Sunday, November 11, 2018

Panu Rajala: Suomussalmen sulttaani – Ilmari Kiannon elämä (a book)

Poster for Matti Kassila's film adaptation of Punainen viiva / The Red Line (1959).

Panu Rajala: Suomussalmen sulttaani. Ilmari Kiannon elämä / [The Sultan of Suomussalmi. The Life of Ilmari Kianto]. ISBN 978-952-222-698-3. 525 p. Helsinki / Riika: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2018

Ilmari Kianto (1874–1970) belongs to a small nucleus of key Finnish authors. He was incredibly prolific, lived to be almost a hundred years, and continued writing almost to the end, but his fame now rests on two novels, The Red Line (1909), and Ryysyrannan Jooseppi [title untranslatable, meaning something like "Joseph from the Rag Shack"] and several songs that were composed to his poems, including ones credited to his original name Ilmari Calamnius, such as Jean Sibelius's "Lastu lainehilla" ("Driftwood"). But the number of distinguished works in his oeuvre is bigger, and Kianto often had a magical touch with the language even in minor publications.

Kianto also belonged to the generation of the first anti-heroic authors in Finland, infamous for their irresponsible ways with family and fortune. Today they would be dragged through the mud by the tabloid media. It is a sordid story, and the chore must have been at times tedious for Panu Rajala to go through the enormous archives documenting decades of misery.

To sum it up: Ilmari Kianto had internalized an extremely severe religious discipline at his home boasting a long clerical lineage. Until 30 he lived in abstinence. After that, "it was an eternal wedding night".

We all know about the crisis of the book, but Panu Rajala seems to have ignored the news. In little more than ten years he has published an entire library about prominent Finnish authors, including Ilmari Kianto (2018), Eino Leino (2017), F. E. Sillanpää (2015), Olavi Paavolainen (2014), Veikko Huovinen (2012), Juhani Aho (2011), Aila Meriluoto (2010), Yrjö Jylhä (2009, with Vesa Karonen), Mika Waltari (2008), and J. H. Erkko (2006). All weighty tomes, usually boasting major new sources of information.

And Rajala seems not about to become crushed under the weight of documentation, rather the opposite: he revels in it. In his new Kianto biography he benefits enormously from first-hand sources studied for his Leino and Sillanpää books, for instance. Because of Kianto's exceptionally long life he was the contemporary of all of Rajala's previous subjects.

In our Year of Remembrance 1918 Kianto is an infamous figure because of his dehumanizing and brutalizing words about those who thought differently, especially female fighters. But Kianto was nothing if not a contradictory figure. His honesty as a writer was too much for the victorious White Guards to bear, and Kianto had to postpone his account of the Civil War for ten years, when it was still found uncomfortable and inflammatory. Kianto was also a militant champion of the "Greater Finland" idea: "Suomi suureksi, Viena vapaaksi" ["Make Finland Great, Free the White Sea"] was a slogan coined by him.

But there was also always a Don Quijote quality in Kianto's political aspirations. He was not a harmless figure, but an aspect of the clown was always there, probably consciously and intentionally. He landed into disgrace for his behaviour in the Winter War, but he was rehabilitated as an elder statesman of Finnish culture.

Kianto's most famous novel The Red Line is a memorial to the first democratic parliament election in Finland in 1907. Finland was the first county in the world where also women had full political rights, including the right to be elected. The first female members of the parliament were Finnish. The title "the red line" refers to the voting procedure. There is also an allusion to the red colour of the Social Democratic Party. And the blood red wound from the paw of the bear who strikes the protagonist in the finale.

In his books Panu Rajala has not generally been bashful about the sexual side of his protagonists. Now for once he seems to be happy to tone down the account of his sultan's excesses.

For the film-interested Rajala's books are rewarding because of his inside view in film and television adaptations of many of his subjects' works. In the case of Kianto Rajala was a screenwriter for Mikko Niskanen's Kianto biopic Omat koirat purivat ([Bitten by His Own Dogs], 1974).

I like the subtly distanced stance of Rajala confronting his material. It's not his task to judge his character. The reader is allowed to draw his own conclusions.

This book is engagingly written like a novel. The story would be incredible if were presented as fiction.


Mikael Enckell: Öppna meningar (a book of essays)

Photo of Vesta Enckell by Jan Elfgren. The author's grandmother at 75.

Mikael Enckell. Photo by Cata Portin for Schildts & Söderströms.

Mikael Enckell: Öppna meningar. Essäer [The title is a wordplay, translatable as "Open Meanings" or "Open Sentences"]. ISBN 978-951-52-4408-6. 149 p. Helsinki / Latvia: Schildts & Söderströms, 2018.

The psychoanalyst Mikael Enckell (born in 1932) is one of the finest essayists in Finland. I quote from his introduction on the homepage of his publisher, Schildts & Söderströms:

Prefers to write: essays.
Prefers to read: Proust: In Search of Lost Time, since 1951.
Highest wish: to receive surprising thoughts and whims.

