Saturday, January 27, 2018

Scener ur ett äktenskap 1–6 / Scenes from a Marriage 1–6 (2002 digital restoration by Svensk Filmindustri)

Scener ur ett äktenskap Del 5: Analfabeterna. Liv Ullmann (Marianne) and Erland Josephson (Johan). Enligt Bergman var Ullmann och Josephssons insats "ovärderlig eftersom de aldrig lämnade ut Marianne och Johan, utan försvarade dem. På så sätt fick i många fall Livs och Erlands önskemål om replikernas och scenariets utformning avgörande betydelse för det slutliga resultatet." According to Bergman the contribution of Ullmann and Josephson was "invaluable since they never abandoned Marianne and Johan, instead defending them. Thus in many cases Liv and Erland's wishes about the formulation of the dialogue and the screenplay proved decisive for the final result." Foto: Lars Karlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption from the Bergman 100 website.

Kohtauksia eräästä avioliitosta
Oskuld och panik / Innocence and Panic / Viattomuutta ja pakokauhua
Konsten att sopa under mattan / The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug / Kuinka roskat lakaistaan maton alle
Paula / Paula / Paula
Tåredalen / The Vale of Tears / Kyynelten laakso
Analfabeterna / The Illiterates / Analfabeetit
Mitt i natten i ett mörkt hus någonstans i världen / In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House Somewhere in the World / Keskellä yötä pimeässä talossa jossakin maailmassa
    SE 1973. PC: Cinematograph Ab. P supervisor: Lars-Owe Carlberg. D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. DP: Sven Nykvist – 16 mm – Eastman Color – 25 fps. PD: Björn Thulin. Cost: Inger Pehrsson. ED: Siv Lundgren. Sound re-recording mixer – Owe Svensson – optical mono.
    No music score. During the credits is heard a short excerpt from the start of Tomaso Albinoni: Op. 10: 12 Concerti a cinque No. 1 (Concerto for violin, strings & continuo) in si bemolle maggiore: Allegro (1735).
    "Hej tomtegubbar" / "Hei tonttu-ukot hyppikää", a Swedish traditional Christmas song ("en svensk folkvisa", n.c.), first known printing 1815, with lyrics 1833, whistled by Johan in the final episode.
    C: Liv Ullmann (Marianne, divorce attorney), Erland Josephson (Johan, associate professor), Bibi Andersson (Katarina), Jan Malmsjö (Peter), Gunnel Lindblom (Eva), Anita Wall (Ms. Palm, journalist), Barbro Hiort af Ornäs (Mrs. Jacobi), Lena Bergman (Karin, Marianne and Johan's daughter), Wenche Foss (Marianne's mother), Rossana Mariano (Eva, Marianne and Johan's daughter at 12), Bertil Norström (Arne, Johan's colleague), Ingmar Bergman (voice of the magazine photographer).
    First telecast (simultaneously in Sweden, Finland, and other Nordic countries):
    Part 1 on 11 April, 1973
    Part 2 on 18 April, 1973
    Part 3 on 25 April, 1973
    Part 4 on 2 May, 1973
    Part 5 on 9 May, 1973
    Part 6 on 16 May, 1973
    Episode length: ca 49 min.
    Duration of the complete version: 281 min
    Helsinki premiere of the theatrical version: 11.9.1981 Nordia, distributor: Diana-Filmi Oy – VET 89239 – K12 – 4675 m / 171 min
    The film was produced by Bergman's Cinematograph company. Its rights and this copy now belong to SF Studios (formerly Svensk Filmindustri).
    Svenska Filminstitutet: Bergman 100: digital transfer in 2K DCP of the complete version with English subtitles (n.c.), the 2002 digital restoration by Svensk Filmindustri.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Bergman 100), 27 Jan 2018

1  "Innocence and Panic"
    An affluent couple, Marianne and Johan, are interviewed for a magazine series on love after having renewed their marriage contract after their 10th anniversary. In the interview, they come across as an ideal couple. Afterward, they entertain the couple Peter and Katarina, who have a miserable relationship. Marianne reveals to Johan she is pregnant, and she winds up having an abortion.
2  "The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug"
    Marianne wakes up one morning determined to not visit her parents for dinner, as the family usually does each week, and is forced to back down. At the university where Johan works, he shares poetry that he has not let Marianne see with a female colleague, who tells him it is mediocre. Later, Marianne and Johan debate the lack of joy they take in their sex life.
3  "Paula"
    Johan reveals to Marianne that he is having an affair with a younger woman named Paula, an unseen character, and wants a separation. He intends to leave home for months, and shares his frustrations about their marriage and longtime desire to leave. Upon phoning a friend for help, Marianne learns many of her friends knew about the affair before she did.
4  "The Vale of Tears"
    Johan visits Marianne, disclosing he intends to take a position at Cleveland University. Marianne then suggests they should finalize a divorce, hinting she is interested in remarrying. She shares what she has learned about herself in therapy.
5  "The Illiterates"
    Marianne and Johan meet to finalize their divorce, leading to more arguments over the division of their property, the upbringing of their daughters and Marianne's new enjoyment of sex with her current partner. After the arguments escalate into physical violence, Johan sadly signs the papers.
6  "In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House Somewhere in the World"
    Despite having both been remarried to other people, Marianne and Johan meet for an affair. Marianne reveals she had an affair in 1955, very shortly after they were married. It has been 20 years since they were married. Going to a friend's country house, Marianne has a nightmare, and wakes up fretting she has never loved or been loved. Johan comforts her that they share an imperfect love.

AA: The Ingmar Bergman Centenary is being celebrated in Finland in collaboration between Hanaholmen Kulturcentrum för Sverige och Finland, KAVI, Sveriges ambassad, Svenska Filminstitutet: Bergman 100, Walhalla, and other partners.

For someone seeing Bergman's films for the first time my three recommendations for starters would be:
Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries, his richest.
Persona, his most reduced film so far, with an experimental twist.
Scenes from a Marriage, an even more simple and reduced work, but with an extraordinary emotional charge. It is essential to see the original complete six part version.

Ingmar Bergman like every film director faced a deep crisis in the 1960s as the studio system of the film production collapsed during the breakthrough of television. Bergman made his last traditional studio system production for Svensk Filmindustri, En passion, in 1969.

Bergman "faced the enemy" and turned to television. He had directed teleplays since 1957 but now he started to make some of his most original and deeply felt work for television. He had established a company of his own, Cinematograph, in 1967, and starting with Cries and Whispers he made his films as an independent producer.

Scenes from a Marriage was Bergman's first major work for television. The work is minimalistic. For the first time Bergman based his film largely on close-ups, also frequently using  extreme close-ups. Although the series is almost five hours long there are only two main characters (Johan and Marianne) and only few supporting characters. We never see Johan and Marianne's children or their new partners, although they are constantly discussed. There is no music score.

Also the production budget was minimal, and the cast and crew got to choose: salary or percentage. Those who chose percentage became millionaires. Liv Ullmann chose salary, and her co-workers in Scenes from a Marriage established a habit of consoling her with a lunch invitation on payday.

Instantly Scenes from a Marriage got special treatment. The telepremiere took place in Nordic countries simultaneously. Bergman's The Magic Flute was telepremiered the same way in the following year. I watched Scenes from a Marriage at home in Pirkkala, Finland, at the same time as the Swedes saw it in Sweden.

We are now living in a new golden age of tv series. Prominent directors make some of their finest work for long form television. Binge watching is a watchword.

Bergman belonged to the pioneers of this trend, followed by R. W. Fassbinder (Berlin Alexanderplatz) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks). In Finland he had been preceded by Mikko Niskanen the year before. (Many find Niskanen's teleseries Eight Deadly Shots the best Finnish film of all times; on my list it is in top three.)

The impact of Scenes from a Marriage in world cinema and television was huge and continues to be so. Andrey Zvyagintsev confesses a debt to the Scenes in his latest movie The Loveless (Nelyuboi). It has also been observed that soap operas such as The Bold and the Beautiful were influenced by Scenes from a Marriage. (The omnivorous Bergman was also an avid viewer of soap operas).

Bergman chuckled that divorce rates jumped wherever Scenes from a Marriage played. This is probably true, but the main cause was in the changing mores of the times of which Scenes from a Marriage was itself an expression.

