Saturday, January 15, 2022

Vinski ja näkymättömyyspulveri / Vinski and the Invisibility Powder

Juha Wuolijoki: Vinski ja näkymättömyyspulveri / Vinski and the Invisibility Powder (FI 2021) starring Kuura Rossi as Vinski with Pirjo Heikkilä (Krista), Martti Suosalo (the pharmacist) and Mikko Leppilampi (Antero).

Vinski och osynlighetspulvret.
    FI © 2021 Snapper Films Oy. P: Juha Wuolijoki, Laura Salonen. Co-P: Ramūnas Škikas.
    D: Juha Wuolijoki. SC: Jari Olavi Rantala, Juha Wuolijoki, Mauri Ahola – based on the novel Koko kaupungin Vinski (1954) by Aapeli [Simo Puupponen]. Cin: Kjell Lagerroos (Finland), Mika Orasmaa (Lithuania). PD: Arūnas Čepulis. Cost: Kristina Mališauskiené. Makeup: Žaneta Jasiūniené. M: Leri Leskinen, Lasse Enersen. Richard Wagner: "Treulich geführt" ("Here Comes the Bride", Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, 1850). Song during end credits: "Näkymätön" (2021, comp. Anna Puu, Tiina Vainikainen, Jukka Immonen, lyr. Anna Puu, Tiina Vainikainen) perf. Anna Puu [Anna Puustjärvi]. S: Kimmo Perkkiö. ED: Antti Reikko.
    C: Kuura Rossi (Vinski), Mikko Leppilampi (Antero), Pirjo Heikkilä (Krista), Martti Suosalo (pharmacist), Fiona Iyare (Roosa), Sampo Sarkola (tv reporter), Minka Kuustonen (priest), Hannu-Pekka Björkman (policeman), Chike Ohanwe (teacher), Cécile Orblin (nurse), Kari Ketonen (neighbour).
    Loc: Lithuania and Porvoo.
    86 min
    Language: Finnish.
    Also released in a Swedish version, translated by Nina Donner (see cast of voice talent beyond the jump break).
    Premiere: 22 Dec 2021.
    Corona precaution: 50 max capacity, hand hygiene, face masks.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 1, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 15 Jan 2022.

Tagline: "Real heroes are invisible".

AA: Directed and produced by Juha Wuolijoki, Vinski and the Invisibility Powder is a family film with solid production values, a good cast and a wonderful score.

The books of the humoristic author Aapeli (Simo Puupponen) were filmed in the 1960s and the 1970s by top directors like Jack Witikka and Rauni Mollberg, and his Vinski books were adapted for teleplays in the 1960s. There has been a long break until Juha Wuolijoki's current adaptation.

It's a fairy-tale with invisibility powder as the central device. Invisibility is more than just a gimmick. Vinski, raised by a single mother, is being bullied at school. An eccentric pharmacist becomes his best friend.

With the pharmacist's magic powder Vinski gains the superpower of invisibility. The novel on which the film is based is from the 1950s, but Juha Wuolijoki integrates contemporary superhero discourse in the tale. More specifically, there is an affinity with Spiderman lore: "a real hero wants to remain unknown".

With good judgement, Wuolijoki combines timeless elements (old townscapes of Lithuania and Porvoo) with modern details (SUV's and computers). The special effects of invisibility and the transition scenes are stylish.

Kuura Rossi conveys the growth of the bullied schoolboy into a superhero with conviction. The appealing comedienne Pirjo Heikkilä impresses as Krista, a single mother who runs a confectionery. Mikko Leppilampi is the suitably sleazy master burglar Antero operating under the cover of a security company. Martti Suosalo is an enchanting pharmacist / magician.

A comic highlight is a dinner scene in which Antero tries to seduce Krista with a fish treat called nahkiainen (lamprey), while the invisible Vinski sabotages him.

Leri Leskinen and Lasse Enersen have composed a score that provides a magic atmosphere. This Christmas I listened every day to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, and this movie score belongs to the same realm and dimension of enchantment.

In the cast, diversity is observed, and Minka Kuustonen's interpretation as the priest is open to the non-binary.

Speaking about the priest: Vinski and the Invisibility Powder is another instance of the cinema's obsession with the theme of the cancelled wedding.


Monday, January 03, 2022

The Truffle Hunters

Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw: The Truffle Hunters (US 2020).

Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw: The Truffle Hunters (US 2020). Poster design: Michael Koelsch.

Piemonten tryffelinmetsästäjät / Tryffeljägarna från Piemonte.
    A documentary film about Piedmont's truffle hunters and their dogs.
    US 2020 Go Gigi Go Productions LLC. [IT/US/GR]. PC: Beautiful Stories / Artemis Rising Foundation / Bow and Arrow Entertainment / Faliro House Productions / Frenesy Film Company / Go Gigi Go Productions / Park Pictures. EX: Luca Guadagnino, etc. P+D+Cin: Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw – camera: Arri Alexa Mini – colour – 1,85:1 – release format: DCP. M: Ed Côrtes. Soundtrack selections: "Je cherche après Titine" (1917, comp. Léo Danirdeff, lyr. Louis Mauban & Marcel Bertal) ; Giacomo Puccini: "E lucevan le stelle" (aria from Tosca, 1900) ; "Vieni via con me" [?]. S: Stephen Urata. ED: Charlotte Munch Bengtsen.
Carlo Gonella (88) and Titina. Wife: Maria Cicciù.
Aurelio Conterno (84) and Birba.
Angelo Gagliardi (78): "Despite living on land historically rich with truffles, Angelo has given up the hunt, frustrated with what he sees in the world: deforestation, rival hunters poisoning innocent dogs, new hunters prematurely picking a truffle, which destroys its spores from ever blooming again. Angelo has a deep connection to the land and cries whenever a living tree is cut down."
Egidio Gagliardi (83) trying to cultivate white truffles.
Sergi Cauda (68) and Fiona and Pepe.
Gianfranco Curti, seller.
Paulo Stacchin (78), authenticator and judge of truffles.
The dogs: Birba, Biri, Fiona, Charlie, Nina, Titina, and Yari.
    Spiritual advisor: Caroline Libresco.
    Loc: Alba (Piedmont, Italy), around the villages of Santo Stefano Belbo, Monforte d’Alba, and Roddino.
    84 min
    Languages: Italian, Piedmontese.
    Festival premiere: 30 Jan 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
    US premiere: 12 March 2021.
    Finnish premiere: 10 Dec 2021, released by Cinema Mondo, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Mirka Malkonen / Frej Grönholm.
    Corona precaution: 50 max capacity, hand hygiene, face masks.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 3 Jan 2022.

