Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Bad and the Beautiful

Särkyneiden haaveiden kaupunki / Brustna illusioner / Illusionernas stad. US © 1952 Loew's. PC: MGM. P: John Houseman. D: Vincente Minnelli. SC: Charles Schnee – based on a story by George Bradshaw. DP: Robert L. Surtees. Cost: Helen Rose. M: David Raksin. "The Bad and the Beautiful" theme also composed by Raksin. ED: Conrad A. Nervig. C: Kirk Douglas (Jonathan Shields), Lana Turner (Georgia Lorrison), Walter Pidgeon (Harry Pebbel), Dick Powell (James Lee Bartlow), Barry Sullivan (Fred Amiel), Gloria Grahame (Rosemary Bartlow), Gilbert Roland (Victor “Gaucho” Ribera), Leo G. Carroll (Henry Whitefield), Vanessa Brown (Kay Amiel), Paul Stewart (Syd Murphy), Elaine Stewart (Lila). Helsinki premiere: 12.2.1954 Gloria - telecast: 31.10.1972 MTV1, 25.12.1991 TV1, 21.10.2012 ja 1.4.2013 YLE Teema: K12 – VET 39501 – K16 – 3220 m /118 min
    A DFI print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Vincente Minnelli), 28 Feb 2016

Kirk Douglas, who will turn 100 later this year, gave some of his strongest performances for Vincente Minnelli, including as the ruthless producer in The Bad and the Beautiful.

The Bad and the Beautiful, which itself won 5 Oscars, is still a top "Hollywood on Hollywood" picture, and we showed it fittingly on the evening of the Academy Awards night. (The sun rises in Helsinki ten hours earlier than in Hollywood, and the ones who want to watch the show in real time here need to stay up all night).

It is a tough Hollywood self-reflection from five angles: the executive Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), the producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), the director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), the screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), and the star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner). Shields breaks all their hearts, and they all rise to the top of their game despite that but thanks to him.

The structure of the film is reminiscent of other three-part stories then popular in Hollywood, films such as Unfaithfully Yours and A Letter to Three Wives.

The Citizen Kane / Rashomon connection has also been mentioned. The portrait of the tycoon Jonathan Shields develops like a jigsaw puzzle from the recollections of the other four protagonists. Let's also note the presence of John Houseman as the producer and Paul Stewart among the cast. The Shields building with its "non sans droit" motto brings to mind Xanadu and Manderley.

As often with Minnelli, it's about the relationship between life and art. As often with Minnelli, it's about putting on a show. The scenes about film-making are engrossing. There is true passion in them. We can believe in the charismatic urge in the story of this small team of friends evolving via many hardships from Poverty Row to multiple Oscar winners.

There are tragedies involved. Jonathan Shields in the beginning buries his father, a Hollywood pioneer, so hated that Jonathan has to pay extras to attend the funeral. Among them is Fred Amiel who cannot help saying frankly what he thinks. Jonathan is angry at first, but they become partners.

Georgia Lorrison is the suicidal, insecure daughter of a superstar of the stage and screen (the images on her wall remind us of John Barrymore). Jonathan Shields finds on the wallpaper of their decaying mansion a caricature of his own father as a monster. He cuts it from the wallpaper and hangs it prominently in his own room. Shields bullies Georgia into self-confidence.

A secret of the creativity of the writer James Lee Bartlow is his passion for his wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame). She distracts him all the time and excites him all the time. In Hollywood circumstances this chemistry is, however, not working, and Shields separates them and even urges "Gaucho" Rivera (Gilbert Roland) to show Rosemary a good time. Their airplane crashes and they die. Bartlow is shattered.

Shields has betrayed them all at crucial moments of their lives, but they have survived. Let's just mention that the way Shields betrayed Harry Pebbel was intentionally losing all his money to him in a card game in order to get a job with him in order to be able to pay back the gambling debt. Now Shields has lost everything again, this time an entire fortune, including Pebbel's, and he asks them all to work for him one more time. The story remains open-ended.

The Cat People parody does not do justice to Val Lewton's masterpiece but the scene where Shields explains the essence of horror is brilliant. "In the dark all sorts of things come alive". You only see the eyes, you only hear a scream.

The Georgia Lorrison story displays Shields's skill in cruel manipulation but also his genuine instinct and sympathy. "To give truth to a performance there is nothing like love". Georgia shines because she believes that Shields loves her. But: "love is for the very young" is Shields's motto. "Love is for the birds" says Lila (Elaine Stewart) with whom Shields spends the night as soon as the premiere has taken place.

The Bad and the Beautiful is an unsettling story about the torment that is film business. I had not seen it for a while. It is certainly worth revisiting. A thrilling score by David Raksin. Exciting cinematography by Robert Surtees.

The print is brilliant.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Pirate

Paula kaulassa / Med snara om halsen.
    US 1948. PC: MGM. P: Arthur Freed.
    D: Vincente Minnelli. SC: Francis Goodrich, Albert Hackett – based on the play by S. N. Behrman - [Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Frances Marion, Joseph Than, n.c.]. DP: Harry Stradling (Technicolor). AD: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Martin Smith. Set dec: Edwin B. Willis, Arthur Krams. Cost: Tom Keogh (design), Irene (supervisor), Karinska (execution). Makeup: Jack Dawn. Hair: Sydney Guilaroff. Songs: Cole Porter, directed by: Lenni Hayton, arranged by: Conrad Salinger. M numbers: “Niña”, “Mack the Black & Pirate Ballet”, “You Can Do No Wrong”, “Be a Clown”, “Love of My Life”. Dance directors: Robert Alton, Gene Kelly. S: Douglas Shearer. ED: Blanche Sewell.
    C: Judy Garland (Manuela), Gene Kelly (Serafin), Walter Slezak (Don Pedro / Macoco, Mack the Black), Gladys Cooper (Aunt Inez), Reginald Owen (the advocate), George Zucco (the viceroy), Nicholas Brothers (Specialty Dance), Lester Allen (Uncle Capucho), Lola Deem (Isabella), Ellen Ross (Mercedes), Mary Jo Ellis (Lizarda), Jean Dean (Casilda), Marion Murray (Eloise), Ben Lessy (Gumbo), Jerry Bergen (Bolo), Val Setz (juggler), [The Gaudsmith Brothers (Poodle Act, scenes deleted)], Cully Richards (Trillo).
    Finnish premiere: 7.4.1950. Telecast: 1965 TV1, 1983 MTV1, Yle TV2 1997, Yle Teema: 14.3.2010 ja 25.6.2011. VET 30227 – S – 2810 m /  103 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Vincente Minnelli), 27 Feb 2016

Probably more than one of us was thinking about Peter von Bagh while watching this fantastic Vincente Minnelli musical about which Peter wrote an insightful essay in his book Taikayö [Magic Night]. The Pirate is a vision on the power of dream and fantasy and the relationship of reality and illusion, as usual with Vincente Minnelli, and never better than here.

Judy Garland and Gene Kelly are at their best in this musical based on a play by S. N. Behrman and showcasing a full set of Cole Porter songs with lavish production numbers designed by Robert Alton and Gene Kelly.

The genius of Vincente Minnelli is in transforming into great art something that might remain pure fluff in lesser hands. He approaches the fairy-tale as it is (the film literally starts with pages of a fairy-tale book about the pirate  Macoco / Mack the Black) but turns the story into a celebration of the make-believe. Art is an illusion which can make us see reality more deeply than a matter-of-fact account. The Pirate, like The Band Wagon, is about show business, but there is also an awareness than in modern life almost everything has an aspect of show business. The foolish and the serious are not separated. The sublime and the ridiculous can be two sides of the same coin.

There is a dizzying vortex of switching identities in the narrative. Manuela (Judy Garland) is to be wed in a marriage of convenience to the mayor Don Pedro (Walter Slezak), but she secretly dreams of the great pirate Macoco. The circus ringmaster Serafin (Gene Kelly), infatuated with the reluctant Manuela, decides to pose as Macoco. But when Serafin and Don Pedro meet it turns out that it is Don Pedro who really is Macoco, or was in his previous life (and failed to kill Serafin when he threw him overboard) - by now he has turned respectable. Now Serafin's impersonation has been so effective that he is about to be executed by hanging, but he is granted his last wish, a last performance, in which Manuela's declaration of love for the great pirate is so overwhelming that the madly jealous Don Pedro drops his cover and exposes himself.

Gene Kelly offers an athletic performance where he is fully equal to Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn as a dashing pirate. Or a would-be pirate in a performance inside a performance that fools everyone. His production numbers are robust, physical, and athletic, and exhilarating in his first "Be A Clown" number with the Nicholas Brothers. He is introduced as a Papageno character in "Niña" where he calls every woman "Niña" because there are too many to remember them by name. However, thereafter he focuses on the one woman who rejects him, Manuela. "The Pirate Ballet" is a breathtaking action dance number.

Judy Garland covers a lot of emotional and psychological ground in her performance as Manuela whom we first meet as an immature girl still believing in fairy-tales - or wanting to. She, however, also states that there is a practical world and a dream world, as she is determined to enter a marriage of convenience. The high point of the film is the one where Manuela realizes that Serafin has been fooling her. We have learned to know Serafin as an athlete, but in the big turning-the-tables sequence Manuela gives him a beating, even shattering statues on him. From then on they are even, and they truly start to get closer without pretending. The final number is their mutual version of "Be A Clown".

The dialogue is witty, and there is a wonderful sense of joy in making such artifice work.

Yet another film with a cancelled marriage as the central plot concept.

For the first time I saw a 35 mm print of this masterpiece which I knew previously from video and 16 mm prints. A full sense of glorious Technicolor with a moment of weaker colour in the pirate ballet which therefore felt more stylized.


