Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anna-Liisa (1922)

Anna-Liisa (1922), the tragic finale: Anna-Liisa confesses that she has killed her illegitimate baby five years ago. The wedding will be cancelled, and Anna-Liisa faces prison. Hemmo Kallio, Axel Ahlberg, Helmi Lindelöf, Emil Autere.
Anna-Liisa / Anna-Lisa. FI 1922. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. EX: Erkki Karu. D: Teuvo Puro, Jussi Snellman. SC: Jussi Snellman – based on the play (1895) by Minna Canth. DP: Kurt Jäger (interiors), A. J. Tenhovaara (exteriors); assistent: Armas Fredman. AD: Carl Fager. ED: Teuvo Puro, Kurt Jäger. Stills: Kalle Havas. C: Hemmo Kallio (the master of Kortesuo), Meri Roini (the mistress of Kortesuo), Helmi Lindelöf (Anna-Liisa, the daughter at Kortesuo), Greta Waahtera (Pirkko, her little sister), Emil Autere (Johannes Kivimaa, Anna-Liisa's fiancé), Mimmi Lähteenoja (Husso), Einari Rinne (Mikko, Husso's son, now a lumber boss), Axel Ahlberg (rovasti / provost). Loc: Tuusula. Studio: Vironkatu studio. Shooting schedule: summer 1921 - winter 1922.
    Helsinki premiere: 20.3.1922, released by Suomi-Filmi.
    Original length: 1800 m (probably a rough estimate).
    Surviving prints: 1581 m /20 fps/ 69 min
    There was a Suomi-Filmi vhs release (1991) at 49 min, probably at 25 fps.
    A previous restoration, toned: Suomen elokuva-arkisto 1991.
    New digital restoration (KAVA 2013) based on a duplicate positive. Scanned previously at 2K at Generator Post. Because of frameline issues the image had to be scanned twice, and scene by scene the best alternative was selected. The frameline issues date from the first generation material.
    The entire film was processed digitally frame by frame. Besides dirt removal almost all scenes have been stabilized, and flicker has been removed. Also scratches have been removed when possible. From some of the scenes more dirt, scratches, tear, blotches, joins and all manner of patina has been removed manually.
    The restoration was conducted with Davinci Revival and  PFClean programmes. The definition of light has been remade, and the colour has been added according to original models resorting to the Davinci Resolve programme.
    The DCP has throughout a colour solution similar to tinting.
    The DCP has a music score recorded in 2013 at Forssa Silent Film Festival, by Mikko-Ville Luolajan-Mikkola (violin), Eero Ojanen (piano), and Teemu Hauta-aho (bass).
    DCP (with Finnish / Swedish intertitles) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Erkki Karu), 12 Jan 2014.
    In the presence of Mikko-Ville Luolajan-Mikkola and Teemu Hauta-aho.
    Other film adaptations: Anna-Liisa (Teppo Raikas, FI 1911 – never released), Anna-Liisa (Orvo Saarikivi, FI 1945).

After seeing the new restoration I also read the original tragedy:
Minna Canth: Anna-Liisa, a play in three acts. 1895. In: Minna Canth: Valitut teokset. Porvoo-Helsinki: WSOY, 1954. Introduction by Toini Havu.

Revisited Anna-Liisa (1922), one of the earliest surviving Finnish feature films, and the first one that was distributed abroad, including in the United States. In Portland the police interrupted a screening because of a sauna scene (chaste male towel-protected semi-nudity in a long shot). Anna-Liisa was the first Finnish film that was restricted for children.

Based on the last play by the formidable Minna Canth (1844-1897), Anna-Liisa is a tragedy about a young woman of 20 who on the day when her wedding has been announced confesses that five years ago she has suffocated her illegitimate baby.

The social circumstances have changed, perhaps also due to activists like Minna Canth.

In the background is a tale of impossible, forbidden love. Anna-Liisa has been dating the farmhand Mikko, whom her parents would never have accepted for her husband (and the inheritor of their prosperous farm). Keeping the baby would have been out of the question, too. Anna-Liisa has been blocked into a tragic impasse without a happy alternative.

We have been screening Anna-Liisa regularly, and twenty years ago I noticed how deeply it impressed young viewers. There are enduring themes such as the generation gap, the burden of a secret and the agony of forbidden love. Every young generation can relate to them.

Suomi-Filmi was determined to create a high profile Finnish film culture. The artists at Suomi-Filmi admired Swedish masterpieces but they based their films on Finnish classics such as Minna Canth's plays, and made a point of shooting on location and being inspired by nature.

This film adaptation is ambitious. The approach is not completely assured, but the adaptation is  interesting and successful. The play takes place entirely on the same set, inside the Kortesuo house; it obeys the classical unities of tragedy. The film has been opened up to exteriors, it makes use of parallel editing, it has flashbacks, and there is a dream sequence.

Unlike in the play, the film has lumbercamp scenes. Mikko is a negative character in the story, but in the film we also realize that he has grown as a man. Alas, when he returns to claim Anna-Liisa, he does so in an aggressive and destructive way. Any which way, it would have been too late. He had seduced Anna-Liisa. He had abandoned her, not because he wanted to, but there was no way he could have married her at the time of their passionate affair of youth.

The power of nature is an effective original compensation of the silent film to the power of dialogue in the original tragedy.

The violent climaxes are effective.

Anna-Liisa's nightmare sequence (with no equivalent in the play) is memorable, and well made with superimpositions.

The finale of the tragedy is complex and shocking. Anna-Liisa has stayed awake all night at the beach, losing her mind, starting to wade into the lake to fetch her crying baby, until rescued by Johannes.

The wedding announcing party has not been cancelled, although there will be no wedding. Finally Anna-Liisa appears - dressed in black. "Long live God's holy spirit in all of us". "I am nobody's bride". Anna-Liisa confesses everything, knowing that she will now be convicted to a prison sentence. "I have never felt so happy in my life". Johannes, the fiancé who had disowned her, now declares: "You are the one I thought you were after all". The provost praises Anna-Liisa: "She is wandering on the road to eternal happiness."

Although the directors' approach has not been entirely assured before this, they direct the tragic finale with stunning force, without watering down its complexity. On a personal level it's devastating, on a spiritual level it is dignified, on a social level it exposes an awful injustice.

I have been interested in the theme of the cancelled wedding in the cinema. Anna-Liisa is yet another case, as is Nummisuutarit, directed by Erkki Karu in the next year.

At 20 fps, Anna-Liisa may still be too fast at times as certain scenes seem shot at 18 fps or less. The restoration has been conducted with great skill and taste.

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