Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sysmäläinen / [The Man from Sysmä] screened twice, first in 35 mm and then in 2K DCP

Sirkka Sari, Olavi Reimas
Sysmäläinen / Mannen från Sysmä. FI 1938. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. EX: Risto Orko. P: Matti Schreck. D: Valentin Vaala. SC: Niilo Hirn [Yrjö Kivimies, Orvo Saarikivi, n.c.] - based on the novel by Jalmari Sauli (1910). DP: Armas Hirvola - Ass: Eino Heino, Niilo Harju. AD: Ville Salminen, Kosti Aaltonen. Cost: Hilppa Ilvos, Evdokia Nikitin. Makeup: Aarne Kuokkanen. M: Felix Krohn. ED: Valentin Vaala. S: Pertti Kuusela. C: Olavi Reimas (Arvid Henrikinpoika Tandefelt), Sirkka Sari (Brita Ekestubbe / Aadolf / Aatu), Vilho Auvinen (Haavuri-Kustaa), Kerttu Salmi (Hankku, also Johanna), Uuno Laakso (Erik Stjernhök), Sven Relander (Axel Ringius), Topo Leistelä (a judge, Arvid's father), Paavo Jännes (Brita's father), Tuulikki Schreck (Brita as a child), Kalevi Koski (Arvid as a child), Iivari Kainulainen (vicar of Sysmä). Helsinki premiere: 6.11.1938, Kino-Palatsi, Savoy – telecasts: 8.3.1961 TES, 9.2.1974 MTV2, 15.3.1981 MTV1, 11.1.1995 YLE TV1, 20.4.2002 YLE TV2 – vhs: 1989 Suomi-Filmi – dvd: 2013 Finnkino - classification: A-2550 – S – historical information: 2550 m / 93 min - surviving prints: 83 min [it would be interesting to examine this discrepancy]
    35 mm safety print viewed at 15.00.
    2K DCP (KAVA 2012) viewed at 17.00.
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki (KAVI Digitizes), 12 Feb 2014
    Sysmäläinen was scanned at 2K at KAVA. Restoration and colour definition: Cinepro / Petri Siitonen. The post was conducted via DigitalVision's Phoenix programme. The sound was digitized and restored at KAVI.

A key Valentin Vaala film. The cross-dressing theme is not a superficial joke but as profound as it can get. "I am going to make him love me as a human being, first then as a woman". This was a surprising, bold, and frank approach in the 1930s, when reactionary trends were very powerful in Finland.

There is in the concept something of the approach of William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night, etc.), and in the execution something of George Cukor (Sylvia Scarlett), but the outcome falls short of such ambitions, and as for the performances, they are spirited, but one can imagine what Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn would have achieved.

A period comedy set in 1622-1637. The male protagonist, the man from Sysmä, is the fool who always fails to recognize the female protagonist in her many disguises, dressing as a man, and then as a man dressing as woman.

Last time I liked it more. But I still like the good taste in Vaala's way in the sometimes risqué dialogue and daring situations (sharing a bed without the man recognizing his wife). Vaala was so much ahead of his time that nobody sensed any offense. As it should be.

It was baffling to see the 35 mm print and the 2K DCP after one another. Firstly, there was the revelation that there are no two versions of different lengths, but apparently only one with a duration of 83 min. Secondly, the 35 mm film print was not as brilliant as I remembered, although it conveys the idea of the spellbound quality of the cinematography. But part of the image is soft, not evenly timed.

Sysmäläinen is a fairy-tale, Shakespearean in the sense that it takes place in an enchanted space like A Midsummer Night's Dream. Transformations occur, revelations take place, eyes are closed and then opened. It is not realistic.

The 2K DCP is a sober analysis of the cinematography, expertly conducted, the image and the sound corrected and balanced in many ways. One can appreciate the beautiful composition, and there is a sense of the fine nuance in the definition of light, but one can see the limitations of 2K in the nature footage. The 2K DCP is admirably clean and bright, but the 35 mm print conveys the magic quality more profoundly. I am grateful for Petteri Kalliomäki for the concept "magic" here.


Bob Smith said...

Thanks for the information about Vaala and this movie. Neither speaking nor reading Finnish, I really appreciate your blog, not only because it is learned and appreciative but also because there seems to be so little about him in English. Having been teaching film studies (from a mostly aesthetic/formal analysis angle) for many years, I’m ashamed to confess I’d never heard of him. The wonders of the DVD and multi region players have enabled me to correct that (same for the works of Blasetti, Schunzel, Forst, etc.), and I have loved everything of his that I have been lucky enough to see. I bought all 11 DVD’s of his films, and have been spacing out watching them knowing that the sad day will arrive when there aren’t any more that I can see for the first time. The compensation will be that I’ll be watching them over and over again, as they are so very wonderful.
The DVD of The Man from Sysma runs 79.30, so then, somewhere and somehow the 83 minute version you saw has been cut down?
Do you know who is responsible for the release of the Vaala films to date? Do you know if any more releases are being contemplated?
Of what I have seen, I agree with you that this film is among the best. The others I’ve so far watched are all very good – charming, beautiful to look at, marvelously acted, natural, effortless seeming, and sharply observant. Is it possible that his standards and achievements are consistently this high? Is the person, or are the persons who are selecting the titles so far released going for the very best only – or all most of/all of his films this good? That seems hardly possible, as if they are all this good; he’s automatically one of the greatest artists in all film history.
This is all very confusing, but in a wonderful way. I have not had so much pleasure from the cinema in a very long time. In watching his films, I can feel the corners of my mouth turning up from the joy, exuberance and elegance of the experience.
Sorry if I’m a pest, but anything at all you can tell me about Vaala and his work will be greatly appreciated.
Bob Smith

Antti Alanen said...

Dear Bob,
Thank you very much for your kind remarks.
Valentin Vaala was the greatest master of Finnish cinema during the studio era (until 1962), and he was at his best from the 1920s until the early 1950s. Loviisa for me is his masterpiece, but as a rule all his films are worth seeing until the early 1950s. Then he was assigned remakes, and some routine and fatigue started to seep in. A pro he was until the end in the early 1970s.
Of Sysmäläinen the version you saw on dvd is the same restored one I blogged on. The difference in the duration is as always based on the fact that PAL video speed is 25 fps which means that each film is some 2,5 minutes faster = shorter on dvd than on screen.
I would predict that the entire Vaala corpus will be available on dvd some day. Then you can continue with Leminen, Unho...