Thursday, February 02, 2017

Toivon tuolla puolen / The Other Side of Hope

Ljus i natten / L’autre côté de l’espoir / Die andere Seite der Hoffnung.
    FI 2017. PC: Sputnik Oy. Yhteistuottajat: Oy Bufo Ab / Pandora Film. Rahoittajat: Suomen elokuvasäätiö / Kirkon mediasäätiö. Yhteistyössä: Yle TV1 ja ZDF / ARTE.
    P+D+SC: Aki Kaurismäki. DP: Timo Salminen – 35 mm – colour – 1,85:1 – released on 2K DCP and 35 mm. Valaisu: Olli Varja. Lavastus: Ville Grönroos, Heikki Häkkinen, Markku Pätilä. Cost: Tiina Kaukanen. S: Tero Malmberg – Dolby SRD. ED: Samu Heikkilä. Photographer: Marja-Leena Hukkanen.
    C: Sherwan Haji (Khaled), Sakari Kuosmanen (Valdemar Wikström), Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon (Mazdak), Janne Hyytiäinen (Nyrhinen), Nuppu Koivu (Mirja), Kaija Pakarinen (wife), Niroz Haji (Miriam), Tuomari Nurmio, Tommi Korpela (Melartin), Kati Outinen, Sulevi Peltola, Timo Torikka, Taneli Mäkelä, Elina Knihtilä, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Antti Virmavirta, Maria Järvenhelmi, Ilkka Koivula (Calamnius), Matti Onnismaa, Puntti Valtonen, Elias Westerberg, Marko Haavisto, Hannu Laurila, Juhani Niemelä, Antero Jakoila, Panu Vauhkonen, Harri Marstio, Pauli Patinen, Mohamed Awad, Ismo Haavisto.
    In Finnish, English, and Arabic.
    The film is a part of the Finland 100 jubileum program.
    Dedicated to the memory of Peter von Bagh.
    [The Swedish title Ljus i natten is a reference to Tuomari Nurmio's most legendary song, "Valo yössä" {"A Light in the Night"}. Please notice also the headlights of the car in the poster.].
    Helsinki premiere: 3.2.2017, distributed by B-Plan Distribution – MEKU K12 – 98 min
    2K DCP with Finnish subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi Scape (gala preview), Helsinki, introduced by Mark Lwoff, 2 Feb 2017
    A 35 mm print with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (world premiere of a 35 mm print), in the presence of Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon, Nuppu Koivu, Niroz Haji, and Mark Lwoff introduced by Anna Möttölä, 3 Feb 2017

Toivon tuolla puolen / The Other Side of Hope [literally: Beyond Hope] is the second film in Aki Kaurismäki's projected harbour trilogy. The first one was Le Havre. This new film takes place in Helsinki.

Both films represent new openings for Kaurismäki. In Le Havre there was a new kind of protagonist and a new identification structure. We were no longer worrying about the protagonist but identifying with a protagonist worrying for others.

In Toivon tuolla puolen there are two protagonists but the main one (with whom the film begins and ends) is different. For the first time in Kaurismäki the protagonist is a foreigner in the literal sense of being not native, not even European. He is worrying for himself only to a certain extent. Even more he is worrying for his sister. Helping her is his main concern.

The Mediterranean refugee crisis, although reflected in only modest proportions in distant Finland, has shattered our country. Kaurismäki's standpoint is humanist. The refugees have lost their homes and their families, their nearest and their dearest. Kaurismäki observes the gamut of reactions: official, bureaucratic, sympathetic, indifferent, hostile, violent, even murderous. The value above all for Kaurismäki is solidarity. When Khaled is about to be beaten by skinheads he is saved by cripples. In a telling detail Khaled who has practically nothing gives a coin to a street singer (Nurmio) and a gypsy beggar woman. Khaled is the only one we can see helping those who are the worst off.

