Friday, May 29, 2015

Salto / Somersault – Tadeusz Konwicki remembered

Tadeusz Konwicki: Salto (1965). Poster design: Leszek Holdanowicz.

Hyppy tuntemattomaan.
    PL 1965. PC: Studio Filmowe Kadr. P: Jan Włodarczyk. EX: Jerzy Kawalerowicz. P manager: Ludwik Hager.
    D+SC: Tadeusz Konwicki. Excerpt from the poem "Spadanie" by Tadeusz Różewicz. DP: Kurt Weber – b&w – 1,37:1. Camera operator: Zbigniew Hartwig. AD: Jarosław Świtoniak. Cost: Alicja Ptaszyńska. Makeup: Halina Sieńska. M: Wojciech Kilar. Lyrics: Wlodzimierz Borunski. CH: Witold Gruca. ED: Irena Choryńska. S: Aleksander Gołębiowski.
    C: Zbigniew Cybulski (Kowalski-Malinowski), Jerzy Block (old man), Włodzimierz Boruński (Blumenfeld), Gustaw Holoubek (host), Irena Laskowska (Cecylia), Marta Lipińska (Helena), Andrzej Łapicki (Pietuch the drunkard), Wojciech Siemon (artist), Iga Cembrzyńska (Kowalski's wife).
    Helsinki premiere: 17.10.1969 Astra, released by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles [n.c.] – telecast: 11.6.1973 MTV1 – VET 75677 – K16 – 2945 m / [108 min], 104 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 26 May 2015

Tadeusz Konwicki's Salto is a dream play, a mystery play, a ritual, a seance. A stranger returns to a little town which may be a dream. He is an outsider looking in, but he fascinates everyone and becomes the center of the annual celebration which culminates in an ecstatic salto dance.

Zbigniew Cybulski is the stranger who may be a pilgrim, a prophet, and a miracle healer, or a mythomaniac, a compulsive liar, and a fake. In the conclusion his wife and kids appear revealing that there is broken plumbing and a sick child at home which the incorrigible husband has escaped.

The citizens stone the stranger who escapes, and the finale is a mirror of the opening: he wades across the river, witnesses nude bathing girls, and jumps into a moving train. The last vision is of a scarecrow on the field seen from the moving train.

Salto is a film of the absurd; it is enigmatic and existentialist. It is a film of poetry, conveying messages from another reality. It borders at times on the mannered and the pretentious.

The strange town may be like Skull Island in King Kong: it may be a nightmare. Anyway there is a curse. They tell the town has been removed from maps. There is a mystery here. Germans may have hidden their treasure into the tunnels below the city. There is uranium in the ground and a huge factory nearby.

Salto has been compared with Konwicki's novel A Dreambook for Our Time, but Salto is much more abstract and enigmatic, and as a film it is unfortunately far less compelling than Zaduszki. What these works (all I know from Konwicki) is that they share a sense of a fundamental torment. Many years have passed since the war, but traumatic images re-emerge as memory flashes: silent images of approaching partisan-executioners, flattened anamorphic visions of forward-marching murderous German soldiers. There are wartime explosives in the ground. Mysterious motorcyclists are an added threatening element. We are trying to climb a ladder without steps. Also in Salto there is a Holocaust dimension: one of the characters is the great Jewish actor Blumenfeld who has lost his memory.

The performances are again vibrant in Konwicki's direction. He knows that eyes are the mirror to the soul.

Wojciech Kilar's music is impressive and essential, from the haunting piano theme during the opening credits to the dance themes in the climactic celebration. The solo dances gradually escalate into a communal ring dance, and a full fledged musical production number.

Kurt Weber photographed both Zaduszki and Salto for Konwicki. The images are pregnant with high intensity.

The perfect print looks like it has hardly ever been screened before and like it has been struck directly from the camera negative. Here one can observe the fine soft detail, the peach fuzz of reality. The film has been shot in Academy, but the subtitles on this print have been positioned on the widescreen level, sometimes obscuring the mouth in close-ups.

The film is officially online (Salto na kanale Studia Filmowego Kadr w serwisie YouTube),


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Gloria (1980, John Cassavetes)

Gloria – gangsteriheila / Gloria. US © 1980 Columbia Pictures Industries. P: Sam Shaw. D+SC: John Cassavetes. DP: Fred Schuler - Panaflex Camera and Lenses by Panavision - processing: Technicolor, USA - prints: MGM Laboratories, Inc. - color - 1,85:1. AD: Rene D'Auriac, John Godfrey. Paintings: Romare Bearden. M: Bill Conti. ED: George C. Villasenor. ED: Gena Rowlands (Gloria Swenson), John Adames (Phil Dawn), Buck Henry (Jack Dawn), Julie Carmen (Jeri Dawn), Lupe Garnica (Margarita Vargas), Jessica Castillo (Joan Dawn), Tony Knesich, Tom Noona, Ronald Maccone (gangsters), Gary Klar (Irish cop), Michael Proscia (uncle Joe), Ross Charap (Ron), Marilyn Putnam (waitress), John Finnegan (Frank), Bill Wiley (Bellman), Val Avery (Sill), Ferruccio Hrvatin (Aldo), Edward Wilson (Guillermo D. Antonio), Basilio Franchina (Tony Tanzini), Carl Levy (Milt Cohen), Warren Selvagg (Pat Donovan), Nathan Seril (Baron), Vladimir Drazwnovic (Tonti), Lawrence Tierney (bartender). Loc: New York City, The Bronx, Newark Penn Station. Helsinki premiere: 21.11.1980 Charlie 1, released by: Warner Bros. / Columbia Pictures with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (n.c.) – VHS: 1991 Europa-Vision – telecast: 13.1.1990 TV3, 31.08.2009, 31.12.2009 YLE Teema – VET 88450 – K16 – 3345 m / 123 min
    A vintage 35 mm KAVI print deposited by Warner-Columbia viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Cassavetes / Rowlands), 27 May 2015

IMDb synopsis: "When a young boy's family is killed by the mob, their tough neighbor Gloria becomes his reluctant guardian. In possession of a book that the gangsters want, the pair go on the run in New York."

