successful international films and from experimental TV series to opera."

"Meirelles remembers his first film experiences are related to his father’s movie clips which were shot on 16 mm film. However, the career as a director was not Meirelles’s original plan. He grew up in São Paulo and after discontinuing his biology studies Meirelles studied architecture. He decided to become a filmmaker after seeing Jorge Bodanzky and Orlando Senna’s Iracema (1975). It was a film that combined fiction and documentary such an exceptional way and was so impressive for Meirelles that he decided to make a short film as his final project and, as a result, made his introduction to the film industry."

"At the beginning of his career, Meirelles and his colleagues made experimental short films and video art. He also directed several years fun and experimental series and worked in advertising. However, the ads were not enough for Meirelles – instead, he dreamed of directing a feature film. He practiced directing a feature film with his first film Maids (2001)."

"“I always want to get involved in projects that make me feel insecure. The topics I don’t know much about and I usually even regret, that I agreed to take on such an impossible idea. For some reason, these work the best in the end.”"

"Meirelles wanted to film José Saramago‘s novel Blindness, but because of the copyrights, the plan was almost canceled. One of the luckiest coincidences on Meirelles’s career was when the publisher of Saramago asked if Meirelles would be interested in directing Paulo Lins‘s novel The City of God. After a short moment of hesitation, Meirelles grasped this opportunity and chose a completely different topic."

"Meirelles’s The City of God was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was a great success. The film was followed by another success, The Constant Gardener (2005), after which Meirelles announced that he would stop making movies. However, he went back on his decision, as he finally got the opportunity to direct a film adaption of Blindness (2008). The film was followed by 360 (2011) and then Meirelles returned to TV series. Even after that the director has still broken new ground."

"Trying something new has always inspired Meirelles. He has directed, for example, the opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles in 2015 and the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Currently, the director has many projects in progress, including a climate crisis series for the BBC, a science documentary and the feature film The Pope produced by Netflix."

"Meirelles would bring the film Iracema with him to a desert island. That movie which originally encouraged him to become a director."


Otto Kylmälä / MSFF: "Fernando Meirelles (born 1955) is one of the globally leading filmmakers of post- Cinema Novo, ”retomada do cinema brasileiro” (the resurrection of Brazilian cinema). Having started his career with commercial films and television series just like Walter Salles, Meirelles is one of the most successful international directors in his country. Together these two directors constitute a continuum of filmmakers whose connection to new methods and forums relieves them from the load of national cinema and allows them to combine international methods of narration with Brazilian stories more freely."

"Meirelles’s debut film was the humorous satire Domésticas, o filme (Maids, 2001) directed together with Nando Olival. It set the foundation for the director’s episode-style narration and adaptations based on literary sources. Set in the lively metropol of São Paulo and seasoned with Brazilian brega music, the play adaptation gave a voice to an otherwise invisible working class in a humane way."

"After the debut, Meirelles rocketed to global awareness with his epic crime saga City of God (2002). Set in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the film’s universe charmed its audiences with authentic and thrilling crime stories and achieved four well-deserved Oscar nominations, one of them for Best Director for Meirelles. City of God introduces us to Meirelles’s immensely rich toolbox: an extensive gallery of characters, solid visual style and nonlinear narration. The director received praise and glory along with references as the Tarantino of South America. Nowadays the film can inarguably be called a modern classic, and it has also given birth to a sequel in the form of a television series, City of Men (2002–2005) produced by Meirelles."

"After the action-packed crime feast, Meirelles began to adapt works by masters of modern literature, such as John le Carré’s political and romantic thriller The Constant Gardener (2005). Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz (who won an Oscar for her role) both gave unforgettable performances in the intelligent and skilfully constructed thrill piece that gathered five Oscar nominations in total."

"In 2008, Meirelles took on an interesting challenge by adapting Portuguese Nobel prize winner José Saramago’s novel Blindness (1995). The result was a film by the same name and a cast packed with international megastars. Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael García Bernal lead us to a world in which people fall ill with a mysterious condition that makes them blind. As the epidemic spreads, the blind people are quarantined, resulting in a dystopic human experiment in the spirit of Lord of the Flies."

"Meirelles is currently working on The Pope, a film about the relations of the last two popes, but his most recent completed feature is 360 (2011). An international ensemble graces the free adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde, made in the footsteps of Max Ophuls and Alan Rudolph. It is a universal and edgy account of lust, shame and choices."