Khaled (Sherwan Haji) hails from Syria. Having dodged border controls all over Europe he has landed in Helsinki by accident. He has nothing against Finland, but "if you could tell me how I could get out of here I would be very grateful". This line got the biggest laugh in the screenings.

The story is serious but often Kaurismäki tells it with a Buster Keaton approach. Indeed, long passages of the film are without dialogue, including the opening sequences that introduce the two protagonists Khaled and Wikström. Their paths cross only for a fleeting moment before they truly confront each other later.

Khaled emerging from the coal pile. The water in the shower turning black. The stud poker game. Cobweb surrounding the cook. Sardines served straight from the can. A dog called Koistinen hidden by the restaurant staff. Rusty tap water at the refugee's hideaway. Salted herring served as sushi. Such are some of the motifs of the deadpan comedy.

A running gag is introducing old-fashioned gadgets such as a mechanical typewriter, carbon paper, landline telephones, and transistor radios. Money is prominent but only as cash in the world of this film. Mark, the Finnish currency before our joining the euro in 1999 is still valid. Smoking is rampant like the anti-smoking legislation of 1995, 2000, and 2007 never happened. And then there is the most prominent prop, the gleaming vintage car.

Modern technology appears only when unavoidable. An electronic fingerprinting device. A cell phone that Khaled uses to reach his lost sister. A computer wizard's equipment to forge an identity card for Khaled.

Out of details like this grows a tragi-comic world view which has been crystallized by film critic Hans Sundström in Hufvudstadsbladet (3 Feb 2017):  "Kaurismäkiland is a universe that finds its distinction in a precise intersection between a proximity and a distance to reality". ("Kaurismäkiland är ett universum som finner sin egenart i den rätta skärningspunkten vad närhet och avstånd till verkligheten beträffar.")

Kaurismäki's films are highly stylized. After the more obviously quirky fairy-tale approach of Le Havre, Toivon tuolla puolen introduces subtle advances in psychology, steps towards more rounded personalities. The actors have more room for depth and detail. Sherwan Haji is intense and dignified as Khaled. Sakari Kuosmanen, a Kaurismäki regular, gets his juiciest part ever as Wikström the salesman turning into a restaurant keeper.

In the most striking shot of Le Havre Kaurismäki observed faces of refugees found in a container. Toivon tuolla puolen goes further. Never have faces been more intense and memorable in a Kaurismäki film. The soulful close-ups convey loss, longing, pain, suffering, and a history of experience. There is a gravity in these close-ups that brings to mind John Ford's films such as The Grapes of Wrath and They Were Expendable.

Loneliness and alienation have been Kaurismäki's main themes since the beginning. He has found an international audience by focusing on solitude. There is something new in the approach to the theme of loneliness in Toivon tuolla puolen. The characters are now less parodical cardboard figures and more nuanced living and suffering beings. There is more courage in being vulnerable, not hiding behind parody. The refugee question is a perfect Kaurismäki topic that opens him new and promising options of growth.

Music is again of the essence. The first song on the soundtrack is "Oi mutsi mutsi" ["Oh Mother, Mother"] by Tuomari Nurmio [Judge Nurmio], probably its 1979 album version produced by Pekka Aarnio with Esa Pulliainen at the guitar, Hans Etholén at the bass, and Juha Takanen at the drums. On his illustrious Stratocaster Pulliainen plays a searing, unforgettable solo creating a sound which resembles the balalaika (information confirmed with Pekka Aarnio, 6 Feb 2017). It is a slow and haunting masterpiece of popular music, a funeral dirge in the first person sung by the dying man. The lyrics of this old Helsinki city slang traditional tell how a drunkard bids his last farewell to his mother expecting her to arrange his burial anytime soon. The theme of death is introduced early on.

There are many memorable song numbers in the film, all good, but might there be one too many?

The cinematography by Timo Salminen is powerful. I had the privilege to watch Toivon tuolla puolen on both digital and film on consecutive days. The digital presentation is solid and impeccable. The film presentation is more subtle and delicate. There is a stronger presence of the fragility of life.