Gloria is one of the anomalies in John Cassavetes's career as a film director: a mainstream crime film obeying expected narrative conventions. There are even classic Griffithian parallel montage suspense sequences. Cassavetes wrote the screenplay without planning to direct but when Gena Rowlands was cast in the title role, it was natural for him to helm as well. The result was so successful that it has inspired further movies and even a high profile remake by Sidney Lumet starring Sharon Stone.

It has been commented that the story has an interesting affinity with Charles Chaplin's The Kid. Here the female tramp states bluntly in the start: "I hate kids, especially yours". Her maternal instinct emerges reluctantly but when the kid's life is threatened Gloria finally turns to a tigress protecting the offspring even though it isn't hers.

From his start as a director in the 1950s Cassavetes went against the grain disregarding commercial expectations but earned a good living as an actor in mainstream productions. It is good to see him here for a change as a director playing by the book with integrity like the classical Hollywood directors of the studio era.

The account of the gangland feels assured. There is a matter-of-fact quality in the way the gangsters act in the contract killing in the beginning of the movie and after. Gloria, the ex-moll of the biggest boss, is deeply involved but when she turns against the mob she gets to observe their ubiquitous presence. In this movie terror is not enhanced with expressionistic cinematic means. An everyday, matter-of-fact approach to the gangster story makes it thrilling in a realistic way.

The performances are terrific. Especially that of Gena Rowlands as Gloria the ageing moll who cannot get help from the law and whose life is in danger after she turns against her own people. In the breakfast vignette we realize that she cannot even cook an omelette. "You know what desperate is?" she comments right after the turning-point where she has shot at her gangster friends for the first time.

The chase plot is also a clothes hanger for a number of social observations. The power of the press and media. New York traffic and taxis. Banks. Slums. Graveyards. Anonymous visiting rooms, probably for prostitution. Latent racism in hotels (Phil is Puerto Rican). The brothel pandering in child prostitution.

I like the ironic account of the gangster headquarters in the final showdown sequence. It is luxurious and simultaneously slightly ridiculous. A life of plenty that does not feel enviable.

There is a rich and wonderful Bill Conti score, also surprising for a John Cassavetes movie, and perfect for this film. The dynamic structure of alternating full orchestra crescendoes and significant silences is effective.

This was Fred Schuler's first film as a director of photography. The cinematography gives us an inspired realistic vision of New York City right from the exciting establishing helicopter views leading us to The Bronx. Schuler had previous experience as an assistant in Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall... Soon Schuler was working as DP for Toback, Scorsese, and Fleischer.

The print has been in heavy use and looks like it has been originally struck from an internegative at a few generations of distance from the camera negative. There is the regular somewhat duped overall look and the changeovers are riddled with jump cuts but in a movie like this the occasionally somewhat battered quality is not fatal. The colour looks juicy and intact.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Zaduszki / All Souls' Day – Tadeusz Konwicki remembered

Taru rakkaudesta / Sägnen om kärleken. PL 1961. PC: Studio Filmowe Kadr. P: Jerzy Rutowicz. D+SC: Tadeusz Konwicki. DP: Kurt Weber – b&w – 1,37:1. Camera operator: Antoni Nurzyński. AD: Jarosław Świtoniak. Cost: Marian Kołodziej. Makeup: Halina Sieńska. ED: Wiesława Otocka. S: Stanisław Piotrowski. C: Ewa Krzyżewska (Wala), Edmund Fetting (Michał), Elżbieta Czyżewska (Ltn. Listek), Beata Tyszkiewicz (Katarzyna), Andrzej May (Satyr), Jadwiga Chojnacka (hotel proprietor), Włodzimierz Boruński (Goldapfel), Gustaw Lutkiewicz (Kozak), Kazimierz Opaliński (Skotnicki), Aleksander Sewruk (Szary), Mieczysław Voit (Derkacz), Halina Buyno (Skotnicka), Emilia Ziółkowska (Wali's mother). Helsinki premiere: 16.8.1963 Ritz, distributor: Suomi-Filmi, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marjatta Kaija / Helle Laakso – telecast: 5.5.1970 TV1 – VET 65743 – K16 – 2705 m / 99 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 26 May 2015

A stark Tadeusz Konwicki movie. A woman and a man, Wala and Michał, have a clandestine meeting in a little room in a little hotel in a little town during All Souls' Day holiday. Overwhelming memories from wartime love affairs, seen in long flashbacks, haunt them.

I was too young to understand Zaduszki when I saw it on television 45 years ago but it still managed to impress me even then. The film has stood the test of time well.

Konwicki (1926-2015) was a distinguished modern writer but he was equally accomplished as a film-maker. He puts to use a rich array of cinematic means in Zaduszki (interesting angles, field sizes, montages, inserts, handheld shots, a swirling 360° carousel shot, subjective shots and majestic olympic extreme long shots).

But most relevantly, Konwicki knows the power of the close-up of the human face; even the image during the opening credits is a close-up. I was especially impressed by the soulful performances Konwicki receives from Ewa Krzyżewska in the female lead and Michał's two previous significant women, Elżbieta Czyżewska (as the partisan lieutenant) and Beata Tyszkiewicz (code name "Katarzyna"). It is mostly for them that I look forward to revisiting Zaduszki again.