Sundance Film Festival (2020): "Deep in the forests of Northern Italy resides the prized white Alba truffle. Desired by the wealthiest patrons in the world, it remains a pungent but rarified mystery. It cannot be cultivated or found, even by the most resourceful of modern excavators. The only souls on Earth who know how to dig it up are a tiny circle of canines and their silver-haired human companions—Italian elders with walking sticks and devilish senses of humor—who only scour for the truffle at night so as not to leave any clues for others."

"Still, this small enclave of hunters induces a feverish buying market that spans the globe. With unprecedented access to the elusive truffle hunters, filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw (The Last Race, 2018 Sundance Film Festival) follow this maddening cycle from the forest floor to the pristine restaurant plate. With a wily and absurdist flare, The Truffle Hunters captures a precarious ritual constantly threatened by greed and outside influences but still somehow protected by those clever, tight-lipped few who know how to unearth the magic within nature.
" (Sundance Film Festival 2020).

Official website: "Deep in the forests of Piedmont, Italy, a handful of men, seventy or eighty years young, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle—which to date has resisted all of modern science's efforts at cultivation. They're guided by a secret culture and training passed down through generations, as well as by the noses of their cherished and expertly-trained dogs. They live a simpler, slower way of life, in harmony with their loyal animals and their picture-perfect land, seemingly straight out of a fairy tale. They're untethered to cell phone screens or the Internet, opting instead to make their food and drink by hand and prioritizing in-person connections and community."

"The demand for white truffles increases year after year, even as the supply decreases. As a result of climate change, deforestation, and the lack of young people taking up the mantle, the truffle hunters' secrets are more coveted than ever. However, as it soon becomes clear, these ageing men may just hold something much more valuable than even this prized delicacy: the secret to a rich and meaningful life.
" (Official website)

"Tuber magnatum, the high-value white truffle or trifola d'Alba Madonna ("Truffle of the Madonna from Alba" in Italian) is found mainly in the Langhe and Montferrat areas of the Piedmont region in northern Italy, and most famously, in the countryside around the cities of Alba and Asti." (Wikipedia)

AA: The Truffle Hunters is a masterful documentary film by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw. It tells about the grand old tartufai of Piedmont who with their beloved dogs pursue white truffles on autumn nights at the forest hillsides near Alba.

Dweck and Kershaw have shot the movie themselves. They use their imagination to catch gorgeous long shots of forests and landscapes. They compose eloquent portrait shots of the wise old men. The introduce "dog vision" to show truffle hunting from the point of view of a dog (a Piemontese shoe cobbler built for the film-makers miniature camera harnesses that strapped unobtrusively around the dog’s head). They follow their heroes during four seasons, also on snowy winter days and muddy autumn days when cars get stuck on forest roads. The aerial shots are refined. They were inspired by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Titian. In interiors I feel an affinity with Vermeer lighting.

The soundscape (designed by Stephan Urata) is equally important: "in portraying the truffle forests, we found that sound was sometimes more important than the image. We wanted to create the feeling that the forest, the truffle hunters, and their dogs were, in some way, a unified whole. To do this, we worked with our sound team to explore the idea of a forest breathing, all of nature coming together in a sonic harmony." (Gregory Kershaw).

Younger generations ask to know the secrets, but the old-timers are not telling. "People are greedy. They just want to exploit the products of nature". They don't let anybody follow them to the hunting grounds. Only us, but probably our scenes are staged.

This is a movie about taste. "Tartufi con molto forti profumi sono incredibili". We witness a gastronomic moment at a restaurant where truffle is properly served. We also visit the fiera del tartufo. The price is tenfold when the truffle is sold to the dealer. It is again tenfold when sold to the buyer. A 73.000 Euro truffle is auctioned to Dubai.

We live in a time when the secret life of mushrooms is finally being understood, the gigantic world wide network of terrestrial life. This film about "the diamond of the kitchen" (Brillat-Savarin) is exciting to contemplate also in this context.

Last night (2 Jan 2022) on the 20.30 Yle TV1 television news there was an item about the centenarians of Cilento (Campania, province of Salerno). They not only live long but stay healthy. Elements of good life seem to include friendly conversation, good family ties, the presence of the church, clean air, vicinity of nature, local food (such as freshly picked tomatoes), real garlic, red wine, regular exercise, music and dance, and avoiding stress and digital gadgets.

Some of these elements occurred to me while watching The Truffle Hunters. These tartufai brush aside those who would like them to slow down and stop wandering in the forest by night – including wives, priests, doctors and young generations who would like to replace them.

They will never reveal their secrets, but I believe that they already have. You need to love the forest and find a good dog. You need to love the call of the owl. Just like mushrooms are about the symbiosis in nature, truffle hunters thrive in the symbiosis of the tartufaio, the dog and the forest.

Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy would have loved this movie.