Saikaku ichidai onna / Life of Oharu

西鶴一代女 / O’Haru – naisen tie / O’Haru – en kvinnas väg / La Vie d'O'Haru femme galante / Das Leben der Frau Oharu. JP 1952. PC: Shin Toho. EX: Isamu Yoshiji. P: Hideo Koi, Kenji Mizoguchi. D: Kenji Mizoguchi. SC: Yoshikata Yoda, Yoshii Isamu – based on the novel Koshoku ichidai onna (in Finnish Kirsikkatyttö [Cherry Girl], 1978) by Saikaku Ihara, written in the 17th century. DP: Yoshimi Hirano. PD: Hiroshi Mizutani. M: Ichiro Saito. Historical consultant: Isamu Yoshi.
    C: Kinuyo Tanaka (O’Haru), Toshiro Mifune (Katsunosuke), Masao Shimizu (Kikuoji), Ichiro Sugai (Shinzaemon, O'Haru's father), Tsukio Matsuura (Tomo, O'Haru's mother), Kiyoko Tsuji (inn hostess / landlady), Toshiaki Konoe (Harutaka Matsudaira), Hisako Yamane (Lady Matsudaira), Yuriko Hamada (Otsubone Yoshioka), Kyoko Kusajima (lady-in-waiting Sodegaki), Noriko Sengoku (lady-in-waiting Sakurai), Haruyo Ichikawa (lady-in-waiting Iwabashi), Eitaro Shindo (Kabee Sasaya), Sadako Sawamura (Owasa), Hiroshi Oizumi (Bunkichi), Masao Mishima (Taisaburo Hishiya), Eijiro Yanagi (wealthy provincial / forger), Jukichi Uno (Yakichi Ogiya). Loc: Shin Toho outdoors studio at Hirakata near Kyoto.
    Helsinki premiere: 22.11.1963 Orion, distributor: Aito Mäkinen, Finnish / Swedish subtitles: Aito Mäkinen / Jerker A. Eriksson – telecast: 28.11.1968 MTV1, 29.10.1989 Yle TV2 – VET 67280 – K16 – duration according to sources: 148 min (IMDb, Wikipedia) – in Finland 3760 m / 136 min
    The KAVI print deposited by Aito Mäkinen viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), 27 Feb 2016.

Revisited a masterpiece by Kenji Mizoguchi, with one of the greatest performances of Kinuyo Tanaka who was Mizoguchi's anima, a versatile actress for many other directors – and a talented director in her own right. Tanaka's remarks on Mizoguchi are memorable in Kaneto Shindo's marvellous biographical Mizoguchi documentary Aru eiga-kantoku no shogai (1975).

We witness ten stages in the life of Oharu: - the dutiful daughter of a distinguished samurai, - a young maid caught in a forbidden love embrace with a page, - a suicidal daughter of a family now banished and living in poverty, - the concubine of daimyo Matsudaira giving birth to his son and then sent home, - a courtesan at an expensive house of pleasure caught in a scandal with a forger who wants to buy her, - an assistant to a clothier with a bald and jealous wife and a crooked young errand boy - a happy young wife of a fan merchant who is robbed and killed - a nun at a Buddhist monastery - a soka, the lowest of the low, a tramp whore of the street - rescued by her mother, she is again banished from the court where her son now reigns, and is last seen as a mad beggar singing the desolate theme song of "how bitter and and fickle life is / my life withers like a rose".

Oharu is the key masterpiece in Mizoguchi's post-war cycle of proto-feminist films, often starring Kinuyo Tanaka. Right after WWII he had made a series of passionate films with a direct social tendency. By Oharu he had moved to his Buddhist stage with a deeper spiritual involvement, but in no way watering down his sense of social indignation. Although a Buddhist by now, Mizoguchi never forgot the Friedrich Engels dictum about the status of women being the barometer by which one can measure the level of a society's development.

Oharu is also a celebration of the beauty and dignity of love, persecuted during centuries by society when it transcended class boundaries. Mizoguchi also celebrates Oharu's burningly high sexuality which causes her nothing but trouble. Even at the court the trouble starts when the relationship of convenience between the daimyo Matsudaira and his concubine Oharu turns into real passion.

Mizoguchi paints a rich portrait of Japanese society in the 17th century. We move across the entire social ladder from the most sumptuous court life to the most desolate slums. There is something Balzacian in Mizoguchi's passion of painting such a rich portrait of society. There is something Baudelairean in his sympathy for les femmes damnées.

Oharu is an epic tragedy. It has scenes of aching beauty (Oharu's amok run after she has read the last words of her lover to her before his execution). It has scenes of comedy (Matsudaira's envoy assigned with the task to find the perfect concubine) and moments of contes drôlatiques (the forger who comes to spend all his money at the Shimabara brothel). It has passages of pure elegy (Oharu's downfall). In the end, it is a saga of profound disappointment and fundamental solitude.

Mizoguchi is at the peak of his powers as a director in Oharu. With John Ford and Andrei Tarkovsky he belongs to the few who can combine an epic approach with a lyrical touch on this level of mastery.

The music by Ichiro Saito is enchanting, often played with a single instrument at a time (a flute, drums). The desolate theme song is performed by a derelict woman who sings and accompanies herself with the samisen. At the end the woman is Oharu.

The cinematography by Yoshimi Hirano is rich and subtle, often in deep focus, often in plan-séquence, often in dramatic high angle. Mizoguchi belongs to the masters of the crane shot and the long take; with him the long take is always full of life and movement, not meant to convey a sense of la nature morte.

The print often enough conveys the refined definition of light of the deep focus cinematography, but unfortunately it is uneven, and there are also low contrast passages (black missing), including in the very start. For a little while there are water / decomposition damage marks from the source from which this print was struck, showing that the source was not in perfect condition even then.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Laberinto de pasiones / Labyrinth of Passion

Pedro Almodóvar: Laberinto de pasiones / Labyrinth of Passion (ES 1982). Cecilia Roth as Sexilia, exchanging a look with Riza Niro (offscreen) which will change the lives of both hypersexuals forever. Please click to enlarge.

Intohimon labyrintti / Passionens labyrint / Le Labyrinthe des passions / Labyrinth der Leidenschaften.
    ES © 1982 Alphaville, S.A. PC: Musidora presents an Alphaville production.
    P+D+SC: Pedro Almodóvar – based on the story by Pedro Almodóvar and Terry Lennox. DP: Ángel Luis Fernández – negative: 35 mm – Eastmancolor – lab: Madrid Film S.A. – 1,66:1. PD: Pedro Almodóvar, Andrés Santana. AD: Virginia Rubio. Cost: Alfredo Caral (Helga Liné), Marina Rodríguez. Makeup: Fernando Pérez Sobrino, Beatriz Álvarez. SFX: Sixto Rincón. M: Bernardo Bonezzi, Fabio McNamara. S: Armin Fausten, Martin Müller. Soloists: Eduardo Benavente / Eduardo Pegamoide, Nacho Carut / Nacho Pegamoide, Ana Curra / Ana Pegamoide. "Suck It To Me" (Almodóvar, McNamara, Bonezzi) and "Gran ganga" (Almodóvar & Bonezzi) perf. Almodóver & McNamara. ED: Miguel Fernández, Pablo Pérez Mínguez, José Salcedo.
    C: Cecilia Roth (Sexilia / Queti after plastic surgery), Imanol Arias (Riza Niro Zahlevi, successor to the Tiranian throne / Johnny), Helga Liné (Princess Toraya), Marta Fernández Muro (Queti at first), Fernando Vivanco (Dr. De La Peña), Ofelia Angélica (Susana Diaz, psychoanalyst), Ángel Alcázar (Eusebio), Concha Grégori (Angustios), Cristina Sánchez Pascual (Eusebio's girlfriend), Fabio McNamara / Fany McNamara (Fabio), Antonio Banderas (Sadec), Luis Ciges (drycleaner), Agustin Almodóvar (Hassan), María Elena Flores (Remedios), Ana Trigo (Nana), Poch (Gonzalo), Javier Pérez Grueso (Santi), Santiago Auserón (Ángel), Paco Pérez Bryan / Paco Pérez Brián (Manuel Ángel), José Carlos Quirós (Ali), Eva Siva (Azafata), Charly Bravo (amante de Remedios), Zulema Katz (patient), Marcela Amaya (Cuban maid), Jesús Cracio (Jaime Roca), Pedro Almodóvar (cantante y director de la fotonovela, n.c.). 100 min
    The film has an interesting and appealing compilation score. I have not been able to find a listing of its sources, but Pedro Almodóvar himself gives clues in Nuria Vidal's book. A key inspiration was Nino Rota whose score was also lifted bodily to some scenes such as the twist from La dolce vita to the scene where Sexilia, who has had enough of her nymphomaniac ways, takes the early morning subway to meet Riza Niro.
    Helsinki premiere: 10.8.1990 Andorra, released by Senso Films, with Finnish subtitles only by Vesa Toijonen & Mikko Lyytikäinen – VET 96795 – K16 – 2710 m / 100 min
    Previewed on the dvd released by 2007 by Sandrew Metronome / Warner Bros. Entertainment Finland with Finnish subtitles by PrimeText International and Swedish / Danish / Norwegian subtitle alternatives, 95 min at 25 fps.
    A vintage Senso Films print viewed at Kino Iglu, Karkkila, 20 Feb 2016

A screwball comedy, a romantic comedy, a punk extravaganza, a political thriller involving terrorism, and a key document of the new wave lifestyle in Madrid of the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Influences range from Federico Fellini to Emmanuelle.

I had not seen Laberinto de pasiones since it was first released in Finland by the Senso Films company of the Kaurismäki brothers. By then I was already a converted Pedro Almodóvar aficionado having found several of his subsequent films masterful. Laberinto de pasiones seemed then mainly interesting as a piece of apprenticeship before Almodóvar's period of mastery. I could relate to the punk excess of the film thinking about what Spain had been going through during the Franco years.

Today I watched the film twice, first on dvd, and then in a film screening, and it turned out to be much better than I had realized. It belongs to the "cinema of attractions" on a surface level, but nothing becomes more tiresome than constant excess and exaggeration. But there is more in Laberinto de pasiones.

As a comedy, as a farce, Laberinto de pasiones is partly hit and miss and partly truly funny and unique. Targets of the satire include test tube babies, Islamist tyranny, virility cures, medicalization in general, and plastic surgery.