The affinity to Hiroshima, mon amour is clear, but not in imitation. Rather Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras may have inspired Konwicki to be daring, combining the historical and the intimate in this way. These men and women live history in their soul and in their flesh.

Politically, Zaduszki is surprising in its wide understanding of the political contradictions in Poland during WWII and the following civil wars. Konwicki plays by the rules of the current establishment to a certain degree but refuses to simplify things. He feels for all of them.

Zaduszki is a poetic vision of a deep unrest. It is a psychological post-war film. There is also a Holocaust element in the story of Mr. Goldapfel whose family was murdered and home destroyed during the war.

The soundtrack is an interesting compilation with many songs (including "Warszawianka" and "Dzis do ciebie przyjac nie moge"), organ music, marches, and sound effects treated musically.

The cinematography is based on grayness, apathy, and rain. Yet there is a special intensity and sensuality in the imagery, and the lyrical montages often involving flying birds are eloquent.

The used print is still quite watchable. In some shots the visual quality is perfect, but usually the look is slightly duped in a regular kind of way.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mad Max

Mad Max / Mad Max.
    AU © 1979 Mad Max Pty. PC: Kennedy Miller Productions / Crossroads / Mad Max Films. P: Byron Kennedy. Assoc. P: Bill Miller.
    D: George Miller. SC: James McCausland, George Miller – based on a story by George Miller and Byron Kennedy. DP: David Eggby, Tim Smart – negative: 35 mm (Eastman 100T 5247) – camera: Arriflex 35 BL, Todd-AO Lenses – lab: Colorfilm Pty. Ltd. (Sydney) – Todd-AO 35 (anamorphic) – 2,35:1 – Eastmancolor. AD (vehicles): Ray Beckerley. SFX: Chris Murray. Cost: Clare Griffin. Makeup: Viv Mepham. M: Brian May. "Licorice Road" (Nic Gazzana) perf. Robina Chaffey, sung by Creenagh St. Clair. ED: Tony Patterson, Cliff Hayes. S: Gary Wilkins, Ned Dawson.
    C: Mel Gibson (Max Rockatansky), Joanne Samuel (Jessie Rockatansky), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter), Steve Bisley (Jim Goose), Tim Burns (Johnny the Boy), Roger Ward (Johnny the Boy), Roger Ward (Fifi Macaffee), Geoff Parry (Bubba Zanetti), Vince Gil (Crawford "The Nightrider" Montazano), David Baracks (Mudguts), Paul Johnstone (Cundalini), Nico Lathouris (Grease Rat), LuLu Pinkus (Lobotomy Eyes), LuLu Pinkus (Roop), John Ley (Charlie), Jonathan Hardy (Commissioner Labatouche), Robina Chaffey (nightclub singer), Sheila Florence (May Swaisey), Max Fairchild (Benno), Steven Clark, George Novak. 93 min
    There are two soundtrack versions of Mad Max: Australian and American.
    The film was not theatrically released in Finland – video release: 1986 Transworld Video (Betamax) – first telecast: 14 March 2015 Yle Teema – VET 102086 – VLV 1984: K18 – VET 1986: K16, 2001: K18 – MEKU 2015: K16
    Park Circus 2K DCP, the original Australian soundtrack version, viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Mad Max x 3), 23 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road [4] had its international premiere last week, and tonight we are screening the three previous Mad Max movies, all four directed by George Miller.

Thus I saw the first Mad Max (1979) for the first time. It was not theatrically released in Finland, and theatrical prints have been hard to come by in our part of the world.

I rate The Road Warrior / Mad Max 2 highly as a post-apocalyptic vision with a unique design, and I also like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as an original interpretation of the primordial Australian Weltanschauung called Dreaming. George Miller created for BFI's the Centenary of the Cinema series a fascinating Australian entry called 40,000 Years of Dreaming where he elaborates a philosophy of the cinema based on that approach.

Unfortunately the initial Mad Max is not on the same level of ambition and accomplishment as the later films of the cycle.

It is a well-made violent action entertainment movie. As a story of brutalization and collapse to a revenge mentality (the opposite of justice) it has affinities with the Death Wish series. Mel Gibson here starts to create a memorable antihero. The fighter against criminals becomes a sadistic outlaw. The mad policeman persona became a starting-point for Gibson's later the Lethal Weapon series.

George Miller has real talent in action cinema. He knows how to build, he knows how to alternate moments of quiet and violence. He knows how to make a road movie.

Mad Max belongs to one of the cinema's original subgenres: the car demolition chase movie, already mastered by Georges Méliès, followed enthusiastically by French and Italian farce makers, soon revived by Keystone and other American comedy studios. Last year in Pordenone Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi curated a special program of early cinema's car chase movies. James Bond, Blues Brothers... there is no end to this list.

Watching the film I was thinking about my mother who died two months ago. She was a traffic safety champion and also a film lover who liked Jacques Tati's Trafic and Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend. Mad Max is an illustration of her worst nightmare: a car-dominated world that has become a hell for non-drivers (and drivers, too). She was a registered nurse and would have nodded approvingly at Dr. George Miller's hospital sequences.

This first Mad Max is not a post-apocalyptic story, nor is there as yet a design for a world after Doomsday. It is, however, already a film thoroughly informed by the customized car and motorcycle aesthetique. And this tale of demon motorists on both sides of the law has a stark smell of the death drive. The world has not yet ended, but they are already living like there is no tomorrow.

The Thanatos principle is crystallized in the sequence where the outlaw motorcyclists murder Jessie and Sprog, mother and son, by riding over them in cold blood in the middle of the desert freeway. The experience makes Max mad.