"In 2016, Meirelles was given the national task of directing a televised 4-hour version of the opening ceremony at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics." Otto Kylmälä / MSFF

to be continued

Friday, June 14, 2019

Touki bouki / The Hyena's Journey / Journey of the Hyena (2008 restoration by World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna)

Touki bouki. Mareme Niang as Anta and Magaye Niang as Mory.

Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Country: Senegal
Year: 1973
Duration: 1.25
Languages: Wolof, Arabic, French / English subtitles on print.
    Soundtrack: "the multilayered soundtrack, a skillful amalgam of ambient sounds, Western pop tunes, African drums, and avant-garde jazz" (Richard Porton).
Aminata Fall ("Garmi").
"Paris... Paris" Schottisch espagnole (comp. Augustin Lara, lyr. Georges Tabet), perf. Josephine Baker, 1949.
"Plaisir d'amour" (comp. Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, lyr. Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, 1784), perf. Mado Robin.
    Loc: Dakar (Senegal).
    "Touki bouki" means "journey of the hyena" in Wolof.
    Restored in 2008 by World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna / L’Immagine Ritrovata in association with the family of Djibril Diop Mambéty. Restoration funding provided by Armani, Cartier, Qatar Airways and Qatar Museum Authority.
    Print: Cineteca Bologna / The Film Foundation.
    Category: 35 mm, Master Class, Master Class: Kent Jones
    Introduced by Kent Jones, hosted by Timo Malmi.
    Viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, 14 June 2019.

Otto Kylmälä (MSFF): "Cowboy Mory, who spends his time cruising around on his skull moped, and university student Anta are disappointed in their life in Dakar. Together they dream of a way out and going to Europe. Mory schemes different options that would enable them to leave but is uncertain if any them will succeed."

"Senegalese Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki is the corner stone of African cinema. Martin Scorsese has said that “Touki Bouki explodes one frame at a time”. A premiere at Cannes and the FIPRESCI award at the Moscow film festival were great stepping stones for this experimental film. Delirious and dreamlike narration is a strong proof of the African story telling traditions reflecting on the film’s structure. The film borrows from France’s new wave but dips its citations in a fresh spring before use. The story emanates the confusion and bafflement that follows independence and avoids the stiffness of western imagery."

"The dream of the west lives strong in the characters and in the soundtrack. Josephine Baker’s song Paris, Paris gives wings to the duo’s dreams and spreads a Disney-like distortion on reality. Baker sings: “Paris, Paris, Paris / C’est sur la terre un coin de paradis / Paris, Paris, Paris / This paradise on Earth.”" (Otto Kylmälä / MSFF)

AA: I saw Djibril Diop Mambéty's poetic Touki bouki for the first time, although we have been screening it at the Finnish Film Archive in the African film series curated by Satu Laaksonen.

The poetry is based on an imagist sensibility. Repeated images include cows, the sun, the ocean, and crows. The images are powerful. They reappear like rhymes. The film has a strong pulse, a sense of rhythm.

The sensibility is musical, and the soundtrack itself is engaging with flutes and drums and an original mix of musical sources from Rococo to modern jazz. There is an affinity with Pasolini in this unconventional approach to music.

Touki bouki is also a colouristic film, radiating the light of Africa. The warm glow and heat of the sun makes everything shine.

It all adds up to a vision of the flow of life. The camera is often mobile in moving vehicles and in charming panoramic shots. The camera angles are fresh and original, like seeing the world through the camera for the first time.

Mambéty celebrates the life force, the glorious femininity, and the natural sexual radiation of Anta. The rhythm of the shots and the waves of the ocean convey the joy of the love act as Anta's hand grips the handle of the motorcycle and we hear moans of ecstasy. Mambéty revels in the view of the swinging hips of women carrying water jugs on their heads. I would argue that this is not a case of the male gaze only. The women are obviously enjoying themselves, too. I am reminded of John Berger: "women dream of men dreaming of them". Or of other women dreaming of them.

Mambéty bases his film on contrasts such as: – Paris / Dakar – tradition / modernity – the animate / the inanimate.

Touki bouki is not story-driven, but there is a nominal plot with affinities with À bout de souffle, Pierrot le fou, and Easy Rider, among others. The college student Anta will escape to Paris together with the cowboy rebel Mory. They have no money, so they turn to robbers. Civil servants are seen as corrupt or slothful. The young revolutionaries, Anta's fellow students, are hardly offering any promising alternative, either.