Even hypersexuality itself is a major target of satire. Both protagonists, with whom we sympathize, are hypersexuals. They are victims of their urges, cured first when they discover each other. The opening montage is about their cruising in the Madrid flea market, only able to focus on men's crotches. The happy ending is a tender parody of Emmanuelle.

The dialogue is funny, also in the key sequence where Sexilia and Riza Niro are together for the first time. "We need everything but desire nothing". "We talk a lot about love, never about sex".  "Would you like to be an Empress? I can only offer you luxury and insecurity". "That would be an experience".

Visually, Laberinto de pasiones is a big step forward from Pepi, Luci, Bom. For the first time Almodóvar shoots on 35 mm and has a great cinematographer. With Ángel Luis Fernández Almodóvar would shoot five films back to back. There is an impressive fullness of the colour, and an assured sense of mise-en-scène and camera movement. Visually, Laberinto de pasiones is professional.

On the dvd I saw the Finnish subtitles had a run of the mill quality. They conveyed the basic information adequately. It was a revelation to see the Senso Films print with the subtitles by Vesa Toijonen and Mikko Lyytikäinen. First there I realized the wit and the poetry of the dialogue. Even the song lyrics, written by Almodóvar himself, were translated. (No translation of the lyrics on the dvd).

On the film print the colour still looks juicy and vibrant. The beautiful print looks like it must have been struck from a source not far from the camera negative.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Der Rosenkavalier 2: the opera and the film

From the finale of the film: the Marschall is about to stab Octavian whom he believes is having a rendez-vous with his wife. The Marshallin stops him. Paul Hartmann (the Marschall), Huguette Duflos (the Marschallin), Elly Felicie Berger (Sophie Faninal), Jaque Catelain (Octavian). There is no such scene in the opera. Photo: Classical Iconoclast.
There are crucial differences between Der Rosenkavalier the opera and the film.

First of all there is the added character of the Marschall. He is a vigorous and virile officer, and he is suffering as much from the separation as the Marschallin. There is a touching sequence where everybody else on the front is receiving love letters, while he is left to ponder the lace wristcuff from the shirt of his rival.

Because of the introduction of the Marschall as an acting character we have epic battle scenes and even a thrilling "race to the rescue" sequence where the agonizing Marschall rides home to find out what is going on in the marital bedroom.

Along with the figure of the Marschall four marches are added to the score. This addition fits in very well. The very overture of both the opera and the film starts with a militant fanfare expressing the masculine urge, followed by a theme expressing a soft, swirling, yielding feminine response.

We miss the profound solo arias of the Marschallin, but there is a flashback of her at the convent where at 16 she is fetched to marry a man almost unknown to her. Suddenly her brand new husband is ordered to the front before their wedding night. Although Der Rosenkavalier is a comedy, there are moving scenes of solitude, frustration, and sadness.

Octavian has been changed from a trouser role to a regular male role, played by the androgynous Jaque Catelain.

The "play in the play" scene is one of the best in the film. The protagonists witness the caricature performance in which the "Rosenkavalier" story is parodied for all to see.

The Court Commission on Virtue and Manners is another funny addition (not without sinister implications, though) to the film, an instance of visual comedy.

As is the scene of the waking of the soldiers asleep in the hay.

In keeping with this comedy is also the scene of the lawyers. Baron Ochs resorts to extreme measures to pressure Faninal into accepting a marriage contract with ruinous financial conditions.

The interpretation of Baron Ochs interpreted by Michael Bohnen is consistent with the emphasis on farce. This talented comic singer-actor was known to be Strauss's ideal casting for the role of the Baron. Let's not forget his extended waking-up pantomime and his mad dance of joy.

"The stronger the villain, the stronger the picture", stated Alfred Hitchcock, and certainly in this film version the Baron is the most memorable character. We believe in him because he seems to be at home as himself, enjoying himself thoroughly, even though nobody likes him. In comparison with him all others seem ill at ease. We can compare Michael Bohnen in this role of an incorrigible roué with Erich von Stroheim, "the man you loved to hate". Stroheim and Lubitsch would have been the ideal directors for a film adaptation of Der Rosenkavalier.

In the film the fate of Sophie mirrors that of the Marschallin. She, too, is called from the convent at 16, in her case to marry the oafish and impoverished but certifiably blue-blooded Baron Ochs. Der Rosenkavalier offers an account of her introduction to the world of disappointment. We first meet Sophie at a garden party where the newly minted aristocrat is marginalized and literally excluded from the circle. Only Octavian reaches out to her, and it is love at first sight, although they do not know one another's identity yet. The Rosenkavalier scene in the film is both recognition and revelation.

The most heartbreaking disappointment for Sophie awaits at the final garden party where there is a masked date. Sophie then realizes that Octavian has been expecting to meet the Marschallin instead of her. Deeply regretful, Octavian with all his powers of wit then turns the tables in the elaborate final manoeuvre.

The lovers have many obstacles to overcome. Neither one is free: Sophie is now bound by a marriage contract and Octavian must await the Marschallin's blessing. The resolution comes in a spectacular final garden party. With much intrigue and several masked encounters, elaborate dance numbers and a cast of hundreds, it replaces the entire third act of the opera and represents the most extensive change in the film plot. Along with the real locations on which the film was shot.

The film concludes with a triple happy ending. Not only do Sophie and Octavian come together as a couple, so do the Marschal and the Marschallin in their reunion, as well as Annina and Valzacchi, the schemers. The narrative transcends feelings of vengeance. The only one left out is the Baron who wanted to win everything but lost all.

The opera is the definitive version of Der Rosenkavalier, but this instrumental arrangement has its rewards, as well. The amusing leitmotif of the Baron works well on a film soundtrack. The instrumental version of the special bel canto aria of the first act remains wonderful even out of context. And the non-singing arrangement of the aria of the three sopranos (a celestial one that Strauss wanted to be performed at his funeral) is divine even in this abbreviated instrumental form where pure music takes over. 

Film concert Der Rosenkavalier (the music by Richard Strauss played by Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf)

Elly Felicie Berger (Sophie) and Jaque Catelain (Octavian)

Der Rosenkavalier. Eine Komödie für Musik. AT 1926. PC: Pan-Film AG (Wien). P+D: Robert Wiene. SC: Louis Nerz, Robert Wiene - based on the libretto and a separate screen story by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. DP: Hans Theyer, Ludwig Schaschek, Hans Androschin. AD: Alfred Roller, Stefan Wessely, Hans Rouc. Cost: Alfred Roller. Hair: Ludwig Rudlof. M for a cinema orchestra: Richard Strauss - based on his opera (1911). M arranged by: Karl Alwin, Otto Singer. C: Michael Bohnen (Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau), Huguette Duflos (die Marschallin), Paul Hartmann (der Marschall), Jaque Catelain (Octavian), Elly Felicie Berger (Sophie, daughter of Faninal), Carmen Cartellieri (Annina, Valzacchi's companion), Friedrich Fehér (Valzacchi, the Italian schemer), Karl Forest (von Faninal), Riki Raab (a dancer). Loc: Vienna (Schönbrunn, Belvedere), Dürnstein. Original length: 2996 m /21,5 fps/ 121 min
    Three Richard Strauss marches were added to the score: "De Brandenburgsche Mars" (AV 99), "Der Königsmarsch" (AV 100), and one piece from the "Lebende Bilder zu den Feierlichkeiten der Goldenen Hochzeit des Grossherzogs und der Grossherzogin von Weimar" (AV 89).
    Richard Strauss also composed one original piece for the film: "Militärmarsch in F-Dur" (AV 112, TrV227b).
    A menuet motif from François Couperin (1700), arranged by Strauss (1923), was also used.
    During the war sequence we recognized a familiar march known in the traditional Finnish military orchestra repertory as "The March of the Finnish Cavalry in the Thirty Years' War" ("Gamla finska rytteriets marsch" / "Kungliga Norrbottens regements marsch (Finska rytteriets marsch)" / "Hakkapeliittain marssi" / "Suomalaisen ratsuväen marssi 30-vuotisessa sodassa" / "Marsch der finnländischen Reiterei aus dem 30-jährigen Kriege (Schwedischer Reitermarsch)" [AM II, 211] [AM III, 70] (trad.) (song lyrics later written in Swedish by Zacharias Topelius, Finnish translation by Yrjö Weijola) [1618–1648]. "In 1891 Germans included it in the list of their army marches, under numbers 211 (group II) and 70 (group III)" (IvanSCF, YouTube 29.1.2012). - This arrangement stems from the "Lebende Bilder" (AV 89), # 6 Bernhard der Große von Weimar at the battle of Lützen (1632): “Begleitende Musik (mit Benutzung des in der Schlacht bei Lützen gespielten schwedischen Reitermarsches) von Richard Strauss” (1892).
    Viennese press screening: Haydn-Kino 10.12.1925.
    Gala premiere: Dresden, Staatsoper, 10.1.1926
    The film was not released in Finland.
    New restoration: 2006, Filmarchiv Austria (Fumiko Tsuneishi, Nikolaus Wostry). Music arranged for the restoration: Bernd Thewes, first conducted and fine tuned by: Frank Strobel. For ZDF / ARTE (Nina Goslar). Gala premiere: Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden, 6.9.2006. /21,5 fps/ 105 min
    The original intertitles are believed lost and have been reconstructed by the restoration team.
    Digital triple screen projection at Helsinki Music Center played back from a blu-ray from European FilmPhilharmonic. With one intermission.
    Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf.
    First screening in Finland of the film, 19 Feb 2016

An exemplary companion: a book and a dvd:
Der Rosenkavalier. Edition Film und Text 9.
Günter Krenn (Hg.): "Ein sonderbar Ding": Essays und Materialien zum Stummfilm Der Rosenkavalier. Wien: Filmarchiv Austria, 2007. 294 p.
Der Rosenkavalier (1926). The 2006 restored edition by Filmarchiv Austria. Soundtrack: a record from the Wiederaufführung 6.9.2006 (Dresden / Sächsische Staatsoper), musikalische Einrichtung: Bernd Thewes, orchestra: Staatskapelle Dresden, Dirigent und künstlerische Leitung: Frank Strobel. Intertitles: German / English / French / Spanish. Codefree. Dolby Digital 2.0 / 5.1
ISBN 978-3-902531-11-7

Der Rosenkavalier is my candidate for the best film music ever written.

