Tuesday, August 31, 2010

La strega bruciata viva / The Witch Burned Alive

La strega bruciata viva. Silvana Mangano as Gloria, a de luxe commodity in film production.

Elävältä poltettu noita / Häxan som brändes levande
An episode from: Nykypäivän noitia / Häxorna / The Witches / Le streghe.
    IT / FR 1967. PC: Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica / Les Productions Artistes Associés. P: Dino De Laurentiis. D: Luchino Visconti. SC: Giuseppe Pastrone Griffi with Cesare Zavattini. DP: Giuseppe Rotunno – Technicolor. PD: Mario Garbuglia, Piero Poletto. COST: Piero Tosi. Make-up: Goffredo Ricchetti. M: Piero Piccioni. ED: Mario Serandrei.
    C: Silvana Mangano (Gloria), Annie Girardot (Valeria), Francisco Rabal (Valeria's husband), Massimo Girotti (the sportsman), Elsa Albani (friend), Clara Calamai (ex-friend), Véronique Vendell (young guest), Leslie French (industrialist), Nora Ricci (Gloria's secretery), Bruno Filippini (singer), Helmut Steinbergher ( = Helmut Berger) (waiter).
    Duration with the opening credits 40 min, e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Luchino Visconti), 31 Aug 2010

Revisited Visconti's contribution to the Silvana Mangano episode film Le streghe, in a print of stunning photochemical colour paying justice to the refined colour space of the jet set gathering at the Tyrolean mountain resort Kitzbühel.

This is Visconti's study of the film star in the world of capital, a de luxe asset in the organization of production, explicitly compared by an industrialist to his own line of work (canned meat). Gloria is pregnant, and she has to sacrifice her baby to the next film project.

Visconti's study of alienated relationships is completely original and different from Fellini (La dolce vita) and Antonioni (La notte). He is both more deeply an insider (himself a long term member of the jet set) and an outsider.

It is interesting to meet here Clara Calamai and Massimo Girotti, the stars of  Visconti's debut feature – and Helmut Berger in his first credited role.

Visconti clashed with De Laurentiis and disowned this version of his episode. It's memorable even as it is.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Visconti's Ludwig at the Night of the Arts

Luchino Visconti: Ludwig (IT/FR/DE 1973). Staging Lohengrin at Schloss Neuschwanstein. Please do click on the image to enlarge it.

Since 1989, the Night of the Arts has been celebrated as a part of the Helsinki Festival. It is an event of hundreds of art events all around the city. Tonight it is cold and the streets are not so alive with the sound of music as usually.

At Cinema Orion we have a tradition of screening extra long films on the Night of the Arts. Last year we did Ningen no joken (The Human Condition). We have screened Michelangelo Antonioni's Chung Kuo Cina, Hans Jürgen Syberberg's Hitler, ein Film über Deutschland, Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage (the six hour version), and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz (it took the whole weekend). This year, it's Luchino Visconti's longest film, the four hour Ludwig, about Bavaria's fairy-tale king, the mentor of Richard Wagner (interpreted by Trevor Howard). Having seen it a few times already I just sample the beginning this time to check the gorgeous visual quality of this opulent Wagnerian epic.

After a cup of hot tea at the Corona Bar it's time to experience the rest of Leif Segerstam and the Tapiola Sinfonietta's Sibelius: 7 Symphonies project at the Helsinki University Hall. This is the original premiere hall of the symphonies save the last one, and Tapiola Sinfonietta at ca 50 players performs them at half the spread of the full symphony orchestra of ca 100 players. The feeling of the infinite density of the forest is missing, but there is a special freshness and grandeur in these arrangements and more space for single players, especially for the horns. These arrangements open up to the sky and to the horizon.

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No 5 in E Flat Major. After the descent into madness in Symphony No 4 Sibelius climbs heroically to oceanic grandeur. I felt like being carried by a seasoned admiral on a sea voyage around the world.

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No 6 in d minor. This interpretation was especially cherished by the Sibelius experts. A cosmic voyage with a feeling of the elements.

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No 7 in C Major. Sibelius' last symphony, one of his final syntheses before his silence as a composer. In one movement only, it turns around conventions of the symphonic form. The final stage on his spirit's voyage towards the absolute.

Leif Segerstam – looking like a shaman or a Mountain King – and Tapiola Sinfonietta made this voyage glorious. The standing ovation at the end of the giant project was heartfelt. A happy audience returned to the cold night.

Toy Story 3 (3D)

Lee Unkrich: Toy Story 3 (US 2010). PC: Disney / Pixar. P: Darla K. Anderson, John Lasseter.

Toy Story 3 / Toy Story 3.
    US © 2010 Disney / Pixar. P: Darla K. Anderson, John Lasseter.
    D: Lee Unkrich. SC: Michael Arndt – story: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich. Disney Digital 3D. Animation dept big. Visual Effects dept big. Computer dept big. Sound dept. big. M: Randy Newman. ED: Ken Schretzmann.
    Voice cast: Tom Hanks/Antti Pääkkönen (Woody), Tim Allen/Santeri Kinnunen (Buzz Lightyear), Joan Cusack/Nina Tapio (Jessie), Don Rickles/Pekka Autiovuori (Mr. Potato Head / Herra Perunapää), Blake Clark/Jarmo Koski (Slinky), Wallace Shawn/Mikko Kivinen (Rex), John Ratzenberger/Petteri Summanen (Hamm / Röh), Estelle Harris/Maija-Liisa Peuhu (Mrs. Potato Head / Rouva Perunapää), Jeff Pidgeon/Antti Pääkkönen (Aliens / Vihreät alienit), Jodi Benson/Krisse Salminen (Barbie), Michael Keaton/Eppu Salminen (Ken), Ned Beatty/Markku Huhtamo (Lotso / Tuhti-karhu).
    104 min.
    Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland in both a Finnish-spoken version and in an original version with subtitles.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 2, Helsinki, XpanD 3D, in the Finnish-spoken version, 27 Aug 2010 (day of Finnish premiere).

I went to see Toy Story 3 tuned by excellent word-of-mouth. I had found the original Toy Story a masterpiece and have been aware that Toy Story 2 is considered even better (I have yet to see it).

Toy Story 3 is the story of the end of childhood. Andy goes to college and it is time to pack the toys away. They are meant to be taken to the attic, but are instead taken to Sunnyside Daycare, where they are treated terribly. The great escape brings them literally to the inferno: to the mouth of the furnace of the junkyard. After a last minute rescue they find a new home with little Bonnie.

First-rate animation, solid story construction, and interesting "characterization" in a movie full of wit and deeper implications on big themes such as consumer culture, short attention spans, and wear-and-tear attitudes. Toys are indicators and barometers of the children who play with them.

In the Toy Story films there is an understanding of children's play that brings to mind classic treatises such as Yrjö Hirn's Barnlek / Leikkiä ja taidetta [Child's Play / Play and Art, 1916].