"Deep in the forests of Piedmont, Northwest Italy, a handful of men, seventy or eighty years young, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle—which to date has resisted modern science’s efforts at cultivation. They hunt through the night, guided by a secret culture and training passed down through generations, as well as by the noses of their cherished and expertly trained dogs. They are the last of their kind, carrying on a way of life that is rapidly disappearing in the modern world."

"Here, there is a commitment to a simpler life, where handmade food, daily labor as exercise, a connection to community and nature, and a passion for the hunt are the mechanics that keep people physically and mentally young. It’s a world built on the simple pleasures that have been forgotten in the modern era: the quiet simmering of freshly-picked tomatoes; the hours spent in conversation at the dinner table; communing with beloved animals, treated as kin; the mystical forest, where truffles grow at the roots of tall oak trees that breathe in the night; receiving a truffle-tinged blessing at church; or the unaware belting of an off-key folk tune on the drive home."

"However, climate change is drying up the lands where rains used to be plentiful. Deforestation is destroying trees whose symbiotic roots have given life to truffles for centuries. The young people, who would be carrying on their family's traditions, have left the small towns in search of stable work. THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS captures this endangered culture at a key moment in time: for the men who have made truffle hunting their lifelong passion, their way of life, and very existence, is under threat."

"As truffles become more and more elusive, the competition has grown fiercer and these men keep the secrets of their hunting grounds to themselves. They lead their closest friends astray with little white lies, hunt at night without flashlights, and cover up their footprints and car tracks behind them. They have little trust in each other, let alone an outside world that constantly threatens to impinge upon their way of life."

"In THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS, audiences can, for the first time, take a peek into this secretive world, driven by incredible characters with an unshakable passion coursing through their veins. These ageing men who inhabit a fairy tale land may just hold something much more valuable than the prized delicacy they hunt: the secret to a rich and meaningful life.


"The secret forests of Piedmont, Italy hold a mystery."

"The white Alba truffle grows at the roots of tall oak trees. No one knows how or why it grows where it does. Some say a white truffle can only grow at the base of a tree where lightning has struck. Others think it is dependent on the phases of the moon, or magnetic fields. Some even believe it is the work of witches and warlocks. When it blooms, it produces an aroma unlike any other, a sweet subterranean musk that seduces and enchants. It is one of the rarest and most expensive ingredients in the world."

"We are both obsessed with finding places and people that have escaped the sameness of global culture. We look for hidden worlds that possess a beauty that might be overlooked, or perhaps have chosen to remain hidden. It was the enigma of the white truffle that drew us in and led us to the truffle hunters. They are men who are old in years but young in spirit, who spend their days and nights hunting for truffles with their faithful dogs in forests that have beckoned them since they were children. They live close to the land, guided by tradition. Time seems to have stopped in the days of their youth. Digital technology and globalism have not yet upset the rhythm of life. The natural world is an inescapable fact of their daily lives and a lifelong blessing which remains with them as they pass through the twilight of their lives."

"Today, the mystery of the white truffle remains. Our film is a portrait of a fragile place and a passionate group of people who are a reminder that this beautiful world still has much to celebrate.

Saturday, December 25, 2021


Paul Verhoeven: Benedetta (FR/NL 2021) starring Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini.

Benedetta / Benedetta.
    FR/NL © 2021 SBS Productions, Pathé, France 2 Cinéma, France 3 Cinéma. Co-PC: Topkapi Films ; Belga Productions. P: Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt, Jérôme Seydoux.
    D: Paul Verhoeven. SC: David Birke & Paul Verhoeven – inspired by the book Immodest Acts : The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (1986) by Judith C. Brown. DP: Jeanne Lapoirie – colour – 2.39:1 – source format: ARRIRAW 3.4K – master format: digital intermediate 2K – release: D-Cinema. PD: Katia Wyszkop. Cost: Pierre-Jean Larroque. Makeup: Odile Fourquin. Hair: Virginie Duranteau. SFX: Paulo Galiano. VFX: Alain Carsoux.
    M: Anne Dudley. M selections:
– Hildegard von Bingen
– "Dies irae" (Gregorian chant probably from the 13th century, probably by Tommaso da Celano) arr. Erik Nordgren for Det sjunde inseglet (1957).
    S: Jean-Paul Mugel. Mixing: Cyril Holtz. ED: Job Ter Burg. Casting: Stéphane Batut.
    C: Virginie Efira (Benedetta Carlini), Charlotte Rampling (Sœur Felicita – Abbesse), Daphné Patakia (Bartolomea), Lambert Wilson (Le Nonce), Olivier Rabourdin (Alfonso Cecchi), Louise Chevillotte (Christina, daughter of the Abbesse), Hervé Pierre (Paolo Ricordati), Clotilde Courau (Midea Carlini), David Clavel (Giulinao Carlini), Guilaine Londez (Sœur Jacopa).
    131 min
    Filming dates: 16 July – Sep 2018.
    Loc (from IMDb): – Montepulciano (Siena, Tuscany, Italy). – City gate: Porta al Prato. – Convent church interiors: Abbaye de Silvacane (Route de La Roque d'Anthéron, La Roque d'Anthéron, Bouches-du-Rhône, France). – Convent interiors: abbaye cistercienne, Le Thoronet, Var, France. – Piazza Filippo Silvestri: convent exteriors of Bevagna (Perugia, Umbria, Italy). – As Florence, devastated by the plague: Perugia (Umbria, Italy).
    Languages: French and Latin.
    Festival premiere: 9 July 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 17 Dec 2021, released on 4K DCP by ELKE / NonStop Entertainment with Finnish subtitles by Kanerva Airaksinen.
    Corona precaution: 100% capacity with vaccine passport, hand hygiene, obligatory face masks.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 25 Dec 2021.
AA: Paul Verhoeven, like Quentin Tarantino, is a master of the lavish art exploitation cinema. They make films that satisfy genre expectations and obey genre conventions. They also transcend them.