Bergman's quip sounds cynical, but he was not a cynic, least of all just then. He was in the happiest period in his life, having married two years before Ingrid (Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid von Rosen in her previous marriage). They lived together forever until death did them part.

Scenes from a Marriage lives in many incarnations. Bergman published the teleplay as a book, and even the book became a bestseller. It was even published as a Månpocket paperback edition which meant that with this work Bergman was embraced by popular culture. Scenes from a Marriage was also Bergman's first book to be translated into Finnish. It was a turning-point in Bergman's career as a writer, and the book has independent literary value. I have read it many times, and it keeps growing with time, as does the movie. This month Jan Holmberg has published a book, Författaren Ingmar Bergman [The Writer Ingmar Bergman] (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2018), covering a previously under-explored side of Bergman. I have only started to read it, but I believe Scenes from a Marriage was a turning-point at least in the sense that with it for the first time Bergman received a wide audience as a writer.

The original television version was also edited to an abridged theatrical version with a flashback structure. I see no point in the theatrical version. The long televersion is constantly of high intensity with never a superfluous moment. The utter simplicity, including the uncluttered solution of the chronological structure, is the best way to experience the complex and multi-layered emotional evolution of Johan and Marianne.

I just met this afternoon on our way to the Yrjönkatu Bath Erik Söderblom, director of the Espoo City Theatre. He directed the first Finnish theatrical adaptation of Scenes from a Marriage. He reminisced visiting in Munich Ingmar Bergman's original theatrical adaptation in the early 1980s. It was performed as a part of a trilogy of plays together with Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House and August Strindberg's Miss Julie.

That context is illuminating, since with this play Bergman connects with Ibsen and Strindberg's plays about marriage. Another Ibsen play, The Wild Duck, might be also relevant. The concept of livsløgnen [untranslatable outside Nordic countries: "the life lie", meaning that one's whole life is based on a fundamental lie] is always relevant in Bergman, and it is a basic theme for Johan and Marianne both as individuals and for their marriage. The introduction, the presentation of the marriage as an idyll for a ladies' journal, is an excellent illustration of Ibsen's term.

Johan is played by Erland Josephson, who was Bergman's best friend to the end. They met in 1940 when Josephson was a schoolboy and Bergman directed him in a schoolplay production of The Merchant of Venice. Josephson played Antonio, the merchant. Bergman opened Erland's eyes for a theatrical career. Bergman was a family friend of the Josephsons, an illustrious Jewish cultural family of poets, painters, musicians, booksellers and Strindberg experts. Erland became a writer, director and theatre director himself. In Scenes from a Marriage he got his first starring role in a Bergman film.

Marianne is played by Liv Ullmann, Bergman's muse, "my Stradivarius" since Persona and until the end. Liv Ullmann's performance as Marianne belongs to the most extraordinary in the history of the cinema.

As his last work as a director of moving images Bergman directed Saraband, a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage, starring Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann. The title Saraband is a reference to Johann Sebastian Bach's cello suites.

Albert Schweitzer stated that Bach played four hands with God. Henning Mankell, Bergman's son-in-law, commented that Bergman played four hands with Bach.

(Based on my introduction to the screening).


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

K.S.E. Komsomol – Leader of Electrification

К.Ш.Э. Куда ни пойдешь / везде молодежь – "Wherever you go, there's youth".

К.Ш.Э. Комсомол – шеф электрификации / K. Sh. E. Komsomol shef elektrifikatsii / Komsomol – sähköistämisen johtaja
    SU 1932. PC: Rosfilm / Soyuzkino (Moscow). D+SC+ED+Sound Editing: Esfir Shub. Assistant D: L. Felonov. Cinematography: V. Solodovnikov. Assistant: Nato Vachnadze. Sound assistant: M. Nikolayevskaja. M: Gavriil Popov. Sound recording: S. Klyuchevsky, D. Zaitsev, A. Karasev. The sound has been recorded with the A. Shorin system.
    Theremin player: K. Kovalsky.
    Songs: "Kominternlied" (comp. Hanns Eisler, 1929, lyr. Franz Jahnke 1926 / Maxim Vallentin), Russian lyrics by Ilya Frenckel.
    "L'Internationale" (comp. Pierre De Geyter, 1888, lyr. Eugène Pottier, 1871), sung in Russian.
    Featuring: Komsomol members from factories and building sites, Marietta Shaginyan (author of the novel Gidrotsentral), Baltic Red Star sailors, comrade Savelyev, comrade Klimov, comrade Zapredelov, comrade Manyukov, comrade Vinter, comrade Dmitrusenko, comrade Dudnik, colonel Gubor, Academician A. A. Chernychev.
    Loc: A Moscow sound studio, Dzorages waterworks, Elektrosila factory, Dneprostroi waterworks.
    A Gosfilmofond print screened with e-subtitles by Mia Öhman (Finnish "Kominternlied" lyrics, trad., n.c., taken from the Arja Saijonmaa record 1970) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Mothers of the Montage Film: Esfir Shub and Nicole Vedrès), 23 Jan 2018

Esfir Shub was the pioneer of the montage film. She established the compilation film as an art form as we can learn from Jay Leyda's Films Beget Films. She taught montage to Eisenstein.

K.S.E. is not a compilation film. It is based on original footage only, shot for this film. K.S.E. is one of the heroic Soviet 1930s tales of industrialization, comparable with Vertov's Enthusiasm and Dovjenko's Ivan.

K.S.E. is still a proudly avantgardistic film. Visually there is no weakening of touch in comparison with the glorious 1920s. New is the expansion of the avantgarde approach to sound montage.

Sound in K.S.E. is a theme in its own right. Like in many later experimental films, there is a meta element: the screen is sometimes filled with the jagged image of the soundtrack itself.

The film starts in a sound studio. We visit a telephone exchange. We observe the technology of the radio. An orchestra performance is being recorded. The bells of the Kremlin are ringing. During a break workers entertain themselves with popular music played on the accordeon. There is a workers' brass band with special multi-horn instruments. An engrossing performance of the "Kominternlied" by a male singer and a pianist is heard. It is a slower and more profound interpretation than the original Ernst Busch recording. Dance records are played at the beach. Many languages are spoken: Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian, English, French, and German. In the finale there is a beautiful arrangement of "L'Internationale".

Strikingly, the main instrument in the prologue is the theremin, an electric music instrument. K.S.E. was the second film to display the theremin, later famous for films such as Spellbound (Miklos Rosza), The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann), and Ed Wood (Howard Shore). The first film composer to use the theremin had been Dmitri Shostakovich in Alone, directed by Kozintsev and Trauberg. The music of the future is being heard on the theremin.

K.S.E. is a poem of the future, industrialization, modernization, and electrification. A film of enthusiasm, inspiration, and passion. It is a futuristic work of machine poetry. In its grand vision, work is joy, play, a celebration. There are lyrical passages, industrial montages, time lapse images of smoking factory chimneys, phantom ride sequences, and scenes with civilizations clashing as electric power dams emerge in traditional Armenia and Georgia, including the hugest of all: the Dneprostroi. Shub juxtaposes ruins of a sublime ancient tradition and the building of the future.

What K.S.E. does not tell is that this was also a period of Stalin's repression, terror, tyranny, and massacres. In K.S.E. we see only the part of the reality that corresponds to the ideal. Which makes this a disturbing and ambivalent viewing experience.

This fascinating film would deserve to be much more widely known. The print has been struck from partly difficult sources.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Christmas holiday reading 3

17. Markku Eskelinen: Raukoilla rajoilla. Suomenkielisen proosakirjallisuuden historia. [Wretched Corners. A History of Finnish Prose Literature] 599 p. Helsinki: Siltala, 2016. – A magnificent provocation. Markku Eskelinen is a one man wrecking crew challenging established notions of the Finnish literary canon. Much is brilliant and original, but there is a mean streak that will date this work.

18. Tuomas Marjamäki: Spede, nimittäin. [Spede, You See.] 421 p. Jyväskylä: Docendo, 2017. – There have been distinguished books before on Pertti (Spede) Pasanen, the king of Finnish radio, television, and film comedy. Marjamäki has a great many new sources and he writes in an engaging way.