A lack of perspective in young African protagonists is a much more topical theme today than it was in 1973.

The finale has an affinity with Pépé le Moko in which Jean Gabin is condemned to remain in Casbah while Mireille Balin sails to France.

Touki bouki is a poetic film, but it is firmly rooted in photographic reality. Mambéty has a talent of observation and incorporating documentary inserts such as a wrestling match, a military parade, and bloody scenes of slaughter.

The restoration has been conducted in good taste. The warmth of the light and the colour is conveyed powerfully in this World Cinema Foundation / Cineteca di Bologna edition.

Komunia / Communion

Komunia / Communion. Ola Kaczanowska and her brother Nikodem Kaczanowski.

Director: Anna Zamecka
Country: Poland
Year: 2016
Duration: 1.12
Languages: Polish / subtitles in English
Category: Carte blanche à Pirjo Honkasalo, Documentary Films.
    Introduced by Pirjo Honkasalo, hosted by Juhana von Bagh.
    DCP viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, 14 June 2019.

Mia Öhman (MSFF): "Sometimes adults, for whatever reason, can’t do what they should, and children are left to fend for themselves. Anna Zamecka’s debut feature Communion (Komunia, 2016) has won awards at many prestigious festivals. It is an intimate documentary about a motherless family. Zamecka encountered the family’s multilingual father while shooting a school project, as Poland was hosting the European football championship games. The father introduced Zamecka to his then 12-year-old daughter Ola, the wonderful creature that, since her mother’s departure, has taken care of everything at home – including her brother Nikodem, two years her junior. In Ola, Zamecka recognized herself as a child and realized that by making a documentary about the family, she might be the adult who shows Ola that it isn’t a child’s job to take responsibility for everything."

"Making a film in a small flat had its challenges, but when the material, shot by Małgorzata Szyłak, had been assembled into a rudimentary cut, the experienced editor Agnieszka Glinska came onboard. The common thread running through the documentary is Ola preparing Nikodem for his First Communion, an important ritual in Catholic Poland. Nikodem’s autism isn’t mentioned, and his environment doesn’t acknowledge it in any way: he is simply the poorly behaved boy. But if everything works out and father finally renovates the bathroom, maybe the mother will return home." (MÖ / MSFF)

Internet Movie Database: "'Communion' reveals the beauty of the rejected, the strength of the weak and the need for change when change seems impossible. This crash course in growing up teaches us that no failure is final. Especially when love is in question."

"When adults are ineffectual, children have to grow up quickly. Ola is 14 and she takes care of her dysfunctional father, autistic brother and a mother who lives separately; but most of all she tries to reunite the family. She lives in the hope of bringing her mother back home. Her 13 year old brother Nikodem's Holy Communion is a pretext for the family to meet up. Ola is entirely responsible for preparing the perfect family celebration. "Communion" reveals the beauty of the rejected, the strength of the weak and the need for change when change seems impossible. This crash course in growing up teaches us that no failure is final. Especially when love is in question." (Internet Movie Database)

AA: Confession: I failed to register this screening properly. I was aware that in front of me was a distinguished movie, but the screening suffered from the circumstances in the hot summer afternoon. I stayed awake although there was a lack of ventilation in the Kitisen Kino tent, and not enough oxygen. A powerful masterpiece, The House Is Black, had just been seen in glorious photochemical black and white. In comparison, the visual quality of Komunia resembled a surveillance camera record in flat, nondescript digital.

I was a potentially ideal member of the audience, with special interest in how the life of a family is entirely transformed by the presence of an autistic child. Here the all-sacrificing protagonist is not the mother but the daughter who at age 12 is in charge of everything. Her burden is the main theme of Komunia.

As the title of the film reveals, this is a film about First Communion. [Remarkable films about First Communion include Max Ophuls's Le Plaisir, the Maison Tellier episode.] The suspense is based on the question whether the family will be together for the big event in the autistic Nikodem's life. His is a hard lot with school mainstreaming and hardship in religious education. Yet Nikodem himself has a sunny, life-affirming disposition. Playing with his dinosaur toy in the bathtub he remarks in passing that "reality becomes fiction".

To be revisited.

Khaneh siah ast / The House Is Black

Forough Farrokhzad (19351967), poet and film-maker.

Making The House Is Black. Forough Farrokhzad is the third from left, standing in the middle, her hands behind her back, behind the camera crew.