The typical convention of nunsploitation cinema is the figure of the sex-obsessed nun. It is a woeful cliché and a flagrant affront to the noble legacy of monasteries.

But it is in the nature of the cinema to be subversive and transgressive. Cinema is the art of the dream mode, as defined by Susanne Langer. It has direct access to the unconscious. The lure of the offensive is irresistible. Taboos are to be broken.

The central emblem in Benedetta is a pocket Virgin Mary statuette doubling as a vibrator. (Based on reality, such an object is mentioned among others by Eduard Fuchs in his Illustrierte Sittengeschichte. I seem to remember that Luis Buñuel was fascinated by the phenomenon).

Staging scenes of unapologetic sexploitation, Verhoeven does not limit himself to luscious Lesbian love scenes in the interest of the male gaze. As proudly interpreted by Virginie Efira as Benedetta and Daphné Patakia as Bartolomea, his film is a celebration of female power and emancipation. Men appear as predators. Among women, love is possible.

The characters may be lacking in realism and nuance, but they are complex and haunting. The performances of Virginie Efira and Daphné Patakia are too modern to be historically convincing. They wear nuns' habits; their habitus is secular. They certainly are charismatic. The film as a whole is well cast.

Verhoeven has little patience with the sacred. Religion and the church appear as mere mystification, hoax and deceit. Even Sister Benedetta is not free from a huge, life-size lie, or perhaps she is capable of a magnificent self-deception. There is a grand paradox. Benedetta's faith is genuine, and hers is a true power of the spirit. We are left to contemplate: is her faith based on self-deception? Or does her faith have a more profound fountain, too overwhelming for available conventions and expressions to convey? For me, the answer is a bit of both, gravitating towards the second one.

The novelty of the figures of Benedetta and Bartolomea is that they are true believers who are frank about sexuality. In contrast to the rest of the world, they are not hypocrites. They succeed in integrating their faith with their sexuality. The power of the spirit and the power of sex are one.

The physical production of the film, designed by Katia Wyszkop and shot on location, is vivid and engaging but at times with a digital animation look. The film has been shot in Tuscany, in the heart of the Renaissance, where the actual events took place during the Counter-Reformation.

A hundred years have passed since Luther's theses against the hypocrisy of the Vatican, condemning indulgence payments for instance. In Verhoeven's film corruption is rampant. Salvation can be bought, and the Nuntius (Lambert Wilson) breaks his vow of celibacy, sleeping with prostitutes and impregnating his maid while condemning a genuine love between nuns.

It is an age of discrimination of women and persecution of sexual diversity. It is also an age of persecution against Jews who were cast as scapegoats for the plagues. This is reflected in the figure of the Jewish nun, Sister Jacopa (Guilaine Londez).

The cinematography by Jeanne Lapoire is eloquent. The interiors are candlelit, and the warm glow is appealing and sensual. Verhoeven studied Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible Part II for double camera set-ups in tight corridors, and pays homage to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal in crowd scenes of plague, persecution and burning at the stake.

Anne Dudley's score is enchanting, with passages from Hildegard von Bingen and the Gregorian chant "Dies irae" with cinematic resonances from Lang (Metropolis), Dreyer (The Day of Wrath) and Bergman (The Seventh Seal) to Kubrick (The Shining).

The premiere of Benedetta, shot in 2018, was postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic. It is uncanny how powerfully its epic scenes of plague and lockdown resonate in this year.

NB. Paul Verhoeven has a special attraction to a brave, intelligent and highly-pheromoned blonde heroine. In the beginning there was Renée Soutendijk (Spetters, The Fourth Man). In Hollywood he cast Sharon Stone (Total Recall, Basic Instinct). In Showgirls there was Elizabeth Berkley, in Black Book, Carice van Houten and now we are stunned by Virginie Efira. (Not ignoring Verhoeven's great non-blondes such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Gershon and Isabelle Huppert).

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä: Valkokankaan valtakunta: elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä] ( a book)

Helsingin Kirjamessut / Helsinki Book Fair, Program Arena Esplanade, Saturday, 30 October 2021, Teos Publishing House: discussion with Kalle Kinnunen (left) and Jukka Mäkelä (center) on the book: Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä:  Valkokankaan valtakunta: Elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä], hosted by Antti Alanen (right). Photo: courtesy Tero Koistinen.

Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä: Valkokankaan valtakunta : elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä]
    Kinnunen, Kalle , author, interviewer, 1977–
    Mäkelä, Jukka , interviewee, 1952–
    317 pp + 16 pp illustrations; 22 cm
    Published: Helsinki : Kustannusosakeyhtiö Teos 2021
    Printed: Estonia : Mediazone OÜ
    Photo sources: Jukka Mäkelä archives
    ISBN 978-952-363-134-2 hardbound

The Mäkelä family has been prominent in Finnish film exhibition, distribution and production since 1920, and its saga has been covered in distinguished books: Kari Uusitalo's biography of Väinö Mäkelä, the founding father, and the memoirs of Mauno Mäkelä, the canny film producer.

Peter von Bagh directed a tv series called Fennadan tarina [The Fennada Story; Fennada was the name of the Mäkelä film production company], and Taru Mäkelä has made a documentary called Saalis : tarua ja totta Mäkelän suvusta [The Catch : Truth and Fiction about the Mäkelä Family; the title refers to the passion for hunting and shooting running in the family].

Valkokankaan valtakunta [The Empire of the Screen], the new book by Kalle Kinnunen and Jukka Mäkelä is the most devastating of them all. Its unique strength is an inside view into Jukka Mäkelä's coming of age in a film family. The towering figures of the two previous generations were highly present in Jukka's childhood and youth.