19. Jörn Donner: Suomi Finland. 120 p. Finland 100. Helsingfors: Förlaget, 2017. – It has been said that whatever the topic, the focus of Jörn Donner is himself. The same goes also for his centenary of Finnish independence essay book. His observations are interesting, he keeps renewing himself, and there is a lot in common in this book with his latest film, Perkele 2 – Images from Finland.

20. Jarkko Vesikansa: Salainen sisällissota. Työnantajien ja porvarien taistelu kommunismia vastaan kylmän sodan Suomessa. [A Secret Civil War. The Battle of the Management and the Bourgeoisie Against Communism in Finland During the Cold War]. 368 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2004. – An amazing and baffling book on a Quixotic secret war against leftist windmills in Cold War Finland. A rich collection of revelations in Maxwell Smart territory. Big money was involved. Could provide excellent film material.

21. Minna Eväsoja: Melkein geisha. Hurmaava ja hullu Japani. [Almost a Geisha. The Enchanting and Bewildering Japan]. 239 p. Helsinki: Gummerus, 2016. – Minna Eväsoja has spent long years in Japan seriously orientating herself in the culture and traditions. Essays full of insight, wit, and humour.

22. Mitä Missä Milloin 2018. Vuosikirja syyskuu 2016 – elokuu 2017. [MMM Yearbook 2018 {The What Where and When Yearbook}]. 68. vuosikirja. Editor: Ulla Paavilainen. 422 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2017. – I am a faithful reader and collector of the MMM Yearbooks, and I consult them regularly. I deplore the current populistic touch; the latest editions will date fast. But there are still several high quality contributions. And a favourite feature of mine, "words of the year", the funniest of which are untranslatable.


Rosa Liksom: Everstinna [Mrs. Colonel]
Kjell Westö: Rikinkeltainen taivas [A Sulphur Yellow Sky]
Juha Siltala: Keskiluokan nousu, lasku ja pelot [The Rise, Fall and Fears of the Middle Class]
Markku Kuisma: Venäjä ja Suomen talous [Russia and the Economy of Finland]
Suvi Ahola (ed.): Kirjava käsikirja kestävään kehitykseen [A Checkered Handbook of Sustainable Development]
Svetlana Alexievich: Sodalla ei ole naisen kasvoja [War's Unwomanly Face]

Christmas holiday reading 2

9. Harry Salmenniemi: Uraanilamppu ja muita novelleja [Uranium Lamp and Other Short Stories]. 183 p. Helsinki: Siltala, 2017. – Harry Salmenniemi, one of the brightest contemporary Finnish poets,  publishes his first prose work. Meanwhile he has also expanded his scope as the screenwriter of Mika Taanila's inspired Lettrist movie Tectonic Plate. Uranium Lamp is something new. There is the power of condensation characteristic of poetry. There is also a special sense of humour. I was even thinking about the unique genre of short fiction typical of Veikko Huovinen, "lyhyet erikoiset" ["weird short stories"].

10. Marina Tsvetaeva / Marina Tsvetajeva: Ylistys, hiljaa! Valitut runot 1912–1939 [Quiet, Praise! Selected Poems 1912–1939]. Edited and translated by Marja-Leena Mikkola, with a long introductory essay by Mikkola. 228 p. Helsinki: Siltala, 2017. – The third major translation of Tsvetaeva into Finnish. Tsvetaeva has been prominent here also thanks to Riikka Pelo's award-winning novel Jokapäiväinen elämämme [Our Quotidian Life] (2013). Poetry at its greatest. Edited with a backstory illuminating a devastating fate after the Russian revolution.

11. Arja Tiainen: Tää tojota ei lähe liikkelle. Ajopäiväkirja [This Toyota Doesn't Get Started. A Driver's Log]. 75 p. Helsinki: WSOY, 2006.
12. Arja Tiainen: Lapsilta kielletty! [X-Rated!]. 89 p. Helsinki: WSOY, 2012.
    Arja Tiainen is a favourite poet of mine. In preparation of her fresh collection I read two previous ones. "This Toyota" is a hilarious "driver's log". "X-Rated" is an irreverent account of relationships. Tiainen's way of perception is unique.

13. Kristina Carlson: Hämärän valo [The Light of Dusk]. Poems. 106 p. Helsinki: Otava,1986.
14. Kristina Carlson: Maan ääreen [Till the End of Earth]. A novel. 192 p. Helsinki: Otava, 1999.
15. Kristina Carlson: Herra Darwinin puutarhuri [Mr. Darwin's Gardener]. A novel. 176 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2009.
16. Kristina Carlson: William N. päiväkirja [William N. Diary]. A novel. 159 p. Helsinki: Otava, 2011.
    There is lucid wisdom in Kristina Carlson's lyrical poems and prose poems. Her novels are stories of exploration based on concrete historical backgrounds in the 19th century in the Amur (Maan ääreen), Kent (Herra Darwinin puutarhuri), and Paris (William N. päiväkirja). Compact, intelligent, reflective.

Christmas holiday reading 1

We were surrounded with books during the Christmas holiday. These are some of the books we read and keep reading after Epiphany.

1. Staffan Bruun: Så formades Finland. 50 avsnitt om Finlands ödesstunder. [How Finland Was Formed. 50 Passages from Finland's Fatal Hours]. Finland 100. 210 p. Helsingfors: KSF Media, 2017. – My favourite Centenary of Finnish Independence reading was Staffan Bruun's Sunday series in the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, published as a book after the Finnish Independence Day on 6 December. 50 familiar themes seen from unusual and thought-provoking viewpoints.

2. David Bordwell: Reinventing Hollywood. How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling. 572 p. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. – David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are the authors of the globally most highly regarded textbooks on film art, storytelling and history. In this new magisterial book Bordwell is at his best and offers a rich and thorough account of a particularly exciting period, Hollywood in the 1940s, its golden age of innovative storytelling. A labour of love. – I am thinking about a dear colleague and friend, Mr. Matti Salo (1933–2017) who shared the special passion for 1940s American cinema and discussed it in all his books (on film noir, blacklisted screenwriters, Joseph Losey, Abraham Polonsky, and political thrillers).

3. Georg Büchmann (original editor): Geflügelte Worte [Winged Words]. Der klassische Zitatenschatz. Gesammelt und erläutert von Georg Büchmann. Fortgesetzt von Walter Robert-tornow, Konrad Weidling, Eduard Ippel, Bogdan Krieger, Günther Haupt, Werner Rust, Alfred Grunow. Unveränderte Taschenbuchausgabe der 43. neu bearbeiteten und aktualisierten Ausgabe von Winfried Hofmann. Einzige von der Erstausgabe 1864 unmittelbar fortgeführte Originalausgabe. 650 p. München: Ullstein, 2007. – I have a weakness for collections of "winged words" (a winged expression in itself, dating back to Homer). The Büchmann, originally published in 1864, is the father of these collections. In Finland there are also several, and a favourite of mine is Oiva Talvitie's Lentäviä lauseita (1957). The best of these books have commentaries putting famous sayings in context. Büchmann is excellent in philology, Talvitie in wit. One can read these books as appetizers inspiring us to find the original works.

4. Sinikka Vuola (ed.): Olet täyttänyt ruumiini tulella. Eroottisen runouden antologia [You Have Filled My Body with Fire. An Anthology of Erotic Poetry]. 365 p. Helsinki: WSOY, 2017. – It would not be sensational to bring out a collection of 240 erotic poems, but this book consists only of Finnish poems published in 2000–2017! A surprise bestseller of the year 2017 was the beautiful Centenary of Finnish Independence poetry collection Katso pohjoista taivasta [Look at the Northern Sky] edited by Jenni Haukio. My favourite of the all-encompassing ones on Finnish poetry is the 2014 edition of Tämän runon haluaisin kuulla [This Poem I'd Love to Hear] edited by Satu Koskimies. An excellent and surprising collection was Vastakaanon [Anti-Canon: Finnish Experimental Poetry 2000-2010] edited by Juri Joensuu, Marko Niemi, and Harry Salmenniemi in 2011. It revealed the contemporary golden age of Finnish poetry. Sinikka Vuola's anthology is the most surprising of all, bringing together all currently active generations and orientations, old favourites and new revelations. On a never-ending theme.