Hirn claimed that beyond children's games and toys there is a serious, courtly, dignified, and even sacred background which can be traced back to very old forms of culture.

Hirn is fascinated by the fact that children's games are similar in all, even totally different forms of culture and that they have an atavistic, secret quality that has a serious aspect although they are "just play".

Hirn examines classic toys such as Noah's Ark, le bilboquet, les pantins, diabolo, the drum, the bow, the rattle, le marotte, crepundia, masks, the jack-in-the-box, and dolls, with special attention to spinning tops, balls, and kites. For example the origin of the kite is in ancient Chinese ritual, where the kite was the means to reach transcendence.

Most of Hirn's study is dedicated to children's dances, songs, puppets, puppet shows, Kasperle, shadowplays, and the circus. I'm sure he would have loved the Toy Story series.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Isaac Julien: Ten Thousand Waves (installation)

Isaac Julien's Ten Thousand Waves is an audiovisual film installation inspired by the Morecambe Bay tragedy in Northern England, where 23 Chinese cocklepickers died in 2004. The installation, completed in 2010, combines fact, fiction, and poetry, set against a background of Chinese history. The film was shot in the Guanxi province and at Shanghai Film Studios. Featuring Maggie Cheung as the goddess Mazu (the goddess who brings fishermen to shelter). The poet Wang Ping wrote the poem Little Boats / Pienet veneet for the installation.
Shot on 35 mm, projected in HD, with 9.2 surround sound, 50 min
Produced by LUMA Foundation.
Nine screens and Endura Ultra photographs.

Taidehalli, Helsinki, 21 Aug-10 Oct 2010

A high profile exhibition opened at the Helsinki Festival. KAVA participated also by screening two films by Isaac Julien at Cinema Orion. In Helsinki, the Ten Thousand Waves installation is organized into three big rooms with nine screens. The Morecambe Bay tragedy of the cockleshell pickers is the shock opening that leads us into the modern reality, history and mythology of China. The soundspace is meditative, the photographs are glossy, and Maggie Cheung brings a wuxia dimension to the experience.

Jacques Tati - the Funny Postman (exhibition at the Helsinki Post Museum)

Jacques Tati - lystikäs kirjeenkantaja. Exhibition at the Post Museum (Helsinki) 26 Aug - 24 Oct 2010.
Partners: Les Films de Mon Oncle (Philippe Gigot & Macha Makeïeff), KAVA, Centre Culturel Français, Ministry of Education and Culture, Vittorio Giannini, Pieni Polkupyörämuseo.

Jacques Tati is the theme of our second main retrospective at the Helsinki Festival, and a charming exhibition was opened in collaboration with Les Films de Mon Oncle. Rare photographs, documents, and artefacts from the Tati family collection are supplemented by further objects from Finnish sources (posters, cameras and projectors relevant to Tati).

The focus is on Tati's first feature film, Jour de fête, whose Finnish title is Lystikäs kirjeenkantaja (The Funny Postman). That film screens as a dvd projection in the exhibition. On display is also the short film L'Ecole des facteurs, which was a draft to Jour de fête, yet with some unique ideas that were not developed in the feature film.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Il gattopardo at Helsinki Festival

Helsinki Festival started last Friday, and our first main contribution, a complete Luchino Visconti retrospective, was launched today with a print of the restored Il gattopardo (The Leopard) - of the previous restoration, not this year's digital mega-restoration based on the 8K master. I watched the first half an hour for comparison. The Cinecittà print screened today is so excellent that I would never have felt the need to see another restoration. Yet it is undeniably true that this year's Rolls Royce restoration is superior. In each incarnation this masterpiece keeps finding new generations of audiences; I did not see many familiar faces in today's almost sold-out screening. Visconti is a master of the historical film: his recreation of the epoch of the Italian reunification is full of life.

Having sampled Il gattopardo I had a rhum toddy at the Corona Bar. Aki Kaurismäki has driven to town to relax from the editing of Le Havre. Then at Helsinki University Hall Leif Segerstam conducts Tapiola Sinfonietta in his Sibelius: 7 Symphonies project of the Helsinki Festival.

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No 3 in C Major is a step into a more classical direction from Sibelius' national romantic inspiration, an interiorized homage to the spirit of Mozart without external similarities. This is a symphony that is immediately easy to like, yet there are more profound layers to reward the repeat listener. It is also a playful celebration of the expressive powers of the symphony orchestra brilliantly realized by Leif Segerstam and Tapiola Sinfonietta.

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No 4 in a minor is the great turning-point: no more the happy and jubilant maestro, but a deeply disturbed soul. To a man of the cinema this Jean Sibelius' Psycho brings to mind Bernard Herrmann's deranged sounds, also to On Dangerous Ground, Cape Fear, and Taxi Driver. I am not an expert in the theory of music, but I suspect that the tritone is the key to this affinity. There are even atonal aspects in this symphony. Experts met at the concert agreed that this is Sibelius' greatest symphony; I the man of the street seem to notice passages where JS is marking time. Anyway, the interpretation was so powerful that it went into the dreams and kept the smile out of the face until next morning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

F.J. Billeskov Jansen, Hakon Stangerup, Poul Henning Traustedt: History of World Literature 1-12 (a book)

F.J. Billeskov Jansen, Hakon Stangerup, Poul Henning Traustedt (ed.): Verdens litteraturhistorie 1-12, Copenhagen 1971-1974. Read in the Finnish edition, chief editor Lauri Viljanen: Kansojen kirjallisuus 1-12. Porvoo-Helsinki: WSOY 1974-1978. - The book was a Nordic co-production with the participation of dozens of the best experts as writers and translators from the original languages.

Since last Christmas I have been reading this marvellous History of World Literature by crabwalk, starting with Pynchon and Vonnegut, and finishing today the first volume (magic spells, origins of the alphabet, the Gilgamesh epic... )

I didn't read this book as a man of the cinema but I was impressed by the fact how film-relevant the history of literature can be page by page.

Certainly by the Film d'Art movement in 1908 world literature, from Homeric epics to Tennyson's poems, was being filmed voraciously, but the influences and affinities are greater than I have realized, starting with the atavistic passion for storytelling (myths, tales, cults, songs, sagas) and the origins of the alphabets in pictograms.

I had never read this book before nor any other similar extended work systematically. I'm happy I found this Danish book to be the first one, inspiredly edited into Finnish by Lauri Viljanen with a top team of translators and experts. They pay serious attention not only to the Biblical-European-American tradition but also to the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. heritages. Their mission is the Goethean concept of Weltliteratur, of universal understanding (itself a film-relevant concept: film was a universal art from the start).

F.J. Billeskov Jansen, Hakon Stangerup, Poul Henning Traustedt, and Lauri Viljanen manage to keep developing a certain consistent vision all through the immense undertaking (ambitiously, the book is also a history of the world, a history of religion, a history of ideas... ). One of the early crystallizers of that vision was the poet Horace (Horatius) who strived to reconcile Epicureanism with Stoicism. Poetry has a unique and original mission which nothing can replace.