The great dramatic core of Jukka Mäkelä's story is the founding of the Finnkino company in 1986, which meant a total transformation of the Finnish film business in a series of multiple mergers and reorganizations involving 31 film companies. Finnkino still remains the central film company in Finland, but the Mäkelä family's involvement ended in 1994 when the company was bought by Rautakirja / Sanoma, further sold to Swedish, British, Chinese, and most recently to American owners. The feat of renovation and redevelopment was achieved by the Mäkeläs, the yield scored by their successors.

As a film producer Jukka Mäkelä was among the last to have worked with giants of the old guard such as Edvin Laine, Mikko Niskanen and Rauni Mollberg. He also met the young guard when they were only starting, people such as Renny Harlin and Markus Selin. I was not aware before reading this book that Jukka Mäkelä's ties were this close since the beginning with Mika and Aki Kaurismäki.

On a personal note, my experience of the Mäkeläs has always been positive. In Tampere in 1976 when we established the film society Solaris, its venues were Hällä and Häme, belonging to Kinosto, the Mäkelä family business, run there by Kirsi Mäkelä. When I started at the Finnish Film Archive in 1985, I got introduced to the old guard of the Finnish film business in the nick of time – by autumn 1986 it was already the young Finnkino team that was calling the shots, and this modern team had a positive attitude to film culture, including Midnight Sun Film Festival and Love & Anarchy the Helsinki International Film Festival. At the Finnish Film Archive we admired Finnkino's positive outlook and commitment to the Finnish cinema. Every Finnish film was guaranteed distribution in Finnkino's cinemas.

The last big Finnish film production of the 1980s was Talvisota / The Winter War. It was a huge hit domestically, but its international breakthrough failed to materialize. It premiered on the 50th anniversary day of the winter war, on 30 November 1989. World history intervened: the Fall of the Wall had just taken place on the 9th of November. At the Berlin Film Festival in next February the topic of the Finnish war film seemed marginal and obsolete.

Valkokankaan valtakunta is the self-portrait of a classical man of the cinema: born into cinema, breathing cinema, veins pulsing with cinema. The approach is subjective, Kalle Kinnunen editing copious notes of his interviews with Jukka Mäkelä. It belongs to the Herodotus school of "relata refero", "telling what I was told", λέγειν τὰ λεγόμενα ("legein ta legomena"). It is an invaluable document of the insider view of Jukka Mäkelä.

The book is also a courageous and harrowing saga of work orientation escalating into insanity. The Finnish term is "työhulluus" ("work madness"), a word stronger than mere "workaholism".

But the book is also a honest account of alcoholism proper, this national disease of ours in Finland, rampant among film people and creative folks. It is a tragic tale of loss, including loss of relationships, loss of positions and a loss of health. It is a tale of survival and overcoming alcoholism.

The traces left by Jukka Mäkelä's team in the Finnish film industry have been durable, both in the continuity of Finnkino and the legacy of Finnish film production.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo (a book)

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo : Hitchcock's Masterpiece Then and Now. Herts (UK): John Libbey Publishing Ltd. Distributed worldwide by: Indiana University Press. 2021. 241 p. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: ISBN: 0 86196 742 1 (Paperback).
    Sidney Gottlieb: Introduction
    Mark W. Padilla: Reading Hitchcock's Vertigo Through the Myth of Io and Argos
    Janet Bergstrom: Hitchcock After Murnau: The Influence of Perspectival Shooting in Vertigo
    Mark Osteen: Versions of Vertigo: They Wake Up Screaming
    Charles Barr: Hitchcock and Vertigo: French and Other Connections
    Barbara Straumann: Fatal Resemblances: Cross-Mapping Hitchcock's Vertigo with Nabokov's Lolita
    Christine Sprengler: The Sounds and Sights of Vertigo's Afterlife in Art: Chamber Made Opera's Phobia (2003) and Jean Curtan's The Vertigo Project (2018)
    Robert Belton: Incidental Meaning and "Hidden Hitchcock" in Vertigo
    Ned Schantz: The Hospitality of Scottie Ferguson
    Steven Jacobs: Hitchcock and the Tourist Gaze: Vertigo and the Monuments of San Francisco
    Sidney Gottlieb: The Variety of Gazes in Vertigo
    Laura Mulvey: The Metaphor of the Beautiful Automaton Reanimated: Artifice, Illusion, and Late Style in Vertigo

In my guest bag at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto on Saturday, 2 October, I found a copy of a book I instantly started to read: Haunted by Vertigo, edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin. I jumped to Janet Bergstrom's piece on Hitchcock after Murnau, because I had met Bergstrom the evening before having travelled on the same bus from Aeroporto Marco Polo to Pordenone, and I had shown her the travel reading I had just finished – Tony Lee Moral's wonderful book Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

A lot has been written about Vertigo, and there are two books about Vertigo even in Finnish (by Peter von Bagh and Heikki Nyman). This, the newest contribution to Vertigo studies, may be a bit uneven, but at least four pieces I find outstanding.

The Murnau influence in Hitchcock's cinema is a familiar theme for everybody who has read books about the master of suspense, but Bergstrom in her chapter pursues the matter further than anybody before, based on primary sources, archival documents and rarely quoted interviews and illustrations. Bergstrom's piece is also extremely illuminating on Weimar cinema. For the first time I truly understand the revolutionary meaning of Murnau's perspectival shooting and forced perspective and the impact he made in Hollywood. Hitchcock happened to be at the Neubabelsberg studio to witness first hand Murnau creating his magic, and the experience made a lifelong impression on him. This article is a film historical detective story.