The Park Circus 2K DCP mostly looks good. The colour is fine. Machines and urban milieux look good in digital. Nature does not look very good in this digital presentation.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Akahige / Red Beard

赤ひげ / Punaparta / Rödskägg. JP 1965. PC: Toho / Kurosawa Productions. P: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ryuzo Kikushima. D: Akira Kurosawa. SC: Masato Ide, Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa – based on the short story collection Akahige shinryotan (1958) by Shugoro Yamamoto. DP: Asakazu Nakai, Takao Saito - b&w - Tohoscope 2,35:1 - lab: Toho Developing Co. AD: Yoshiro Muraki. M: Masaru Sato. S: 4-Track Stereo. C: Toshiro Mifune (Dr. Kyojo Niide, "Red Beard"), Yuzo Kyama (Dr. Noboru Yasumoto), Yoshio Tsuchiya (Dr. Handayu Mori), Tatsuyoshi Ehara (Genzo Tsugawa), Reiko Dan (Osugi), Kyoko Kagawa ("the Mantis", the madwoman), Kamatari Fujiwara (Rokusuke), Akemi Negishi (Okuni), Tsutomu Yamasaki (Sahachi), Miyuki Kuwano (Onaka), Eijiro Tono (Goheiji), Takashi Shimura (Tokubei Izumiya), Terumi Niki (Otoyo), Haruko Sugimura (Kin, the brothel madame), Yoko Naito (Masae), Ken Mitsuda (her father), Kinuyo Tanaka (Noboru's mother), Chishu Ryu (Noboru's father), Yoshitaka Zushi (Choji). Helsinki premiere: 2.2.1979 Diana, released by Dianafilmi Oy, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Satu Laaksonen / Maya Vanni – telecast: 24.5.1994 MTV3, 11.7.1999 YLE TV1 – VET 86643 – K16 – 5095 / 185 min (a 5 min music intermission is included in the duration; no need for a longer intermission) 
    A 35 mm KAVI print of the 1979 release deposited by Dianafilmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago: Films Made in 1965), 17 May 2015

Red Beard was the finale of Akira Kurosawa's long, great and fruitful creative period of 1943-1965 when he directed on the average one film every year. After the revelation of Toshiro Mifune in Drunken Angel Mifune starred in all of Kurosawa's films until Akahige save one (Ikiru).

There is in retrospect a sense of a farewell to an entire period of Japanese cinema here for instance in the final wedding ceremony where we see side by side in a single shot Chishu Ryu (Ozu), Kinuyo Tanaka (Mizoguchi), and Toshiro Mifune (Akira Kurosawa) as the father, the mother and the spiritual godfather of the bridegroom. Among the cast is also Haruko Sugimura (Mikio Naruse).

Akira Kurosawa and Donald Richie point out the influence of Dostoevsky in Red Beard - the key character of Otoyo is inspired by Dostoevsky - but for me the most profound affinity is with Tolstoy.

Richie in his excellent remarks on Red Beard in his Kurosawa book states that the film's theme of "good begets good" is exceptional (whereas "evil begets evil" is common). But there is a tale by Tolstoy which unites both themes: The False Coupon which has been filmed many times, and indeed, invariably only the first part of the tale has been filmed, where evil begets evil, a forgery of a banknote leading gradually to a massacre. Red Beard can be seen as a rare attempt to express in a film adaptation the second part of Tolstoy's The False Coupon where good begets good.

Richie compares Kurosawa here with Dickens and Griffith. The problem of showing goodness in action is in danger of getting sentimental or didactic. Kurosawa remains tough and harsh but in Richie's opinion does not completely avoid didacticism.

Red Beard is the Bildungsroman of an arrogant young doctor, Dr. Yasumoto, who wishes to land a plum position at the court but finds himself instead at the bottom of the barrel, taking care of slum people at a county hospital. This has been planned for him as a learning experience, but during the story the young doctor undergoes a spiritual transformation and decides to dedicate himself to the calling of helping people, disregarding fame and fortune. Yasumoto is almost killed by a murderous patient, witnesses death for the first time and faints at the first operation he gets to observe, but the greatest transforming experiences are even deeper.

Based on a collection of short stories, Red Beard consists of episodes: - the story of "The Praying Mantis", the murderous madwoman, - the story of the evil old man who dies in agony and his daughter who has led a very hard life - the story of the other dying old man, a kind heart whose wife had committed suicide - the story of the 12-year-old Otoyo rescued from the brothel - and the story of the little boy who steals rice from the hospital. They cover all sorts of backgrounds for illness, from the psychopathological to the social: "If poverty did not exist, half of them would not be ill" states Red Beard. Red Beard is not just interested in the clinical side of the patients but always tries to have an insight into an entire life story.

There are sequences here that belong to the most beautiful that Kurosawa ever created: - The love story of Sahachi and Onaka: "we lived together, it was like a dream, then came an earthquake, and I never saw her again"... except that she survived, and when they met again, they were like different people. - And most hauntingly the encounter of Dr. Yasumoto with the first patient of his own, the 12-year-old Otoyo. First Dr. Yasumoto cures Otoyo, and then, Otoyo saves Yasumoto. There is a transference of love which Dr. Yasumoto knows how to resist.

Most of all I like in Red Beard its moral gravity.

The black and white Tohoscope cinematography by Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito is wonderful. Donald Richie calls Red Beard Kurosawa's most realistic film, but it is still strongly and beautifully stylized.