In his books Enckell circles almost obsessively around favourite themes such as Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Gershom Scholem, Friedrich Hölderlin (about whom he has written a monograph), and the Swedish-Finnish poets J. J. Wecksell, Gunnar Björling, and Rabbe Enckell (his father of whom he has written a biography in three volumes).

But each time there is something new to discover. This volume starts with an essay on Risto Fried (1930–2004), a professor of psychology and psychoanalyst whose mother, the Viennese Jewess Anne Fried, survived Hitler in the United States. Enckell focuses on Risto Fried's magnum opus Freud on the Acropolis. A Detective Story (2004), discussing the unsettling implications of the confrontation of the Jewish and Greek heritages when Sigmund at last visited the Acropolis.

The further we proceed into the future the deeper we delve into the past. Mikael Enckell at 86 years of age still processes his childhood tragedy, the divorce of his parents in the year 1941. And in this quandary he discovers the profound link between his friend Risto Fried.

Much of this book is related to the cultural family of Enckell. Robert Enckell the man of theatre. Martin Enckell the writer.

Three essays are devoted to significant places in Mikael Enckell's life. Pitkäniemi, the mental hospital in Nokia where Mikael's stepfather Oscar Parland worked as a doctor. There in 1944 Mikael, not yet 12 years of age, helped as a postman, in uniform. He met at close range victims of post traumatic stress disorder from the Karelian Isthmus where the Red Army concentrated its forces to a massive attack.

The Lapinlahti mental hospital where Mikael as a young deputy trainee had his first encounters of paranoid patients, extremely intelligent, their delusions not immediately apparent. Also here the impact of our wars (both 1918 and 1941) was evident, as well as the question of repressed homosexuality as a root of paranoia. Since Mikael was 12 he had been determined to a psychoanalytic orientation.

The third location is Ericastiftelsen in Stockholm in the 1960s where Enckell worked as an assistant doctor with Gösta Harding as the senior physician, "the best job I have had in my entire life". This contact also helps Enckell understand a painful experience of his own a few years earlier with his stepmother Aina, another paranoiac. A rich and rewarding interaction came to an end.

The most painful and the most rewarding experience is discussed in the last essay, "Divorce". But now it is not principally about the divorce of Mikael's parents, Rabbe Enckell and Heidi (née Heidi Runeberg; Heidi Parland after divorce). It is about Mikael's parental grandmother Vesta Enckell (née Edgren; her maternal father Herman Gisiko was Jewish), the "rare, unelectric one" and because of that she was the calming influence during the inflammatory period of the divorce. Rabbe Enckell stated late in life: "My poetry has my mother as the ideal". But her four sons' attitude was a mix of adoration and a certain superiority.

Vesta Enckell was the carrier of the Jewish heritage in secular and unobtrusive ways. At age 10–12 Mikael had a chance to take notes from his grandfather's archives in Vättilä and their family background during the reign of Gustav III of Sweden (1746–1792) when Jews in the circle of Aron Isak were allowed to move to Sweden. Books Vesta loved included those of Marcus Ehrenpreis (Landet mellan öster och väster, Österlandets själ), Aben Kandel (När stenarna dansa / The Stones Begin to Dance) and especially Jascha Golowanjuk (Min gyllne väg från Samarkand, Paraplymakarens barn, Farmor är galen)

Kafka and Proust keep returning until the last essay. Enckell wonders why there are hardly any little children in their works. "Is it because they hardly write about anything else? Unconsciously, from the inside, via constantly repeated processed, all their lives".

But also new books make appearances. Ulf Peter Hallberg's Europeiskt skräp [European Trash], Tom Sandqvist's Ahasuerus at the Easel, Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens.

Mikael Enckell is also one of the most prominent film essayists in Finland, and the one with the longest career after Jerker A. Eriksson and Jörn Donner. He published his first film essay, "The Interpretative Eye" in 1957, discussing Un chien andalou, La red, and La muerte de un ciclista, citing "Das Unheimliche" by Sigmund Freud, Psychoanalytical Explorations in Art by Ernst Kris – and In Search of Lost Time by Proust, speaking in the voice of the painter Elstir:

“When the mind has a tendency to dream, it is a mistake to keep dreams away from it, to ration its dreams. So long as you distract your mind from its dreams, it will not know them for what they are; you will always be taken in by the appearance of things, because you will not have grasped their true nature. If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.” (In Search of Lost Time: Within a Budding Grove / À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, 1919)

60 years later in his most recent film essay Enckell discusses Roman Polanski, his violent past, and his most sober film, related to his most painful childhood memories, The Pianist. It is not irrelevant that Enckell and Polanski (born 1933) share almost the same age, having lived in countries not far away, on both sides of the Baltic Sea.

