Friday, June 08, 2012

Cinema Concert Pohjalaisia (1925)

Pohjalaisia (1925). 100 min. 2K DCP restoration by KAVA (2012, restoration: Anna Lehto, Päivi Hurskainen, editing: Jarmo Nyman) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pohjanmaa), 8 June 2012 (the first public performance of the restoration).

Live cinema event with two master accordionists, Teppo Välimäki and Teijo Aho. A part of the the festival of the province of Etelä-Pohjanmaa (Etelä-Pohjanmaa valtaa Senaatintorin: Pikkuusen häjymmät pirot, 7-9 June, 2012).

See my remarks about the movie on 30 May, 2012.

The Finnish cinema's annual Jussi awards and the Jussi statue have been inspired by the play Pohjalaisia (1914) and the two movies based on it (1925, 1936).

A shirt popular in Finland, called Jussi shirt, was first designed for this movie, based on traditional shirt design. The wine red shirt is called a Jussi shirt, and the blue alternative, an Antti shirt.

This was the only film work of Jalmari Lahdensuo (1880-1931), who was a highly regarded man of the theatre (theatre director and theatre manager), also a teacher of languages, a school director, a translator of plays and operas, a singer, a journalist, a critic. During the civil war he was engaged in tasks of the white army. Lahdensuo came from Pohjanmaa (Lapua), had led amateur theatre groups there, and directed the first public performance of Pohjalaisia, one of the most popular Finnish plays.

The author of the original play and the screenwriter Artturi Järviluoma (1879-1942, born in Alavus, Pohjanmaa) was already experienced in the cinema. He had written the screenplay for Nummisuutarit (1923), generally held as the best Finnish silent film. Based on Aleksis Kivi's beloved play, the adaptation was interestingly cinematic, more so than the sound film adaptation of the play.

From this background it is easy to understand that there is a feeling of a true Pohjanmaa spirit in the movie, not just in the circumstances and details of life, but in a more profound way. The hot blood of Jussi and Antti leads them to a conflict with law and order, but they are proud men ready to face the consequences of what they have done. What they cannot stand is injustice.

At its best the movie is in crowd scenes. The great communal dancing party ends with everybody dancing around the house to bring luck to it. The pietists' religious service at a private home is interrupted by the vallesmanni (sheriff) as an illegal meeting. When the häjyt (the badmen) come to provoke a fight at the dancing party, they come and leave the place dancing, in a special theatrical, demonstrative way, full of defiance.

Regarding the theatrical background of Jalmari Lahdensuo his only movie is more cinematic than might be expected. A model was clearly the Nummisuutarit film adaptation with its visions, quick montages, and special masks with a widescreen effect. The crowd scenes are full of life, and when there are more than two people in the shot, there is a feeling of real interaction. Lively scenes are the incident with the sacks of grain by the windmill, the drunken sequence, Antti's escape through the plains, Jussi's walk through the cornfield, and especially the two electrifying encounters of Jussi with the sheriff. In the first one, he breaks the sheriff's whip in half, and in the second, after having tasted the whip, he kills him with his knife. On a more tender and humoristic note, Jussi's marriage proposal scene with Liisa and her father is conveyed with looks only, without intertitles.

On the other hand, there is surprising clumsiness in camera movement such as panning. The editing is not always fluid. The Swedes mastered cinematic means already in the 1910s, but in Finland that happened ten years later with Valentin Vaala.

In the role of Jussi is Oiva Soini (1893-1971), an opera singer who played in three Suomi-Filmi productions in 1923-1925. Jussi was his final movie role. He has a strong physical presence in the same way as Bartolomeo Pagano as Maciste, or Stallone and Schwarzenegger in later days. By the windmill he carries simultaneously two sacks of grain and the miller. He jumps on a horse with a single jump like Douglas Fairbanks. (So does Köysti, the king of the badmen.) "Strong men are clumsy", reproaches Liisa, however.

From this fine reconstruction and restoration I saw in advance a dvd with a simulated toning which I liked and prefer to simulated tinting in the circumstances of modern media. But this version with simulated tinting looked good, too, better than I expected. The motif of the bright eyes of Liisa is central to the play and the movie. On ortochromatic stock eyes were always a challenge anyway, and it is especially important to do justice to the presentation of eyes in modern colour simulations of silent movies. I had never seen Pohjalaisia (1925) on screen before, and few have in 80 years. I had no complaints with the 2K DCP presentation.

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