خانه سیاه است / La Maison est noire / Das Haus ist schwarz / [La casa è nera].
    IR 1962. D: Forough Farrokhzad. SC: Forough Farrokhzad. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Forough Farrokhzad. C: Forough Farrokhzad (voce narrante), Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante). With: Hossein Mansouri. PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 21 min
    The narration: from the Old Testament, the Quran, and poems by Forough Farrokhzad
    Farsi version with French subtitles.
    Print from: Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen: Archiv Film.
    Category: Carte blanche à Pirjo Honkasalo.
    Introduced by Pirjo Honkasalo, hosted by Juhana von Bagh.
    35 mm print viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, 14 June 2019.   

Chris Marker (quoted in the Bologna 2016 catalogue): "February 13, [1967] at 4:30 pm, Forough Farrokhzad died in a car accident in Tehran. She was one of the greatest contemporary Persian poets, and she was also a filmmaker. She had directed The House Is Black… Grand Prix at Oberhausen, and beyond that practically unknown in Europe, and the film is a masterpiece. She was 33… equally made of magic and energy, she was the Queen of Sheba described by Stendhal. For her first film, she went straight to the most unwatchable: leprosy, lepers. And if was needed the gaze of a woman, if is always needed the look of a woman to establish the right distance with suffering and hideousness, without complacency and self-pity, her gaze still transformed her subject, and by bypassing the abominable trap of the symbol, succeed in binding, besides the truth, this leprosy to all the leprosies of the world. So that The House Is Black is also the Land Without Bread of Iran, and the day that French distributors will admit that one can be Persian, we shall notice that Forough Farrokhzad had given more in one movie than lots of people with easier names to remember." – Chris Marker, “Cinéma 67”, n. 117.

AA: My Bologna notes of 29 June 2016: "Forough Farrokhzad (19351967) was an Iranian poet who created poems of five volumes' worth during her brief life. In Finnish her poems have been translated by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila in Vain ääni jää [Only the Sound Remains], a collection of Iranian poetry. The title of Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us is taken from a poem by Farrokhzad."

"In 1958 Farrokhzad met the writer and film-maker Ebrahim Golestan, and they became partners, although Golestan was married. She participated in the Golestan film productions and studied film-making in Britain."

"In 1962 Farrokhzad moved to Tabriz where the leper colony Behkadeh Raji functioned as a self-supporting, independent village. During the 12 days of filming of The House Is Black Farrokhzad was attracted to a child of a couple affected with leprosy and later adopted the child, Hossein Mansouri."

"The Golestan Film Studio launched the Iranian New Wave, Farrokhzad contributed from the start as an editor, and The House Is Black was one of its first films. The House Is Black was ranked 19th on the Critics' 50 Best Documentaries of All Time poll in Sight & Sound in 2014."

"There is little to add to Chris Marker's words above. When a leprosy patient looks at herself in the mirror it is an assault on the cult of external beauty in the cinema. This is a film about a terrible illness, disfiguring skin and body, causing invalidization and blindness. Farrokhzad's approach is simultaneously medically unflinching and humanistically poetic. The commentary mixes fact (leprosy is contagious, leprosy can be cured), religion (the Psalms: "I sing thy name, Eternal One", "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove"), and Farrokhzad's own poems."

"An association I have while thinking about The House Is Black is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Both question what we take for granted in the cinema. The House Is Black is a challenge to our habit of looking superficially." (AA Bologna 2016)

AA Sodankylä 2019: This film has been inspired by an ancient poetic tradition in the spirit of the Psalms:

"Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest."

"A human's day is only a short breath
Like a shadow that passeth away"

The House Is Black is at once an unflinching documentary, a prayer, a poem, and a celebration of life.

Forough Farrokhzad's love and tenderness is glowing in the vicinity of a horrible disease which leads its victims to isolation from the human community.

The greatest love has nothing to do with superficial notions of beauty. This film is against beauty in the conventional meaning of the word. The unusual view of humanity on display reminds me of Federico Fellini and Freaks by Tod Browning.

The image of a blind man walking to and fro along a high wall evokes Jean Cocteau's favourite image of defying an invisible wind along a wall.

Pirjo Honkasalo's remarks in her introduction: "Men see visions. Women see mysteries."

"John Anderson's subtitle in his book about me was Merciless Beauty. It is also fitting for these two films." [Anna Zamecka' Komunia was the feature film in the screening].

"A film is a vehicle to approach human silence."

"Distance is more important than vicinity".

"To be present at a distance".