The basic health of the visual quality of the 1979 print is overwhelming. It has been heavily used and there is the expected patina but most memorable are the many passages of fine soft sophistication; I would not be surprised if it would turn out that part of the print were struck directly from the original negative. For instance the daring and unique sequence of the mutual healing between Yasumoto and Otoyo looks breathtakingly beautiful. Also the remarkable sequence of calling the dying little boy's spirit back from the other side via crying into a deep well looks startling and unforgettable.


Spotkanie w Bajce / Café from the Past

Spotkanie w ”Bajce” / Menneisyyden kahvila / Möte på café. PL 1962. Studio Filmowe Kadr. PC: Zespół Realizatorów Filmowych Rytm. P: Włodzimierz Śliwiński. D: Jan Rybkowski. SC: Michał Tonecki and Jan Rybkowski – based on the radioplay O siódmej w ”Bajce” by Michał Tonecki. DP: Mieczysław Jahoda. Camera operator: Jan Janczewski - b&w - 1,37:1 - lab: Wytwórnia Filmów Fabularnych (Łódź). AD: Wojciech Krysztofiak. Cost: Alicja Waltoś. Makeup: Tadeusz Schossler. M: Wojciech Kilar. Frédéric Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31. ED: Krystyna Rutkowska. S: Bohdan Jankowski. C: Aleksandra Śląska (Teresa), Gustaw Holoubek (Paweł, doctor), Andrzej Łapicki (Wiktor, pianist), Teresa Iżewska (Ewa, singer), Maria Wachowiak (waitress), Barbara Kościeszanka (clerk), Witold Elektorowicz (café pianist), Beata Barszczewska (Krysia, Teresa's daughter), Mieczysław Pawlikowski (przewodniczący = President of the MRN), Aleksander Fogiel Kowalec (pracownik Rady Narodowej = an employee of the National Council), Rudolf Gołębiowski (pracownik Rady Narodowej, organizator koncertu = an employee of the National Council, concert organizator), Magdalena Zawadzka (córka przewodniczącego MRN = daughter of the President of the MRN, n.c.). Loc: Sandomierz. Studio: Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych (Warsaw). Helsinki premiere: 2.2.1968 Regia, distributor: Suomi-Filmi, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (n.c.) – VET 70001 – K12 – 77 min
    A vintage 35 mm KAVI print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 17 May 2015
    MRN = Miejskiej Rady Narodowej = City Council.

A charming intimate contemporary (1962) triangle story, strong on atmosphere and character, a film I look forward to revisiting.

It is set in Sandomierz, one of the oldest towns in Poland, built on a site inhabited since Stone Age, a popular tourist attraction thanks to its well-preserved Old Town. Shot on location, the film itself has a travelogue (and tourist propaganda!) dimension in an attractive way. The genius loci is strong. The two male leads are visitors who return 15 years after the war, and there is an official sight-seeing for the pianist and the singer in a jeep. Besides, the daughter of the president of the city council takes the pianist to a private tour, including to the Opatow Gate and Tower.

Sandomierz appears also in the title of a Franz Grillparzer tale which has been filmed thrice, most famously by Victor Sjöström as Klostret i Sendomir which was entirely studio-bound, shot at Svenska Biografteaterns ateljé in Lidingö.

The classical unities of time, place, and action are obeyed in the story originally written by Michał Tonecki as a radioplay. It all takes place within one afternoon. It is a national holiday (not 3 May in that period of history). A statue of the war hero Kania is unveiled, and there is a big celebration with song, dance, and music by Chopin. Everybody is invited into the outdoors event on a beautiful sunny day.

Jan Rybkowski opens his movie with a long tracking shot. We hear the inspired Chopin scherzo and see a piece of a meadow during the opening credits. Then a part of the audience is revealed as the camera tracks from right to left and rises to catch the player at his grand piano on a scaffold, with the magnificent Vistula (Wisła / Weichsel) River in the background. The tracking goes on slowly to reveal a folk dance troupe and the majority of the audience enjoying the summer festival.

The pianist Wiktor has returned to Sandomierz, and now he sees Teresa, a schoolteacher, whom he has not met in fifteen years, either. They agree on a date at Café Bajca. Too late (he is known for being always too late) for the celebration arrives a comrade-in-arms of the late Kania, the surgeon Paweł, who lived in Sandomierz before the end of the war. The private triangle between Teresa, Wiktor, and Paweł provides the manifest plot of the movie.

There is also a deeper narrative about the painful process of reconstruction and coming to terms with the traumatic history of 15 years ago. There are obvious signs such as the prosthetic hand of one of the political bosses. There are intriguing hints such as the lingering question why the war hero Kania has received a statue first now. There is a clue that "he had finally joined the Holy Ones". The year everyone is referring to is 1947, the period of the civil war before the final establishment of Stalinist rule. In the opening sequence it takes a long time until we see the pedestal of the statue. The statue itself we never get to see. (The statue motif brings to mind Man of Marble whose screenplay Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski originally wrote in 1962, in the very year of Café from the Past, as an outright attack against hollow hero monumentalism in the name of "socialist realism").

The pianist Wiktor is a restless soul who has a hard time in focusing on anything. He is aware of the fact that as an artist he is no Rubinstein. In Warsaw he has a jealous wife. His current lover, the singer Ewa, wonders whether any woman can sustain his interest longer than two months. During the afternoon he is surrounded by Teresa, Ewa, and even a young local beauty who turns out to be the mayor's daughter. Wiktor himself is puzzled about what is it in piano playing that attracts women.

Wiktor and Teresa fail to meet at Café Bajca. Instead, it is the surgeon Paweł whom Teresa sees there. They had married during the war, but Teresa had left with the touring pianist Wiktor. "It was reported that you had been killed". "Shells crushed our car, and my leg was riddled with bullets". "You never had time for me. War was your world". Even if Teresa had known that Wiktor had survived their marriage would have ended.