In the 1980s when Berndt Heller conducted in Finland the original scores of Nosferatu (1987) and Die Nibelungen (1988) he stated that "you haven't heard the best yet": Der Rosenkavalier, the film. (We got the impression that there were even aficionados of Der Rosenkavalier, the opera, who occasionally felt that they had had enough of endless soprano singing and preferred to hear a purely instrumental version for just listening.)

Richard Strauss assigned his trusted experts Karl Alwin and Otto Singer the task of arranging his opera into the purely instrumental score. The revision was thorough even though not many elements were added.

Der Rosenkavalier the opera is more based on words than the average. There is a lot of singing. The musical experience of the film adaptation is thus significantly different from the opera. The film is an engrossing Richard Strauss experience.

The film started as a Hugo von Hofmannsthal project. The poet was enthusiastic about the potential of the cinema. However, the producer-screenwriters Robert Wiene and Louis Nerz generally discarded Hofmannsthal's screen story and took only some elements from it, most importantly the character of the marshal who does not appear in the opera. Mostly Wiene and Nerz reverted to the original opera plot. However, they discarded Hofmannsthal's libretto. Thus, from Hofmannsthal there remains only the skeleton - the characters and the plot. Privately, Der Rosenkavalier the film was a big disappointment for Hofmannsthal although publicly he kept a brave face about it.

Richard Strauss was not eager initially to embark on the project, but he did it as a favour to Hofmannsthal. The result turned out much better than he expected, and the music works brilliantly both in parts and as a whole. Richard Strauss converted during this experience into a film enthusiast who stated that he while he was was now too old for this he would recommend film music composing ot younger colleagues.

Robert Wiene was a seasoned professional who had started his career as a director with a special gift for comedy. He had been hugely successful at Oskar Messter's film company, directing and writing a string of hits for Germany's biggest star Henny Porten, often photographed by Karl Freund. Wiene was equally talented with drama, and he had a penchant for psychology. That is why he was a natural choice to direct The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, a film that brought world fame to German cinema. Caligari was a total exception to Wiene's style so far even in twisted psychological narratives. Wiene played with aspects of Expressionism in Genuine, Raskolnikov, I.N.R.I., and The Hands of Orlac, but his true calling was in natural acting and sober storytelling.

Der Rosenkavalier was a big production. The locations were ideal, and the top opera designer Alfred Roller, the trusted collaborator of Mahler and Strauss, was in charge of art direction and costumes. Best of all, there is a lively approach to the historical period of late Baroque and evolving Rococo (one might say that the period is outwardly Baroque and inwardly Rococo). There is a vitality in crowd scenes, and the characters look like they are truly living in their clothes (not just posing in costumes they received from the wardrobe a minute ago). There are amusing details that feel authentic.

Of the performers the great bass baritone star of the opera stage Michael Bohnen is at home in his role as the lecherous Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau. He was Richard Strauss's favourite casting. The new character of the Marschall is convincingly incarnated by Paul Hartmann with laconic masculinity.

I wish I could be more positive about the performances of the triangle of characters that in the opera is played by three sopranos. Top talent famous from the French stage and cinema was hired: Huguette Duflos was the Marschallin, and Jaque Catelain played Octavian. Elly Felicie Berger is a delicate Sophie. I blame Robert Wiene for the weak direction of their performances. He lets them overact, but here it is not a consistent stylistic decision like in Caligari where Wiene in the spirit of Expressionism adopted an archaic and exaggerated style foreign to the realism of his earlier films.

One of the central differences between the opera and the film is the casting of Octavian. One of the most notable trouser roles has been changed into male casting. It was the Jazz Age, the age of the flapper / the jazz girl / la garçonne. It was also the age of Valentino, Novarro, Rivero (Cocteau's first protagonist), in Finland, the young Tulio (all the names of these boys ending with an "O") - and Jaque Catelain (the year before he had starred in L'Inhumaine). His casting is inspired, but Robert Wiene is unable to realize its potential.

In my introduction before the film concert I focused on Der Rosenkavalier as a time machine, a voyage into the vortex of time. The period of the narrative is the transition from Baroque to Rococo in the middle of the 18th century. The premiere of the opera was in 1911, in the twilight of the 700-year rule of the Habsburgs, la Belle Époque, and "the long 19th century" from the French Revolution to the eve of WWI. The premieres of the film were in 1925 and 1926 when the war that meant the end of "the Age of Empire" had ended not long ago. One of the film's locations is the Belvedere castle which had been the residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination started WWI.

Even Richard Strauss's music is a time machine. It is a composition distinctive in its own Jugendstil / Art Nouveau period with its silver rose motif. It harks back to Baroque but is also inspired by Mozart (Le Nozze di Figaro), pays memorable tribute to Italian bel canto, and cannot avoid being influenced by Wagner, either. Strauss indulges in anachronism that can be understood as playing with time: the major musical idiom is the Viennese waltz that was flourishing not in the middle of the 18th century but a hundred years later. In the film score there are also several marches due to the addition to the cast of the marshal in person.

Der Rosenkavalier the film fell into a time trap. It was brilliantly launched but failed to get world distribution in grand style because sound film was just about to have its breakthrough. The distribution was discontinued and prints and elements were discarded. After 1933 there was even less effort to preserve the film because key Jewish talent had been involved in its making.

There have been important efforts at reconstruction in 1961 by Joseph Gregor and Otto Wladicka (a 16 mm stretch print was made with every second frame duplicated to match a speed of 16 fps; there was a magnetic soundtrack; the score was played on the piano by Julius Engelmann; "the duration of the images corresponded now again exactly the duration of the music"; "for this sound film print the music was played strictly according to the score"*), and in 1988 by Berndt Heller. Now thanks to Fumiko Tsuneishi and Nikolaus Wostry (film) and Bernd Thewes and Frank Strobel (music), backed by Nina Goslar (ARTE) we have this impressive restoration where even the challenge of the missing final reel has been elegantly solved.

Der Rosenkavalier is a music-driven film designed to faithfully illustrate magnificent music. In the final reel of this reconstruction it can be seen as a kind of a transcendence that the image occasionally disappears and lets the music alone fill up our senses.

I prepared by listening to the dvd where Frank Strobel conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden. It is evident from the Hofmannsthal-Strauss correspondence that Der Rosenkavalier was a labour of love. Strauss waited impatiently for new pages from Hofmannsthal because the libretto stimulated him, and he was brimming with ideas. This irresistible sense of joy is conveyed via the Strobel-Dresden performance on the dvd. There is a vigour, a precision, and a delight in their playing.

A live concert is always a many times more profound experience. It goes into the spine. It energizes and electrifies. Conducted by Hans Graf, the Radio Symphony Orchestra brought a touch of Viennese grace into their performance. Writing this sentence many days later, the music is still ringing inside me. The passion, the sadness, the fury, and the final consummation. One might say that the overture is about eros and the finale about agape.

The film runs fast, the movement seems faster than is the norm when we screen silent films today, and there is often a sense of overspeed, but Frank Strobel comments that the music follows Richard Strauss's precise metronome specifications, and in such matters he was particular. In his view the opera nowadays is usually performed too slowly. (E-mail from Frank Strobel, 8 March 2016).

* Erich H. Mueller von Asow: Richard Strauss: Thematisches Verzeichnis I-III. Wien: Verlag L. Doblinger (B. Herzmansky) K.G., 1959-1974 - pp. 1260-1263. "Militärmarsch in F-Dur" (AV 112, TrV227b)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Yek ettefagh-e sadeh / A Simple Event (preserved in 2014 by the National Film Archive of Iran)

Sohrab Shahid Saless: یک اتفاق ساده / Yek ettefagh-e sadeh / A Simple Event (IR 1973).

یک اتفاق ساده / Yek etefagh sadeh.
    IR 1973. PC: Sazman-e Cinemaie Keshvar.
    D: Sohrab Shahid Saless. DP: Naghi Maasoumi. ED: Kazem Rajinia. C: Mohammad Zamani, Anne Mohammad Tarikhi, Habibullah Safarian, Hedayatullah Navid, Majid Baghaie. Loc: Bandar Shah.
    The film was not theatrically released in Finland
    82 min
    Preservation: 2014 Pishgamane Cinemaye Arya (National Film Archive of Iran) from the 35 mm original negative.
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki, with e-subtitles by Ehsan Khoshbakht operated by Lena Talvio, 16 Feb 2016

I saw the beginning of A Simple Event last summer in Bologna. The screening was so much delayed that I missed the ending.

A Simple Event is a masterpiece of Iranian and world cinema. There is a quiet intensity in it. In its approach to everyday routine it may bring to mind Jeanne Dielman or The Turin Horse. Sohrab Shahid Saless's approach is original and unique.

What it is about is difficult to verbalize. There is an intensity of being that Shahib Saless captures here. There is an acuity of the senses, a dynamism of the mise-en-scène, and a sense of the well-judged cut. This is a film about durée, always intense.

The little boy is always running. He is running errands for his mother who is dying. He is running while carrying fresh fish caught illegally by his scoundrel father from the Caspian Sea. He is not good at school, exhausted by his incessant errands.

A film about solitude, about being marginalized. And also about resilience, never giving up.

The lush photochemical vibrancy of the colour can be enjoyed in this new print. There are issues of slight flicker on the left side, and colour definition in bar scenes. Perhaps such slight unevenness stems from the source material.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ragbar / Downpour (2011 restoration in 2K by World Cinema Foundation)

رگبار. IR 1971. PC: Mehregan Film. P: Barbod Taheri. D+SC: Bahram Beyzaie. DP: Barbod Taheri. M: Shida Garachedaghi. ED: Mehdi Rajaeeyan. C: Parviz Fannizadeh (Hekmati), Parvaneh Masumi (Atie), Manuchehr Farid (Rahim), Mohammad Ali Keshavarz (Nazem), Hossein Kasbian, Jamsheed Layegh, Chehrazad. Not released in Finland – MEKU 8.2.2016 – K7 – 122 min announced, this dcp 130 min
    Restored in 2011 by The World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna / L’Immagine Ritrovata in collaboration with Bahram Beyzaie. Restoration funding provided by Doha Film Institute. 130 min
    2K DCP (with burned-in English subtitles by Khoury & Ebcid from the source print) from Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Iranian New Wave, curated by Ehsan Khoshbakht), 11 Feb 2016

I had an opportunity to sample Ragbar, directed by Bahram Beyzaie, for a half an hour in Bologna three years ago and since then I have been looking forward to see this movie in its entirety. As was possible to tell from the sample already, it's a masterpiece.