The essays all add up, although it is left to the reader to connect all the dots. Mikael Enckell's oeuvre (see bibliography beyond the jump break) has for a long time been growing into his personal In Search of Lost Time.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

La Bataille de San Sebastian (70 mm) Ennio Morricone 90th Anniversary

Guns for San Sebastian / Los cañones de San Sebastián / I cannoni di San Sebastian / San Sebastianin tykit / Kanonerna på San Sebastian / Kanonerna vid San Sebastian
    FR/MX/IT/US 1968. PC: Compagnie Internationale de Productions Cinématographiques (CIPRA), Producciones Enríquez, Filmes Cinematografica, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). P: Jacques Bar, Ernesto Enríquez. D: Henri Verneuil. SC: Serge Ganz, Miguel Morayta, Ennio De Concini, Elinor Karpf [nc] – English screenplay: James R. Webb – based on the novel A Wall for San Sebastian (1962) by Barby = William Barnaby Faherty. DP: Armand Thirard – Metrocolor – Franscope 2,35:1 – released on 35 mm and in a 70 mm blow-up. AD: Robert Clavel, Roberto Silva. ED: Françoise Bonnot. SFX: Lee Zavitz. VFX: J. McMillan Johnson. Cost: Yvonne Wood. Makeup: Alex Archambault, Monique Archambault. M: Ennio Morricone. S: William R. Sivel – magnetic sound on 70 mm print. Ass D: Juan Luis Buñuel, Gilberto Martinez Solares, Claude Pinoteau.
    C: Anthony Quinn (León Alastray), Anjanette Comer (Quinita), Charles Bronson (Teclo), Sam Jaffe (el padre José) Silvia Pinal (Felicia), Jorge Martínez de Hoyos (Felipe Cayetano), Jaime Fernández (Lanza Dorada), Rosa Furman (Águeda), Leon Askin (el vicario general), José Chávez (Antoñito), Ivan Desny (el coronel Calleja), Fernand Gravey (el gobernador), Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. (el padre Lucas), Jorge Russek (Pedro), Aurora Clavel (Magdalena), Julio Aldama (Diego), Emilio Fernández.
    Loc: Sierra de Órganos National Park (Sombretete). Also El Saltito (Durango) and San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato). Locations shot entirely in Mexico.
    Original in English.
    [The Finnish and Swedish titles of the film are misleading since there is only one cannon at San Sebastian (but very many muskets)].
    Helsinki premiere: 19.7.1968 Bristol (70 mm) – distributor: Filmipaja – vhs: in the 1980s Esselte Video – VET 76684 – K16 – 3065 m / 112 min
    Curated by Lauri Lehtinen and Antti Suonio. Introduced by Lauri Lehtinen.
    A print with Swedish subtitles by Gunnar Tannefors screened in 70 mm at Bio Rex, Helsinki (Ennio Morricone 90 / The Incredible Italy / 70 mm / The Crazy Year 1968), 10 Nov 2018

A full-blooded Ennio Morricone soundtrack with epic grandeur and wordless songs delivered by soprano Edda Dell'Orso filled the magnificent Bio Rex in our tribute to the incredibly productive and still active composer.

La Bataille de San Sebastian is a special case in the context of the European Western. It was shot on location in Mexico. It takes place as early as 1743, during the rule of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

But relevant to the Western is the antagonism between the Christian European settlers and the indigenous people, here the Yaqui. We are first led to see the Yaqui as mere marauders against the settlers. Then we learn that the colonialists have massacred the Yaqui in a genocidal purge before settlement. According to the Yaqui, first comes the missionary and then the military to crush indigenous people.

La Bataille de San Sebastian is as anti-clerical as any work of Luis Buñuel, and Father José (Sam Jaffe) is a follower of the Christ to be compared with Nazarín. (Further Buñuel connections are the presence of Silvia Pinal in the cast and the contribution of Juan Luis Buñuel as assistant director).

But the wily anti-hero Léon Alastray (Anthony Quinn) belongs rather to the tradition of Charles Chaplin as The Pilgrim (set next to the border of Mexico) or Humphrey Bogart as The Left Hand of God. Léon's desperate masquerade as a priest is taken seriously by the villagers, and he is himself moved by their faith.

The quandary of the villagers moves Léon profoundly, and he uses his wiles and his friendship with Felicia, the wife of the governor, to have Spanish guns transported to the God-forsaken village of San Sebastian.

The villagers have been harassed by the Yaqui, but the Yaqui have been provoked by Teclo (Charles Bronson), leader of a band of rogue vaqueros. In the climactic battle the villagers beat the Yaqui and the vaqueros, using their guns and their cunning.

The building of a dam has been crucial for the well-being of the village. Its demolition brings an end to the marauders.

A typical dark European 1960s edge to the story is in the realization that both the villagers and the Yaqui are victims of colonialism. When the battle has been fought, the Spanish administration reigns victorious. But a new father comes into the village, and he seems not to be of the conformist kind.

There is a complexity in the movie's religious stance. The last lines of dialogue:

Quinita: Where will you go?
Léon: This time only God knows.