5. Sekstetti: Finland 100. 78 p. Mediapinta, 2017. – Annele Aarni-Wiklund, Anne Laine-Joensuu, Mervi Karoniemi, Tuula Pöllänen, and Francesca Vallin are the five poets who form "the sextet", more than a sum of their parts. A delightful anthology "from beyond nirvana".

6. Juha Hurme: Niemi [The Peninsula]. Finland 100. 448 p. Helsinki: Teos, 2017. – Juha Hurmi is a shaman, seer, pantheist, man of letters and man of the theatre, a reincarnation of ancient Finnish poets. This award-winning magnum opus is a flight of fancy, a crazy history of the universe, an anti-nationalistic treatise of cultural heritage, always seeing the big context in the evolution of our little land. A book of inspiration with fascinating quotes of poetry. A journey of discovery. I wish Mr. Hurme could slightly tone down a populistic urge.

7. Esko Valtaoja: Kohti ikuisuutta [Towards Eternity]. 303 p. Helsinki: Tähtitieteellinen yhdistys Ursa, 2017.
8. Esko Valtaoja: Kaiken käsikirja [A Manual of Everything]. 222 p. Helsinki: Tähtitieteellinen yhdistys Ursa, 2012. – Esko Valtaoja is a professor of astronomy and a popular columnist and speaker, with a talent of illuminating discoveries of science to a wide audience. Towards Eternity is a futuristic essay with a vision of a hopeful and benevolent future. The perspective here is not in the next decade or even century but in millennia, dozens of millennia and more. Valtaoja is thinking about completely different forms of existence. Like Juha Hurme, Valtaoja is a charismatic speaker, and also in his book there is a temptation for populism which may date his compelling work.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

L’assedio dell’Alcazar / Sin novedad en el Alcázar / The Siege of the Alcazar

Alcazar / Alcazar – fästet som aldrig föll.
IT/ES 1940. PC: Film Bassoli / Ulargui Films. P: Carlo Bassoli, Jr., Renato Bassoli. D: Augusto Genina. SC: Augusto Genina, Alessandro De Stefani – based on a story by Augusto Genina, Alessandro De Stefani ja Pietro Caporilli. Cin: Jan Stallich, Francesco Izzarelli, Vincenzo Seratrice. AD: Gastone Medin. M: Antonio Veretti. ED: Fernando Tropea. Military advisors: lieutenant colonel José Carvajal Arrieta, lieutenant colonel Ricardo Vilalba Rubio.
    C: Rafael Calvo (Colonel Moscardò), Carlos Muñoz (Moscardò's son), Mireille Balin (Carmen Herrera), María Denis (Conchita Alvarez), Fosco Giachetti (Captain Vela), Andrea Checchi (Pedro), Aldo Fiorelli (Francisco), Silvio Bagolini (Paolo Montez), Carlo Tamberlani (Captain Vincenzo Alba), Guido Notari (Major Villanova).
    Italian premiere: 20.8.1940. Spanish premiere: 28.10.1940.
    Loc: the ruins of Alcázar de Toledo.
    Helsinki premiere: 30.8.1942 Capitol, imported by: Kosmos-Filmi Oy – film control 23966 – S – Finnish film control length: 3050 m / 111 min – versions: 99 min (Italian re-release), 104 min (Spanish re-release), 105 min (Germany), 112 min (Italian original release), 119 min (Spanish original release).
    A digibeta from Filmoteca Española screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), version española, a version of 115 min, with e-subtitles in English operated by Lena Talvio, 16 Jan 2018

An Anticomintern film promoting the brotherhood in arms of the governments of Italy and Spain. The narrative is based on the Iliad format, the tale of a siege. Here the viewpoint is that of the valiant defenders. The fortress of the Alcázar of Toledo is surrounded by an overwhelming enemy.

The siege of the Alcázar was a symbolic moment in the Spanish civil war, itself an important prelude to the Second World War. Against the legal Republican government General Francisco Franco launched a military rebellion with the Spanish Army of Africa. His troops finally broke the government siege.

The Alcázar is presented as a holy site of the Spanish national spirit. Religion is paramount. The spiritual current is strong and sincere. "Only God can save". Although the film ends in victory the message would be unchanged if the defenders would perish. Their spirit would have emerged victorious.

Watching this film I was reminded of La Bandera, a film also about the Army of Africa, also dedicated to General Francisco Franco, a year before the Spanish Civil War. The major difference is the deeply desperate spirit of La Bandera. Both are tales of a massacre. La Bandera is a tale of desolation. L'assedio dell'Alcazar is Fascist propaganda.

It is interesting to observe the Hitlergruss in the finale (and before). The music score is engrossing. The cinematography is first-rate. Augusto Genina was a master of the moving camera and the mise-en-scène. He was also an excellent director of actors, particularly women. Mireille Balin and Conchita Alvarez interpret the coming-of-age of two young women who grow to extraordinary valour. Mireille Balin had become a world star in Pépé le Moko, also an African connection.

A digital Betacam tape of a reconstruction of a long version of the film. The image is often good, but sometimes this version betrays its origins in battered sources.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Christopher Strong

Christopher Strong (1933) directed by Dorothy Arzner, starring Katharine Hepburn.

Suuren miehen rakastajatar / En stor mans älskarinna.
    US © 1933 RKO Radio Pictures Incorporation. P: David O. Selznick. D: Dorothy Arzner. SC: Zoë Akins – based on the novel (1932) by Gilbert Frankau. DP: Bert Glennon. AD: Charles M. Kirk, Van Nest Polglase. SFX: Slavko Vorkapich, Vernon L. Walker. Makeup: Mel Berns. Cost: Howard Greer, Walter Plunkett. M: Max Steiner. S: Hogh McDowell, Jr., John Aalberg, Murray Spivack. ED: Arthur Roberts.
    C: Katherine Hepburn (Lady Cynthia Darrington), Colin Clive (Sir Christopher Strong), Billie Burke (Lady Elaine Strong), Helen Chandler (daughter Monica Strong), Ralph Forbes (Harry Rawlinson), Jack LaRue (Carlo), Desmond Roberts (Bryce Mercer).
    Helsinki premiere: 3.3.1935 Empire, Tähti, imported by: Bio-Kuva Oy – telecast: 20.1.2002, 16.6.2006 YLE TV1 – film control: 18833 – K16 – 2150 m / 79 min
    A Library of Congress print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Dorothy Arzner), 11 Jan 2018

Christopher Strong the movie is a battleground where feminine will meets Hollywood conformism. Although the plot is conventional, the sympathy of the movie is on the repressed female energy. Dorothy Arzner was the only female director with a career in 1930s Hollywood.

Although the title of the novel and the film is Christopher Strong, this is a film about Lady Cynthia Darrington, an aviatrix who falls in love with a married gentleman in England. I feel that Christopher Strong is a token man, and the power current of forbidden love is about something else.

Katharine Hepburn, whose first director was George Cukor (in Bill of Divorcement), is seen here in her second film role. She is already extraordinary. Her role is all about transcendence: literally as a round-the-world flier, and symbolically. Perhaps she is in her element: she creates her own element. She is beyond conformism.

The costumes are outstanding, and especially Katharine Hepburn in her dazzling evening wear is like a fairy-tale princess, a dragonfly, a Queen of Mars. Hepburn is convincing also in a worker's overalls, in motorbike wear, and of course in a pilot's clothes.

It's a man's world. Arzner directs the performances of the long-suffering wife (Billie Burke) and the daughter who has a change of heart (Helen Chandler) with empathy.

It is a tragedy. A life force like this cannot thrive in conventional circumstances. The film is a variation on the Icarus myth.

In the finale Cynthia Darrington's gravestone is unveiled. It is a sculpture of a winged challenger of destiny. I was reminded of Carl Milles's sculptures of Icarus and Ganymedes and other flying and gravity-defying motifs. On our way back home in a tram we met Ruben Stiller and started to discuss Vingarne [Wings] by Mauritz Stiller, the brother of Ruben's grandfather. Vingarne, the first feature film about gay love, got its name from a Carl Milles sculpture.

Carl Milles: Vingarna [Wings] (1910) på Strömkajen, vid Nationalmuseum, i Stockholm. Ganymedes is abducted by an eagle sent by Zeus. Photo: Holger Ellgaard (2010), Wikipedia.


Nokia Mobile – matkapuhelimen tarina / Nokia Mobile: We Were Connecting People

Arto Koskinen: Nokia Mobile – matkapuhelimen tarina / Nokia Mobile: We Were Connecting People (FI 2017).