It is the story of a schoolteacher, Hekmati (Parviz Fannizadeh), who arrives at a little community. Where he comes from there was a vacancy only at a girls' school which he was not allowed to take since he is a bachelor.

We are immediately in the middle of a scene full of life as the teacher moves his belongings in carts to his uphill lodging. The children are curious and noisy, always ready with pranks, but they can be helpful, as well. There is a lot of fuss with an old mirror and a thrilling chase when the cart starts to roll downhill. An old piece of art glass is miraculously saved... at first.

Hekmati is awkward and clumsy, and he seems initially shy and weak, but that is just the surface impression. During the film we learn to appreciate his inner strength and dignity, and so do the characters of the narrative.

Hekmati has a hard time establishing discipline, but he does not give up. Those who cause trouble during the class he firmly evicts. One day a beautiful young woman, Atie (Parvaneh Masumi), approaches him and asks him why he has had her little brother kicked out. There is no privacy, and although nothing happens, Hekmati and Atie become an item of gossip.

It turns out that Atie has a rich suitor, Rahim (Manuchehr Farid) who sends her packages of meat. Atie does not care for him, but Rahim helps her family and promises to take care of all of them if they get married. Because of the gossip Hekmati gets badly beaten. Hekmati and Atie try to avoid each other but their mutual attraction is irresistible. During heavy rain Hekmati escorts Atie and states that he cannot catch a cold in Atie's company. "I'm hot". (But he catches a cold anyway).

Hekmati enters as an outsider but gradually starts to command the respect of others. He is touchy and lonely but when there is a derelict building that is to be renovated for school use Hekmati embarks on it alone, his big project is a success, and the climax of the film is a school celebration at the renovated hall. It is an event full of joy and fun, but Hekmati is about to be ignored until the children, who by now have become his firmest allies, insist in Hekmati being acknowledged. For the school brass this is the last straw who immediately put wheels in motion to have Hekmati transferred.

In an original twist of the movie even Rahim becomes friends with Hekmati. Atie cannot leave her family because of Hekmati. So she will stay with Rahim instead.

There is a powerful finale as Hekmati is moving away from the community with his belongings again in carts, this time with mourning children in tow, the shocked Atie helplessly watching. No happy ending, but everyone has been deeply moved.

The cinematography by Barbod Taheri is expressive within a realistic idiom. The editing by Mehdi Rajaeeyan has been influenced by the French new wave. The music by Shida Garachedaghi has an intriguing Persian sound. The performances are perfect, and Bahram Beyzaie belongs to the Iranian masters who are excellent directors of children. The faces are eloquent.

A beautiful work of digital restoration from an apparently difficult source.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Kamran Shirdel: The Four Blacks

Kamran Shirdel: The Night It Rained (IR 1967).


HDCAM with English subtitles from Pishgamane Cinemaye Arya / National Film Archive of Iran
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Iranian New Wave, curated by Ehsan Khoshbakht), 10 Feb 2016

Four short and sharp masterpieces, the three first of them documentaries, the fourth a parody of a documentary, directed by the master Kamran Shirdel.

Tehran Is the Capital of Iran is a haunting and gripping account on poverty. We hear the official truth of how things are supposed to be and see the heartbreaking reality.

Women's Prison approaches crime as a consequence of social conditions. In order to survive, these women have committed crimes. The prison can be a way of education and re-socialization.

Qaleh, made in collaboration with Iranian women's union, reveals prostitution as an antechamber of perdition. This is the circle of the very low, including child prostitution and women who have lost all their shine.

The images are stark, the montage is biting, and there is an unforgettable humanity in these films which refuse to objectify the people they depict. There is no miserabilism here.

On The Night It Rained I wrote last summer when I first saw it. It gets better on repeat viewings, a worthy successor to the noble and bewildering tradition of Rashomon and Citizen Kane.

Kamran Shirdel: Tehran Is the Capital of Iran (IR 1966–1979).

Teheran paitakhte Iran ast /  تهران پایتخته ایران است / Tehran Is the Capital of Iran

Iran 1966–1979. PC: The Ministry of Culture and Art. D+SC: Kamran Shirdel. DP: Mansour Yazdi – b&w. 19 min
   "Dokumenttielokuva köyhien asuinalueesta etelä-Teheranissa. Kuvausta suuresta hädästä Teheranin huono-osaisten  kaupunginosassa säestää kooste erinäisiä suullisia lausuntoja. Esillä on virallinen näkemys paikan elinolosuhteista, asukkaiden näkemys ja otteita koulujen opaskirjoista. Hätkähdyttävän väkevän elokuvan pääilmaisukeino on kuvan ja äänen välinen vastakohta." (Asia Society New York, International Short Film Festival, 2007)

Kamran Shirdel: Women's Prison (IR 1965).

Nedamatgah /  ندامتگاه / Women’s Prison

Iran 1965. PC: The Ministry of Culture and Art. D+SC: Kamran Shirdel. DP: Maziar Partow – b&w. ED: Kamran Shirdel, Kazem Rajinia. Narrator: Asadollah Payman. 11 min
    " Women’s Prison kertoo vankien elämästä ja heidän perheidensä ongelmista heidän kamppaillessaan toimeentulostaan. Kamran Shirdel turvautuu tässä cinéma vérité -tyyliin. Vankien, sosiaalityöntekijöiden ja opettajien haastattelut toimivat kommentaareina ”rakennetuille” dokumenttikuville. Tekninen prosessi osoittaa missä määrin yhteiskunnallisten ongelmien ratkaisu riippuu jokaisen osallistumisesta. Vangit yksin eivät voi tarjota lääkettä koko siihen yhteiskunnallisten epäkohtien katalogiin, joka on johdattanut nämä naiset rikollisuuteen. " (Asia Society New York, International Short Film Festival, 2007)

Kamran Shirdel: Qaleh (IR 1966–1980).

Qaleh /  قله / The Women’s Quarter / The Red Light District

Iran 1966–1980. PC: The Ministry of Culture and Art. D+SC: Kamran Shirdel. DP: Kamran Shirdel, Mansour Yazdi – b&w. ED: Kamran Shirdel. Photographs: Kaveh Golestan. 19 min
    " Syvästi koskettava Qaleh kertoo prostituoitujen elämästä Teheranin bordelleissa alueella, joka tunnetaan nimellä Shahre Now. Siinä seurataan useita naisia ja kerrotaan, miten yhteiskunnallisten ongelmien paino on ajanut heidät kohtaloonsa. Kamran Shirdel käyttää valokuvia erityisellä ja taiteellisesti voimakkaalla tavalla, joka tuo mieleen Chris Markerin elokuvan La Jetée. Tämä vaimentaa emotionaalista painoa ja kunnioittaa kuvatun yksityisyyttä; nuo kaksi sudenkuoppaa vaanivat usein elokuvantekijöitä, jotka käsittelevät tällaista aihetta. Elokuvassa tutkitaan naisten uudelleenkoulutuksen mahdollisuutta mutta ei anneta ruusunhohtoista kuvaa todellisuudesta. Väkevä, hidastettu päätöskuva syöpyy syvälle mieleen. Toimeksiantaja oli Iranilaisten naisten liitto, ja elokuva kiellettiin jo ennen valmistumistaan. Vallankumouksen jälkeen osa aineistosta löydettiin, ja Shirdel teki elokuvan valmiiksi käyttäen edesmenneen Kaveh Golestanin valokuvia, jotka oli otettu yli kymmenen vuotta elokuvan filmatuksen jälkeen. " (Asia Society New York, International Short Film Festival, 2007)

An shab ke barud amad /  حماسه روستازاده گرگانی یا اون شب که بارون اومد

The Night It Rained or the Epic of the Gorgan Village Boy / Oon shab ke baroon oomad ya hemase-ye roosta zade-ye Gorgani
    Iran 1967. PC: The Ministry of Culture and Art. EX: Abbas Mohammadinam. Idea and D: Kamran Shirdel. Script for the commentary: Esmaeil Nooriala, Kamran Shirdel. DP: Kamran Shirdel, Naghi Masoumi. Photographs: Nosrat Karimi. S: Homayoun Pourmand. ED: Kamran Shirdel, Fatemeh Dorostian. Narrator: Nosrat Karimi. – 40 min
    "Satiirinen dokumenttielokuva on pikakurssi 1960-luvun Iranista. Lehtiuutinen sankarillisesta pikkukylän pojasta, joka esti junaonnettomuuden, leviää nopeasti. Tapausta aletaan pian epäillä, ja kohta kukaan ei tiedä, kuka on kenetkin pelastanut. Vuonna 1939 syntynyt Kamran Shirdel muistetaan parhaiten hänen salaisesti kuvaamistaan dokumenttielokuvista köyhästä väestä, unohtamatta sitä, että hän uudelleenfilmasi Godardin elokuvasta Viimeiseen hengenvetoon nimellä Sobh-e rooz-e chaahaarom (The Morning of the Fourth Day, 1972). Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografiassa kouluttautuneen Shirdelin edelliset elokuvat olivat Iranin hallituksen rahoittamia ja kieltämiä: niitä ei milloinkaan näytetty shaahin aikana. Tämäkin antiautoritaarinen, rashomonmainen tarina kiellettiin aluksi, mutta kuusi vuotta myöhemmin se arvioitiin vaarattomaksi. Sitten se sai parhaan lyhytelokuvan palkinnon Teheranin elokuvajuhlilla." (Ehsan Khoshbakht, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2015).