Henri Verneuil keeps the big production powerfully moving. The mise-en-scène is to its advantage on the 70 mm screen. The handling of the deep focus epic scenes and massive battles is exciting.

The direction of the actors leaves a lot to be desired. Anthony Quinn and Charles Bronson are not compelling in their performances, and neither is lovely Anjanette Comer in the female lead. Silvia Pinal is good in her supporting role as the governor's wife. Sam Jaffe at 77 (but still about to continue for 16 years in films) is memorable as the genuinely Christian Father José.

The 70 mm image looks so good that it is hard to believe that it is a blow-up. There is a lot of fine detail visible in the epic long shots. It is truly rewarding to see this film on a big screen. The colour of the vintage print has survived remarkably well.


Thursday, November 01, 2018

Risttuules / In the Crosswind

Risttuules / In the Crosswind. In the front: Tarmo Song (Heldur Tamm). Behind him: Laura Peterson (Erna Tamm)

    EE 2014. PC: Allfilm. P: Piret Tibbo-Hudgins, Pille Rünk. D+SC: Martti Helde. CIN: Erik Põllumaa. Lighting: Taivo Tenso. S: Janne Laine. AD+Cost: Reet Brandt ja Anna-Liisa Liiver. Makeup: Liisi Roht. ED: Liis Nimik. M: Pärt Uusberg.
    C: Laura Peterson (Erna Tamm), Tarmo Song (Heldur Tamm), Mirt Preegel (Eliide), Ingrid Isotamm (Hermiine), Einar Hillep (chairman of the kolkhoz).
    Tallinn premiere: 26.3.2014. B&w, 87 min
    DCP from Allfilm / Eesti Filmi Instituut with English subtitles. In Estonian, title cards only in English in this presentation.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonia 100), 1 Nov 2018

"Dedicated to the victims of the Soviet Holocaust".

590 000 Estonians perished in Soviet deportations and purges. This film is their requiem.

The overwhelming experience has been conveyed with a unique approach.

The camera is mobile, and the world has been photographed realistically. For instance, we are constantly aware of the wind, the element highlighted in the title of the film.

But people are often frozen like in tableaux vivants. The camera is not stopped, but the performers stop moving, and the mobile camera catches them as living statues in three dimensions. These are frozen moments of shock. Stillbilder: the time stands still. I am thinking about bullet time sequences in Matrix, time dilatation sequences in Jakob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, and Carlo Rovelli's book L'ordine del tempo (2017) which I'm presently reading.

Risttuules is an experimental film. The experiment is eloquent. The message is clear.

Martti Helde and his cast and team convey the dignity of the people made to suffer in conditions below dignity.

Based on a true story, Erna Tamm's diary and letters, the film focuses on the tragedy of one Estonian family in 1941–1954. We witness the past happiness in bright, strong images. The deportation and the Gulag terror are conveyed in powerful views, including hard labour, torture chambers and execution sites. Meanwhile, not all people are bad, moments of happiness are possible even in these circumstances. The railway station sequences are epic.

The title of the film is a reference to the hopes of the young couple: Erna would be the west wind, and Heldur the east wind. Together they would create the crosswind. There is also an association to the braid of Erna's hair, the final image of the movie. Only the hope and the memory remain.

Listening to Pärt Uusberg's score I was reminded of a film I saw yesterday, Mia madre, whose soundtrack is largely based on Arvo Pärt, and I am beginning to understand that these sounds are (among other things) laments of the Estonian catastrophe.

A recurrent melody is also the tango "To ostatnia niedziela" ["This Is the Last Sunday"] by Jerzy Petersburski (1935), known in Russian as "Utomlyonnoe solntse", giving also the title to Nikita Mikhalkov's film Burnt by the Sun. All associations are relevant.

The digital cinematography sometimes borders on the abstract: dazzling, blinding lights, reduced compositions, silhouettes, close to low definition. Visually, Risttuules takes us beyond an ordinary experience of reality, while the spoken discourse remains warmly human, thanks to the tender, often half-whispered narration of Laura Peterson.


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mia madre / My Mother

Mia madre starring Nanni Moretti and Margherita Buy as brother and sister.

IT/FR/DE 2015. PC: Sacher Film, Arte France Cinéma, Fandango, Ifitalia, Le Pacte, Rai Cinema. P: Nanni Moretti, Domenico Procacci. D: Nanni Moretti. SC: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Valia Santella – story: Gaia Manzini, Nanni Moretti, Valia Santella, Chiara Valerio. CIN: Arnaldo Catinari. ED: Clelio Benevento. AD: Mina Petrara. PD: Paola Bizzarri. S: Alessandro Zanon. M: Giovanni Guardi. Cost: Valentina Taviani. Makeup: Enrico Iacoponi, Sharim Sabatini.
    C: Margherita Buy (Margherita), John Turtorro (Barry Huggins), Giulia Lazzarini (Ada), Nanni Moretti (Giovanni), Beatrice Mancini (Livia), Stefano Abbati (Federico), Enrico Ianniello (Vittorio), Anna Bellato (actress), Toni Laudadio (producer).
    K12 – 103 min
    A DCP from Playtime with English subtitles by Charlotte Lantery.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nanni Moretti), 31 Oct 2018.