FI © 2017 Illume Oy. EX: Jouko Aaltonen. P: Marianne Mäkelä. 
    D+SC: Arto Koskinen. CIN: Pini Hellstedt. M: Tapani Rinne. S design: Kimmo Vänttinen. ED: Joona Louhivuori.
    A documentary film.
    Featuring: Akseli Anttila, Taneli Armanto, Ian Broughall, Seppo Haataja, Masoumeh Hasani, Lauri Hirvonen, Johanna Kartila-Malmivaara, Tiiti Kellomäki, Risto Kivipuro, Duncan Lamb, Juha Lakkala, Craig Livingstone, Matti Makkonen, Olli-Pekka Mäkirintala, Eija Mäkirintala, Jorma Nieminen, Mika Ollila, Reijo Paajanen, Annu-Liisa Palmu, Sami Pienimäki, Shetty Ranjeeth, Jyri , Roselius, Mika Röykkee, Tuomas Siekkinen, Ove Strandberg, Olli Talvitie, Kaius Thiel, Minna-Liisa Vesanen, Johannes Väänänen. Featuring in Lauri Hirvonen's archival footage: Juha-Matti Niemelä, Vesa-Matti Paananen, Matti Parkkali, Tero Putkonen, and Kalle Snellman. Voice of Steve Jobs: Alistair Logan.
    Finland 100.
    Premiere nationwide: 29 Sep 2017– distributor: Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus – 2K DCP – 5 Sep 2017: rating 7 – 92 min
    Vimeo screener viewed at home, 11 Jan 2018

Nokia means many things. A community in Finland dating back thousands of years. A company dating back to 1865, growing via mergers and then divided into independent companies producing tyres, rubber boots, etc. The best known Nokia is the company which manufactured radio phones, car phones and mobile phones for fifty years in 1964-2014.

Nokia Mobile, Arto Koskinen's documentary film, covers the saga of the Nokia phone which became a world brand with an almost 40% share of the global market. Every fourth mobile phone was a Nokia. The budget of Nokia was bigger than that of the state of Finland. The hybris was only shattered by the launching of Apple's iPhone in 2007.

Mobile phones had been a luxury product. Nokia made them accessible for everybody and contributed to the emergence of a mobile world. Mobile phones changed human beings to creatures available everywhere and anytime. They changed our relationship to the categories of time and space. The ubiquity of the smartphone also means that often we are not mentally present in our concrete location.

Arto Koskinen is aware of the philosophical implications of the mobile phone phenomenon, but his film is not about them. It is a sober and factual account of the rise and fall of the Nokia mobile phone, told by the people who made it happen. This is not the story of the directors but the inventors, engineers, lawyers and other experts. It is a story of a magnificent teamwork which made Nokia a hub of creativity.

Chapters of the movie include 1) Time of Innovation, 2) Connecting People, 3) On Top of the World, and 4) Disconnecting People.

Much of the fundamental research took place together with official telecommunications agencies, in the course of duty. Such innovation was conducted for instance by Matti Makkonen, one of the fathers of the sms.

A key interviewee is Annu Palmu, a lawyer who tells about the Motorola challenge: their attack against Nokia with their giant patent portfolio.

In 1992 Nokia was having a hard time, but the CEO Jorma Ollila had a vision how it should go. Quality, durability, and user experience became watchwords. In the production process the device was divided into "motor and configuration". Taneli Armanto tells about the Snake videogame which he invented for the mobile phone. Downloadable ringtones are discussed. Reijo Paajanen, father of the Nokia Communicator, is interviewed. The Communicator was a programmable phone. The breakthrough of the internet had not yet taken place. The path was cleared for WLAN, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Things were tested that had been believed technically impossible.

Suddenly the world became connected in mobile phone networks. Nokia had a superior culture of innovation, and it excelled in speed and quality.

Nokia grew fast, and everywhere were cultural shocks. Cultural training was necessary. Innovation meetings took place in the top floor sauna where not only the sauna was taking the mind away from the routine but even more importantly the wide open view from the top terrace. Imagination knew no boundaries. In international teams work did not feel like work. Facing other cultures one had to expand one's mind for instance with the Hindi time concept where same term covers tomorrow and yesterday.

Originally the compensation policy was equal. What mattered was not money but who had the most exciting project. With Nokia's phenomenal boom the executive compensation of call options changed everything. When the directors started to exercise the options they turned to millionaires overnight. A grotesque phenomenon of inequality appeared. And something happened to the heads of the winners. Preconditions for the success had been enabled by heavy investments of the society. Rewards were cashed by a tiny elite while salaries remained modest.

Originally the explicit management policy catchphrase had been "respect for people". The management approach changed into a creation of an atmosphere of fear. The organization was restructured in every quarterly of the year.

Johannes Väänänen tells about his MyOrigo and MyDevice innovations in 2002-2005. He invented a finger-operated touchscreen with auto orientation, a qwerty keyboard, full internet, motion control, and the swipe feature. At Nokia, his proposal was dismissed in five minutes. Steven Jobs gave a peek without saying hello. Then in 2007 "Apple reinvented the phone" with the iPhone, having redeemed Väänänen's MyDevice documents. Väänänen used his personal MyDevice until 2010.

Meanwhile at Nokia, the organization was stuck in the Symbian jungle. Everybody had to make his own little mark in it. As a whole, it made less sense. This led to the development of phones that are no longer durable and need to be charged every day.

Nokia took the iPhone seriously. The mission was to produce in one year an iPhone killer. And Meego was really good, but it was too late. The co-determination talks to fire people started at Perlos, Bochum, Jyväskylä, Salo, Rumania... Dedicated Nokia staff was made to feel like driftwood.

Microsoft people, including Bill Gates, had started visiting from early on. They were given demonstrations of how it all worked. Until it was time to sell the Nokia mobile phone business to Microsoft.

Nokia Mobile the movie belongs to the current trend of the Finnish documentary film in which the subject-matter is strong but cinematic devices are avoided. Even a polemical stand is avoided. The approach is as matter-of-fact as possible.

Besides new interview footage also archival footage from television newscasts and programmes is utilized. Top executives appear in archival footage only. In way of illustration, the film boasts a retrospective of vintage Nokia Mobile Phone advertizing footage from all decades, including a Leningrad Cowboys appearance with the Red Army Choir in the Balalaika Show.

Arto Koskinen's film gives a lot to think about. It documents an exciting chapter in the history of information technology. Its value is likely to grow.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage

Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage. The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, May 2015. Kari Aalto, Conchita Wurst. Photo: J-P Passi. © Mouka Filmi 2017

Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage [Swedish title and international title].
    FI/DK/NO/SE © 2017 Mouka Filmi / Magic Hour Films / Indie Film / Auto Images / Film i Skåne.
    P: Sami Jahnukainen / Mouka Filmi. Co-P: Lise Lense-Møller / Magic Hour Films, Carsten Aanonsen / Indie Film, Lennart Ström & Magnus Gertten / Auto Images, Lisa Nyed / Film i Skåne.
    D+SC: Jukka Kärkkäinen, J-P Passi. Cin: J-P Passi – colour – 1,85:1
    A rock documentary film.
    Featuring: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN) (Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Pertti Kurikka, Toni Välitalo), Niila Suoranta, Jutta Tahvanainen
    M: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, Conny Malmqvist. Soundtrack listing: see beyond the jump break.
    S design: Jørgen Bergsund. S rec: Antti Haikonen. S mix: Tormod Ringnes. ED: Otto Heikola, Riitta Poikselkä. P manager: Juha Löppönen.
    Titles available: Finnish, Swedish, English, Finnish for the hard of hearing. English subtitles by Samuli Kauppila and Marko Pyhähuhta.
    Premiere: 13.10.2017 nationwide, distributor: B-Plan Distribution – 2K DCP – 24.8.2017: rating 7 – 98 min
    A Vimeo screener link viewed at home, 10 Jan 2018.

Jukka Kärkkäinen and J-P Passi directed the rockumentary Kovasikajuttu / The Punk Syndrome in 2012, featuring Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, a punk rock band by Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Pertti Kurikka, and Toni Välitalo. "Four disabled guys form the World's last punk-rock band. They might not conquer the World, but they will achieve something more important – and they will certainly make a fuss" was how the film addressed the viewer.