Now everything is different. Ewa has a daughter, Krysia - not hers; it is her sister's who is dead. Krysia is playing hopscotch on Sunshine Street when Paweł arrives in the conclusion. He did not take the evening train to Warsaw.

The performances are perfect. The music by Wojciech Kilar is completely different from Milczenie that I saw two days ago: here it is mostly quasi-diegetic - Chopin, the café pianist, and a single horn out of tune being played at Opatow Gate. It is the final sound of the movie.

Mieczysław Jahoda's cinematography is very pleasurable to watch. The drowsy, sunny holiday atmosphere is absorbing. Jahoda is another of those Polish cinematographer aces, with credits such as Knights of the Teutonic Order and The Saragossa Manuscript under his belt.

Jan Rybkowski was the director who made more films than anyone else in Poland during his career in 1949-1984 (but Andrzej Wajda's career is longer and he has directed more). Besides cinema films he made epic television series. He was very versatile; Café from the Past represents his quiet and introspective side. Rybkowski was a professional theatre designer before the war, and his film debut was as a production supervisor to The Last Stage / Ostatni etap. Himself an eyewitness to the bombing of Dresden, he made his most famous film on it: Tonight a City Will Die / Dzis w nocy umrze miasto, a year before the Café from the Past. This is the first Rybkowski film I have seen, and I look forward for more. I admire Rybkowski's sense of duration. Café from the Past is a relatively short film but it conveys a lot yet never feels hurried.

The visual quality of the vintage print is good to perfect with hardly any signs of wear.

Thanks to Susanna Välimäki for identifying the Chopin scherzo.

The movie is legally online on YouTube, courtesy Film Polski, in low definition, failing to convey the visual quality of the cinematography.


Saturday, May 16, 2015


Vaalit. US © 1999 Paramount Pictures. PC: MTV Productions. In association with Bona Fide Productions. P: Albert Berger, David Gale, Keith Samples, Ron Yerxa. D: Alexander Payne. SC: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor – based on the novel (1998) by Tom Perrotta. DP: James Glennon – Super 35 – Panavision Cameras and Lenses – Eastman Kodak – colour by DeLuxe – 2,35:1. PD: Jane Ann Stewart. AD: T. K. Kirkpatrick. Set dec: Renee Davenport. Cost: Wendy Chuck. Makeup: James Ryder. Hair: Denise Fischer, Kyra Panchenko. M: Rolfe Kent. "Three Times a Lady" perf. The Commodores; "Navajo Joe Main Title" perf. Ennio Morricone; "Jennifer Juniper" perf. Donovan; "If You'll Be the Teacher" perf. Mandy Barnett. S: Frank Gaeta, Scott Wolf. ED: Kevin Tent. Casting: Lisa Beach. C: Matthew Broderick (Jim McAllister), Reese Witherspoon (Tracy Flick), Chris Klein (Paul Metzler), Jessica Campbell (Tammy Metzler), Mark Harelik (Dave Novotny), Phil Reeves (Walt Hendricks), Molly Hagan (Diane McAllister), Delaney Driscoll (Linda Novotny), Colleen Camp (Judith R. Flick), Frankie Ingrassia (Lisa Flanagan), Matt Malloy (vararehtori Ron Bell). Loc: Omaha, New York, Washington D.C. Not theatrically released in Finland – vhs: 1999 Finnkino – telecast: 24.9.2004, 28.12.2005, 15.6.2008 Nelonen – VET V-04339 – 103 min
    A Park Circus (BBFC logo / UIP / Paramount / Viacom) 35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alexander Payne), 16 May 2015

Revisited Alexander Payne's brilliant satire, his second with an affinity with Preston Sturges, but entirely modern and original. Election was also one of the key films in the remarkable phenomenon of "the class of 1999" in American cinema. I knew Election previously only from dvd as it was not theatrically released in Finland.

This time I paid attention to the class difference between Paul Metzler, the jovial, popular and clumsy sportsman and gentleman from a rich family, and Tracy Flick, the single mother's daughter who is single-minded in her quest for success. Tracy has a will of steel and a look that could kill. "The weak always try to sabotage the strong" is among her mottoes.

In this film Alexander Payne puts to use a wide repertory of means such as inner monologues of the leading characters, rapid montages, extremely high and low angles, split screen, fantasy close-up inserts of alternative women in lovemaking scenes, and a simulation of warm 8 mm footage in Tammy's love affair at the Immaculate Heart. Election was made by MTV Productions, and Payne here turns MTV clichés into expressive satiric means of his own.

Reese Witherspoon's dynamic and compelling satiric performance has been justifiedly celebrated. Matthew Broderick and Mark Harelik play the teachers who fail to meet basic standards of ethical conduct in their profession and perish utterly. At this viewing I discovered Jessica Campbell's performance as Tammy Metzler. She is the adopted sister of Paul Metzler, a loner like all the protagonists except Paul, and a Lesbian just starting to discover her sexual identity, a rebel who takes the blame of the torn election campaign posters and is expelled from school (although it was Tracy who did it). "When I'm sad I watch the power station".

Tracy Flick and Dave Novotny's love affair is wrong and illegal, yet it is a true and profound affair. For the first time someone has seen Tracy's real me, and for the first time someone has wanted to read Dave's novel (which has not even been written yet).

Satirical highlights of the movie include: - the campaign speeches of the three candidates; Tammy the third candidate urges all not to vote and gets a thunderous applause and a standing ovation (and is suspended from school) - the prayers on the eve of the election of the three candidates - Tracy's victory dance in the corridor when she learns of the first count via sign language - and the quick montage of close-ups in the sequence where Jim McAllister's fraud is exposed.