Mia madre is Nanni Moretti's most recent film. It is an account of a profound crisis of a film director – played by Margerita Buy. Moretti himself plays one of the leading roles as her brother.

Based on a screen story by the director and three women – Gaia Manzini, Valia Santella, Chiara Valerio – it was conceived as a woman's story. At the same time it is deeply personal for the director, incorporating Moretti's characteristic remarks ("I want to see the actor next to the character") and feelings he had experienced during the death of his own mother. Moretti's mother and father were professors of classical languages, as is Ada (Giulia Lazzarini) in this film.

The main theme is die Trauerarbeit of the children at their mother's deathbed. We witness the final hospital care in some documentary detail, but the focus is always psychological and emotional. The denial, and the slow acceptance. The difficulty to find a proper attitude to the mother who is now the one to be cared for.

The film is seen through Margherita's consciousness. We are with her at the shooting location of a film on workers' struggles at a factory. We follow her to her mother's deathbed. We witness her crisis in a relationship. We meet her unruly daughter and her ex-husband. We share her dreams and memories.

Dream and reality: some of the real experiences are more oneiric than dreams. Margherita's apartment floor filled with leaking water. The endless queue in front of the Capranichetta cinema, screening Der Himmel über Berlin. Ada's car being intentionally crashed by the children so that she cannot drive any longer.

Mia madre is a film of melancholia and quietude.

Melancholia seeps even into Margherita's attitude as a director in a project in which she needs to create situations of militant conflict and face an assertive American actor. John Turturro plays his role with a stylized satirical approach.

The young generation is present in the character of Livia (Beatrice Mancini), Margherita's daughter and Ada's granddaughter. She is lazy, but there is hope, even in her learning classical languages.

The most interesting final twist is the revelation that some of Ada's former students always kept in touch with her. Ada taught them more than languages. "Ada taught us life". This revelation is also personal for Moretti. He confesses that it is painful and disturbing for him to realize that his mother's former students may have known her on an important level of which he was unaware.

Films resonate with each other. This year we are celebrating the centenary of Estonian independence. Arvo Pärt's music is prominent in Mia madre. Only now it occurred to me that his music is also eine Trauerarbeit, in Pärt's case of course for the suffering of the Estonians under the aegis of Soviet imperialism.

Good visual quality in the digital presentation.


Caro diario / Dear Diary

Caro diario. Chinese medicine. Starring Nanni Moretti. Doctors: Yu Ming Lun, Tou Yui Chang Pio.

Journal intime / Liebes Tagebuch...
    IT/FR 1993. PC: Sacher Film, Banfilm & La Sept Cinéma. P: Nella Banfi, Angelo Barbagallo & Nanni Moretti. D: Nanni Moretti. SC: Nanni Moretti. CIN: Giuseppe Lanci - 1,66:1 - Technicolor. AD: Marta Maffucci. Cost: Maria Rita Barbera. M: Nicola Piovani. ED: Mirco Garrone. S: Franco Borni. C:  Nanni Moretti, Renato Carpentieri (Gerardo), Giulio Base (kuski), Jennifer Beals, Alexandre Rockwell. 100 min.
    Capitolo I: In vespa / On My Vespa
    Capitolo II: Isole / Islands
    Capitolo III: Medici / Doctors
    Loc: Rome: Garbatella, Spinaceto, Ostia.
    Loc: Aeolian islands: Lipari, Salina, Stromboli, Panarea, Alicudi.
    Film clip: Anna (Alberto Lattuada, IT 1951) starring Silvana Mangano, the theme baião by Armando Trovajoli "El negro zumbón" ("Anna"), voc Flo Sandon, lip-synched by Mangano.
    Not released in Finland.
    35 mm print with English subtitles from Istituto Luce Cinecittà, courtesy of Sacher Film.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nanni Moretti), 30 Oct 2018

Caro diario is a free form half-parodical contemporary odyssey of Nanni Moretti, in his semi-fictional character resembling Woody Allen in Annie Hall, although in this story there is no love interest except in movie fantasies.

Caro diario looks loose and rambling but is actually assured and carefully composed.

The first chapter of the odyssey takes us on a vespa sightseeing ride of urban Roman architecture. In the second chapter in the Aeolian islands Homer and Joyce are evoked, only to highlight the banality of contemporary life. Tourists have occupied eternal sites such as Stromboli, and light entertainment has occupied our imagination. The third chapter takes us to a wild tour among doctors who try to find a cure to Moretti's itch. Finally Moretti himself guesses that the itch is a symptom of something serious and dangerous: a tumour - a malignant but treatable case of cancer.