Charles Barr conducts a parallel feat with Vertigo's French influences, analyzing the whole story of the Clouzot / Hitchcock connections, also the full legacy of Boileau and Narcejac in detective fiction and the cinema. His piece goes also deep in the question of Hitchcock's reception as a major artist: belittled in his native Britain, and revered in cinephilic France. Some of the parallels are amusing: Le Corbeau by Clouzot / The Birds by Hitchcock, the humoristic warnings "soyez pas diaboliques" in Les Diaboliques, and "no one, not even the manager's brother, is allowed into the theatre after the start of each performance of Psycho". An intriguing passage is devoted to the screenwriter Alec Coppel, who in 1949 wrote a film directed by Edward Dmytryk called Obsession, which may have been an inspiration for Boileau, Narcejac, Clouzot and Hitchcock.

During the Me Too revolution and the rebirth of the "male gaze" discourse of the 1970s, also Vertigo has been subjected to reassessments. Sidney Gottlieb, one of this book's editors, focuses on this in his article on the variety of gazes in Vertigo. The result is unexpected and hardly supportive of a simplified "male gaze" discourse. Gottlieb finds in the diegesis of Vertigo at least ten kinds of gazes, such as: an interrogative look, the look of recognition, an observed look, looking beyond the physical world of the present, the look elsewhere, a tranced or traumatized gaze, downward looks, an averted look, and a reciprocated or mutually engaged look. Might I add the most important one: the look of the camera / the director / the spectator.

To top it all, there is a new essay by Laura Mulvey, the author of "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (in Screen magazine in 1973), probably the most quoted work of film scholarship in the world. Mulvey distanced herself from simplified interpretations long ago, but sometimes a polemically one-sided text can be more fruitful than a carefully balanced one, and the Mulvey thesis continues to be extremely rewarding. For instance Sidney Gottlieb would not have written his piece without the Mulvey provocation. Mulvey herself has recently revisited the theme in Afterimages: On Cinema, Women and Changing Times (2019), and her essay in this Vertigo book is a version of a chapter in that one.

The most moving passage in the Vertigo book is by Mulvey. "Eve (Eve Marie Saint) and both Tippi Hedren's characters, in Marnie and The Birds (1963), are designed, as it were, to attract the male gaze, both erotic and investigative, that I analyzed in 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'. I only now realize, in retrospect, that Vertigo's particular significance for the essay was probably due to the film's self-reflexivity. I now see the film as an actual reflection on the very Freudian concepts of voyeurism and fetishism that I was attempting to analyze. Hitchcock had already, that is, visualized my argument: voyeurism, a key structure, according to Freud, of human sexual pleasure, had been unprecedentedly harnessed by the cinema's luminous screen, and projected onto a particular and spectacularly luminous figuration of femininity" (pp. 221–222).

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 40th Anniversary Edition, 2021 Pordenone

Poster of the 40th Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) with Vilma Bánky and Max Linder. Photo 12/7 e Art/Vita-Film. Graphic design by Calderini – Marchese.

The 40th Anniversary Edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto took place in turbulent times. The world is in a precarious state due to the topical energy crisis, the multi-year corona pandemic and, most fatally, the chronic climate crisis. The world of the cinema has never experienced such a devastation as the pandemic, but in October 2021 there are signs of a return to the normal in our profession.

I am an Pordenone regular since 1988, but never have I felt such a warm atmosphere of friendship and happiness as now. This is what we have been missing for two years. This feeling I had not only at Teatro Verdi and the Bar alla Posta, but also at the hotel, at the bars, cafés and restaurants and at my morning lifeline, L'Edicola del Corso di Biscontin Omar supplying daily editions of The New York Times, Financial Times and Le Monde.

I recently finished reading a marvellous book, Musicophilia (2007) by Oliver Sacks. From this book I learned a word, neurogamy, which means "the union of nervous systems", or, literally: "the marriage of nervous systems". To me the word is new, but it is very old, it comes from Classical Greece, and it refers to the power of music to create a community in concerts, festivals, ceremonies, sacred events, olympics, military bands, weddings, funerals, dances, and so on.

This power goes deeper than consciousness, deeper than the unconscious even. It reaches the most atavistic core of our being, something that exists before birth and arguably even after death (for a while). Music listened alone is great, but a community experience is of a different order.

This year I have learned more powerfully than ever how much neurogamy is true also in the cinema. Fed up with online viewing I have enjoyed first restricted cinema screenings, even press screenings that I usually stay away from, and then live festival experiences of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna and now Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. The warmth, the commitment and the immediate experience of the audience both in the screenings and in the dialogues surrounding them are of the essence. The films come fully alive only thanks to us.

Viva Le Giornate!

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Film concert Casanova (1927) (2016 super HD restoration La Cinémathèque française) composed and conducted by Günter A. Buchwald, performed by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone (GCM 2021)

Alexandre Volkoff: Casanova (FR 1927) starring Ivan Mosjoukine (Giacomo Casanova), Diane Karenne (Maria Mari) and Suzanne Bianchetti (Catherine the Great). Photo: IMDb.