Reading this first volume which presents also the classical myths I realized that this is the realm where Jean Cocteau also kept playfully returning to in Le Testament d'Orphée. Strangely, in this Danish book an example of the origins of storytelling is H.C. Andersen's modern fairy-tale "The Mother". It is about a "mère maladroite", to use Cocteau's term. She falls asleep, and when she wakes up, Death has taken her child to an unknown land, and she experiences a succession of nightmarish ordeals trying to retrieve the child. There are two versions of the tale, and in the first, conventional one, the ordeals are a dream. Andersen's tale was the inspiration of Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou's Der müde Tod, which was the inspiration for Cocteau, Buñuel and Franju to become film-makers...

Friday, August 20, 2010

My favourite dream sequence

Luis Buñuel: Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (FR/IT/ES 1972). The dream sequence with Amparo Soler Leal (Mother) and Maxence Mailfort (Sergeant).

There has been a lot of amused discussion on Inception in Finland. Viewers have a hard time in being convinced by a multi-layered dream film which is so chaste (sexually). But I think each person's dreams are so fundamentally different that even Inception-style dreams may be possible.

Having seen Le Testament d'Orphée, another multi-layered and playful dream film, yesterday, I started to think which would be for me the most compelling dream sequence in the history of the cinema.

For me the choice is easy although I cannot explain why. It comes from a film which I did not highly appreciate during its first run, Luis Buñuel's Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie. Buñuel was already a favourite director of mine, but I thought then that he might have lost his sense of urgency.

Much later I revisited the film and liked it more. Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie is yet another multi-layered dream film, full of irony and satire. For me the most effective sequence is the sergeant's dream, which is a digression without any obvious connection to the rest.

"I went off in search of my mother, but the street was full of shadows, and no one responded". The sergeant takes an evening walk on a dark and narrow street (the nocturnal walls seem endlessly high...) and talks with old friends who he after a while realizes are long dead. The shop room where the friends went a moment ago turns out to have been uninhabited for years. He does meet his mother who died young but when he returns to the street from the deserted shop room she has disappeared again.

Buñuel stages the dream plainly, and the sergeant's account is matter-of-fact. The sound of the bell is a characteristic Buñuel marker that we have entered the realm of dreams.

Somehow in the late films of Cocteau and Buñuel I believe one can still sense the profound impact made by Fritz Lang's Der müde Tod on both (the infinitely high wall of death and the voyage beyond). Common to all is a fleeting sense of a childhood memory of death approaching during a fever dream (Cocteau has written about his childhood dream of walking by the high wall; in Lang's film it became the wall of death). In Lang and Buñuel there is the presence or absence of mother: in Cocteau, there is "la mère maladroite".

P.S. 13 March 2011. A dear friend of ours died three days ago having fought a fast-spreading and terminal cancer. We lit a candle and shared a moment of silence and next day listened to Libertango. I was reminded of Grace Jones and her A One Man Show with the Jean Cocteau influences in the Private Life and Libertango numbers, including the fight against the wind from beyond along the endlessly high wall.

P.S. 28 Feb 2023. John Lennon released "Mother" in 1970. There is an affinity, starting with the funeral bells and continuing with parents abandoning their son.

Film Comment's annotated blog roll (compiled by Paul Brunick)

IT’S ALIVE!: The Top Film Criticism Sites: An Annotated Blog Roll
Compiled by Paul Brunick, July/August 2010

Paul Brunick has edited a witty blog survey with capsule reviews of each blog listed. I'm happy to disagree with him on the fall of film criticism in the print media. Unlike him I bemoan it as a terrible blow in the history of professional film criticism which cannot be compensated by any amount of unpaid freelanced blogging.

"The blog roll has become the defining trope of critical exchange in the early Internet era: its network of laterally enmeshed connections quite literally defines “the Web.”" - "For every URL included, one of our crack contributors has come up with an elegantly pithy synopsis of the critical style and obsessively revisited subjects that define the spirit of the site."

The Self-Styled Siren

Strictly Film School

Diagonal Thoughts

Not Coming to a Theater Near You


The Academic Hack


DVD Beaver

Kino Slang

Ludic Despair

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule

Some Came Running

Wright On Film

Moving Image Source



Film Journey

The Front Row


Video Watchblog

Girish Shambu


Paul Schrader

Observations on Film Art

Unexplained Cinema

Masters of Cinema

Dave Kehr

Thanks for the Use of the Hall

Jonathan Rosenbaum


Supposed Aura

World Picture

Ain’t It Cool News

The Man Who Viewed Too Much

MUBI (the website formerly known as The Auteurs)

Order of the Exile


The Seventh Art

The House Next Door

Reverse Shot

Senses of Cinema


Landscape Suicide

© 2010 The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Limits of tolerance (Todd McCarthy on heavy duty film viewing)

Todd McCarthy has written a blog entry on his experience as a member of the selection committee of the New York Film Festival. They watched 70 films in two weeks. The worthiest ones they watched in their entirety, but there were also entries that were sampled only. The most impatient committee members were ready to make the decision in minutes, but Todd McCarthy says that "my general inclination, however, is to give a film a little time", at least 10-15 minutes.

I agree with Todd, and usually I try to see some 20 minutes of any film, that is, the length of one 600 meter reel. If I after that start to think that an aimless stroll down the street would be more exciting than this I leave. But I have never been a member of a selection committee, and I have been spared the worst.

Todd McCarthy is a top film critic and film historian whose Howard Hawks biography is definitive. Over 30 years, until this year, he was the full-time film critic of Variety. When Variety fired him, many felt that this was a suicidal act of the venerable magazine, as McCarthy was its number one asset.

I don't always agree with McCarthy, but for a long time I have admired him as a model because of his wit, style, toughness, sense of justice, deep knowledge in film history and business, and sense of humour.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Le Testament d'Orphée / The Testament of Orpheus

Jean Cocteau: Le Testament d'Orphée / The Testament of Orpheus (FR 1960). Poster art: Jean Cocteau.