Moretti delibarately cultivates the image of the village idiot, the outsider who has a comment to everything, constantly provoked and irritated by what he observes. He is an incarnation of skepsis, and in the final chapter that quality proves life-saving.

Moretti is both social and anti-social. His biggest dream is to learn to dance well, and he tries to mix in a dance event, even joining the band for refrains. His idol is Jennifer Beals whom he stops in the street in the company of Alexandre Rockwell. But a fabulous dance scene is seen on television starring the incredibly beautiful Silvana Mangano doing the rhumba to "El negro zumbón", and Moretti participating as a solo watcher in the bar.

A constant in this diary is the impotence and melancholy of the Italian intelligentsia. In a half-empty summertime cinema Moretti protests aloud while watching a film with depressing discussions among the intelligentsia lamenting their situation. I do not recognize the film screened but it feels like a mild parody of Ettore Scola's films such as La terrazza. Moretti satirizes this and also the anti-television stance of Italian intellectuals, but that thread seems to lead nowhere.

Without being explicitly political, in his account of the banality of television and the depression of the intellectuals Moretti anticipates the path to Berlusconi, Putin, Trump and Brexit.

This quest will never end.

A beautiful print from Istituto Luce Cinecittà.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Eeva Lennon, Lontoo (a memoir)

Cover photograph by Inge Morath, courtesy of Magnum.

Eeva Lennon: Eeva Lennon, Lontoo. Hämeenlinna / Tallinna: Karisto, 2018, 399 p.

Peter Lennon: Foreign Correspondent. Paris in the Sixties. London: Picador, 1994. 220 p.

It is not surprising that memoirs of journalists are page-turners and easy to like. But it is rewarding to discover journalistic memoirs that grab something of the essence of great turning-points of history and convey key experiences in vivid detail.

We are celebrating this year the 50th anniversary of "the crazy year 1968", and I have been watching remarkable cinematic overviews such as L'Île de mai (Michel Andrieu, Jacques Kébadian, 2018) and Le Fond de l'air est rouge (Chris Marker, 1977). However, Frenchmen are so deep in the middle of their reality that there is sometimes a case of "not seeing the forest from the trees".

Foreign correspondents can be helpful. In Finland, Eeva Lennon has been active as a professional since the 1960s, "a perfect stranger" first in France, and, since the 1970s, in London. Married to an Irishman, the Dubliner Peter Lennon, who was a correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, among others, they were at once insiders and outsiders, deep in the cultures they were covering, raising their children both in France and London, yet always foreigners in the best sense: curious, willing to understand and translate events to their respective audiences.

Eeva Lennon's French background extends to the time before her birth. Her mother worked at the Finnish Embassy during the legendary 1920s in Paris. There she met her future husband who studied at the military schools of France. From Eeva Lennon's memoirs I keep discovering important facts and details that are not generally mentioned in French sources. Such as that during the sexual revolution of the 1960s France was reactionary, sexual segregation was severe, and males and females were strictly separated in universities. During the "summer of love" of 1967 France was left behind. Sexual frustration was a driving force in the 1968 revolution in France.

The 1960s in France were a decade of wars and revolutionary situations, and Eeva Lennon's and Peter Lennon's memoirs give an engrossing overview. We tend to forget how inflammatory and turbulent the Algerian War was with its dangerous aftermath. The Algerian War was the birthplace of modern terrorism, still undiminished. The Lennons have not forgotten the police brutality, either, which they witnessed at close range.

In England Eeva Lennon has followed the development from Harold Wilson to Theresa May. Also here she gives insights which I don't remember having registered in British sources. Eeva Lennon states that in the early 1970s trade unions of England were weak, much weaker than for instance in Germany and in the Nordic countries, and their weakness was the reason for their sometimes wild and reckless actions. The already weak trade unions were brutally crushed by Margaret Thatcher who ended the period of Keynesian capitalism and led England back to a much more unbridled Liberalism, with results we all know.

Eeva Lennon remembers with affection how different Englishmen were before Thatcherism. Chapter 17, "We move to London", should be published in English.

Eeva Lennon's book is also a personal history of professional journalism. She has experienced the periods of the greatest turbulences in the media, active in the press, the radio, and television, now working in the digital age. Her comments on the characteristics of the different media are illuminating. As a woman she has always been what we have later started to call a feminist, a fighter for equal rights, in the generation of champions who paved the way.

Having lived abroad almost all her adult life Eeva Lennon has insights about Finland, too, things to which we ourselves are deaf and blind. She states that Finnish literary language is difficult to speak fluently without a written manuscript. Finnish is too pithy, not flexible enough. It is harder to think in Finnish while you are speaking literary language.

The Lennons have been a cultural family, and among their closest friends was Samuel Beckett. Eeva Lennon reports that Beckett made a point of not writing in his native language, because for Irishmen verbal fluency can become a trap. Beckett wanted to make writing more difficult in order to get to the point. He was a minimalist, and writing was about getting to the essence (p. 159-160).