Kovasikajuttu [untranslatable, means something like "Tough Hog Story"] was an impressive and incredible documentary on the punk rock band. There were the usual features of a rockumentary (training, tour life, giving a concert, visiting the Reeperbahn, even attending the Independence Day celebration of the President of the Republic), but everything was given a new, completely different perspective.

Punk Voyage / Tokasikajuttu [untranslatable again, circa "Second Hog Story"] covers the saga of the band to the finale: their participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, and their final gigs. Kari has a hard time with the pressure of the publicity. Sami is interested in religion and politics. There is a triangle drama of Toni, Niila, and Jutta. Pertti is fed up with the fuss.

The difference, the otherness, the alienness of the protagonists gives the film again an unsettling perspective. Nothing can be taken for granted, and everything is seen in a different light. The viewer cannot take a familiar stand to anything. These guys were not dealt easy cards, but they make the most of their life.

They express themselves in music, and there is a genuine life force in their performances, highlights of which include "Aina mun pitää" ja "Häirikkö Toni". Their interpretation of Devo's "Mongoloid" is memorable. As is the final number in the film, their performance of a Finnish children's nameday favourite, "Putte Possun nimipäivät" ["Porky Pig's Nameday"].

Also otherwise the soundtrack listing is inspired, ranging from a hymn from the Zion's Hymn Songbook to the election anthem of the Finnish Center Party, "Suomi kuntoon" ["Shape Up Finland"]. Sami visits the events in which these songs are heard, and we see also Juha Sipilä, Chairman of the Center Party, who won the election, Sipilä becoming the Prime Minister. Also Laura Branigan's 1980s hit "Self Control" resonates in a special way here.

The film has been shot with a raw cinéma-vérité approach. I keep being amazed at the revelations of intimate and private life that are now accessible for a documentary film. How can you experience a personal crisis in a relationship in front of a documentary camera? Does that not mean that we are now performing even our private life? Does that not spell the end of privacy?

There is an approach of duration, an avoidance of the fast edit, sometimes resulting in scenes which feel slow and redundant.

To sum up, Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage is another incredible punk saga, full of irreverent force.


Monday, January 08, 2018

Matka merelle / Journey to the Sea

Matka merelle / Journey to the Sea. Please click on the images to enlarge them.

En resa till havet
    FI © Katharsis Films 2017. P+D+SC: Jouni Hiltunen.
    Cinematography: Jouni Hiltunen – colour – 1:1,85. Additional cinematography: Timo Peltonen, Ville Hiltunen. Microscopic photography: Timo Peltonen, Marjut Räsänen. Underwater photography: Teemu Liakka, Pekka Tuuri, Olli Mustonen, Jouni Hiltunen. Aerial photography: Timo Peltonen, Jouni Hiltunen. Photography on Russian islands: AgitEco Studio Ltd.
    M: Simo Helkala, Markku Kopisto. Singers: Johanna Korhonen, Hilkka-Liisa Vuori. S: Ville Hiltunen, Jouni Hiltunen. ED: Jouni Hiltunen, Anne Lakanen.
    Narrators: Jone Takamäki, Jouni Hiltunen.
    Featuring: Samu Hiltunen (a boy discovering the sea and the beaches), Emil Vahtera (marine biologist at the Environment Institute of the City of Helsinki), Vyacheslav Alekseyev (director of the seal ward of the St. Petersburg Waterworks), Tatu Hokkanen (bird ringer, record holder of sea bird ringing, a specialist of the birds of the Eastern Gulf of Finland), Marja Hokkanen, Verneri Hokkanen (bird ringers in the Eastern Gulf of Finland), Matti Hario (researcher, a prominent bird expert, specializing in birds on the Gulf of Finland), Arno Rautavaara, Markku Hyvärinen, Jukka Haltimo, Eija Mainio, Keijo Ikonen, Harri Malkio, Chinda Nai Chiang (bird ringers on the Aspskär island), Maiju Lehtiniemi (senior researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute on the research vessel Aranda, a specialist in introduced species), Mikael Lindholm, Tommy Ekebom (fishermen), Martti Leinonen (mate on the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace vessel, also a veteran sailor on oil tankers).
    Premiere: 3 March 2017 nationwide – released by B-Plan Distribution – 2K DCP – Swedish subtitles – Finland 100 – MEKU 13.1.2017 – S – 78 min
    Screener link viewed at home, 8 Jan 2018

The wonderful Gulf of Finland, rich in geological history, sealife, and birdlife, is a "mare nostrum" for three countries: Finland, Russia, and Estonia. Jouni Hiltunen's engaging documentary film covers many dimensions: the nature and the culture, the history and the future, the science and the poetry. And the four seasons in a loving look of the cinematography.

The film starts on a personal note, the director's own experience of the Gulf of Finland dating back 40 years, now being transmitted to his son Samu. Jouni Hiltunen learned to know a sea of clear water and a rich nature paradise. Today, The Gulf of Finland is one of the most heavily polluted seas in the world.

Much has been done, very prominently in St. Petersburg, but it takes decades for the sea to recover. The mass of plastic garbage is almost overwhelming. A heavy traffic of oil tankers poses a chronic danger, no matter how perfect the safety regulations.

The film is soundly based on current research and scientific knowledge, making this film valuable for education and use in environmental activities. There is a fundamental approach of gravity, but the director avoids a journalistic and propagandistic tone of alarm. We meet true experts, including Martti Hario, Martti Leinonen, Tatu Hokkanen, Vyacheslav Alekseev, Emil Vahtera, and Maiju Lehtiniemi.

The visual concept is strong. Among the key visual motifs is the jellyfish (meduusa in Finnish), an indigenous species which is currently and mysteriously booming in millions, perhaps due to its exceptional adaptability to eutrophication (rehevöityminen in Finnish). I am thinking of Nosferatu, and Professor Bulwer's lessons of almost incorporeal vampire beings.

Another key motif is flocks of birds during migration: millions of barnacle geese (valkoposkihanhi in Finnish) cross the Gulf of Finland on their way to Russia. The bird footage is stunning in this film, from the common eider (haahka) to the sea eagle. The ancient poetry of flying cranes is evoked: in Russia they are a vision of the souls of dead soldiers. Jellyfish footage and silhouettes of birds resting at sunrise is a favourite juxtaposition in the montage (see images above).

The situation with the itämerennorppa (Балтийская кольчатая нерпа) seal is discussed on a visit to St. Petersburg where the endangered species is cared for by Vyacheslav Alekseev. The climate change is making life difficult for this rare animal. Other fauna on display ranges from elk families to snake pits.

Among the endangered species are also fishermen. When the old-timers retire, nobody will follow. "The paradise of my youth I cannot present to my son", states Jouni Hiltunen, but activity pays. The sea eagle was on the verge of extinction, but it was saved. Now it is the little ones who are threatened. The struggle goes on.


Sunday, January 07, 2018

Comrade, Where Are You Today?

Toveri, missä olet nyt?
FI/DE © 2016 Ilanga Films / Making Movies Oy. Year of release: 2017.
    P+D+SC: Kirsi Marie Liimatainen.
    CIN: Yoliswa von Dallwitz, Till Vielrose, Christian Marohl, Hanno Kunow, Marc-Christian Weber. 
    M: Anssi Växby & Lasse Sakara. Songs: "El aparecido" (comp. + lyr. Victor Jara). "Kisällittäret" (comp. Kaj Chydenius) perf. Agit-Prop. End credit song: "Don't Bring Out the Roses". Etc.
    S design: Miguel Caroli. S recording: Jacob Ilgner, Veit Norek, Marco Weichler. S mixing: Silvio Naumann. ED: Jeannette-Maria Giza, Stefanie Kosik, Antti Tuomikoski.
    A documentary film of the class of 1988–1989 at the communist Jugendhochschule Wilhelm-Pieck School in GDR.
    Featuring: (1) Lucia (Lidia) from Bolivia, (2) Esteban (Marcellino) from Chile, (3) Nabil from Lebanon, (4) Ghazwan from Lebanon, (5) in search of Duma = Mateo = Terror = Jacob Simelane = Shadrack Themba Mjiako Ndaba from South Africa.
    Loc: Germany (Bogensee, Berlin), Bolivia, Chile, (Nicaragua: not included in the final cut), Lebanon (Tripoli, Tyre), and South Africa.
    Languages: German, English, Spanish, Arabic, etc.
    Dedication: für meine Grossmutter.
    Finnish premiere: 10 Nov 2017 in Helsinki, Kuopio, Lahti, and Tampere, distributed by Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus, 2K DCP with Finnish subtitles by Liina Härkönen – MEKU K12 – 113 min
    A screener viewed on 7 Jan 2017

Kirsi Liimatainen studied at the communist Jugendhochschule Wilhelm-Pieck in the GDR in 1988–1989, months before the fall of the wall.