At Tennispalatsi there was an audience of invited guests. At Orion the audience consisted of aficionados. The reactions were completely different; more spontaneous, tender, amused, and passionate at Orion.

The main reference point for Le Havre was the classic of French poetic realism, Le Quai des brumes directed by Marcel Carné, written by Jacques Prévert and starring Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan (1920–2016). Le Havre was full of cinephilic references. One of the distinctive features of Toivon tuolla puolen is the absence of such references. Influences remain on a deeper level. Charles Chaplin's tramp is certainly one of them. That figure has never been more topical than during the current refugee crisis.

Another deep reference is the fatalistic Jean Gabin figure in French films of the 1930s. In the 1930s it seemed to be written in Jean Gabin's contract that he would die in the end. Le Quai des brumes ends with death. The final image is of a stray dog he had rescued. The dog is running towards us, too late.

In Kaurismäki's movies dogs are essential. The dog as a physical and metaphysical being, a harbinger of unconditional friendliness. The dog as a mirror of its master. Treat it well, and it becomes your best friend. Humans have a lot to learn from them. In Toivon tuolla puolen the dog named Koistinen is a puppy well taken care of by the restaurant staff. (The dog motif is introduced early on in a glimpse of Ransu the dog, a popular hand puppet figure in Finnish children's television. There is even a Ransu statue in Pirkkala).

Le Havre ended on a note of hope. Toivon tuolla puolen seems to be moving towards tragedy. Like Gabin in his 1930s films Khaled, who has been stabbed, is watching the sea. Then the puppy appears and licks him. We are left contemplating the title The Other Side of Hope.

What does the title mean? It evokes Dante, Walter Benjamin and Franz Kafka. It might mean Finland as an Ultima Thule, a last resort on the trek of the Mediterranean refugee. My wife Laila finds in the title an affinity with the song "Over the Rainbow". Also in the Finnish tango there is sometimes a yearning for the beyond, the infinity of the sky, the land of eternal happiness. There is also in them a dimension of a longing for death.

Introduction and Q&A at Orion

Mark Lwoff told us that the production of the film print was all analog. Not only was the movie shot on photochemical film, the negative was also cut on film without a digital intermediate, and the colour grading was conducted in analog as well. There are only two labs left in Europe able to do this. The greatest challenge was subtitling. There is only one photochemical subtitling service left in Europe.

The actors described the special circumstances on an Aki Kaurismäki set. There was an excellent script that is also a piece of literature. There were no rehearsals. There was no preparation. There was as a rule only one take. No mobile devices were allowed on set. On digital the camera can run almost endlessly. Shooting on film there are only 3 minutes of film in the magazine. The Aki average is 9-11 minutes of exposed film per day.

PS 25 Feb 2017. Hesiod tells that when Pandora opened her box and unleashed all the evils the only thing left inside was hope.

PS 26 Feb 2017. Hesiod also writes about philoxenia, the art of hospitality. In ancient Greece refugees, asylum seekers, unprotected orphans and helpless elderly people were under a special protection of the Gods, and hurting them was an especially grave offense. Philoxenia was one of the characteristics by which the Greek could tell a civilized person from a barbarian. An example of the latter was the cyclops Polyphemos in the Odyssey. He started to eat Ulysses's travelling companions and received the punishment he deserved.

PS 20 March 2017. Tacitus in Germania (De Origine et Situ Germanorum Liber, 98 AD) offers one of the earliest comments on the people called fenni (probably no relation with the current inhabitants of Finland but the name has stuck). The latest Finnish translation of the second to last sentence of Germania (Chapter 46, Section 5) is interesting. "Rauhassa jumalilta ja rauhassa ihmisiltä he ovat saavuttaneet sen vaikeimman päämäärän, ettei heidän tarvitse edes mitään toivoa." (Tacitus: Germania. In Finnish by Tuomo Pekkanen. Yliopistopaino 1988). The original text: "securi adversus homines, securi adversus deos rem difficillimam adsecuti sunt, ut illis ne voto quidem opus esset". An English translation "Secure against the designs of men, secure against the malignity of the Gods, they have accomplished a thing of infinite difficulty; that to them nothing remains even to be wished" (by Thomas Gordon, 1910). Following the Finnish translation I would offer an alternative: "Secure from men, secure from gods they have achieved the most difficult goal of being beyond the need of hope".