Kent Jones and Carisa Kelly in Sodankylä, 2019

Mika Kaurismäki, Carisa Kelly, and Kent Jones at midnight in Sodankylä Film Festival, 14 June 2019. Photo: Liisa Huima / MSFF.


Diane, starring Mary Kay Place.

Director: Kent Jones
Country: USA
Year: 2018
Duration: 1.35
Languages: English / no subtitles
Category: Gems of New Cinema, Kent Jones
    In the presence of Kent Jones and Carisa Kelly hosted by Milja Mikkola.
    DCP viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Lapinsuu, Sodankylä, 14 June 2019.

IFC Films: "For Diane (Mary Kay Place), everyone else comes first. Generous but with little patience for self-pity, she spends her days checking in on sick friends, volunteering at her local soup kitchen, and trying valiantly to save her troubled, drug-addicted adult son (Jake Lacy) from himself. But beneath her relentless routine of self-sacrifice, Diane is fighting a desperate internal battle, haunted by a past she can’t forget and which threatens to tear her increasingly chaotic world apart. Built around an extraordinary, fearless performance from Mary Kay Place, the narrative debut from Kent Jones is a profound, beautifully human portrait of a woman rifling through the wreckage of her life in search of redemption."

Timo Malmi (MSFF): "The term ”adult film” fits perfectly with Kent Jones’s fictional directorial debut: Diane represents mature and honest storytelling about aging people and their way of living on the countryside, in today’s west Massachusetts in the U.S. East Coast."

"”They don’t make these kinds anymore” – these people who are dealing with every day real problems – but the tone in the film isn’t miserable and grey but rather warm, even humouristic under the surface. Diane is a film about women. Mary Kay Place is playing Diane, a woman in her 70s, a widower who is close to her actual age. Diane’s days go by taking care of others; be it her aunt Ina or Ina’s aggressive mother Mary, her best friend Bobbie or her dying but still sane cousin Donna – or her unemployed, drug addict son Brian. Or the poor at the soup kitchen."

"Solidarity can be found among friends and relatives, but the ultimate question is if Diane can become the subject of her own life. The feel of autumn and early winter builds up in the few week time span, while the episodes of driving a car with versatile music in the background set a pace to the ongoing events. Gradually Diane’s secret from the past starts to reveal itself, which perhaps gives her some peace in the rather puzzling ending." (TM)

AA: Kent Jones's fiction feature debut film is a soshimin-eiga, a tender meditation on old age and death as faced by the retired widow Diane.

In the beginning the film seems quite ordinary, bordering on the naturalistic. But although Diane is an anti-drama, there are fundamental turning-points that completely change our perception of the characters and their lives.

Like in Paul Schrader's First Reformed, religion is central. Diane's son Brian is so deeply addicted to drugs that Diane (and we) expect a terminal turn. Instead, Brian is saved thanks to a religious conversion. Brian has been protesting against Diane's attemps to get him back to rehab. Now it's Brian's turn to hector at Diane, aggressively trying to convert her to his fanatic line of faith. His is no religion of love; instead, his stance is not far from hate.

Diane is not a fanatic. She is religious in an unobtrusive but profoundly committed way. She expresses faith in action, via good deeds for everybody in her family, among friends, and for unknowns in her voluntary activity at a meal kitchen for the homeless. This is the best kind of goodness that is its own reward.

But a profound melancholy resides in Diane, an unresolved trauma of guilt is bothering her. She gets so drunk that she has to be asked to leave a bar, and she cannot get home without help. A surprising confession sets things in motion.

Jones departs from his sober realistic mode in a remarkable hallucination / dream / flashback sequence in which Diane lives through a traumatic sidestep whose after-effects have never left her.

The subtle music score / soundtrack / soundscape is an organic part of the whole. Jeremiah Bornfield's variations are mixed with motifs from John Cage, Steve Reich and Chick Corea. Bob Dylan and Leon Russell make appearances on the soundtrack.

Wyatt Garfield's cinematography is based on a defiantly melancholy palette of autumn turning to winter. German words such as Trauerarbeit and Winterreise are evoked by the soundscape and the imagery.

With no bright warm colour and no moments of pure joy and laughter Diane shows respect towards audiences who prefer truths without sugarcoating.

Diane is a special film. Starting with the ordinary it progresses towards the extraordinary, displaying a unique approach to transcendence.

The digital presentation does justice to the demanding visual concept with subtle shades of gray and brown.