Beyond the jump break notes by Asia Society New York, International Short Film Festival, 2007:

Monday, February 08, 2016

Family Life

Varttumisen tuska / Generationsklyftan / Wednesday's Child. GB © 1971 Kestrel Films. PC: Kestrel Films / An Anglo-EMI Presentation. P: Tony Garnett. D: Ken Loach. SC: David Mercer – based on his teleplay In Two Minds (Kahdessa maailmassa) (1967). DP: Charles Stewart - negative: 35 mm - Technicolor - 1,37:1. AD: William McCrow. M: Marc Wilkinson. "Down By The River" (Neil Young, from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1969) sung in group therapy. S: Frederick Sharp, Gerry Humphreys. ED: Roy Watts. C: Sandy Ratcliff (Janice Baildon), Bill Dean (Mr. Baildon), Grace Cave (Mrs. Baildon), Malcom Tierney (Tim), Hilary Martyn (Barbara Baildon), Michael Riddall (Dr. Donaldson), Alan McNaughton (Mr. Carswell), Johnny Gee (man in the garden), Bernad Atha, Edwin Brown, Freddie Clemson, Alec Coleman, Jack Connell, Ellis Dale, Terry Duggan, Rossana Carofala, Muriel Hunt. Helsinki premiere: 15.2.1974 Orion, released by: Magna Filmi - telecast: 5.5.1989 YLE TV1 – VET 82313 – K16 – 2968 m / 108 min
    A vintage KAVI print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema: New Wave in Britain), 8 Feb 2016 

BFI SCREENONLINE SYNOPSIS: "Janice is the rebellious daughter of lower-middle-class parents. Increasingly unable to cope with her behaviour, her parents seek help from a psychiatrist, and Janice is taken into residential care, 'for her own good'."

AA: A film about schizophrenia.

The third theatrical feature film directed by Ken Loach who had already created a strong oeuvre for television, often in collaboration with the producer Tony Garnett.

Family Life is a drama - a tragedy - involving psychotherapy, also about the conflict of two major trends of treatment. There is a humanistic approach involving personal contact, collaboration with the family, and group methods. And there is a medical approach involving strong medicament and electric shocks. Although the concrete methods have evolved (for instance, medicine is truly efficient nowadays) the general division of the two approaches remains topical.

Janice Baildon clearly has trouble, but we sense that with a little more understanding and affection she could overcome her difficulties. Ken Loach and his talented team of actors create a heartbreakingly convincing picture of a dysfunctional family. Janice's parents mean well but they are sadly out of touch and as they bully her to abortion they shatter her identity fundamentally. Janice's boyfriend and friends are very nice but not strong enough to resist interference and to truly give Janice a strongly rooted independent existence. Janice's most staunch champion in her nearest circle is her big sister who has taken the leap to independence and founded a family of her own. One of the most striking and memorable sequences in the movie is the horrible family reunion dinner where Janice is defended by her big sister. Yet Janice's parents are not monsters, they are just completely clueless.

Michael Riddall plays the sympathetic modern Dr. Donaldson whose open-minded approach would seem promising in helping Janice get back to life. The scene where Donaldson hears from the hospital staff that his term is being discontinued is another anthology piece in this movie.

The performances feel convincingly authentic. The film is quietly but deeply moving.

There is no visual flair in this movie which has been shot in a newsreel, quasi documentary style in flat, drab colour. There are both long takes and illuminating close-ups.

The print is clean with some "rain" in changeovers.


The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film

Mukkelis makkelis / Mukkelismakkelis / Liebenswerte Leckerbissen.
    GB 1959. PC: Peter Sellers Productions. P: Peter Sellers. "Directed by: Dick Lester. Devised by: Peter Sellers. Thoughts by: Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Mari Fabrizi, Dick Lester." (from the credits). DP: Richard Lester – shot in b&w – prints tinted sepia – shot on 16 mm – blown up to 35 mm. M: Richard Lester. ED: Richard Lester, Peter Sellers. C: Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Richard Lester, Mario Fabrizi, Bruce Lacey, David Lodge, Leo McKern, Norman Rossington, Graham Stark. Release date: November 1959. 11 min
    There is no dialogue in the film.
    Finnish classification: 4 Oct 1961 (Suomi-Filmi) – VET 58928 – 315 m
    A KAVI vintage print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema: the New Wave in Britain), 8 Feb 2016

"The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film is a short (eleven-minute) film directed by Richard Lester and Peter Sellers, in collaboration with Bruce Lacey. The film was released in 1959. It was filmed over two Sundays in 1959, at a cost of around £70 (including £5 for the rental of a field). It was nominated for an Academy Award, but did not win. It was a favourite of The Beatles, which led to Lester being hired to direct A Hard Day's Night and then Help!, in which Lacey makes a guest appearance as George Harrison's gardener in the opening sequence. The short film has been made available as a special feature on several home video releases of A Hard Day's Night. It is also featured in The Unknown Peter Sellers and a BFI released collection of rarely-seen films from Bruce Lacey's career entitled The Lacey Rituals." – Frame enlargement, credits and introduction from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

AA: There is little to add to John Oliver's exhaustive summary and remarks beyond the jump break. The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film is a loony romp on a field, with zany anachronisms, no dialogue, a contribution to British crazy comedy on its way from The Goon Show to Monty Python, valuable to know in the development of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Richard Lester, already sporting the irreverent farce style of The Beatles.

The print is used but ok.


Sunday, February 07, 2016

Il divo

Paolo Sorrentino: Il divo – la spettacolare vita di Giulio Andreotti (IT/FR 2008) starring Tony Servillo.

Il divo – la spettacolare vita di Giulio Andreotti / Il divo – Giulio Andreottin merkillinen elämä / Il divo [Swedish title].
    IT/FR 2008. PC: An Indigo Film, Lucky Red, Parco Film. P: Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Andrea Occhipinti.
    D: Paolo Sorrentino. SC: Paolo Sorrentino. DP: Luca Bigazzi. AD: Lino Fiorito. SFX: Leonardo Cruciano. Cost: Daniela Ciancio. M: Teho Teardo. The compilation score includes three works by Sibelius: Pohjola's Daughter, Violin Concerto, and Symphony No. 2. End credit theme: "Da da da" (Remmler & Kralle) by Trio. ED: Cristiano Travaglioli.
    C: Tony Servillo (Giulio Andreotti), Anna Bonaiuto (Livia Danese), Giulio Bosetti (Eugenio Scalfari), Flavio Bucci (Franco Evangelisti) Carlo Buccirosso (Paolo Cirino Pomicino), Giorgio Co-langeli (Salvo Lima), Alberto Cracco (Don Mario), Piera Degli Esposti (Signora Enea), Lorenzo Gioielli (Mino Pecorelli), Paolo Graziosi (Aldo Moro), Gianfelice Imparato (Vincenzo Scotti), Piera Degli Esposti (Signora Enea), Massimo Popolizio (Vittorio Sbardella), Aldo Ralli (Giuseppe Ciarrapico), Giovanni Vettorazzo (Magistrato Scarpinato).
    Not credited: Fanny Ardant (wife of the French Ambassador).
    Not theatrically released in Finland – telecast in Finland: 20.3.2010 Yle FST5, 5.5.2012 Yle Teema – 145 min, 110 min, 117 min
    A 35 mm print from Beta Film with English subtitles with the second reel missing, which was screened on Betacam instead. 117 min version
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Paolo Sorrentino), 7 Feb 2016


« Guerre puniche a parte, mi hanno accusato di tutto quello che è successo in Italia. »
(Giulio Andreotti)

"Il film narra una parte della vita di Giulio Andreotti, protagonista della storia politica italiana per decenni, raccontata nel periodo tra 1991 e 1993, a cavallo tra la presentazione del suo VII governo e l'inizio del processo di Palermo per collusioni con la mafia. La pellicola inizia con una lunga serie di omicidi e presunti suicidi di personalità di spicco (Moro, Dalla Chiesa, Pecorelli, Falcone, Calvi, Sindona, Ambrosoli). Seguono le parole delle lettere di Moro che dalla sua prigionia per mano delle Brigate Rosse si rivolgeva proprio ad Andreotti, evidenziandone la poca umanità e scongiurandolo di aprire le trattative coi terroristi per la sua liberazione. La vicenda principale prende il via il giorno della presentazione dell'ultimo governo andreottiano, il 12 aprile 1991."

"Si radunano agli uffici di Andreotti i "vertici" della sua corrente nella Democrazia Cristiana, ossia Paolo Cirino Pomicino, Giuseppe Ciarrapico, Salvo Lima, Franco Evangelisti, Vittorio "Lo Squalo" Sbardella e il cardinale Fiorenzo Angelini detto "Sua Sanità". La questione politica del giorno si sposta presto sulla futura elezione del Presidente della Repubblica, a successione di Francesco Cossiga. La corrente andreottiana, nonostante la defezione di Sbardella, passato ai dorotei, propone l'elezione di Andreotti al Quirinale. Andreotti, richiesto di confermare la sua candidatura, accetta. Ma nella corsa al Quirinale, Andreotti si scontra con l'opposta candidatura del segretario democristiano Arnaldo Forlani: convocati da Cirino Pomicino intorno a un tavolo per un compromesso, entrambi escludono un ritiro in favore dell'altro."

"Al momento della prima convocazione del Parlamento in seduta comune per l'elezione, scoppia una violenta "bagarra": urla, lanci di oggetti e manette tintinnanti, il tutto sopra la testa dell'impassibile Andreotti, mentre il presidente della Camera Oscar Luigi Scalfaro cerca inutilmente di far mantenere la calma ai parlamentari. Nonostante vi siano poi ripetute votazioni, non viene data la maggioranza a nessun candidato. Durante una pausa, i vari sostenitori dei candidati cercano di raccogliere i sostegno di ulteriori parlamentari. Cirino Pomicino tenta un compromesso tra le varie correnti DC, che naufraga a causa della testardaggine di alcuni caporioni."