An ideal reading companion is of course Peter Lennon's Foreign Correspondent. It is a startling testimony about the turbulences of France in the 1960s. It is also a cultural treasure trove with encounters with Richard Wright, Sylvia Beach, Nathalie Sarraute, Salvador Dalí, Eugene Ionesco, Catherine Deneuve, Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, Jeanne Moreau, Buster Keaton, Raoul Coutard, Jean-Luc Godard, and Jean Renoir. Of course we get also the inside story of Peter's own movie Rocky Road to Dublin (1968), photographed by Coutard.

At Eeva's request she was almost completely left out from Peter's memoirs. Now finally we have her story, too, giving us a much fuller picture. A twin story of two foreign correspondents who inspired and complemented each other.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Noored kotkad / The Young Eagles (2018 digital restoration Rahvusarhiivi Filmiarhiiv)

Nuoret kotkat / Die drei jungen Adler.
    EE 1927. PC: Siirius-Film. P: Theodor Luts. D: Theodor Luts. SC: Theodor Luts, Aksella Luts, Oskar Luts. CIN: Theodor Luts. AD+Cost: Voldemar Haas, Heino Lehepuu. Makeup: Aksella Luts. ED: Theodor Luts.
    C: Arnold Vaino (student Tammekänd), Johannes Nõmmik (blacksmith Laansoo), Rudolf Klein (farmhand Lepik).
    Supporting C: Aksella Luts (forester's daughter), Amalie Konsa (mother of the blacksmith and Hilja), Elli Põder-Roht (the blacksmith's sister Hilja), Rudolf Ratassepp and Olev Reintalu (red commissars), Vambola Kurg (first Estonian warlord), Johannes Schütz (second Estonian warlord), August Sunne (doctor), Leopold Hansen, Osvald Lipp jt, Aksella Lutsin koira Kiki.
    Tartu premiere: 19. 11. 1927, Cinema Apollo.
    Tallinn premiere: 14.12.1927, Cinema Gloria-Palace.
    35 mm, b&w, 1: 1,33.
    Restored by Rahvusarhiivi Filmiarhiiv (2018).
    DCP (2018) from Rahvusarhiivi Filmiarhiiv. Sonorized with music by Estonian composers. English subtitles. 83 min
    Introduced by Jaak Lõhmus.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonia 100), 25 Oct 2018.

Premiere of a new restoration of the first Estonian feature film.

Noored kotkad is an epic war film on the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920), shot on location in Tartu, Mustvee, Värska, and Petserinmaa.

The perspective is that of the "three young eagles": the student Tammekänd (Arnold Vaino), the blacksmith Laansoo (Johannes Nõmmik) and the farmhand Lepik (Rudolf Klein) with their families and dear ones, including the forester's daughter (Aksella Luts) and Hilja Laansoo  (Elli Põder-Roht).

We see the good old times before the war through vignettes. Then there is fervour and anger everywhere. Bolsheviks plunder border villages. Women are harassed. Estonian volunteers are soon on the march, wearing white armbands.

The direction of the war sequences is assured and I would guess better than any war scenes in Finnish cinema for decades. Theodor Luts himself was a veteran of the War of Independence. Although the budget was small, Luts was well connected with influential backers and the military itself so he had substantial resources and personnel for impressive war scenes.

Unforgettable are the extreme long shots of battles staged on the Värska military exercise fields. They evoke the Olympian visions of Griffith in The Birth of a Nation and America.

Also the air force and an armoured train are engaged in the war sequences. Awesome bird's eye views, effective close-ups and rapid montages are in use in the battle scenes. The film is not only about military bravado. Scenes of genuine agony and suffering are incorporated. One of our three eagles lands into a soldier's grave.

There is a sense of true danger in the war scenes. The film is leavened with the humanity of the protagonists, and a sense of humour in their interactions.

The film ends with a Biblical quote: "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

The restoration is engagingly sonorized with a fine music selection from the Estonian composers Heino Eller, Artur Kapp, Villem Kapp, Raimond Kull, and Villem Reimann, performed by Pärnu Linnaorkester conducted by Jüri Alperten.

An impressive work of restoration and reconstruction. I like the refined colour solutions. The speed may be slightly on the fast side, but that is a matter of taste.

Theodor Luts (14.8.1896 Palamuse – 24.9.1980 São Paulo) was a pioneer of Estonian feature film production. He also directed the first Estonian sound feature, Children of the Sun (1931) which we screened in the spring. From 1933 until the end of the Second World War Luts made an important contribution to the Finnish film industry as a cinematographer, director, and producer.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2018: afterthoughts

"Madamina, il catalago è questo... " Photo: Memory Lane by John M. Stahl starring Eleanor Boardman.

Festival: 37. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto / Pordenone Silent Film Festival, 6–13 ottobre 2018. Associazione Culturale "Le Giornate del Cinema Muto". Direttore: Jay Weissberg. Locations: Teatro Verdi and Cinemazero, Pordenone.

