Friday, November 24, 2017

A Hundred Years of Otherness in the Finnish Cinema (a seminar)

Yli rajan / [Across the Border] (1942), a tale of Ingrians and a love affair across the border between Finland and the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The Ingrian woman (Irma Seikkula), her father (Wilho Ilmari), a WWI war invalid, and her lover from the other side (Joel Rinne). Please click to enlarge the image.

A Hundred Years of Otherness in Finnish Cinema
Finnish Society for Cinema Studies / National Audiovisual Institute / Finnish Film Foundation
A Finland 100 Seminar at the Finnish Film Foundation, 24 Nov 2017

Antti Alanen: Otherness Through the Ages

Bullet points for my presentation the approach of which was to present a catalogue of the theme, if not a "catalogue of ships".


The very term "otherness" is controversial. Our approach was positive, Husserlian, in the spirit of a fundamental calling of art, aiming at intersubjectivity, the Tolstoyan mission: to help us understand each other, in a spirit of reverence for every human being and every living being.

Not forgetting the criticism of Edward Said in Orientalism where the Western concept of Otherness is seen as an artificial and colonialistic construction. Neither forgetting Simone de Beauvoir's Le deuxième sexe where Man is the default and Woman "the Other".

In Finnish the same word "toinen" covers both "the other" and "the second". Simone de Beauvoir's book in Finnish is Toinen sukupuoli.

The European refugee crisis has made this discourse newly topical since 2015. It has also been discussed in key Finnish feature films of this year, including

Elina Hirvonen: Kiehumispiste / Boiling Point (2017) where the director confronts xenophobia, hate speech, refugee centers, the night of the homeless, the Nordic Resistance marches, Finland First events, "what's wrong with Impivaara", the Suomen Sisu, refusing to remain in the social media bubble of the like-minded, and

Jörn Donner: Perkele 2 - Images from Finland (2017). In 1971 Donner had covered the biggest move in the history of Finland when 300.000 Finns moved to Sweden to find work, and many more moved from the countryside to the cities of Finland. Today we are shaken by a thousand or so who get an asylum annually, although the dependency ratio is alarmingly imbalanced, and as Donner puts it, we don't make love enough and neither do we procreate enough.

In this centenary year we often evoke the Fennoman slogan from the 19th century by A. I. Arwidsson: "Swedes we are no longer, Russians we won't become, let us be Finns then". Yet in fact we are also Swedes, and also Russians, and that makes us stronger as Finns.

The National Revival of the 19th century, inspired by the movement of National Romanticism, was vigorously boosted by Russia to help Finns get rid of the cultural bond with Sweden. But the heroes of the Finnish national movement were Swedish speaking intellectuals such as Snellman, Edelfelt, and Sibelius. "Maamme laulu" [The Song of Our Land], the national hymn, was written by Runeberg in Swedish. "Maamme kirja" [The Book of Our Land] which became a school textbook for generations, was written by Topelius in Swedish.

In prehistory we were not Finns but consisted of Sami people, "Finns proper" (Southwestern Finns, varsinaissuomalaiset, Sums), Tavastians, Karelians, etc. In the Battle of the Neva 800 years ago Catholic Southwesterners led by the Dominican Bishop Thomas and ancient-believing Tavastians fought with Swedes against Alexander the Prince of Novgorod, but Orthodox Karelians fought with Alexander.

Finland has always been a seafaring country and a merchant country with connections around the world. The Impivaara myth of an isolated provincial community is one side of the truth, but there has always another story, that of an outgoing and well-connected Finland.

The first Finnish fiction film Salaviinanpolttajat / The Moonshiners was co-directed 110 years ago by the Swedish count Louis Sparre.
The first internationally known films with Finnish themes were directed by Mauritz Stiller in Sweden: The Song of the Scarlet Flower and Johan.
Incidentally, otherness is a key theme in both.
The Song of the Scarlet Flower introduced the figure of the lumberjack, a Nordic counterpart of the Westerner: the foreigner who comes to the village from afar.
Johan is a triangle drama in which the foreigner from the East comes to seduce the young woman and takes her with him. (In the original version he is a wandering merchant from Russian Karelia).

Of the central film-makers in studio-era Finland (Finland being the most Protestant country in the world)
Valentin Vaala was a Russian Orthodox believer and
Teuvo Tulio, a Latvian Catholic.

In studio-era Finland the characters in the films were predominantly mainstream Finns.

Russians were generally depicted in terms of russophobia (ryssäviha), with interesting exceptions such as Commissar Vengrovska (Kirsti Hurme) in the Ryhmy and Romppainen war comedies. She was like a stern mother figure to the reckless boys. Russian talent played a distinguished role, e.g. George de Godzinsky was one of the greatest film composers.

Until 1944 Jews appeared in antisemitic stereotypic roles such as treacherous spies, never played by Jews of course. Jewish talent appeared in starring roles, including Hanna Taini in the title role in Jääkärin morsian [The Jaeger's Bride].