Le Testament d’Orphée, ou Ne me demandez pas pourquoi! / Orfeuksen testamentti / Orfeus testamente.
    FR 1960. Year of production 1959. PC: Éditions Cinématographiques. P: Jean Thullier. [Financed by François Truffaut on the proceeds of Les quatre cents coups].
    D+SC: Jean Cocteau. DP: Roland Pontoiseau. PD: Pierre Guffroy. Costumes and sculptures: Janine Janet.
    M: Georges Auric; Martial Solal, Gluck, Bach (Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067), Wagner. ED: Marie-Joséphe Yoyotte.
    LOC: Baux-de-Provence (notamment au Val d’Enfer et dans les carrières), Mme Francine Weisweiller's garden at Cap d'Ail, a street in Villefranche where the poet meets his double.
    CAST: Jean Cocteau (Himself – The Poet), Edouard Dermit (Cégeste), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Dargelos / The schoolboy), Henri Crémieux (Le professeur / The Professor), María Casares (La princesse / The Princess), François Périer (Heurtebise), Claudine Auger (Minerva), Charles Aznavour (Le curieux / The Curious Man), Yul Brynner (L'huissier / Court usher), Daniel Gélin (L'interne / The intern), Jean Marais (Oedipus), Alice Heyliger (Eurydice), Georges Chretelain and Michèle Lemougne (the intellectual lovers), Nicole Courcel (la mère maladroite), Francine Weisweiller (une élégante), Brigitte Morisan (Antigone), Lucia Bosè (une amie d'Orphée / Orpheus' Friend), Luis Miguel Dominguín (un ami d'Orphée / Orpheus' Friend), Pablo Picasso (un ami d'Orphée), Françoise Sagan (une amie d'Orphée), Annette Strøyberg Vadim (une amie d'Orphée).
    83 min.
    A vintage print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Lea Joutseno / Maya Vanni viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 19 Aug 2010

« Le privilège du cinématographe, c'est qu'il permet à un grand nombre de personnes de rêver ensemble le même rêve et de montrer en outre, avec la rigueur du réalisme, les fantasmes de l'irréalité, bref c'est un admirable véhicule de poésie. Mon film n'est pas autre-chose qu'une séance de strip-tease consistant à ôter peu à peu mon corps et à montrer mon âme toute nue. Car il existe un considérable public de l'ombre, affamé de ce plus vrai que le vrai qui sera un jour le signe de notre époque. Voici le lègue d'un poète aux jeunesses successives qui l'ont toujours soutenu ».
– The opening words of the film, spoken by Jean Cocteau.

" It is the film-maker's privilege to be able to allow a large number of people to dream the same dream together. "
– Jean Cocteau

Revisited the final film of Jean Cocteau's Orphic trilogy. Beautiful definition of light in the vintage print. Watching Cocteau's Orphic trilogy for the first time as a whole in December 1978 was for me personally a turning-point in the discovery of art. The three films have a cumulative effect, and the sense of play is at its most relaxed in this final film.

This time Cocteau, himself, is Orpheus, the poet who can transcend time and space. "The poet is the one who changes the rules of the game", a creator, someone who can transform reality. It is a farewell film about death – and rebirth, because a real poet never dies, although "the work of art destroys its creator".

One can watch Le Testament d'Orphée as a comedy based on gags. The gags are direct variations of the Méliès tradition: reverse motion, slow motion, appearances and disappearances. "A wave of joy has carried my farewell film". Some favourite gags on this viewing: the machine which can make one a celebrity in a moment (torn autographs become poems, songs, novels), "don't ask me why!" – amoureux intellectuels – even painting an orchid the poet creates a self-portrait – the court where the hardest punishment is to be condemned to live – meeting oneself, who pretends he doesn't even notice – if one waits too long, one turns into a lobby

Cocteau is a master of dream imagery, with recurrent features such as: – sleepwalking: slowed-down walking with eyes closed – against a heavy wind (from beyond... ?) – along high, huge walls and through heavy doors...

In Finland, there is a topical debate on Romani beggars, begging having been almost extinct here until recently. Pointedly, Cocteau portrays the Romani as protectors of the Poet.

One of my favourite scenes in all cinema (don't ask me why) is where Cocteau recreates the orchid via reverse motion to the tune of Bach's minuet played by a flute.

Ohjaaja matkalla ihmiseksi - Mikko Niskasen tarina 1-3

[A Director On His Way to Become a Human Being - The Story of Mikko Niskanen 1-3]. FI 2010. PC: Nosferatu. For YLE TV2 Dokumenttiprojekti. P: Ilkka Mertsola. D+SC: Peter von Bagh. Footage from films with Mikko Niskanen as an actor and as a director and from Niskanen's private archive. Interviewees include: Mikko Niskanen, Vesa-Matti Loiri, Veikko Sinisalo, Panu Rajala, Kirsti Wallasvaara, Marja-Leena Mikkola, Jorma Niskanen, Sakari Niskanen, Anna-Leena Härkönen, Tero Jartti, Matti Ijäs, Eero Melasniemi, Kristiina Halkola, Kaj Chydenius, Timo Torikka, Tarja-Tuulikki Tarsala, Aulikki Oksanen, Pekka Autiovuori, Sari Mällinen, Anneli Sauli, Juho Gartz, Pekka Aine, Kari Heiskanen, Markku Lehmuskallio. Colour, 1,33:1, video projection, 3 x 60 min = 180 min. Introduced by Iikka Vehkalahti, Ilkka Mertsola, Peter von Bagh. Press screening at YLE Iso Paja Auditorio, Helsinki, 19 Aug 2010.

Mikko Niskanen (1929-1990), a man of the theatre, of the cinema, and of television, an actor and a director, is one of the great talents in the Finnish cinema history. His masterpiece, The Eight Deadly Shots (1972), is often voted the all time best Finnish film. Myself, I vacillate between Loviisa, The Unknown Soldier, and The Eight Deadly Shots, depending on which one I have seen last. The Eight Deadly Shots is the tragedy of the structural change of Finland. Finland in the 1950s was still a predominantly agrarian country, and urbanization took place fast and traumatically. Mikko Niskanen was the man to portray this story with devastating honesty and dedication, with a sense of humour and tragedy. He discarded the artifice of studio-bound traditions and re-created reality in which people recognized themselves in a profound way.

Peter von Bagh has always had the insight in Mikko Niskanen's talent, and Niskanen authorized him to make a film biography. After a long incubation this biography is now finished in three parts, the first one covering the early years, the second part The Eight Deadly Shots, and the third part the late years. There is not a dull moment in these three hours.

Bagh has gained the confidence of Mikko Niskanen, himself, in filmed interviews, and his family and fellow artists. There is a strong current of emotion from the beginning to the end. Mikko Niskanen was a genius and sometimes an impossible man, and Bagh gives a balanced view of him with warts and all.

Another great film historical tv documentary from Bagh, who is having an especially strong and productive period. No signs of haste in this powerful documentary film with lasting value.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Movie" magazine reborn as a web journal

On Dave Kehr's website there is a piece of good news: 

Now available online is "the inaugural issue of a new publication, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, the successor to Movie, the print journal that was edited, designed and published by the late Ian A. Cameron from 1962 to 2000."

Both the original Movie magazine and the book series Movie Paperbacks include some of the best writing on the cinema. I'm looking forward to a continuation of that great tradition.

Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, Issue 1
Ian Cameron: a Tribute / V. F. Perkins
Films, Directors and Critics / Ian Cameron, reprinted from Movie 2
Access and Excess in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre / Lucy Fife Donaldson
Sleeping with Half Open Eyes: Dreams and Realities in The Cry of the Owl / John Gibbs
Fugitive Physicality and Female Performance in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss and Lola / Kate Leadbetter
Notes on Quirky / James MacDowell
At the Border: the Limits of Knowledge in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and No Country for Old Men / Douglas Pye
Limbo: Frustrated Narration / Deborah Thomas
Acting Ordinary in The Shop Around the Corner / George Toles
The Rhetoric of The Wire / James Zborowski
Review: Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, 3 – 10 October 2009 / Michael Walker
Robin Wood & Ian Cameron

This issue edited by Edward Gallafent and John Gibbs, with grateful acknowledgement of the contributions of Lucy Fife Donaldson and James MacDowell


MOVIE magazine's link list beyond the jump break:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sisko tahtoisin jäädä / Run Sister Run

Sisko tahtoisin jäädä with Sara Melleri and Ada Kukkonen. Photo: Solar Films / Jani Häkli.

Spring syster spring
    FI 2010. PC: Solar Films. P: Jukka Helle, Piia Nokelainen, Markus Selin. D: Marja Pyykkö. SC: Marja Pyykkö, Laura Suhonen. DP: Konsta Sohlberg – shot on 35 mm – digital intermediate Generator Post 4K / 2K – released on 35 mm [and DCP?]. COST: Tiina Kaukanen. Make-up: Mari Vaalasranta. Hair: Ester Räisänen, Jani Räisänen.
    M: Antti Lehtinen. – "Lasten mehuhetki", "Onnen lintunen" (Tuomari Nurmio). – "Sata salamaa", "One Way Ticket (Menolippu)", "The Night Chicago Died (Kun Chicago kuoli)" perf. Vicky Rosti. – "Oh My God" (Ida Maria). – "Rush" (Anna Abreu, Timo Laiho, Tommy Lindgren, Kari Saarilahti) perf. Don Johnson Big Band. – "Broken Boy Soldiers" perf. The Raconteurs. – "Moottoritie on kuuma" (Pelle Miljoona, Ari Taskinen) perf. Ada Kukkonen, Sara Melleri. – "C30 C60 C90 GO!" (Malcolm McLaren, Mathew Ashman, Leroy Gorman, David Barb) perf. Bow Wow Wow.
    S: Panu Riikonen. ED: Mikko Sippola. Loc: Helsinki.
    C: Ada Kukkonen (Emilia), Sara Melleri (Siiri), Anna-Leena Uotila (Elsa), Seppo Pääkkönen (Juhani), Kristiina Halttu (Tuula), Heikki Nousiainen (Pentti), Santeri Kinnunen (Esa), Riitta Havukainen (Sari), Samuli Niittymäki (Tomi), Henri Huttunen (Iivo), Anita Ruokolainen (Minna), Tytti Junna (Juulia), Roope Karisto (Antti).
    The title of the film is from the lyrics of "Moottoritie on kuuma".
    105 min. Released in Finland by Nordisk Film Theatrical Distribution with Swedish subtitles by Markus Karjalainen.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 13 August 2010 (day of premiere)

An excellent debut film by director-screenwriter Marja Pyykkö and co-screenwriter Laura Suhonen and strong performances by the young actresses Ada Kukkonen and Sara Melleri.

A coming-of-age story of two young girls at 15 and 16. Emilia has been Miss Responsibility, but then she meets wild Siiri.

Among the most interesting characters in recent cinema have been Juno (written by Diablo Cody, directed by Jason Reitman) and Lisbeth Salander (in the Stieg Larsson crime novels such as The Girl Who Played With Fire, impersonated on screen by Noomi Rapace). Emilia and Siiri belong to this new exciting generation of young women.

This film is character-driven, and Marja Pyykkö is a strong director of actors. There is a consistent intensity in the performances. Teenage is a state of confusion, and nobody can learn from the previous generations how to grow up, although one always has to try. Pyykkö knows how to convey subjective states of bewilderment.

The story is set firmly in Helsinki, and Marja Pyykkö finds fresh locations and new angles to familiar ones. The forbidden collective night swim in the Olympic Stadion a week before the school starts is the powerful opening. Emilia seems to like unusual high places with large perspectives, and so does Siiri.

This is a story about taking chances, stretching one's limits, and transgression, doing what is forbidden, including committing crimes: the girls get to deal with the police and with watchmen and patrolmen. At worst, at the beach they assault and rob an old man who has to be hospitalized. The girls are not only nice and misunderstood, they commit terrible things which we are not meant to sympathize with.

There is an interesting throwback to the 1970s in the soundtrack, including Vicky Rosti, Tuomari Nurmio, and Pelle Miljoona. The Finnish title is a line from Pelle Miljoona's 1970's new wave hit song "Moottoritie on kuuma" ["The Motorway Is Hot"] which the actresses perform forcefully during the end credits.

In the screening it was evident from the start that the film struck the right chord with the target audience.

The film print has been processed from a digital intermediate but this time so well that I could not tell the difference.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pleins feux sur l'assassin / Spotlight on a Murderer

Valokeila murhaajaan / Mord i strålkastarljus.
    FR, year of production 1960, year of release 1961. PC: Champs-Élysées Productions. Original distributor: MGM. P: Jules Borkon. D: Georges Franju. SC: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac - adaptation: Georges Franju - dialogue: Robert Thomas. DP: Marcel Fradetal. PD: Roger Briaucourt. COST: Lorène. M: Maurice Jarre. "Où sont les funérailles d'antan?" by Georges Brassens. S: Robert Biard. ED: Gilbert Natot.
    C: Pierre Brasseur (Comte Hervé de Kerloguen), Pascale Audret (Jeanne Benoist-Sainval), Marianne Koch (Edwige), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Jean-Marie de Kerloguen), Dany Saval (Micheline), Philippe Leroy (André), Jean Babilée (Christian de Kerloguen), Georges Rollin (Claude Benoist-Sainval). 92 min.
    A vintage print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 11 Aug 2010

Revisited Georges Franju's mystery thriller which I had previously seen 40 years ago on tv and saw now on screen for the first time. After Franju's magisterial short films, La Tête contre les murs and Les Yeux sans visage this is a more light entertainment picture.

"A ghost story without a ghost. What I shall enjoy is making emptiness live." The impressive medieval castle is the main "character", and in a hidden closet beyond a double mirror the dead count pulls the last trick on his greedy inheritors... just by staying undiscovered, because the legal term until the inheritance is five years if his corpse is never found. Franju relishes in the imagery of the old castle, the Maltese Knight emblems, the spiral stairways, the dead ravens, the owl in the tower, the white horse.

The "great men" version of history is evoked and parodied in the way Franju presents the Son et Lumière presentation (spotlights and audio commentary presenting the legend of the old castle to a distinguished audience). Modern technology is introduced into the old castle, and there are funny new inventions to the ghost theme thanks to the technical means.