(Casanova; US: The Loves of Casanova; GB: Prince of Adventurers), FI: Casanovan lemmenseikkailut
regia/dir: Alexandre Volkoff.
scen: Norbert Falk, Alexandre Volkoff, Ivan Mosjoukine. photog: Nicolas Toporkoff, Fedote Bourgassoff, Léonce-Henri Burel.
asst photog: Sammy Brill.
asst dir: Georges Lampin, Anatole Litvak.
scg/des: Alexandre Lochakoff, Edouard Gosch, Vladimir Meingart.
art dir: Noë Bloch.
cost: Boris Bilinsky, made by maisons Léon Granier, Karinsky et Cie.
consulente storico/history advisor: Constant Mic [Constantin Micklachewsky].
prod. mgr: Simon Barstoff, Léonide Komerovsky, Constantin Geftman, Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Grégoire Metchikoff, Ivan Pavloff.
cast: Ivan Mosjoukine (Giacomo Casanova), Diane Karenne (Maria Mari), Suzanne Bianchetti (Catherine II), Jenny Jugo (Thérèse), Rudolph Kleine-Rogge (Pierre III), Rina de Liguoro (Corticelli), Nina Kochitz (Comtesse Vorontzoff), Olga Day (Lady Stanhope), Paul Guidé (Prince Orloff), Albert Decœur (Duc de Bayreuth), Carlo Tedeschi (Menucci), Raymond Bouamerane (Djimi), Dimitri Dimitrieff (Lord Stanhope), Devar (Comte Mari), Boris Orlitsky, Aslanoff (amici di/friends of Casanova), Michel Simon, Paul Franceschi (sbirri/henchmen), Madame Sapiani (Barola, la domestica/Casanova’s maid), Laura Savitch, Nadia Veldi (le figlie di Barola/Barola’s daughters), Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Alexis Bondireff, Pachoutine (ufficiali nemici/enemy officers), Isaure Douvan (Doge), Constantin Mic, Maryanne (donne nell’osteria austriaca/women in the Austrian inn), Sammy Brill (carceriere/jailer), Castelucci (pescatrice veneziana/Venetian fisherwoman), Wrangel (dama di corte/lady-in-waiting).
supv: Louis Nalpas.
prod: Ciné-Alliance, Société des Cinéromans-Films de France.
dist: Pathé Consortium Cinéma.
uscita/rel: 22.6.1927 (Empire, Paris); 13.9.1927 (Cinéma Marivaux, Paris).
Finnish premiere: 8.1.1928 (Arkadia, Edison, Bio-Bio, released by Adams-Filmi)
copia/copy: DCP, 159 min (4K, da/from 35 mm, 3600 m, 158 min, 20 fps, col. [imbibito/tinted, pochoir/stencil-colouring]); did./titles: FRA.
fonte/source: Cinémathèque française, Paris.
    Score by: Günter A. Buchwald
performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone
Conductor: Günter A. Buchwald
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Restauro in super HD effettuato nel 2016 a partire da un interpositivo ininfiammabile ricavato da un negativo nitrato originale. La scena colorata “au pochoir” è stata restaurata in 8K presso i laboratori Eclair utilizzando un copia diacetato d’epoca.
    The super HD restoration was carried out in 2016 from a positive safety intermediate, based on the original nitrate negative. The stencilled scene was restored from a diacetate print of the era (8K, performed at Eclair Laboratories).  

Marita Gubareva (GCM 2021): "Alexandre Volkoff’s Casanova is a prime example of the large-scale spectacular European co-productions that began to appear in the second half of the 1920s to counter American competition. The film involved French, German, and Italian talent, led by Russian émigrés from the Montreuil colony near Paris, notably director Alexandre Volkoff, actor Ivan Mosjoukine, costume designer Boris Bilinsky, and set designer Alexandre Lochakoff."

"Much of this lavish costume film was shot on location, in Venice during the Carnival, and between Strasbourg and Grenoble (for the scenes set in Austria and Russia). Its sumptuous décor left no one unimpressed, and while some contemporary viewers lamented the filmmakers’ excessive attention to “material detail”, others, such as Jean Arroy, praised them for their “laudable effort at historical exactitude” and willingness to “reconstruct every splendour of the period”. It was only decades later, towards the end of the 20th century, that the film was fully appreciated for what it is: a “brilliant pastiche” (Walter Goodman), a playful and stylish variation on the myths and stereotypes of the period."

"First of all, Casanova plays with three mythical perceptions of 18th-century Venice: as the “capital of pleasure” and “city of decadence”; the “mysterious republic”, with the secret procedures of its legendary Council of Ten; and, of course, “the city of Carnival” – a world of theatre, masks, and make-believe. To these three sources of spectacular and somewhat predictable images (all present in Philippe Monnier’s influential book Venice in the Eighteenth Century, first published in 1908), the film adds a touch of orientalism, a tribute to the trend of decorative exoticism created earlier by Diaghilev and perpetuated by Russian filmmakers well into the 1920s. The result is an enchanting fairytale world, with its “serenades, casinos, gondolas for singing, and convents for loving” (Maurice Rostand, La Vie amoureuse de Casanova, 1924)."

"The film treats the famous Venetian, Giacomo Casanova (1725‒1798) in a similar manner. Loosely based on his memoirs, it adapts the story to genre requirements, while playing with the various myths around Casanova. Working on the script, Volkoff and Mosjoukine could have used the first unabridged French edition of Casanova’s memoirs (its first volumes had just been published) and the Russian edition of selected chapters, printed in Berlin in 1923. In fact, some of the film’s intertitles and images reproduce almost literally passages from critic and writer Marc Slonim’s foreword to the Russian edition. The scriptwriters used the memoirs as a source of situations and characters, to be freely reinterpreted in the spirit of an adventure film. Casanova’s long-prepared and laborious escape from the Piombi prisons was reduced to a spectacular leap. His encounter with Catherine II, only briefly mentioned in the memoirs, was romanticized and transformed into a comic episode, ending with an elopement. While the historical Casanova preferred travelling in comfortable carriages and fought his duel with Count Branicki with pistols, the film Casanova is galloping and fencing."

"Casanova had already been transformed into a swashbuckler by the Romantics in the 19th century (Alfred de Musset imagined him “rhyming for a marquise, fighting for a dancer; a terrific swordsman, and on top of it all, an honest, noble, and generous character”), but the film’s treatment is more tongue-in-cheek, somewhat in the spirit of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “comic parody” Casanova (1918). Casanova’s “noble” Romantic qualities are counterbalanced here by those of a picaro. He is both a noble hero and an unscrupulous rogue; a chivalrous protector of the helpless, like Zorro (a character much admired by Mosjoukine, who claimed to have seen Douglas Fairbanks in the role “at least 10 times”), and Harlequin the trickster, who charms, entertains, and fools his audience. The ambiguity is maintained in the level of Mosjoukine’s acting: contemporary reviewers noted that he played his part with a mixture of pathos and irony, and with “just the right amount of laughter underlying the seriousness”."