Sami people / Laplanders and Romani people could appear as romantic leads. They were seen in terms of the exotic and romantic other, never played by Sami or Romani actors, never with authentic ethnicity. Even a Russian could appear as an exotic and romantic other (Tauno Palo as a Cossack in Kuisma ja Helinä).

Karelian evacuees were treated with great sympathy in films such as Oi kallis synnyinmaa, Evakko, and Pikku Ilona ja hänen karitsansa. As were Ingrians in Yli rajan.

The Finnish-Estonian co-production Auringon lapset [Children of the Sun] was never released in Finland. In 1962 Veikko Itkonen directed the thriller Vaarallista vapautta [Dangerous Freedom] about Estonian defectors. Estonians seldom featured in Finnish films before the contemporary Puhdistus / Purge based on the novel by Sofi Oksanen.



Art itself is about facing the other.
Facing the other is a definition of art.
Becoming the other is a definition of the actor.
Encounter is the key to all fiction. When two that are different, or opposites, or at odds, or incongruous, meet, we have drama or comedy.

The encounter may be transcendence: transcending the everyday to another reality, another dimension, which can be sacred, or just different, taking us to another time, another world, another experience - childhood, old age - or another sex.
This is about the essence of art. Even a popular song is about transcending the everyday.


France has always welcomed artists from all over the world. Paris has been the capital of art and a capital of immigrant artists. France was the first superpower of the cinema, and Paris remains the capital of film culture.

Hollywood was founded by immigrants.

In Germany in the Weimar Republic the name of the leading film studio Babelsberg tells all.

In Russia Mezhrabpom-Rus was the center of international cinema.

Danish cinema became global before WWI, and in Swedish cinema the same happened during the war.

In Finland cinema remained national in a generally provincial kind of way. Exceptions have existed but only now a general change is taking place.


The first book of the Bible is Genesis, and the second book is Exodus.
After the birth of Jesus in the manger there is soon the flight to Egypt.

Western literature, the classics of Antiquity, begin in the Trojan War. There are dozens of peoples in Homer's catalogue of ships. After the war many were homeless wanderers, or wanderers on their way back home such as Ulysses. Aeneas the Trojan landed in Italy to become the ancestor of the Roman Empire.

Exile was the human condition.

Hesiod, the other founder of Western literature, defined philoxenia (hospitality) as a cardinal virtue - especially kindness towards refugees and asylum seekers. The term comes from the saga of Philemon and Baucis. This poor old couple received two humble wanderers with hospitality. Later they learned that they were disguised gods, Zeus and Hermes.

The classics of Antiquity take place at the Mediterranean Sea, also the site of today's refugee crisis. Even some of the names of the places, such as Lesbos, remain the same as they were 3000 years ago.


In terms of facing other kinds of people Finnish cinema of the 21th century has changed radically.

This year we have seen Tom of Finland (2017), about gay pride. Before Ilppo Pohjola's Daddy and the Muscle Academy (1991) and P(l)ain Truth (1993) LGBTQ themes were rarely discussed, although there were distinguished exceptions such as Valentin Vaala's People in the Summer Night and (in a way) Sysmäläinen.

In Saattokeikka / Unexpected Journey (2017) a guy with Kenyan background becomes a driver to an old recluse whose son is celebrating his gay marriage. Black talent appears increasingly in Finnish cinema. Neil Hardwick was a pathbreaker with his musical Jos rakastat / If You Love.

Tokasikajuttu / The Punk Voyage (2017) is a rockumentary about the punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, consisting of musicians with developmental disabilities. Invalids had rarely starred in Finnish feature films, again with distinguished exceptions such as Markku Pölönen's Koirankynnen leikkaaja and Klaus Härö's A Letter to Father Jacob.

There are key directors with oeuvres focusing on otherness.

Markku Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui have created an epic series of documentaries and fiction films about the endangered cultures of Northern peoples.

Katariina Lillqvist has directed a masterful animation series about Romani people called Mira Bala Kale Hin.

Katja Gauriloff has created essential films about Skolt Sami culture: A Cry in the Wind and Kuun metsän Kaisa.

Hamy Ramezan of Iranian background has directed Viikko ennen vappua, The Keys of Paradise, Listen, and The Unknown Refugee.

Klaus Härö's entire career is dedicated to the theme of otherness, from Elina, som om jag inte fanns / Elina, As If I Wasn't There, to The Fencer.

Aki Kaurismäki started his career in the tradition of existentialism, the arch covered by Colin Wilson in his study The Stranger, including Dostoevsky (Notes from Underground), Hesse (Steppenwolf), and Camus (L'Étranger). (And in the cinema: Bresson, Melville, and Godard). These are studies of solitude. We are strangers in our own world. We are strangers in our own lives. We are strangers to ourselves.