"Nonostante avesse inizialmente conquistato molti voti, l'omicidio di Falcone scuote la sua immagine, come esponente di una corrente politica legata alla mafia, problema che già si era sollevato con l'omicidio del collega di partito Salvo Lima, avvenuto per vendicare il tradimento di una classe politica che si era servita dei voti di Cosa Nostra senza però rispettare gli accordi presi, base di scambio con il sostengo elettorale (in questo caso la revisione delle sentenze del maxiprocesso). Andreotti cercava già precedentemente di evitare Lima al fine di rendersi agli occhi dell'opinione pubblica esterno ai suoi contatti criminali, ma inutilmente. Al termine degli scrutini, risulta eletto presidente della Repubblica Scalfaro. Dai banchi dei dorotei, l'ex andreottiano Sbardella fa notare il comportamento di Andreotti a un collega, sottolineando il sangue freddo e la dignità di Andreotti davanti a questa grande sconfitta. La seconda parte del film s'incentra sui presunti rapporti di Andreotti con la mafia, fino alle udienze del maxiprocesso di Palermo. Poco dopo l'elezione di Scalfaro, scoppia il caso di Tangentopoli, che segna la caduta degli alti papaveri della politica accusati di corruzione, fra cui Cirino Pomicino, Evangelisti (che morirà poco dopo) e Bettino Craxi, l'alleato-rivale di Andreotti."

"Tuttavia, si lascia presumere che Andreotti avesse dato documenti compromettenti, attinti dal suo archivio, al pool di Milano proprio per sbarazzarsi di alcuni politici a lui scomodi. Si arriva poi alla caduta di cosa nostra nel 1993-1994, causata da numerosi pentimenti, arresti e leggi speciali. Nei colloqui con diversi pentiti, il procuratore di Palermo Giancarlo Caselli e i suoi collaboratori ascoltano la versione dei pentiti sui rapporti tra Andreotti e cosa nostra, sugli affari e gli omicidi voluti da Licio Gelli e Pippo Calò (come quelli di Calvi e Sindona, rei rispettivamente di essersi appropriato del denaro di Gelli e di sapere troppo), l'omicidio di Dalla Chiesa da parte della mafia con il benestare silenzioso di Roma e sull'omicidio di Pecorelli, assassinio commissionato da Ignazio e Nino Salvo, per ingraziarsi Andreotti."

"Nel corso di questi colloqui tra Caselli e i pentiti di mafia vengono rappresentati, come flashback, i presunti colloqui tra Andreotti e i capi della mafia, tra cui Stefano Bontade e Totò Riina, con il famoso bacio, e il supposto rituale di affiliazione, che lo avrebbe fatto "uomo d'onore". Da parte sua, Andreotti si decide a combattere fino in fondo quest'ultima battaglia per la giustizia, mobilitando le sue risorse personali e finanziarie, con il pieno sostegno della famiglia, specie della moglie Livia. Il senatore rifiuta respinge categoricamente le accuse di collusione con la mafia, negandolo a se stesso e perfino al suo confessore, e opponendo ai pentiti di mafia la sua vita da "sorvegliato speciale" da parte della scorta, con movimenti costantemente controllati. Infine si assiste all'inizio del processo, che si concluderà con la sua assoluzione per prescrizione.
" (Wikipedia)

AA: An impressive and disturbing dramatization of the last years in power (1991–1993) of Giulio Andreotti (1919–2013), "Divus Iulius", as his his forty-year political career was coming to an end. He was a key personality in Italy's integration into the EU during an epoch in which a rural economy experienced an economic miracle, making Italy into one of the biggest economies globally. Andreotti was a devout Catholic, mild mannered, suffered from extreme migraine, had a malformed spine (kyphosis, scoliosis?), avoided nepotism, and lambasted conspicuous consumption. As a minister of the interior, a minister of defence, a multiple Prime Minister, a leader of Democrazia Cristiana (DC), and an eminence grise, Andreotti fought Communism ("we saved Italy from the Soviet peril") but was favourable towards the "historic compromise" between PCI and DC. He furthered diplomacy between the US and the USSR during glasnost and worked for better relations with Arab countries. Andreotti was one of the master politicians behind the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Il divo is an ominous account about power play in a country with deep problems of how a state can relate to civil society. There is an atmosphere of fundamental distrust in fair play and honest representation. Instead, there is a pervasive web of corruption, bribery, and crime.

At the end of his career, Giulio Andreotti is faced with 26 accusations in a series of trials across the country. He is acquitted on all counts. The worst testimonies are given by Mafia turncoats.

Paolo Sorrentino's film is a dark political cabaret performance about the Tangentopoli, "Bribesville", the fight against Mafia and political corruption. In the 1980s the traditional low profile Mafia was overthrown by the violent Salvatore Riina, which led to a harder battle against the Mafia in the course of which a lot of corruption was exposed. There was a series of murders and suicides in high places. DC was dissolved in 1994. PCI had been dissolved already in 1991.

In Sorrentino's film, Andreotti, embodied memorably by Tony Servillo, cuts a mysterious and sinister figure whom we cannot decipher. Is he the mastermind behind all the dark currents, or is he someone who just knows to deal with them?

An intriguing small role as the wife of the French Ambassador is played by Fanny Ardant, uncredited. Is she the incarnation of temptation whom Andreotti knows to resist? An interesting episode is also the one where huge numbers of love letters sent to Andreotti are served to the shredder.

Sorrentino's film is a vision of fronts, facades, masks, and false selves, using means of distanciation, parody, satire, and caricature, never losing a sense of gravity.

A couple of months ago we screened a tribute to Francesco Rosi. Il divo is a worthy successor to the Francesco Rosi heritage in Italian political cinema.

A good film print with the second reel missing which our projectionist smoothly changed over to Betacam for twenty minutes. Most sources give this title the length of 110 min, but this print is 117 minutes.


Saturday, February 06, 2016

Shab-e ghuzi / Night of the Hunchback

شب قوز / Shabe ghuzi / Shabe quzi / Shab-e quzi. IR 1965. PC: Iran Nema Studio. D: Farrokh Ghaffari. SC: Farrokh Ghaffari, Jalal Moghaddam – based on A Thousand and One Nights. DP: Gerium Hayrapetian – b&w. M: Hossein Malek. ED: Ragnar. C: Pari Saberi (the lady of the house), Khosro Sahami (Ahmad the hunchback), Mohamad Ali Keshavarz (Jamal, a hairdresser), Farrokh Ghaffari (Jamal's assistant) Paria Hakemi, Farhang Amiri, Zakaria Hashemi (policemen). The film was not released in Finland – 2494 m / 91 min
    Based on the tale of the 24th (or 25th) night in One Thousand and One Nights, called "Kyttyräselkäinen" / ["The Hunchback"] (Kaija Rainerla), "Kuka murhasi kyttyräselkäisen?" / ["Who Killed the Hunchback?"] (Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila), "The Hunchback's Tale" (Richard Burton, 25th night), in One Thousand and One Nights (كِتَاب أَلْف لَيْلَة وَلَيْلَة‎ , Kitaf alf layla wa-layla / Kitaf alf lailah wa lailah) / ( هزار و یک شب, Hezār-o yek šab), this story belonging probably to the oldest level, the Indian-Persian one, 7th century or earlier.
    M: a lot of pop music in the terrace party, including "What'd I Say" and "I Got A Woman" by Ray Charles, "You Do Something To Me", "Let's Get Together" (Hayley Mills?).
    A 35 mm print from Pishgamane Cinemaye Arya / National Film Archive of Iran.
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Iranian New Wave, curated by Ehsan Khoshbakht), with e-subtitles in English by Ehsan Khoshbakht operated by Lena Talvio, 6 Feb 2016

AA: A fascinating "clash of cultures" in a Farrokh Ghaffari film bringing a One Thousand and One Nights tale to contemporary Teheran. There is a touring group of dancers, clowns, acrobats, and jongleurs, at times sporting grotesque monster masks. The hunchback belonging to the troupe has a very weak heart. The nobleman does not enjoy the show, but the dancers are very funny, and the lady of the house confides the hunchback with a secret message.

After the show the fee is split among the performers. There is a pot full of food for a night picnic, but the gross prank of filling the hunchback jester's mouth with food results in tragedy. There is a corpse now. The fellow actors evade responsibility and hide the corpse into a barbershop after the closing hours. Now the barber and his assistant try to hide the corpse from the police. There is a lot of black comedy in hauling the corpse to the terrace, hiding it in the garden and transporting it into the woods. The barber's assistant is in a hurry to bring a "nougat case" (evidently drugs) to the airport, and the lady of the house urgently needs to get her secret message back. There is a parallel story about a forced marriage; the young bride is determined to commit suicide. There is a happy ending for her, though not so happy for the rest.

During all these anxious goings-on there is a relentless barrage of Western pop music (a little too much of it) blasting from the terrace where the cream of Teheran is partying. The native Iranian soundtrack of the movie in contrast is charming and interesting, perhaps even with One Thousand and One Nights associations.

This original black comedy is fascinating and perhaps not quite fully accomplished but it was a remarkable starting point to Iranian art cinema.

A good definition of light in this print.

The Hunchback Walked Along Singing Merrily, 1915, by Willy Pogany. From carlylehold via Flickr. Please click to enlarge.



Selma. Please click to enlarge.