Catalog: 37. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2018: Catalogo / Catalogue: Pordenone: 6–13 ottobre 2018. Bilingual: Italian and English. Edited by Catherine A. Surowiec. Pordenone: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2018. 275 p.

The visual presentation of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto has never been more stylish and elegant than this year. There was a "de luxe" touch down to the smallest detail. This event elevates everything on the agenda.

As for the substance, there is a unique sense of continuity in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto since 37 years. The event is a special form of presentation of film history, the 37 volumes making sense as a whole. With a sense of more than film history: art history, world history, philosophy of history.

The journey of discovery continues. Many times Le Giornate has changed our view of film history in a major way. This time maybe not in a major way, but instead in several minor ways.

Of the world historical connections the centenary of the First World War was commemorated for the last time. In Friuli these memories are particularly painful, and there was an atmosphere of tragic dignity in the Note dal fronte memorial programme. Shell shock resonances were present in the John M. Stahl retrospective (in The Child Thou Gavest Me, In Old Kentucky, and even in The Lincoln Cycle 1918 rerelease version). Also in the combat scenes of Captain Blood there was a sense of urgency which surpassed mere entertainment expectations.

An important change in print access seems to be taking place. New copies of important films seem to be premiered in this festival with such a critical mass that they can enable a reassessment of an artist. Pordenone prestige is being used to the benefit of all for producing many important new copies.

Also the Kevin Brownlow anniversary tribute was based on newly made or restored copies. The tribute was profoundly moving. We are all children of Kevin Brownlow. The Parade's Gone By was now being celebrated, the 50th anniversary of his book published in 1968. For me, the Kevin Brownlow revelation came later. His Napoleon revival and the Hollywood: The Pioneers series were my eye-openers to the full grandeur of silent cinema.

It was a thrill to see in Kevin's Pordenone selection rare copies of The Covered Wagon, Captain Blood (1924), and The Enemy. The surprise selection was King Baggot's The Home Maker, fascinating in the John M. Stahl context. I skipped this time Smouldering Fires, although a new special Robert Gitt restoration was on display. And The Mating Call I need to catch another time.

The silent John M. Stahl retrospective was an opportunity of rediscovering a major period of the neglected master. These films have not been available for retrospectives before. Even the writers of the magisterial new John M. Stahl monograph had never seen a comprehensive display before. We started to make sense of Stahl's development from the sober The Lincoln Cycle to the wildly incredible early melodramas to the sophisticated comedies of the 1920s. My favourites included The Lincoln Cycle, Husbands and Lovers, and Memory Lane. Bruce Babington and Charles Barr had edited a book, published at the festival, The Call of the Heart, with a roster of fourteen authors who also contributed the illuminating program notes.

In the Nordic series curated by Magnus Rosborn and Casper Tybjerg I was happy to see at last deservedly famous films such as Dunungen and Ett farligt frieri. I passed this time Prästänkan (reportedly screened in a new fantastic print) and will have to find a way to see Troll-elgen another time. Outside this series, in the Riscoperte e restauri cycle, there was also a deeply moving Victor Sjöström discovery, Judaspengar, a film that had been believed lost.

My four favourite titles of the festival were The Lincoln Cycle, Das alte Gesetz (a candidate for the most important restoration of 2018), Judaspengar, and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi's delicious Neighbours compilation.

Post festum I finally got to read the catalogue. If possible, the quality of the writing keeps getting better because the collective wisdom about the cinema's silent period keeps growing. I was thrilled to read Jay Weissberg on Honoré de Balzac movies, Marcello Seregni on Mario Bonnard, and Dave Kehr and Jay Weissberg on John H. Collins at Edison. I'm looking forward to seeing also the films as soon as possible – I promessi sposi and other important restorations and discoveries that I missed. The catalog is excellent reading with a high value in its own right.

Paolo Cherchi Usai's "The Canon Revisited" continues as a philosophically important project of reassessment of films we believe we know. This year's opportunity to revisit Assunta Spina, L'Atlantide (launching a new brilliant restoration), Körkarlen, The Last of the Mohicans, and Neobychainye priklyucheniya Mistera Westa v strane bolshevikov I passed, knowing that these films we also keep screening or (Feyder, Tourneur) should be screening.

Of films I love I skipped this time Le Joueur d'échecs; I love the Henri Rabaud score which was played by a full orchestra. Neither did I see now Forbidden Paradise, although it was presented in a new MoMA restoration. Der Hund von Baskerville (1929) I need to catch another time.

Some of the traditional fortes of Le Giornate were absent this year, but I hope the festival will keep committed to:
– early Westerns
– comedy series
– more well-curated early cinema compilations such as Neighbours.

Always worth mentioning: the high quality of the musical interpretations and translations help make the best sense of films, whether in brilliant prints or fragmentary reconstructions.