The print is clean and complete and has the regular slightly duped or speedprinted look.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Milczenie / Silence (Kazimierz Kutz)

Hiljaisuus / Tystnad. PL 1963. PC: Zespół Filmowy Kadr. P: Jerzy Rutowicz. D: Kazimierz Kutz. SC: Kazimierz Kutz and Jerzy Szczygieł – based on the novel (1962) by Jerzy Szczygieł. DP: Wiesław Zdort. Camera operator: Maciej Kijowski. AD: Ryszard Potocki. Cost: Marian Kołodziej. Makeup: Teresa Tomaszewska. M: Wojciech Kilar. Orkiestra Filharmonii Narodowej. ED: Irena Choryńska. S: Jósef Bartczak. C: Kazimierz Fabisiak (proboszcz = a vicar), Mirosław Kobierzycki (Stach), Elżbieta Czyżewska (Kazia, pielęgniarka = a nurse), Maria Zbyszewska (Stefa, pielęgniarka = a nurse), Zbigniew Cybulski (Roman, chłopak Kazi = Kazia's boyfriend), Tadeusz Kalinowski (Wójcik, woźnica = a coachman), Edward Rączkowski (Firganek), Stefan Wroncki (kościelny = verger Grzegorz Aleksandrowicz), Zygmunt Zintel (Sitnik), Zygmunt Listkiewicz (lekarz = a doctor). WFF Łodz. Helsinki premiere: 6.10.1963 Kino-Palatsi, released by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marjatta Kaija [Swedish subtitles n.c.] – VET 66682 – K16 – 100 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 14 May 2015

A stark vision of Poland in 1945, after WWII, contrasting a senile old vicar with a young orphan boy blinded in a mortar projectile accident.

I have been aware of the talent of Kazimierz Kutz since I saw The Salt of the Black Earth / Sól ziemi czarnej and Pearl on the Crown / Perła w koronie on Finnish tv in 1974, but Silence I had not seen before.

The shock of WWII was exceptionally harsh for Poland, and it is inevitable that artists have discussed the harrowing experience in their works for decades since. Silence is a distinguished exercise in coming to terms with the past. Its protagonists are all cripples in one way or the other.

The old vicar is at times almost catatonic. The silence is his, and there is an affinity with Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, although interestingly this film shares its title with another Bergman film made in the same year. The vicar is silent when he should help Stach, but the church rituals are beautiful and life-affirming, and there is nothing ironic about them.

The young teenager Stach is an orphan who lives in a rat-infested cellar with his sick little brother or friend. They have nothing to eat. Stach is becoming wild and brutalized, and when with a friend of his they explore an abandoned battery on a hill high above the village he is horribly injured by a mortar projectile (the fault is his), is blinded, and gets to spend the winter in a hospital.

On a previous night Stach had threatened the vicar with a "hands up!" shout before realizing who he is, and there is now in the village a lynch mob mentality against him because of a false rumour that Stach was injured in an attempt to kill the vicar. The lynch mob attitude spreads even to the hospital ward.

At the hospital nurses are kind to Stach, especially Kazia, herself an orphan who has had to suffer unspeakable offenses in the hands of Gestapo officers. She is being rehabilitated by the love of her boyfriend Roman, and Kazia's tenderness is crucial for the rehumanization of Stach. Other friends of Stach include the coachman Wójcik and his little brother / friend who brings him new clothes via UNRRA.

This film is character-driven, not strong on narrative but with powerful cinematography and soundscape. Not only the main performances are gripping, but even faces in crowd scenes are expressive. For instance the wedding sequence has an almost ethnographic fascination.

Silence was one of the first feature films of Wiesław Zdort as a director of photography, and here already he belongs to the masters of the Polish school of cinematography. The visual range is both reduced and imaginative. There are extreme close-ups (Stach's ear is a recurrent visual motif) and extreme long shots (the final shot where the blind Stach is walking alone through the snowscape) and everything in between. Crane shots and extreme high angles are exciting to watch for instance in the scene where the blind Stach discovers a familiar pole in the middle of the snow and hits it.

Silence was also one of the early works of Wojciech Kilar as a film composer, and he is at his best here. The score is powerful and efficient from the start to the end. There is also diegetic music, beautiful in the church sequences. After the blinding of Stach the entire soundscape gains special emphasis.

Silence belongs to a distinguished series of films about children coming to terms with the war, to be compared with Pojat / The Boys, Somewhere in Europe, The Search, Forbidden Games, Germania anno zero, Unszere Kinder, and films about wartime bombs causing threats after the war has ended, like in Tarkovsky's Today the Furlough Has Been Cancelled, and Laszlo Ranody's A tettes ismeretlen / The Murderer Unknown.