PS 1 April 2017, a quote from IMDb dated 27 March 2017 | by Ruben Mooijman (Ghent, Belgium): "The complete lack of emotions, a trademark feature of Kaurismäki's work, adds an extra dimension to the message. The refugee doesn't complain, his protectors don't discuss, the violent racists don't explain. Everything just happens." In this approach there is an affinity with Bresson and Godard.

PS 1 April 2017. Heard from Mark Lwoff afterwards: there is no internegative. All photochemical prints of the film have been struck directly from the camera negative.


Suomalaisen kauppamatkustajan ja syyrialaisen pakolaisen polut risteävät.

Elokuva jakautuu kahteen tarinaan, jotka sattuman ajamana risteytyvät neljänkymmenen minuutin kohdalla. Ensimmäinen kertoo Khaledista, nuoresta syyrialaisesta pakolaismiehestä, joka on menettänyt miltei koko perheensä ja lähes vahingossa ajautuu hiililaivan salamatkustajana Helsinkiin, jossa hakee turvapaikkaa ilman suuria toiveita vastaisesta elämästään.
    Wikström, toinen päähenkilöistä, on viisissäkymmenissä oleva kauppamatkustaja (edustaa lähinnä miesten paitoja ja solmioita), joka jättää elokuvan alussa alkoholisoituneen vaimonsa ja ammattinsa, muuttuu hetkeksi pokerihaiksi ja siten saamillaan vähäisillä rahoilla hankkii kannattamattoman ravintolan helsinkiläisen laitakadun sisäpihan perältä.
    Kun viranomaiset päättävät palauttaa Khaledin Aleppon raunioihin hän monien muiden tavoin päättää jäädä maahan laittomasti ja katoaa Helsingin kaduille, joilla kohtaa paitsi monenlaista rasismia myös puhdasta ystävällisyyttä. Lopulta Wikström löytää miekkosen nukkumasta ravintolansa sisäpihalta ja näkee kenties murjotussa miehessä jotain itsestään, koska palkkaa tämän kapakkaansa siivoojaksi ja tiskariksi.
    Hetken elämä näyttää valoisan puolensa, mutta pian kohtalo puuttuu peliin ja elokuva saa avoimen lopun, joka johtaa joko kunnialliseen elämään tahi hautausmaalle. Nurkkaan ajetulle ihmiselle molemmilla on puolensa.

Ohjaajan sana
Tällä elokuvalla yritän tehdä parhaani murtaakseni eurooppalaisen tavan nähdä pakolaiset ainoastaan joko säälittävinä uhreina tai röyhkeinä elintasopakolaisina, jotka tulevat vain viedäkseen työmme, vaimomme, asuntomme ja automme.
    Stereotyyppisten ennakkoluulojen luomisella ja vahvistamisella on synkkä kaiku Euroopan histo-riassa. Toivon tuolla puolen on, myönnän sen auliisti, jossain määrin ns. tendenssielokuva, joka yrittää häikäilemättömästi vaikuttaa katsojiensa mielipiteisiin ja pyrkii manipuloimaan heidän tunteitaan tähän päämäärään päästäkseen.
    Koska em. pyrkimykset luonnollisesti tulevat epäonnistumaan jää jäljelle, toivoakseni, ryhdikäs, hivenen surumielinen, huumorin kantama, mutta muutoin lähes realistinen elokuva muutamasta ihmiskohtalosta tässä maailmassa, tänään.
    Aki Kaurismäki

– Toivon tuolla puolen -mediatiedote (B-Plan Distribution 2017)

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