Le Havre was a turning-point. Now it was not about the anxiety of the protagonist, but a protagonist being anxious about the other, the refugee.

The Other Side of Hope was a next stage in Kaurismäki's refugee series, harbour series. We have a protagonist taking care of a refugee, and the refugee himself as the other active protagonist, worrying more about others than himself.

Perhaps this is becoming a series about philoxenia.

In recent years in the Finnish cinema there have emerged film artists with names which are not Finnish such as:

Hamy Ramezan, Naima Mohamud, Mohamed El Aboudi, Zagros Manuchar, Karzan Kader, Tonislav Hristov, Amir Escandari, and Hassan Blasim. Finnish cinema may look forward to growing cultural variety in the next decades.


Seminaari: 100 vuotta toiseutta suomalaisessa elokuvassa
Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti

Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti, Suomen elokuvasäätiö ja Suomen elokuvatutkimuksen seura järjestävät perjantaina 24.11. seminaarin aiheesta toiseus suomalaisessa elokuvassa.

Seminaari on osa Suomi 100 -juhlavuotta, ja se järjestetään Suomen elokuvasäätiön Kino K-13 -teatterissa Katajanokalla (Kanavakatu 12, Helsinki).

Seminaarissa puhuva professori Henry Bacon kirjoittaa:

"Suomi täyttää sata vuotta jo varsin heterogeenisenä kokonaisuutena. Kotimainen elokuva on kuitenkin viime aikoihin saakka kuvannut Suomea varsin yhtenäisenä kansakuntana. Vähemmistöt ovat pitkään näyttäytyneet lähinnä vain suomalaisuuden eksoottisena lisänä. Kansallisuus ei kuitenkaan ole koskaan monoliittinen kokonaisuus, siihen on aina sisäänrakennettu monenlaisia toiseuksia. Ne ilmenevät sisäisinä ristiriitaisuuksina, joskus tukahdutettuna oireillen.

Toiseuteen sisältyy myös vahva dramaturginen potentiaali. Päähenkilön sosiaalinen rooli ja kerronnallinen merkitys rakentuvat sen kautta, että hänellä on sekä erilaisia läheisiä, ystäviä ja auttajia että kilpailijoita ja vastustajia. Kaikki nämä edustavat tavalla tai toisella sekä samuutta että toiseutta päähenkilöön nähden. Yksi dramaturgian peruskysymyksiä on luoda tällaisesta joukosta keskenään mielenkiintoisella tavalla kontrastoivia henkilöitä. Kansallisuus, etnisyys, luokkaerot, sukupuoli, sukupuolinen suuntautuminen ja monet muut tekijät ovat joko hyvässä tai pahassa toimineet merkkeinä toiseudesta, johon katsoja päähenkilöiden ohella joutuu elokuvakokemuksen myötä ottamaan kantaa.

Toiseus suomalaisessa elokuvassa -seminaarissa käsitellään toiseuden kysymyksiä läpi suomalaisen elokuvan historian. Erityisen tarkastelun kohteena se miten toiseus tarinassa asemoidaan ja miten se puolestaan ohjaa katsojan suhtautumista."



Paikka: Kino K-13, Kanavakatu 12, Helsinki

12:00 Seminaarin avaus: Matti Lukkarila (KAVI), Lasse Saarinen (SES), Jaakko Seppälä (SETS)

12:05 Johdatus seminaarin teemaan. Professori Henry Bacon, Helsingin yliopisto (15’)

12:20 Keskellä ja sivussa: toiseuden tarkastelua tapauksien Wrede ja Kotschac kautta. Professori emeritus Tytti Soila, Tukholman yliopisto (40’)

Toiseutta kautta aikojen. Antti Alanen, KAVI (20’)

Kansakuntien tuolle puolen! Jörn Donner ja unelma eurooppalaisesta elokuvasta. Professori Anu Koivunen, Tukholman yliopisto (20’)


14:00 Tauko

14:30 Näkökulmia toiseudesta fiktioelokuvassa ja dokumenttielokuvassa. Professori Elina Knihtilä ja TT Jouko Aaltonen (40’)


15:30 Toinen Suomi: kulttuurihistoriallinen näkökulma. Professori Hannu Salmi, Turun yliopisto (40’)


16:20 Case studies:

Cancelled: [Aki Kaurismäen ironinen minimalismi ja yksinäisyyden representaatiot Dosentti Jaakko Seppälä, Helsingin yliopisto (20’)]

Humoristisista takaa-ajoista hapuileviin kohtaamisiin. Maahanmuuttajat 2000-luvun suomalaisissa fiktioelokuvissa FT Kaisa Hiltunen, Jyväskylän yliopisto (20’)

"Sä nyt pääset huipulle kaikessa mihin sä vaan ryhdyt." Uusliberalistinen menestystarina ja nuori 2000-luvun elokuvassa FT Tommi Römpötti, Turun yliopisto (20’)


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