This is another Boileau-Narcejac story with "an absent protagonist" like Les Diaboliques, Vertigo, and Les Yeux sans visage. The absence or invisibility is also expressed via the "spotlight on nothing" theme, first at the control board where a light signal indicates the presence of the "ghost", and then at the Son et Lumière performances where the audience needs to imagine the characters to the spotlights.

Not a profound masterpiece, but I like Franju's light, amusing touch and the work of his trusted fellow artists, the cinematographer Marcel Fradetal, and the composer Maurice Jarre. The elegantly thrilling cinematography serves Franju's conception of the insolite, and Maurice Jarre contributes to the proper atmosphere with his strange waltzes. The vintage print still looks quite fine.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Beat the Devil

Afrikan aarre / Skälmarnas marknad. GB/US/IT © 1953 Santana Pictures. P+D: John Huston. SC: Truman Capote, John Huston - based on the novel by James Helvick (= Claud Cockburn) (1951). DP: Oswald Morris. AD: Wilfred Shingleton. M: Franco Mannino. S: E. Law, George Stephenson. ED: Ralph Kemplen. LOC: Salerno (Italy).
    CAST: Humphrey Bogart (Billy Dannreuther), Jennifer Jones (Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm), Gina Lollobrigida (Maria Dannreuther), Robert Morley (Peterson), Peter Lorre (Julius O'Hara), Edward Underdown (Harry Chelm), Ivor Barnard (Maj. Jack Ross), Marco Tulli (Ravello), Bernard Lee (Insp. Jack Clayton), Mario Perrone (Purser on SS Nyanga), Saro Ursi (Captain of SS Nyanga). 89 min
    A vintage print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion (Jennifer Jones in memoriam), Helsinki, 10 August 2010

Revisited John Huston's self-parody of his favourite themes such as the absurdity of the treasure hunt. Shot in Italy, Beat the Devil is a precursor to I soliti ignoti. The film is based on a succession of anti-climaxes. It starts in Salerno, the Mediterranean is crossed with SS Nyanga, the gang lands in a lifeboat, they are captured by an Egyptian official, and it all ends in Salerno again.

The bunch of inept crooks is interpreted by Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard, and Marco Tulli. Billy (Humphrey Bogart) is somehow caught with them although deeply suspicious.

The couples Dannreuther (Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida) and Chelm (Edward Underdown, Jennifer Jones) are in a worldly partner-switching mode. Jennifer Jones as a blonde has a chance to relax between high profile assignments. She has fun with the comedy.

Familiar quotes: "they must be desperate characters... not one of them looked at my legs" (Jennifer Jones), "time is a crook" (Peter Lorre), Lorre's character's name O'Hara mispronounced as O'Horror...

Franco Mannino's beautiful music creates funny effects as it is so much above and beyond the mundane goings-on.

The vintage print shows signs of heavy duty wear. There are joins and some sound damage, but it is still watchable.

At times Bogart seems to imitate Huston's voice. The film ends with his (their) big laugh: "this is the end, The End".

Soul Kitchen

Soul Kitchen / Soul Kitchen (Soul Kitchen). DE (c) 2009 Corazón International. P: Fatih Akin, Ann-Kristin Homann, Klaus Maeck. D: Fatih Akin. SC: Fatih Akin, Adam Bousdoukos. DP: Rainer Klausmann - negative: 35 mm - digital intermediate - released on 35 mm - Fujicolor - 1,85:1. PD: Tamo Kunz. The music track is a pop compilation score (see soundtrack album title list after the jump break). COST: Katrin Aschendorf. S: Andreas Hildebrandt. ED: Andrew Bird. LOC: Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. CAST: Adam Bousdoukos (Zinos Kazantsakis), Moritz Bleibtreu (Illias Kazantsakis), Birol Ünel (Shayn Weiss), Anna Bederke (Lucia Faust), Pheline Roggan (Nadine Krüger), Lukas Gregorowicz (Lutz), Dorka Gryllus (Anna Mondstein), Wotan Wilke Möhring (Thomas Neumann), Demir Gökgöl (Sokrates), Monica Bleibtreu (Nadine's grandmother), Udo Kier (Mr. Jung).102 min. A Future Film release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Staffans. Viewed at Kino Tapiola, Espoo Ciné Press Conference, 10 August 2010.

Espoo's Kino Tapiola, built in 1955 and reconstructed during the last two years, was opened to the press. The cinema experience was a pleasure with the lobby, the seats, and the screening: they have both D-Cinema with 3-D and 35 mm twin projection.

I liked Fatih Akin's previous feature film Auf der anderen Seite very much. Soul Kitchen is a departure to comedy and entertainment. It can be compared with films such as Big Night (Stanley Tucci) and Bella Martha (Sandra Nettelbeck). It is completely different and personal, yet it is rather quality light entertainment than a deeply gripping movie such as Auf der anderen Seite. It is the rise-and fall-and rise story of a rundown restaurant called Soul Kitchen in the Wilhelmsburg neighbourhood in Hamburg.

Although there has been a digital intermediate, the image had a grungy and juicy sensuality like in photochemical film.

The soundtrack, as in Auf der anderen Seite, is a pleasure, this time mixing Greek music with soul. The special theme is "La paloma", played in many versions. At least since Helmut Käutner's Grosse Freiheit Nr. 7 (1944) "La paloma" has been associated with the city of Hamburg, maybe because the Mexican habanera had become a sailors' favourite song.

Soundtrack listing after jump break

Saturday, August 07, 2010

L'Heure d'été / Summer Hours

Olivier Assayas: L'Heure d'été / Summer Hours (FR 2008).

Kesähetket / Sommarminnen.
    FR © 2008 MK2 / France 2. P: Charles Gillibert, Marin Karmitz, Nathanaël Karmitz.
    D+SC: Olivier Assayas. DP: Eric Gautier – 1,85. In collaboration with la Musée d'Orsay. Set Decoration: Sandrine Mauvezin. S: Nicolas Cantin, Olivier Goinard. ED: Luc Barnier.
    CAST: Charles Berling (Frédéric Marly), Juliette Binoche (Adrienne Marly, la sœur cadette de Frédéric, designer aux États-Unis), Jérémie Rénier (Jérémie Marly, le frère cadet de Frédéric, manager chez Puma en Chine), Édith Scob (Hélène Berthier, la mère dont on célèbre les 75 ans), Dominique Reymond (Lisa Marly, la femme de Frédéric), Valérie Bonneton (Angela Marly, la femme de Jérémie), Isabelle Sadoyan (Éloïse, la fidèle cuisinière), Alice de Lencquesaing (Sylvie Marly, la fille de Frédéric et Lisa), Emile Berling (Pierre Marly, le fils de Frédéric et Lisa, le cadet de Sylvie), Kyle Eastwood (James, l'ami américain d'Adrienne).
    102 min.
    Released by Cinema Mondo (9 July 2010) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Sylva Lönnberg.
    Viewed at Maxim 2, Helsinki, 7 August 2010

Olivier Assayas has created a film about the disintegration of a middle-class family. Where Ozu portrayed disintegration of families of urbanization, the Assayas story is related to globalization. Sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) moves to New York, and brother Jérémie (Jérémie Rénier) to Peking. Only Frédéric (Charles Berling) stays in France.