The vintage print is clean and complete and has been little used. The visual quality is good. There was at times some buzz on the soundtrack.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Taksikuski / [Taxi Driver] (1969)

Aitiopaikka: Taksikuski.
    FI 1969. PC: Oy Mainos-TV-Reklam Ab.
    D+SC: Veikko Kerttula – based on the novel Peiliin piirretty nainen ([A Woman Drawn On a Mirror], 1963) – and the radioplay (1967, D: Väinö Vainio, C: Antti Litja) by Veijo Meri. DP: Raimo Leskinen, Reijo Hassinen – b&w – 16 mm – 1,37:1 – sepmag. AD: Marianne Soisalo. S: Veikko Partanen. ED: Sirpa Häkämies.
    C: Antti Litja (Eino), Martti Pennanen (engineer), Harri Nikkonen (writer), Ville Salminen (Otto Kukkakoski), Kirsti Kemppainen (Eila), Esko Pesonen (father), Sylva Rossi (mother), Ritva Ahonen (Kaisa), Sirppa Sivori-Asp (Maija), Ossi Ahlapuro (Kosonen), Seppo Lehtonen (Pena), Matti Ruohola (unknown), Matti Miikkulainen (Jööran), Mirjam Salminen (a wife), Asta Backman (senior nurse), Anita Sohlberg (nurse), Eriikka Magnusson (assistant nurse), Uolevi Vahteristo (talonmies / janitor), Erkki Uotila (nimismies / sheriff), Eeva-Maija Haukinen (sales clerk), Pauli Virtanen (drunkard), Eero Soininen, Erkki Saarela ja Matti Vehniäinen (punks on the street), Matti Nurminen (policeman), Hannes Veivo (taxi driver).
    Telecast (Aitiopaikka): 22.9.1969 Mainos-TV, 1976, 8.10.1985 MTV2, 27.12.1985 MTV2 – 110 min (1969) – 92 min (1985)
    Hollywood Festival of World Television: Best New Drama Award (1969).
    The music selections are not credited. All music is diegetic, mostly supposedly from the taxi radio. The main music is free jazz (fine, I cannot identify it). "Muistoja Pohjolasta" is the march played on the phonograph during Eino and Eila's love scene. "Savoy Truffle" (The Beatles White Album) [my memory from the long version is that also "Honey Pie", the previous track on that album, was played]. "Let's Twist Again" (or another twist, instr., tbc). Beethoven (familiar, symphonic, not Eroica).
    KAVI RTVA 2K DCP (2015) of the 92 min version viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Antti Litja), 6 May 2015
    The original long version has not survived.

AA: Revisited a distinguished tv drama, an existential road movie based on a novel of a key Finnish modernist writer.

Veijo Meri (born in 1928) wrote modernist stories and novels of high quality in the 1950s and the 1960s (he later turned to poetry, essays, and non-fiction). His favourites include Gogol and Kafka, but he has his own unique sense of the absurd, an original approach to existential alienation, and also a fundamental sense of an irresistible life force.

Veikko Kerttula (born in 1940) is one of the finest Finnish tv directors. I first encountered him as a director of popular tv series, among them a delicious adaptation of Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk (starring Matti Varjo and Matti Ranin), close to Veijo Meri territory - with Meri himself as screenwriter. Kerttula has dramatized several of the best contemporary Finnish novels for television, and starting with Taksikuski he became the trusted man for Veijo Meri film adaptations for MTV; Veli-Matti Saikkonen was the main Meri director for Yleisradio.

I had not seen Taksikuski since 1969 but it then left a lasting impression, and now the film felt even stronger. Taksikuski has affinities with Federico Fellini (La strada, La dolce vita), Ermanno Olmi, contemporary Czech and Polish films, and the French new wave. I was thinking about Satyajit Ray's Days and Nights in the Forest but also about Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop), Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider), and Wim Wenders (Im Lauf der Zeit / Kings of the Road). Yet, despite such affinities Taksikuski is fully original.

The merits of Taksikuski were recognized at once with awards, but there were also critical remarks of unevenness and longueurs. Today the presumed weaknesses did not bother me. Veijo Meri is a creator of anti-drama; his works are compositions of relativity with no beginning and no end. He is an artist of the anti-climax. He favours a slight narrative which provides a fertile ground for digressions, war memories, comic incidents, and new time dimensions. But the dynamic composition is careful between forces such as urbanity and nature, the big and the small, the past and the present, male and female, the young and the old. There is true insight into the communication gap between generations. I think Veikko Kerttula's film metamorphoses Veijo Meri's literature successfully into cinema.

Antti Litja (born in 1938) had been acting since the late 1950s, and the leading role in Taksikuski was his breakthrough to national consciousness. His is a mature performance, an understated but deeply felt interpretation of a process of growing up within one tragic weekend. In its own peculiar way Taksikuski is a modernistic Bildungsroman and an Odyssey, and Antti Litja, one of our original New Wave actors, an anti-heroic contemporary of Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson, rose to the challenge.

The tragic lead is played by Ville Salminen, a heavyweight veteran of the Finnish cinema both as a director and an actor, most familiar in comic or villainous roles. He is very moving here as the bitter artist who is believed to have stomach cancer but who is actually just sick of life; he commits suicide with his Parabellum. It seems that his supposedly bad health is a cover story. We hear that his creativity as an artist was at its strongest in the 1920s. Now he has lost his life force, as well. After an unhappy love affair during the war he has turned into a woman hater. The war (1939-1945) again provides a grim backstory to many of the characters as is usual in Veijo Meri's fiction.

Taksikuski is divided between the city (Helsinki) and the countryside (Lohja). It has documentary value as a portrait of contemporary Helsinki in 1969. It is also an artistic vision of the highways of the land in a period of a rapid growth of motor traffic (but in the countryside the two ageing sisters have never seen a Mercedes Benz before). There is also a fine sense of nature in the excursion to the painter's home by the lake. The visual climax is the men's boat trip to the painter's sauna island, rowing through the mist. Visually the film is rewarding and full of interesting observations.

The cinematographers Raimo Leskinen and Reijo Hassinen have a fine sense of realistic composition and filming in what looks like available light. Reijo Hassinen had a lot of documentary experience, Raimo Leskinen was a new kid on the block.

The DCP has been created with care, preserving a pleasant sense of the grain of the original 16 mm cinematography. Certainly Taksikuski looks much better in this way than it originally did on a 1969 television set.