Selma / Selma. GB/US 2014. PC: Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films, Harpo Films, Pathé, Plan B Entertainment. EX: Nick Bower, Ava DuVernay, Cameron McCracken, Diarmuid McKeown, Nan Morales, Brad Pitt. P: Christian Colson, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Oprah Winfrey. D: Ava DuVernay. SC: Paul Webb. ED: Spencer Averick. DP: Bradford Young. SFX: Scott Willis. PD: Mark Friedberg. AD: Kim  Jennings. Set dec: Elizabeth Keenan. Cost: Ruth E. Carter. Make-up: Melissa Forney. M: Jason Moran. C: David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Tom Wilkinson (Lyndon B. Johnson), Tim Roth (George Wallace), Common (James Bevel), Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King), Lorraine Toussaint (Amelia Boynton Robinson), Oprah Winfrey (Anne Lee Cooper), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Fred Gray), Niecy Nash (Richie Jean Jackson), Colman Domingo (Ralph Abernathy), Giovanni Ribisi (Lee C. White), Alessandro Nivola (John Doar), Keith Stanfield (Jimmi Lee Jackson), Andre Holland (Andrew Young), Tessa Thompson (Diane Nash), Wendell Price (Hosea Williams), Nigel Thatch (Malcom X), Dylan Baker (J. Edgar Hoover), Ledisi (Mahalia Jackson), Omar Dorsey (James Orange). 128 min
    Blu-ray from Walt Disney Nordic with Finnish subtitles by Arja Meski.
    Introduced by the U.S. Ambassador Charles C. Adams, Jr., Stephen Lee, and Anna Möttölä.
    Cinema Orion, Helsinki, together with U.S. Embassy and Walt Disney Nordic (Black History Month), 6 Feb 2016

Reportedly the first film on Martin Luther King, Selma is an engrossing dramatization of an essential part of American history of the 1960s. It is a fighting film, a film about peaceful demonstration and resistance in the spirit of Tolstoy and Gandhi. It is a key story about changing the world, and I am grateful for Ava DuVernay and her team and cast for that.

There is the daunting challenge of having actors play world historical figures that even a schoolboy in distant Finland had some idea about. David Oyelowo is great in the leading role, and as a non-American I can accept the others, as well, although they are British. There has also been the special difficulty about not getting the access to King's actual speeches, or Mahalia Jackson's actual voice. But challenges are made to be overcome.

The main drive of the film is powerful. There is in the beginning a vignette of the four little girls, also documented in a masterful film by Spike Lee. My favourite scenes include the debate in the car between King and an activist after the murder of a white clergyman ("we are too far to turn back now") and King's great speech in the finale. I understand that the account of LBJ has been criticized, and I am out of my depth to comment on that. Anyway, among the high points of the film is also the eye-to-eye debate of LBJ and Wallace at White House.

A remarkable film worth revisiting. Conventional but powerful. The third march has a real epic feeling of history. We can change the world if we are united.

In our collaborations with the U.S. Embassy we have repeatedly noticed that it has often been difficult to access in theatrical formats even high profile films relevant to U.S. black experience. This time we were not able to access a DCP of Selma, and as the best alternative projected a blu-ray by arrangement with Walt Disney Nordic, free of charge. A film as great as Selma was not theatrically released in Finland.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Rodin (exhibition at Ateneum, Helsinki)

Auguste Rodin: Danaid, 1885, this marble 1889. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen

Rodin, exhibition 5.2.–8.5.2016 in collaboration with the Stockholm Nationalmuseum, Ateneum Art Museum, Musée Rodin in Paris and its former Chief Curator Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. Curators: Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, Linda Hinners, and Timo Huusko.

Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery, Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki.

The catalogue:
Rodin. Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) ja Pohjola. [Rodin. Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) and the North]. Editor-in-chief: Linda Hinners. Editor of the Finnish edition: Timo Huusko. Helsinki: Ateneumin taidemuseo / Suomen kansallisgalleria. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. 188 p.
    Swedish edition for Nationalmuseum, 1.10.2015–10.1.2016.
    Finnish edition for Ateneum, 5.2.–8.5.2016.
    Three language editions: Swedish, Finnish, and English.

From the press release: "Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), who lived and worked in Paris, brought a whole new character to sculpture with his robust expressiveness, emphasising physicality. The exhibition also features works by Rodin’s Finnish students, Sigrid af Forselles and Hilda Flodin. This exhibition is the most extensive one of Rodin’s work ever seen in Finland: previously Rodin’s works were on display more than 50 years ago, in 1965."

"The rugged and textured works were considered too risqué and unfinished by his contemporaries."

"Rodin was an exceptional artist who revolutionised the art of sculpture. Several of the works are classics: for example, of The Kiss and The Thinker, innumerable copies exist. As late as the late 19th century, the works still divided opinion. They were deemed either too risqué or realistic, or they were thought to be unfinished and lacking in substance."

"Rodin may be regarded as one of the last classical sculptors, while also representing a vibrant and spontaneous idiom that was completely new and progressive. What generally was considered unfinished was in Rodin’s view complete and ready. The human body is at the core of Rodin’s work: he had the ability to capture in one figure the realistic form of the human body and powerful, emotional expression."

"The exhibition covers Rodin’s entire career from the early works to some of his later creations. It gives an overview of his work and his experimental approach to sculpture, and paints a picture of this prolific worker and his fascinating life."

"Sigrid af Forselles (1860–1935) and Hilda Flodin (1877–1958) were Rodin’s students and served as his atelier assistants in Paris. The exhibition sheds light on Rodin’s relationship with his Finnish students and reveals new information about Rodin’s contacts with Finland. Af Forselles assisted Rodin in the creation of The Burghers of Calais and the most significant one of her own was the five-part relief History of the Human Soul. Flodin served as Rodin’s assistant from 1903 until 1906. After her return to Finland on 1906, Flodin concentrated mainly on drawing, because sculpture was considered at that time an unsuitable profession for a woman."

"The exhibition is spread through four halls on the 1st and 3rd floors of the museum. Of the 70 works on show, 51 are by Rodin. The exhibition is produced as a collaboration by Stockholm Nationalmuseum, Ateneum Art Museum, Musée Rodin in Paris and its former Chief Curator Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. Many museums and private collectors have given their works on loan for the exhibition."

Allan Österlind: Rodin In His Atelier, 1889. Watercolour on paper, glued on canvas. 73 x 51,50. Ateneum Art Museum / H. F. Antell testament collection.  Photo: National Gallery / Jouko Könönen. Presumably the only contemporary painting on Rodin taken from the model was made by his Swedish painter friend.


"Dans l'art, il n'y a pas d'immoralité.
L'art est toujours sacré."

"There is no immorality in art.
Art is always sacred."

– Auguste Rodin

In L'œil écoute, his collection of essays about painting, Paul Claudel wrote about "spiritualized flesh" when discussing Spanish painting. That would be also a fitting title for the work of Auguste Rodin whose close companion, colleague and lover Paul's sister Camille Claudel became.

After 50 years, Rodin's work is on display in Helsinki again. Stone, metal, and plaster come alive in forms that seem vibrant with life while acknowledging the inorganic character of the material.

This Nordic touring show based on the Musée Rodin collection has a Nordic flavour. Rodin had Nordic patrons and colleagues. In Finland there was H. F. Antell whose donation is the basis of Ateneum's valuable Rodin collection.

Auguste Rodin: Shadow, 1880, this cast 1964. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

In the North Rodin was recognized as a modern Michelangelo. Like Michelangelo in Pietà Rodin understood the power of the non finito. That is an approach that brings us to the threshold of comprehension. There are things that are beyond understanding. Yet an artist can bring us to the path of an insight of even such matters.

Auguste Rodin: Je suis belle, plaster 1882, this bronze cast before 1887. Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Antell. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Karjalainen

Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière
– Charles Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du mal

According to Antoinette Le Normand-Romain's catalogue remarks in this sculpture Rodin immortalized his love and passion with Camille Claudel (in Anne Delbée's novel the story is different). In this exhibition we see the first bronze cast, which was acquired by H. F. Antell.

Auguste Rodin: The Thinker, c 1880, this cast 1889. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. Please click to enlarge the images.

The mise-en-scène of a giant version of The Thinker (original 1882, this version 1903, 1909, Waldemarsudde, Stockholm) is a coup of conceptual art.

The Thinker has been placed in a room facing the Railway Square. On the opposite side is the Finnish National Theatre. Over The Thinker's shoulder we can see the monument of Aleksis Kivi, the Finnish national writer, our counterpart to Hugo and Balzac, also immortalized in stone by Rodin. Wäinö Aaltonen always ignored claims of having been influenced by Rodin. Now everybody can make up his own mind.

At Ateneum there are sections devoted to Rodin's Finnish pupils Sigrid af Forselles and Hilda Flodin. Among the contemporary Finnish influences one may also count Ville Vallgren whose Havis Amanda sculpture is the Aphrodite of Finland.

Simultaneously with the Rodin opening there is also a new display of the installation artist Kaarina Kaikkonen transforming the museum's inner courtyard and nearby park with her myriad flying shirts.

The catalogue for the exhibition is a Rodin collector's item with a complete record of the Rodin works on display, special essays on Rodin's Nordic connections in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, and a bibliography of Rodin's Nordic correspondence.

A book:
Anne Delbée: Camille Claudel. Kuvanveistäjän elämä. (Une femme, Camille Claudel, Presses de la Renaissance, 1982). A biographical novel. Translation into Finnish by Sulamit Hirvas. 354 p. Illustrations of 11 Camille Claudel sculptures. Porvoo – Helsinki – Juva: WSOY, 1989

A moving feature in Helsinki's Auguste Rodin exhibition is the pairing of Auguste Rodin's bust of Camille Claudel and Camille Claudel's bust of Auguste Rodin.

I saw Bruno Nuytten's film Camille Claudel (1988) when it was first released. Isabelle Adjani as Camille Claudel and Gérard Depardieu as Auguste Rodin provide performances that are among the greatest in biopics.

That film was inspired by the novel by Anne Delbée, a theatre director and a Paul Claudel scholar who became fascinated by the talented sister about whom she first wrote a play, then this novel. The Paris art world of the 19th century was hard for men and much harder for women. Camille Claudel perished although she was an exceptionally strong woman psychologically and physically. It was a world of users and a world of macho discrimination. Her work is her legacy. Auguste Rodin was her employer, mentor, and lover, but she soon found an idiom of her own.

I am grateful for Anne Delbée for providing a persuasive account of the tough world of sculpture. You need capital, a lot of time, and a good professional staff to be a sculptor. Auguste Rodin was often in dire straits and Camille Claudel even more so although she dared to sculpt directly into marble unlike Rodin.

Reading this novel I was also thinking about the Finnish sculptor Laila Pullinen (1933–2015) whom I met in passing last year a few months before she died. We exchanged just a few words, but I remember her resilient smile. Camille Claudel was a pathbreaker for all future female sculptors, and Auguste Rodin was her supporter.