Monday, November 24, 2014

Finnland im Kampf

Anzeiger für die Stadt Bern, 30 Jan 1941
Finnland im Kampf / Ein kleines Volk wehrt sich: Finnlands Freiheitskampf. Ein Dokument vom heroischen Verteidigungswillen eines kleinen Volkes, geschaffen von zwei Schweizern in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Schweizer Hilfswerk für Finnland. CH 1940. D: E. O. Stauffer. DP: Charles Zbinden. S (Vertonung): Cinegram A. G. Genf. Visatone. Lizenz Marconi. The film was not released in Finland. 77 min
    Restored in August 2014 by Cinémathèque suisse (Lausanne). Kopierwerk: Digimage, Paris.
    Music excerpts include: Jean Sibelius: "Finlandia", "The Swan of Tuonela", and "Belshazzar's Feast".
    Featuring: Wäinö Aaltonen, flygflott 19 commander Bäckhammar, A. K. Cajander, minister Ecker (Swiss ambassador), Carl-August Ehrensvärd, Erik von Frenckell, Ragnar Grönvall, Haakon VII, Väinö Hakkila, Kristian X, Kustaa V, Kyösti Kallio, Heikki Kekoni, C. G. E. Mannerheim, Jussi Mäntynen, Johan Nykopp, Aitanga Oesch, Alli Paasikivi, J. K. Paasikivi, Aladár Paasonen, E. O. Stauffer, Väinö Tanner, Charles Zbinden.
     A 1940 French-language parallel version: La Bataille de la Finlande / Un petit peuple se défend / La Bataille de Finlande.
    A 1970 re-release version, 50 min
    A 1988 re-release version, at 16 mm, in a German version and a French version, 25 min
    A screener dvd of the 2014 Lausanne restoration viewed at home, 24 Nov 2014

Commissioned by the Schweizer Hilfswerk für Finnland two young Swiss, E. O. Stauffer and Charles Zbinden, traveled to Finland to cover the Winter War (30 November 1939 - 13 March 1940) equipped with a 35 mm camera and a 16 mm Bolex camera [source: Roland Cosandey, memo 2011]. The temperatures of minus 30-40 grades Centigrade did not scare them.

Erwin Oscar Stauffer was born in 1912, and he represented Berg & Heimat Film. Carl Zbinden was born in 1910, and he represented Peka-Film. They stayed in Finland from 16 February until 3 March, 1940. (Source: Martti Julkunen: Talvisodan kuva. Ulkomaisten sotakirjeenvaihtajien kuvaukset Suomesta 1939-40. Helsinki: Weilin+Göös, 1975. [The source there: Valtioneuvoston tiedoituskeskus (Matti Pyykkö) Helsingin poliisimestarille 3.3.1940 (VA Da. 4).] [Another source mentioned there: Erwin Stauffer: "Ein Finnland-Film von zwei Schweizer unter Todesgefahr aufgenommen". Schweizer Film-Revue 11.1.1941]. Stauffer and Zbinden were sportsmen, skiers, mountaineers, and mountain film makers. The Bolex camera was the best choice for extreme temperatures. [Source: Roland Cosandey, 28 Nov 2014].

There is an introduction to Finland and to events in the autumn 1939 before the war. We witness a modern total war with an all-out murderous bombing of civilians in order totally to demoralize the people. We see huge crowds of refugees. Most of this footage is from pre-existing sources.

The film then is structured as a travel story.

The first journey takes us to Lemetti. Finnish officers explain us the motti tactics with which courageous fighters can cut up a superior aggressor and destroy it bit by bit. The tactics was put into practice against the fearsome Blue Division, the 44th Division, infamous from the attack to Poland, now destroyed by Finns at the Raate road / Raatteen tie. The stunning footage of the war loot of the destroyed enemy is shot at Itä-Lemetti and perhaps Länsi-Lemetti

The second journey brings us to the bitter cold of Lapland, to Salla, where some of the most ferocious battles of the war took place. The Swiss film the Finnish trek to Salla and illustrate the counterattack to Joutsijärvi via military rehearsal footage. The Russians are beaten with heavy losses. Mannerheim inspects the troops and decorates Swedish volunteers.

The film is a heartfelt tribute to the heroism of the Finnish people. It is not a militaristic film, however. There is a profound sense of mourning about the devastation of the war. There is a human connection in the footage which always emphasizes the human face, often eloquently: the children at play, the Lotta women helping with air defense and medical care, the refugees who have lost their homes, the firemen facing superhuman challenges, the soldiers with their laconic attitude on the front, and the Russian prisoners-of-war who are treated as human beings, too. Stauffer and Zbinden also cover the Finnish madness of the sauna ritual of rolling naked in the snow at minus 30 grades temperature.