"As a result, in spite of the apparent simplification called for by the genre, Casanova’s character in this film is anything but banal. Ivan Mosjoukine, then at the height of his film career, was certainly perfect casting for Casanova. A cutting from a German newspaper, preserved in Volkoff’s archive at the Cinémathèque française, shows the actor’s profile placed against that of an old Giacomo Casanova. The similarity is striking. Both were tall, had an aquiline nose, and were attributed by their contemporaries with an expressive (“ardent”) glance. Mosjoukine was also known as a generous person who loved partying, and, according to Jean Mitry, unlike Rudolph Valentino he was perceived as a successful seducer in life, not only on the screen. In his biography of Mosjoukine, published the same year as the film’s release, Jean Arroy claims that he “must have particularly loved Casanova, this genius who squanders his marvellous talents and thinks of nothing but love”."

"Casanova was first screened in Paris in 1927 and was a great success with the public. Critics worldwide acclaimed it as one of the most spectacular productions of the time, “magnificently mounted, splendidly directed, finely acted and beautifully photographed” (The Bioscope, 14.7.1927). Forgotten after the arrival of the talkies, the film was rediscovered in the 1980s, when Renée Lichtig restored it from three badly damaged and incomplete versions from different archives.
" – Marita Gubareva (GCM 2021)

The music 

Günter A. Buchwald (GCM 2021): "The restored version of Casanova is now 159 minutes. While watching the film in its entirety, some challenging questions arose for the scoring: How can I musically entertain a public for such a long time? How can I compose a score for a movie which is overwhelmingly visual in its acting, decor, costumes, tragedy and comedy, and locations, not to mention the rapid editing and quick-changing moods?"

"Should the music follow all this breathtaking suite of scenes? And, last but not least: what are the implications of Casanova in this “Me Too” moment? How do I see this person myself? Casanova the 1927 film is a wonderful movie, a fireworks display of the joy of life, while Casanova the person is, in comparison with all other men, the most sensitive towards women. Menucci, a slimy coward; Peter, the czar, a brute; the Duc of Bayreuth, a rapist; etc. But all in all: Casanova is a comedy!"

"Musically, almost everything is exposed like the pearls of a necklace in the first 4 minutes of the Overture. There are 5 themes: 1st Movement, action, speed, Italy; 2nd, Casanova, almost a comedian, always dancing on the edge of a sword; 3rd, a Hollywoodian love theme; 4th, the timpani in ¾ bar, the turmoil, Italiana mixed with the Neapolitan Canzone, known as “Carnevale di Venezia”; and 5th, Peter, the czar, as an example of all kind of craziness and aggression."

"These 5 themes appear throughout the whole movie, not as a one-to-one Leitmotiv but as musical material for eternal variations. That’s why I call my opus “Symphonic Variations”. I am thankful to many composers: Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, André Campra, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Johann Strauss Jr., Sergei Prokofiev, whose influence you may discover with little hints. My single secret: I once again learned that “less is more”, that reduction is an essential creative means, and the single challenge was how to stretch it to 159 minutes. The overture was composed within a day; the remaining 155 minutes needed 2 years.
" – Günter A. Buchwald (GCM 2021)

AA: I did not visit the closing gala of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, out of respect for the restoration and Günter A. Buchwald's score. I was exhausted after high pressure at a distant work week at the KAVI office during the Festival. I was also aware of an early wake-up call, a morning flight and all day travel which would take me home 24 hours later.

Instead, I read Marita Gubareva and Günter A. Buchwald's program notes and reminisced upon the previous (1988) glorious La Cinémathèque française restoration which we were quick to screen in the 1980s at Cinema Orion. Later I was happy to meet the restorer, Renée Lichtig (1921–2007), Jean Renoir's editor during his late period before handling the great Cinémathèque restorations, also a regular at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

I appreciated the final gala choice of Le Giornate of the famous Venetian Giacomo Casanova, donning masks in the Carnevale di Venezia sequence, like we did at the Teatro Verdi auditorium.

As Buchwald comments, Casanova needs to be reassessed from a Me Too perspective. Casanova is a libertine, a Rococo figure and an Enlightenment figure. Harassment would be out of character, on the contrary, Casanova loves women and protects them from danger, but he leaves behind a trail of children out of wedlock.

Casanova is sometimes juxtaposed with Don Giovanni, but there are essential differences. Casanova only has affairs with women he loves. He is a picaro, a wanderer, and affairs happen, but he does not collect them. Casanova is gentle with women, and women desire him as much as he does them. There could be no "catalogue aria" for Casanova. Don Giovanni, instead, is a pathological case, a sex addict, a narcissist, indifferent to the identity of the woman he beds.

I claim this although I know that Mozart and Da Ponte met the historical Casanova and took him as the model for their opera Don Giovanni. Casanova himself may have been present at the premiere. But the historical Casanova was much more selective and considerate than Don Giovanni.

A Casanova lifestyle has become widespread for both men and women since the sexual liberation of the 1960s. In today's precarious conditions young people, without safety to settle into marriage, try to live a life of "eternal youth" as long as they can.

Casanova has been a favourite character in the cinema, but I believe that there is only one film masterpiece about him: Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (1976). Among Alexandre Volkoff and Ivan Mosjoukine's achievements two were truly extraordinary: La Maison du mystère and Der weisse Teufel, and also Kean is a great film.

But their Casanova is for me a piece of light entertainment, splendid but superficial, without the wit and depth of Mozart, Da Ponte or Fellini.