Assayas is in great form, and L'Heure d'été has been written and directed in an unobtrusive manner of classical psychological realism. It is also a work of visual realism, with the surrounding nature, the city, and the family house providing solid environments for the family story. It starts with Hélène (Edith Scob) celebrating her 75th birthday, aware of her imminent death.

Assayas and his excellent actors are able to create a deeply moving story without melodrama but also without artificial distancing effects. I have seen this film now only once but I know that there are important truths involved that require repeated viewings to be fully appreciated. One of them might be that closest relatives presume they know each other well but they may have crucial blind spots.

As Kent Jones states in his essay quoted below the film succeeds very well in expressing the avoidance of conflict. I would state this more positively than Jones: these people love and respect each other, and they treasure their family spirit so much that they don't want to risk it because of mundane matters. I think a hidden agenda is that each of them would rather give up on all external demands rather than risk hurting any among them. If Frédéric would more passionately defend the idea of keeping the house, the others would give up on their wishes. But even Frédéric alone cannot commit himself so totally, and this is something that Hélène has already foreseen.

The most moving shot of the film is where we see the back of Frédéric sitting on the bed in a dark room after the three have without conflict mutually come to the agreement that the house must be sold. He denies he's crying. Maybe outwardly not but inwardly certainly, and not because the house will be lost, but because this is the end of the family. Without Hélène and the family the house and its artworks lose their meaning.

Avoidance of conflict means avoidance of drama, and Assayas succeeds in conveying deep feelings without conventional drama.

L'Heure d'été is an important film on design, produced in collaboration with la Musée d'Orsay. The artists of the real design objects are credited many times in the dialogue and repeated in the final credits but I could not find a list of their names in internet sources. There is documentary and realistic value in the account of what happens to a dissolving family which owns valuable paintings and artworks.

There is an excellent essay by Kent Jones on the Criterion website sampled beyond the jump break.

20 August 2010: after the essay excerpt some artworks identified from the L'Heure d'été pressbook, courtesy Cinema Mondo

Friday, August 06, 2010

Step Up 3D

Step Up 3D / Step Up 3D (Step Up 3D / Step Up 3D: Born from the Boombox). US 2010. PC: Summit Entertainment / Touchstone Pictures / Offspring Entertainment. P: Patrick Wachsberger, Erik Feig, Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot. D: Jon Chu. SC: Amy Andelson, Emily Meyer - characters: Duane Adler. DP: Ken Seng - 3D formats Real D, XpanD, and Dolby 3D. PD: Devorah Herbert. COST: Kurt and Bart. FX: Conrad V. Brink, Jr., David H. Watkins. Visual Effects team: large. M: Bear McCreary. S: Todd Toon - 7.1 Surround Sound. ED: Andrew Marcus.CAST: Rick Malambri (Luke Katcher), Sharni Vinson (Natalie), Adam Sevani (Robert "Moose" Alexander III), Alyson Stoner (Camille Gage), Joe Slaughter (Julien), Martin Lombard and Facundo Lombard (the Santiago Twins), Keith Stallworth (Jacob), Oren Michaeli (Carlos), Stephen "Twitch" Boss (Jason), Kendra Andrews (Anala), Chadd Smith (Vladd), Daniel "Cloud" Campos (Kid Darkness), Harry Shum, Jr. (Cable), Mari Koda (Jenny Kido), Christopher Scott (Hair), Janelle Cambridge (Fly), Luigi Rosado (Monster), LaJon Dantzler (Smiles). 107 min. Released by Nordisk Film Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Hannele Vahtera / Saliven Gustavson. XpanD presentation viewed at Tennispalatsi 2, Helsinki, 6 August 2010 (day of global premiere)

I love musicals, and so do the makers of Step Up 3D.

Musical is the genre par excellence for the slight narrative, and the makers of Step Up 3D relish in it.

The makers of Step Up 3D also have a strong vision of 3D as an anti-realistic format. This is a celebration of LED aesthetics. It is a moving feast of fantasy, distorted colour, New York neighbourhoods, neon flies, graffiti evolution, boomboxes, streetdance, breakdance and parkour (overcoming urban obstacles) styles, hip-hop, designer sneakers, mixed martial arts, X-games (extreme sports), ubiquitous digital video recording and online awareness. It is a meta-film, being edited on his laptop by Luke Katcher almost in real time, called "Born from the Boombox". The 3D is successful, but time and again I relaxed by taking the 3D glasses off to see a brighter image with better colour.

Step Up 3D is an explosion of energy. The team called the House of Pirates occupies a warehouse and they need to win the World Jam and conquer the House of Samurai to pay the rent. This is a film about team spirit. Natalie (Sharni Vinson) is a double agent, finally choosing the House of Pirates, overcome by their spirit of positivity. It's also about a passion for dancing, about how "one move can free a generation", and Adam Sevani quotes the signature moves of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

There is also a ballroom tango event which Luke Katcher and Moose need to infiltrate.

And there is an extended hommage to classical Hollywood musical, set to Fred Astaire's "I Won't Dance", where Moose needs to woo Camille (Alyson Stoner) whom he's been neglecting. But although all critics refer to Fred Astaire as the model of this I felt this was a clear Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen hommage in its sportive street aesthetics. This number is the only one that has been photographed in the classical "one take, long shot" style, and it stands out because of this.

Since the breakthrough of the music video in the 1970s I have been suffering from the quick edits of dance videos which effectively destroy the impact of the art of the dance on screen. There have been plan-séquence exceptions, and other more carefully edited cases such as Jonathan Demme's Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. A dance number is a strong case for André Bazin's "montage interdit", and Fred Astaire was always strict about it.