Frontline combat footage in war films, including documentaries, is almost always faked, and that is the case here, too. The combat scenes have been photographed at show battle demonstrations for foreign journalists and at military training centers.

Cinémathèque suisse has conducted a valuable work of restoration. Thanks are due to Roland Cosandey who has championed this film and reminded also us in Finland about it. There has been a 16 mm study print in Finland, but it has not been in general release.
Anzeiger für die Stadt Bern, 29 Jan 1941

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Guy de Maupassant: Bel-Ami (a novel)

Guy de Maupassant: Bel-Ami (FR 1885). Illustration de Ferdinand Bac, gravure sur bois par G. Lemoine for Œuvres complètes illustrés de Guy de Maupassant (1906). Reproduction in Billeskov Jansen - Stangerup - Traustedt: Verdens litteraturhistorie 9

Guy de Maupassant: Bel-Ami. [A novel]. FR 1885. Finnish translation: Bel-Ami. Translated by Arvi Nuormaa (Kansanvalta 1926, Tammi 1944, 1955, 1980). Read in the 1945 Finnish edition, Helsinki: Tammi.
    Originally published as a serial in the Gil Blas magazine.

A satirical Bildungsroman (un roman d'apprentissage, un roman de formation, un roman d'éducation). The novel is told by a neutral narrator. The protagonist, the subject and the central consciousness is the journalist Georges Duroy, a veteran of the French military in Algeria. The action takes place in the recent present in Paris, and there are excursions to Cannes and Rouen / Canteleu.

Bel-Ami is the story of a playboy, arriviste and opportunist - "l'arriviste absolu". In the beginning, Georges is an insecure, poor country lad from Normandy who has interrupted his military service as he has interrupted his studies before. In Paris he discovers he is irresistible to women. The women protagonists include: - Miss Rachel, a dancer at Folies-Bergère - Mrs. Madeleine Forestier, the wife of Charles Forestier, an army buddy of Georges, a journalist - Mrs. Clotilde de Marelle whose husband is seldom at home - Mrs. Virginie Walter, the wife of the owner and editor-in-chief of the Vie Française newspaper - and Miss Suzanne Walter, their daughter. In the finale there is a wedding between Georges and Suzanne. Georges is rising fast to the top of the society. The result of this novel of education is what we in Finland call "a political broiler".

Georges is active and clever, but in the beginning the aspiring journalist cannot write well, and his famous articles are ghost-written by Madeleine Forestier whose approach connoisseurs recognize not only in the writings of Georges but also of Charles Forestier and even in a successor in another newspaper much later. In the beginning Clotilde helps Georges with money, which he later pays back.

Appearances are deceptive. Articles are ghost-written. Marriages are facades behind which affairs take place. The official government policy is a front for a completely different agenda. Thanks to the double play cunning investors can buy property at ridiculous prices, and when tables turn, they become the richest men in the world. The Vie Française newspaper is a formidable tool in the power game. Georges the playboy is at first a pawn in a big game, but he learns the rules of the game and is becoming a key player in his own right.

Sex in this story is both a means to an end and an end in itself. It is not all instrumental. There is true attraction between Georges and Rachel. There is genuine admiration between Madeleine and Georges. There is real tenderness in the affair of Clotilde and Georges. The only mostly instrumental relationship is between Virginie and Georges. The marriage of Georges and Suzanne is based on calculation but not exclusively; they really love one another.

There is cynical dimension in the story, but it would be wrong to call the novel all cynical. It offers a rich perspective into life. It tells about corruption in society, in the government, in financial affairs, in the news media, and in the institution of marriage. The novel is a satire. People get power, wealth, and sex, but do they find happiness? And do we find them admirable or even likeable?

As a contrast to the high society of Paris there is a rustical episode of a visit to the countryside in Normandy, as Madeleine insists in visiting the parents of Georges. But the cultural gap is insurmountable. Georges loves his parents, but his mother and Madeleine cannot stand each other.

The account of the sex drive is a celebration of the life force. The contrast to that is the naturalistic death sequence in Cannes of Charles Forestier who perishes with TB. There is also the warning example to Georges of his colleague at the newspaper, the ageing poet Norbert de Varenne, now bitter and lonely, urging Georges to get married and have children.

The contrast to the profane goings-on is in the episodes with the sacred, the holy. The main rendez-vous between Virginie and Georges takes place in a church where Virginie also gives her confession. A central setpiece is the artwork of the decade, a painting of Jesus walking on the water, bought by the newly rich Walter family. Belatedly they realize that Jesus looks like Georges.

The main power player behind the scenes is Monsieur Walter. There is a touch of anti-semitism in the way in which his Jewish background is emphasized.

"Bel-Ami c'est moi" said Maupassant who named his yachts Bel-Ami and Bel-Ami II. But there is something profoundly paradoxical, incredible and unconvincing in such an identification. Maupassant is no Bel-Ami. Rather, Bel-Ami is something Maupassant might have become. A dark, twisted, satirical and self-mocking double.

Leo Tolstoy wrote about Bel-Ami and Maupassant in general in his Fundamentalist "What Is Art?" period. If we skip his excesses there is something there that is difficult to ignore.

The almost 90 year old Finnish translation is still a page-turner. My French is not good enough for art fiction, but occasionally glancing at the original I had a feeling that the translation is faithful. The original novel is of course in public domain as is the delightful illustrated edition available for instance at the address

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bel Ami (1939)

Willi Forst: Bel Ami (DE 1939) starring Willi Forst als Georges Duroy. Quelle: DIF / Filmportal

Bel Ami. Komödie aus dem Paris der Jahrhundertwende [the title on the print viewed] / Bel Ami. Der Liebling schöner Frauen / Bel Ami / Bel Ami – kaunis ystäväni / Bel Ami.
    DE 1939. PC: Deutsche Forst-Film Produktion GmbH (Berlin). P: Hans L. Somborn (Gesamtleitung), Walter Lehmann (Produktions-Assistenz), Josef Aschenbrenner, Fritz Renner (Aufnahmeleitung).
    D: Willi Forst. Ass D: Viktor Becker. Dialogue D: Otto Fliedner. SC: Willi Forst, Axel Eggebrecht – based on the novel (1885) by Guy de Maupassant, Finnish translation by Arvi Nuormaa (Kansanvalta 1926, Tammi 1944, 1955, 1980). DP: Ted Pahle. Camera operator: Erich Rudolf Schmidtke. Assistant cinematographer: Günther Peters. AD: Werner Schlichting, Kurt Herlth. Cost: Luise Lehmann, Walter Leder. Makeup: Charlotte Pfeffermann, A. Paul Lange, Martin Gericke. M: Theo Mackeben. Song: "Bel Ami" (Theo Mackeben, Hans Fritz Beckmann), perf. Lizzi Waldmüller & Eva Busch. CH: Rudolf Kölling. S: Erich Lange. ED: Hans Wolff.
    C: Willi Forst (Georges Duroy), Olga Tschechowa (Madeleine Forestier), Ilse Werner (Suzanne Laroche), Hilde Hildebrand (Clotilde von Marelle), Lizzi Waldmüller (Rachel), Marianne Stanior (Grisette), Johannes Riemann (Laroche), Willi Dohm (Charles Forestier), Aribert Wäscher (Walter), Huber von Meyerinck (Varenne), Hans Stiebner (Stranoff).
    Premiere: 21.2.1939 (Berlin). Helsinki premiere: 22.9.1940 Capitol, distributor: Kosmos-Filmi – re-release: 21.8.1964 Kino-Palatsi, distributor: Suomi-Filmi – classification 22719 – K16 – 2749 m / 100 min – Finnish classification length 2680 m / 98 min
    A 1964 re-release print deposited by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Annikki Arni / Aina Forsström viewed at Cinema Orion (Helsinki, French Literature Adaptations), 19 Nov 2014

AA: Watched in its own right this is a fine Willi Forst film, one of his best, a continuation of his Viennoiserie after the Anschluss of Austria, an act of inner resistance, a celebration of love, an expression of a joy of life during a sinister period of history, after Kristallnacht, during a year in which Hitler's Germany was proceeding step by step to a Nazi domination of Europe following his divide and conquer strategy.

Willi Forst believed himself to be the first to produce a Bel-Ami adaptation having acquired the rights from the heirs of Guy de Maupassant, but filmographies recognize an earlier interpretation directed by Augusto Genina in 1919.

As a director Willi Forst is in full form. He belongs to the rare group of film-makers of true elegance in stories of romantic and erotic affairs. His touch is so assured that he can be compared with Lubitsch and Ophuls. There is a musical comedy approach in this adaptation, always in high spirits. Such art is the easiest to view and the hardest to achieve.

Guy de Maupassant has been well treated by film-makers. Partie de campagne by Jean Renoir and Le Plaisir by Max Ophuls belong to the immortal masterpieces of cinema. As Maupassant adaptations they are equal and parallel to their sources of inspiration.

To that league Willi Forst's Bel Ami does not rise. It is a light entertainment version of the satirical novel about its arriviste anti-hero. The subtitle of the re-release version announces the film as comedy.

    1. The theme song is sung by Lizzi Waldmüller as Rachel, the lady of the cabaret, the first conquest of Georges in the story. (A good question: who conquers whom?)
    2. Madeleine Forestier, the brain and the ghost-writer behind star journalists and the well-connected mastermind of the political games, is played by Olga Tschechowa (Olga Knipper, whose aunt married Anton Chekhov - and who herself married Michael Chekhov, the son of Anton's brother Alexander Chekhov with his second wife, Natalia Golden).
    3. Omitted from this adaptation is Mrs. Virginie Walter, the wife of the financial magnate, newspaper owner and power broker Walter, himself marginalized in this version. This is interesting because Maupassant's account of the Jewish financier Monsieur Walter borders on the anti-semitic. There is nothing anti-semitic (and nothing about Jews) in Willi Forst's Bel-Ami, released after Kristallnacht.
    4. Consistently, the young charming teenage girl Suzanne - the one whom Georges finally marries - is here not a daughter of the Walters but of Laroche.
    5. Maupassant's plot has been changed. Georges does not play according to the masterplan that makes everybody rich in Maupassant's novel. Instead, he exposes the scheme. There is a great political scandal, and the screenwriters proceed beyond Maupassant's narrative. Georges himself becomes the new Colonial Minister, but just for one day, to end all financial speculation.
    6. There is a musical comedy ending where Georges, still as Minister, receives all his women via different doors - Madeleine - Rachel - Clotilde - and a nude statue of Madame la France - and bids them farewell. To all he adds: "Aber Du warst mein schönstes Erlebnis" ("But you were my most beautiful experience"). He now only belongs to Suzanne. In the novel at the wedding Georges already plans his next rendezvous with Clotilde, his truest soulmate and bedmate.
    7. The dark side is missing - the death scene of Charles Forestier, and the unforgettable confession of the ageing roué, the poet Norbert de Varenne. Even Tolstoy found them gripping.
    8. The sacred dimension, important in Maupassant (La Maison de Tellier) is missing: the rendez-vous at the church and the painting of Jesus walking on the water.
    9. The rustical side, the visit to the countryside in Normandy, also important for Maupassant, also in La Maison de Tellier, among other works, is missing.
    10. Missing is also the one truly sordid affair of the novel: the seduction of Virginie Walter, the only woman in the story who has never had an affair before. She is also the only one who falls desperately in love with Georges and who is seriously unbalanced at the revelation that Georges has only been playing games with her. The Virginie Walter story is the one that most decisively separates Maupassant's novel from light entertainment fiction.

While it is gratifying to observe that the film-makers refused to react to the anti-semitic potential of Maupassant's novel there is a slight anti-French tinge in the account of the general corruption in the politics, media, and private life in France. I was thinking about the ostensibly pro-Russian movie Der Postmeister (DE 1940, screenplay by Gerhard Menzel, direction by Gustav Ucicky) made during the crazy intermezzo of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which twists Pushkin's delicate and evocative miniature into a gross melodrama where the daughter is turned into a whore and her father the post station master into a fool. In the context of Nazi Germany both films may be seen as ridiculing the countries they depict.

The screening ran 99 minutes, and thus the print seemed complete. Some members of the audience were irritated by the highly selective subtitling. At first with low contrast or a duped look the print got better towards the end. Perhaps the first reels had been duped by the distributor during the re-relase period due to wear. There was an applause after the screening.

Theo Mackeben (composer) and Hans-Fritz Beckmann: "Du hast Glück bei den Frau'n, Bel Ami!" (song, 1939)

Theo Mackeben (composer) and Hans-Fritz Beckmann (lyrics): "Du hast Glück bei den Frau'n, Bel Ami!". DE 1939. Theme song to the film Bel-Ami directed by Willi Forst. First sung by Lizzi Waldmüller. Soon also recorded by Willi Forst himself and many others.

Ein kleines Liedchen geht von Mund zu Mund.
Es ist beliebt, und das hat seinen Grund,
denn es besingt den Liebling vieler Damen,
die ihm zuliebe fielen aus dem Rahmen.
Gott Amor selber hat es komponiert
hat es den schönen Frauen dediziert,
und weil’s bezaubernd klingt und süß,
singt man in ganz Paris:


    Du hast Glück bei den Frau’n, Bel Ami!
    Soviel Glück bei den Frau’n, Bel Ami!
    Bist nicht schön, doch charmant,
    bist nicht klug, doch sehr galant,
    bist kein Held,
    nur ein Mann, der gefällt.
    Du verliebst jeden Tag dich aufs Neu,
    alle küsst du und bleibst keiner treu.
    Doch die Frau, die dich liebt,
    machst du glücklich wie noch nie,
    Bel Ami! Bel Ami! Bel Ami!

    (Zweite Strophe)

Ich kenne einen netten jungen Mann,
der gar nichts ist und nichts Besondres kann,
und den die Damen dennoch heiß verehren,
weil er das hat, was alle Frau'n begehren.
Er macht die andern Männer ganz nervös
mit seiner tollen Chronique Scandaleuse.
Er nimmt die Frauen wie er will,
bei ihm hält jede still.


Copied from the German Wikipedia. They comment that the huge success of the song during WWII was remarkable because of the unheroic nature of the text.