Sodankylä morning discussion with Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Mohsen Makhmalbaf at the Sodankylä morning discussion, 14 June 2019. Photo: Sanna Larmola / MSFF.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf in discussion in English with Timo Malmi.
Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, The School, 14 June 2019.

MSFF: "The legendary director Mohsen Makhmalbaf shared his long and well-thought-out visions about the philosophy of filmmaking and the situation in his native country Iran. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the father of Samira Makhmalbaf, a guest in Sodankylä 10 years ago, was interviewed by festival’s artistic director Timo Malmi."

"Makhmalbaf says that growing up he never saw movies. His upbringing was conservative and having an interest in arts was disapproved. At the age of 8 he dropped out of school to support his family struggling to make ends meet."

"Makhmalbaf found the world of literature after being incarcerated at the age of 17. He was convicted for taking part in a revolutionary movement against the Shah of Iran. He spent his time in prison reading a book after another and started to question whether the world could ever be changed through violence or politics. This realisation grew stronger after he was released from prison."

"Makhalbaf remembers seeing François Truffaut’s dystopian film Fahrenheit 451 (1966) in his 20s and realizing that it is possible to both connect and communicate with people through cinema."

"As well as being a writer, Makhmalbaf tested his skills in movie making. He explains that as a filmmaker he is self-taught. According to Makhmalbaf, quality filmmaking requires the director to have a broad general knowledge and personal vision, capability to tell a story entertainingly as well as talent to construct a magical tension to the film. These are some of the things he has taught his students at Makhmalbaf Film House, a film school and a movie production establishment he founded in 1996."

"Makhmalbaf has repeteadly faced difficulties during his career. Because of Iran’s strict censorship, only a small part of all the productions are allowed to be seen by the public. The strict circumstances force the filmmakers to be creative, for example by sending scripts of false movies to the authorities, or smuggling films that are in danger of being censored abroad."

"Makhmalbaf escaped from Iran in the 2000s with his family. He admits that the revolution has failed and that he still suffers from political persecution."

"Makhmalbaf wants to make a change to the everyday problems in the society with his work. He puts the blame for the current situation on his countrymen along with dictators and leaders. Obsolete perceptions must change or there will never be a turn for the better. He thinks the problem is universal. Makhmalbaf believes nevertheless that knowledge can be expanded through cinema."

"If Makhmalbaf were to  choose a film to take to a desert island, his choice would be Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955).
" (MSFF)


Timo Malmi, MSFF Catalogue: "Few movies are more eventful and exciting than the career and life of Iranian Mohsen Makhmalbaf (born in 1957). As the son of a single mother, he started working already at the age of 8 to support his family, and was sent to prison at the age of 17 for being a member in an underground movement opposing the Shah of Iran. He was released after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and moved from politics to art and published the first of his 30 books in 1981."

"Makhmalbaf ’s varied production often coloured by humour consists of over 30 movies, including short films and documentaries. Five of them will be seen in Sodankylä: One of the key works of Iranian cinema, comically documentary Hello Cinema (1995), A Moment of Innocence (1996), that fascinatingly touches Makhmalbaf ’s experiences of imprisonment and moves between reality and fiction in typical Iranian style, the colourfully beautiful depiction of carpet-weaving nomads, Gabbeh (1996), possibly the most famous depiction of the horror and fear of the situation in Afghanistan, Kandahar (2001), which was made there due to the high political and religious tensions in Iran, and a dictator recital made in Georgia, The President (2014). It follows up Makhmalbaf ’s persistent interest in social analyses, even though he and his movies have been blacklisted in Iran and due to his political activism he and his family have since had to live over ten years in exile in Western Europe."

"We will also see Makhmalbaf as an actor, when he portrays himself in late Iranian Sodankylä visitor (2007) Abbas Kiarostami’s unusual documentary (or mockumentary) Close-Up (1990). Based on a true story, it tells a story about a poor man that is put on trial for pretending to be Makhmalbaf, and then deceiving the family of an old woman by extorting money ostensibly for acting in a movie."

"Founded by the director in 1996, the film production complex Makhmalbaf Film House and it’s school are unique as the whole family, including the children, is dedicated to making movies (Samira Makhmalbaf, who got to the top at a sensationally young age, visited Sodankylä in 2009), achieving total international success. The life story of Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his family is certainly one of the most interesting ones we will ever get to hear in the morning discussions of the festival." Timo Malmi, MSFF Catalogue