Soundtrack album listing after jump break:

Muumi ja punainen pyrstötähti / Moomins and the Comet Chase

Mumintrollen på kometjakt. FI 2010. PC: Oy Filmkompaniet Alpha / FST5 / Filmoteka Narodowa / Jupiter-Film / Mainostelevisio MTV3. P: Tom Carpelan. P for Stereoscape: Ilkka Peltola. D+ED: Maria Lindberg. A felt cloth puppet animation compilation from the original Polish tv series Opowiadania Muminkow / Muumien maailma / The Moomins (PL 1977-1982) by Se-Ma-For Studios. Creator and co-screenwriter in the original series: Tove Jansson - based on her novel Kometjakten / Mumintrollen på kometjakt (Muumipeikko ja pyrstötähti, 1946). SC: Joel Backström, Iivo Baric, Minna Karvonen, Anders Larsson. 3D: Stereoscape. Credit sequence animation (2010): Antonia Ringbom. M: Andrzej Rokicki. Theme song "The Comet Song" (2010) composed and sung by: Björk with lyrics by Sjón. Narrator (Finnish and English versions): Tapani Perttu / Max von Sydow. Voice talent (Finnish and English versions): Tapani Perttu / Stellan Skarsgård (Muumipappa / Moominpappa), Jasper Pääkkönen / Alexander Skarsgård (Muumipeikko / Moomin), Taneli Mäkelä / Peter Stormare (Nuuskamuikkunen / Snufkin), Ilpo Mikkonen / Mads Mikkelsen (Nipsu / Sniff), Elsa Saisio / Helena Mattsson (Niiskuneiti / Snork Maiden), Johanna Viksten / Kathleen Fee (Muumimamma / Moominmamma), Outi Alanen / ? (Pikku Myy / Little My), Jarmo Koski / Stellan Skarsgård (Hemuli / Hemulens). 77 min. Distributed by FS Film in the Finnish-speaking version. 3D: Xpand. Viewed at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki, 6 August 2010 (day of global premiere)

Reportedly the first Nordic 3D feature film.

I liked the first compilation based on the Polish Se-Ma-For animated television series, Muumi ja vaarallinen juhannus, faithful to the Tove Jansson spirit, also because its relaxed attitude is a refreshing alternative to the current mainstream hyperactive ADHD trend in animation. The new compilation is equally successful, and there is nothing wrong with the 3D. Myself, I finally took the 3D glasses off to enjoy a brighter image with a fuller sense of colour definition.

Although the tempo is relaxed, this is an adventure film and a catastrophe movie. A comet threatens the Earth, and Moomin together with Sniff and Snufkin (later joined by Hemulens, as well) embark on a raft to the Lonely Mountains observatory tower to find out all about it. They are thrown to the bottom of the Earth, Moomin rescues Snork Maiden from a toxic angostura tree, the ocean disappears, they are threatened by an octopus, a swarm of locusts devours everything that is green, and they are caught by a tornado.

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) while she was alive was one of my top three Finnish living authors (the other two being Veikko Huovinen and Origo, both now also dead within the last year), my favourite novel of hers being The Magic Winter. She created the Moomin characters for fantasy novels in 1939 (published 1945-1970), picture books (1952-1993), and comic strips (1947- , in the 1950s with together with her brother Lars Jansson, and by Lars Jansson alone until 1975). Since the 1940s there were also Moomin adaptations for the theatre and the radio. Since 1965 there have been television adaptations in Great Britain, Sweden, Japan, the Soviet Union, and so on. The first Moomin cinema feature film was the Japanese anime Tanoshii Moomin Ikka: Moomin-dani no suisei / Comet in Moominland / Muumipeikko ja pyrstötähti (Hiroshi Saito, JP/NL 1992) based on the same novel as Moomins and the Comet Chase.

Tove Jansson, a multi-talented author and painter, was an anti-Fascist cartoonist in the 1930s. She was a Renoirian artist with a spirit of love and tolerance; a Lesbian in an age when it was against the law in Finland. She belonged to Finland's Swedish-speaking community well-known for their good family and friendship networks and high regard for culture and tolerance.

Moomin and the Comet Chase, Tove Jansson's second Moomin novel, was written in an age of devastation (World War II, Hitler, Stalin, Hiroshima), and it is a poetic vision of it. Remarkably, this catastrophe story is devoid of panic. Panic is observed humoristically in others but our protagonists do not succumb to it. Reality must be faced but without despair.

Tove Jansson creates the Moomin Valley as the counter-image (Gegenbild) to the current state of world affairs. It is a tender and gentle but powerful image with strong roots. On a personal note, I often think about my childhood as Moomin Valley. On a national level, our current president, Ms. Tarja Halonen, is sometimes referred to as Moominmamma.

PS 23 Aug 2010. Reading a history of world literature I recognize the affinity of Tove Jansson with the spirit of Horace (Horatius). He lived in an era of calamity with an attitude of carpe diem (seize the day), aequam memento rebus in ardius servare mentem (keeping his calm in the middle of adversity), ridentem dicere verum (speaking the truth with a sense of fun), amara lento temperet risu (soothing bitterness with a smile) and vivitur parvo bene (remembering that one can find happiness in modesty).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Leonard Maltin's 2011 Movie Guide (a book)

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide: 2011 Edition. New York: Signet, August 2010. 1643 pages, over 17.000 entries, including 300+ new entries

Late Sunday night we drove back to Helsinki, witnessing on the way the devastation of the recent storm. Thousands of trees had crashed to the ground, and equally many had been torn from their roots, standing askew in weird angles.

"Hot town, summer in the city". The Helsinki asphalt was hot, and we realized how privileged we had been by the lakeside.

The attendance of our Cinema Orion has been good during the hot summer weeks, thanks probably also to our well-functioning air conditioning. Since Tuesday I have been able to sample our summer programming again. Love Happy (1949) proves that the Marx Brothers stayed funny until their very last film together. A Short Film About Killing (1988) was Krzysztof Kieslowski's experimentally ugly masterpiece shot through sickly yellow and green filters, also an intellectual treatise on the philosophy of justice: Kieslowski's screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz was a lawyer. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) is the most popular Jim Jarmusch film in our cinema, a witty collection of short stories, each one different from the others. The Young One (1960) is in my opinion a special Luis Buñuel masterpiece that started his great 1960s period even before Viridiana. The Young One, Viridiana, and The Diary of a Chambermaid form a unique trilogy starring women. All previous major Buñuel films had starred men.

Next block from Cinema Orion, there is the Corona Bar (with Café Moskva on the side, and Cinema Andorra and Club Dubrovnik downstairs), a favourite meeting place for film folks. Aki Kaurismäki, himself, one of the owners, is enjoying a break. I know him since the 1970s when he was a student at the Tampere University and a film society activist, ardent on Godard, Bresson, Buñuel, and Melville. Now he has finished principal photography on his forthcoming film called Le Havre.

In August the new annual edition of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide is published, and immediately after buying it I stay for hours at Café Aalto at the Academic Bookstore to read many of the new entries and listings. The book is a model in the art of crystallization, of packing a lot in a small space. The book is America-centric with an emphasis on the mainstream. Otherwise it is one of the great books on the cinema.

Maltin's annual recommendations are worthy of attention. This year they are:
City Island (Raymond De Felitta)
L'Heure d'été / Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
In the Loop (Armando Iannucci)
The Answer Man / Arlen Faber (John Hindman)
The Tiger's Tail (John Boorman)
Five Minutes of Heaven (Oliver Hirschbiegel)
Big Fan (Robert D. Siegel)
World's Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait)
That Evening Sun (Scott Teems)
La nana / The Maid (Sebastián Silva)
Trucker (James Mottern)
Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater)