Wednesday, June 08, 2011


FI 1984. PC: Skandia Filmi Oy, Matti Kassila Ky. P: Kaj Holmberg. D+SC : Matti Kassila – based on the plays Niskavuoren naiset (1936) and Niskavuoren leipä (1938) by Hella Wuolijoki. DP: Pertti Mutanen - Fujicolor - 1,66 - lab: MTV-elokuvalaboratorio. M: Rauno Lehtinen. AD: Matteus Marttila. Cost: Leila Jäntti. S: Johan Hake. ED: Tepi Salokari. Loc: Hämeenkyrö, Ylöjärvi, Nurmijärvi, Hauho, Sipoo, Kirkkonummi, Helsinki. Cast: Rauni Luoma (Loviisa, the old mistress of Niskavuori), Esko Salminen (Aarne Niskavuori), Satu Silvo (Ilona Ahlgren), Maija-Liisa Márton (Martta Niskavuori), Tuomas Mattila (the master of Simola), Martin Kurtén (Dr. Warelius), Esko Roine (pharmacist), Aarno Sulkanen (farm manager), Eila Pehkonen (Sandra Marjanen), Elina Hoffrén (Serafiina Marjanen), Pentti Marttinen (provost), Helen Elde (the provost's wife), Matti Tuominen (the master of Marttila), Salme Karppinen (the mistress of Marttila), Esko Nikkari (the master of Nikula), Rauha Puntti (the mistress of Nikula), Elina Pohjanpää (Saima Niskavuori), Ismo Kallio (Matti Niskavuori), Esa Saario (Kaarlo Niskavuori), Seppo Kolehmainen (teacher Vainio), Paula Siimes (Anna-Liisa Niskavuori), Ulla-Sisko Tamminen (Salli), Keijo Lindroos (Nieminen), Anja Jaakkola (milkmaid), Eeva Mäkinen (Aliina), Eero Saarinen (Aliina's fiancé), Pekka Valkeejärvi (son of Nieminen), Eeva Aitta (lita). 120 min. A vintage print distributed by Finnkino with Swedish subtitles by Eirik Udd. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Hella Wuolijoki), 8 June 2011.

I saw Matti Kassila's interpretation of the Niskavuori saga for the first time. Of the five Niskavuori plays he has selected the two that take place in the 1930s and that are immediately linked with one another. Writing about the film Anu Koivunen has approached it as a Finnish heritage film and a nostalgia film. The approach seems justifiable, but I think what matters most is the continuous, fundamental excitement about the saga. Hella Wuolijoki's plays have been constantly in demand in the Finnish theatre since their premiere, and there seems to be no end to new interpretations. I think there are many reasons to this. The plays are good drama, they offer great roles for actors, and the dialogue is sharp. They are also a saga of agrarian Finland from the 1880s until the 1940s. Nostalgia, why not, but also processing our essential recent past. The roots of many of us are in the country.

The Niskavuori saga is also an original contribution to themes of gender politics. It is a saga of matriarchy, where the master of the house is being crushed "under the female scepter". This is about a tradition of matriarchy that exists outside female emancipation and women's liberation.

Matti Kassila's film focuses efficiently on this twin conflict: The matriarch Loviisa vs. the young master Aarne, and the matriarch Loviisa vs. the young emancipated Ilona. It is powerful drama, and Rauni Luoma (in her last role), Esko Salminen, and Satu Silvo (in her debut movie role) are memorable in it.

My favourite peripeteia in Finnish fiction is the one in the play Niskavuoren leipä [The Bread of Niskavuori] where old mother Loviisa comes to Helsinki to visit Aarne and Ilona who have escaped to the city for five years. Loviisa gives Aarne a reikäleipä, a classic Finnish round rye bread with a hole in the middle. Peter Kubelka might discover meanings for this showcase of "food as metaphor". It emanates a force that Aarne cannot resist, and it changes the course of the Niskavuori saga.

The scene was well interpreted by Emma Väänänen and Tauno Palo in Edvin Laine's film Niskavuoren Aarne, and now Rauni Luoma and Esko Salminen rise to the occasion.

The heavily-used vintage print had a soft definition, with fine detail missing.

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