Her extraordinary documentary film is first of all a tale of a grand disillusionment. The socialist theory and the socialist practice were two different things. The young students from all over the world had a hard time understanding what a lack of democracy, ubiquitous Stasi surveillance, and a malfunctioning economy had to do with the socialist agenda. From East German comrades they learned that a fall was forthcoming and that there was not going to be a reformation of socialism but a collapse of the system.

The experiment of real socialism was consigned to the waste basket of history.

But the 400 students from 80 countries of the world were a remarkable collection of freedom fighters and resistance activists. Many were persecuted dissidents from military dictatorships of Latin America, apartheid countries of Africa, or war-torn countries of the Middle East. Internationally wanted by secret polices and secret services they only used shifting noms de guerre.

Kirsi Liimatainen does not find information of the students from German archives, not even her own name. But she discovers Lucía from Bolivia who has distanced herself from communism. Lucia is still an activist in a struggle against transnational companies who even tried to privatize water, and a champion for the rights of the people. Socialism was a big lie, and the party dictatorship an utterly false step. Indigenous combat is the thing now. "We can change everything".

In Chile Liimatainen meets Esteban, alias Marcellino. We hear the story of the resistance in Chile after the Pinochet military coup in 1973 and the brutal repression of liberation fighters. We visit the memorial of the victims of the repression of the Pinochet regime. The spirit of Victor Jara is alive.

In Lebanon Liimatainen meets Nabil and Ghazwan. There is no peace in Lebanon, and socialist parties have vanished. All parties are now defined by religion. But old ideals of justice and equality are still valid, there is poverty everywhere, "my principles are in my bones", yet no relevant political structure exists.

The journey proceeds to Johannesburg in search of a former freedom fighter of Nelson Mandela's ANC whom Liimatainen knew by the combat name Duma. Real names are still confidential, and even comrades themselves do not know each other's true identities. But Liimatainen finds out about Duma and his remarkable credentials in the underground struggle before the liberation of Mandela. Duma is dead by now, and Liimatainen visits his grave together with Duma's widow. Although apartheid was abolished, South Africa is still far from the ideals of Duma and Mandela.

Interestingly, both the fall of the wall and the fall of the Pinochet regime took place in 1989, soon followed by the liberation of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

Comrade, Where Are You Today? is an account of "a state which forgot its citizens" and great goals that are still valid: freedom and equality.

There is a lot to think about in this honest, unusual and sober documentary film.



Machines. Please click to enlarge the images.

Machines / Machines
IN/DE/FI © 2016 Jann Pictures / Pallas Film / IV Films Ltd. Year of release: 2017. P: Rahul Jain, Thanassis Karathanos, Iikka Vehkalahti.
    D+SC: Rahul Jain. Cin: Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva – 16:9 HD. Digital colorist: Gregor Pfüller. Sound design: Susmit "Bob" Nath. Re-recording mixer: Adrian Baumeister. Sound mix: Dolby Atmos & 5.1. ED: Yaël Bitton, Rahul Jain.
    A documentary film. Language: Hindi. Loc: Gujarat (India).
    IDFA Competition: 17.11.2016.
    Finnish premiere in Helsinki, Kuopio, Oulu, Tampere, and Turku: 24.2.2017, distributor: Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus, 2K DCP with Finnish [and probably Swedish] subtitles – MEKU K7 – 69 min
    Screener link viewed at home, with Finnish subtitles, 7 Jan 2018

Official synopsis (translated from the Filmikamari site): "A visually strong movie about a huge textile factory in Gujarat, India. In the darkness of the labyrinth of the factory, among the dirt and the chemicals the workers are in dire need of sleep. The incessantly pounding machines churn beautiful textiles for the manufacturers of brand clothes. The circumstances are a reminder of a past without trade unions, ethical conditions of work or limitations of working hours."

Official synopsis (from the official website): "Moving through the corridors and bowels of an enormous and disorientating structure, the camera takes the viewer on a descent down to a dehumanized place of physical labor and intense hardship. This gigantic textile factory in Gujarat, India might just as well be the decorum for a 21st century Dante’s Inferno. In his mind-provoking yet intimate portrayal, director Rahul Jain observes the life of the workers, the suffering and the environment they can hardly escape from. With strong visual language, memorable images and carefully selected interviews of the workers themselves, Jain tells a story of inequality, oppression and the huge divide between rich, poor and the perspectives of both."

Director Rahul Jain:

As a five year-old boy I used to roam around in my grandfather’s now-defunct textile mill in Surat, in India’s Gujarat state. It was easy to get lost in the labyrinthine corridors. I was overwhelmed by the machines as a three-feet tall kindergartener. It was this sensation of being minuscule in front of the gigantic processing machines that took me back to a similar factory twenty years later – this time with a camera. I remember in fragments getting lost in the long aisles of printing machines, enjoying the smell of coal in the factory’s boiler rooms maybe because it was forbidden for me to be there in the first place."

"A child’s perspective is motivated by height, but as an adult the depth perception takes over. Seeing the world on an eye-to-eye level basis helped me sort my inclinations well. We forget this in our everyday existential structures because these things are hidden from our immediate field of vision, and I wish to elucidate through the camera this simple eye-to-eye perspective we sometimes choose to not acknowledge. It’s easy to look away from things we that make us uncomfortable so I set out to use cinema as a curatorial device to confront some of these things with a temporal patience."

"Venturing into many factories I have gotten a sense of my class, my identity among the 1.3 billion Indians I share my nationality with. A good fraction of the laborers don’t reveal their stories to me, probably due my association with the owners. But a majority of them are able to open up past our immediate and social differences, revealing the circumstances that lead them here. Young teenagers who joined these factory when I was an infant are now middle-aged adults. Some of them seem to remember me by my first name. I have travelled the world back and forth many times over, as these workers have toiled away their complete existences in these factories of exclusion and alienation."

"Food, housing and fabric are the material necessities of existence. A factory functions within these interests built from a variety of human elements. There is one boss relative to thousands of workers. A lack of unionized labor in a densely populated, quickly accelerating economy leaves room for a lot to be left unseen, deliberate overlooking of a multitude of human beings for the interests of a few. It is not just one factory, it’s a civilizational structure. The systems that allow this to happen are the  ones that needs collective acknowledgement.
” (Rahul Jain, the official website)

AA: Last year, 39 Finnish films had a theatrical premiere according to the statistics of the Finnish Film Foundation (and that is not a complete list: some of the most remarkable, including Kiehumispiste / Boiling Point and Perkele II, are missing). Many of the best included in the list appeared in the cinema for only a brief span. After the premiere week they were moved to difficult and irregular slots.

Machines is one of those most important films that did not get much exposure in the cinemas. It is a documentary film about labour conditions in a huge sweatshop in India. The work shift is 12 hours, and the pay for one shift is 3 USD. Some workers come from far away, and they may work 36 or 48 hours with hardly any rest. The train ride to the factory is 36 hours, and the trains are so full that there is no room to sit. Neither is there any food served on the train. There is a drought that forces families of farmers to send their people to the sweatshops. The workers perhaps do not earn any savings but at least they can feed themselves. Child labour is a norm.

There are no trade unions, and if someone starts to organize, there is a likelihood that the organizer will be murdered on a contract by the factory leaders. There are several interviews with the workers, including ones in favour of organizing. Also factory leaders are interviewed. One of them is skeptical: the more you pay to the workers the less motivated they are to work. The human presence is memorable in this movie about machines.

Rahul Jain's film is visually dynamic and engaging. Long passages evolve in purely visual terms. A roaming camera investigates the circumstances in the big factory with forward and backward tracking shots in a Bazinian approach. This is not a montage film. We see see the beautiful fabrics, the sweat and the steam, and the exhausted bodies of the workers of all ages. The sequences of colour printing are aesthetically engaging, but the film is not about aestheticizing poverty and exploitation.

In the finale a drone shot gives us a general view of Gujarat covered by fog, smoke, dust, and pollution. We land in the middle of a gathering of concerned farmers on the street. They have been interviewed before. Why is nobody doing anything? Machines is a sober film about intolerable conditions of work. The viewer is left with the challenge: something must be done to change this.

The visual quality is good, and the sound design is effective.

Thursday, January 04, 2018


Julieta. The Finnish poster. Adriana Ugarte as the young Julieta, Emma Suárez as the mature Julieta. Please click to enlarge the beautiful images.

Julieta. Adriana Ugarte.

Julieta: three generations. Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) with her daughter, the little Antía, and mother Sara (Susi Sánchez).

Julieta. The adolescent Antía (Priscilla Delgado) and her mother Julieta (Adriana Ugarte).

Julieta / Julieta.
Un film de Almodóvar.
Espanja 2016. PC: El Deseo S.A. P: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García.
    D+SC: Pedro Almodóvar – based on three short stories (”Chance”, ”Soon”, ”Silence”) by Alice Munro in the collection Runaway (2004), translated into Finnish by Kristina Rikman / Tammi, Keltainen Kirjasto 2005. Synopsis for the short stories from Wikipedia:
    "Chance" – Juliet takes a train trip which leads to an affair.
    "Soon" – Juliet visits her parents with her child Penelope.
    "Silence" – Juliet hopes for news from her adult estranged daughter Penelope.
    DP: Jean-Claude Larrieu – digital – camera: Arri Alexa XT – source: ARRIRAW 2.8K – digital intermediate: 2K – 1,85:1 – colour – released on: 35 mm and D-Cinema.
    PD: Antxón Gómez. AD: Carlos Bodelón. Set dec: Federico García Cambero. SFX: Reyes Abades. VFX: Aleida Collado, Beatriz Gómez, Nestor Quintana. Cost: Sonia Grande. Make-up: Ana López-Puigcerver. Hair: Sergio Pérez. Sculptor: Miquel Navarro. Seascape paintings: Seoane. M: Alberto Iglesias. Song during end credits: ”Si no te vas” es. Chavela Vargas. S: Pelayo Gutiérrez. ED: José Salcedo. Casting: Eva Leira, Yolanda Serrano.
    C: Emma Suárez (Julieta Arcos), Adriana Ugarte (Julieta as a young woman), Michelle Jenner (Bea, Beatriz), Inma Cuesta (Ava), Daniel Grao (Xoan Feijóo), Dario Grandinetti (Lorenzo Gentile), Rossy de Palma (Marian), Susi Sánchez (Sara, Julieta's mother), Pilar Castro (Claudia, Bea's mother), Joaquín Notario (Samuel), Nathalie Poza (Juana), Mariam Bachir (Sanáa), Blanca Parés (Antía, 18 v), Priscilla Delgado (Antía, adolescent), Sara Jiménez (Beatriz, adolescent).
    Loc: Redes (Galicia), Madrid, Andalusia, Aragon, Castilla-La Mancha (Spain).
    Spanish premiere: 8.4.2016. Cannes: 17.5.2016.
    Helsinki premiere: 12.8.2016 Kinopalatsi, Tennispalatsi, distributor: Future Film Oy, 2K DCP, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Sari Selander / Michaela Palmberg – dvd and blu-ray: 2016 Future Film Oy – MEKU K12 – 99 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pedro Almodóvar), 4 Jan 2018

Having directed four personal films with gravity (Todo sobre mi madre, Hable con ella, Mala educacione, Volver) Pedro Almodóvar expanded his scope in genres of the romantic thriller (Los abrazos rotos) and horror (La piel que habito), and creating a genre mix: comedy, the musical, and the airplane catastrophe film (Los amantes pasajeros).

Julieta is a return to the most profound current in Almodóvar's oeuvre. Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, it is thoroughly reworked into a Spanish story. It does cover a lot of Spanish territory from the South (Andalusia) to the Northwest (a fishing port by the Atlantic in Galicia) and the Northeast (the Pyrenees). Madrid is the central location, and even it is divided into two contrary districts, as Julieta distanciates herself abruptly from the past.

The story covers 32 years of Julieta's life. In the beginning she is 25 which means that she is 57 in the finale. It was essential for Almodóvar to have two actresses interpret Julieta. Adriana Ugarte is Julieta from 25 till 40 while Emma Suárez interprets her from 40 to the present. "I don’t trust the effects of make-up for aging, and it’s almost impossible for a young woman of twenty five to have the presence of someone of fifty. It isn’t a matter of wrinkles, it’s something more profound, the passing of time, on the outside and on the inside." (Almodóvar)

Julieta is a straight drama with no genre trappings or film references. It does have an affinity with the labyrinthine mystery thriller narratives which flourished in Hollywood in the 1940s, as analyzed by David Bordwell in his magisterial study Reinventing Hollywood (2017), and typical for some of Almodóvar's favourite directors such as Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, and Douglas Sirk. But "From the outset I had in mind that Julieta is a drama, not a melodrama, a genre to which I’m partial." (Almodóvar)

The central mystery: why did Antía leave her mother Julieta at age 18? Julieta realizes that she did not know her daughter who had become a stranger to her in many ways. Only in the finale, when Antía loses her own child, she begins to understand the distress of her mother, and there is a way back to a reunion.

In the beginning we meet the young Julieta as a beloved teacher of classic antiquity. She is so popular that there is a throng to her classes. We catch a glimpse of her teaching the Odyssey, the terms of the thalatta and ho pontos, and the story of Calypso. Even in her private circles Julieta entertains with tales of the antiquity. But Julieta retires from professional life to become a wife for the fisherman Xoan by the Atlantic Ocean. One stormy day, after an interchange with Julieta on the topic of Ava, Xoan is shipwrecked and dies.

All his life Xoan had had a non-committed affair with the local sculptor Ava (after Ava Gardner). Ava's intriguing sculptures of the male torso, perhaps inspired by Xoan, are a recurrent motif. When Ava dies later of multiple sclerosis Julieta meets Ava's lover Lorenzo at the funeral, and Lorenzo is transferred to her. In the beginning of the film Julieta is about to move with Lorenzo to Portugal when she meets by chance Bea, Antía's childhood friend, who tells that Antía is alive and a mother of three.

Julieta is a film of visual poetry. It is in itself an Odyssey, a journey in search of lost homes, a journey of self-awareness and a quest of an awareness of others. It unfolds in many landscapes, from the mountains to the Atlantic Ocean (different from the Mediterranean ho pontos).

In classical antiquity the ship was the main vehicle for long distance voyages. Today there are other vehicles, and the central one in Julieta is the train. The dream-like train sequence is worthy of Hitchcock and Lang and brings to mind Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. As the train speeds forward in a snowstorm a branch of a tree hits the window and a raving deer runs wildly by the side.

During the train ride the tragic themes of loss and death are introduced, the love affair of Julieta and Xoan is started, and Antía is conceived.

Xoan is married but his wife is in coma and dies. Julieta's mother Sara has Alzheimer's disease, and after Sara's death Julieta's father marries his maid, and they start a new family. To the same pattern belongs also the life-affirming Ava's dying of MS, and the transference of her lover Lorenzo to Julieta. Till death do us part. And life goes on.

The theme of guilt has never been this strong in an Almodóvar film. More profoundly, it is about conscience, a sense of responsibility even when there is no reason for guilt. When Antía leaves her mother Julieta has a montage flash of three traumatic departures. The elderly man on the train who wanted to talk with her and threw himself under the train. Xoan leaving to the ocean for the last time. And now Antía.

Julieta is no more guilty than anyone else. But she has a highly developed conscience. Which is why the biggest shock comes at the meditation retreat on the Pyrenees when Julieta learns about Antía's departure and its reasons: a lack of spirituality and faith. Julieta is an especially devoted teacher of literature who can introduce a young generation to the classics in an engrossing way. That has also happened with her daughter, but somewhere she has lost touch with her. But Antía's way with spirituality and faith has also estranged her best friend Bea (while Antia has also distanced herself from what she has begun to see as her "shameful affair" with Bea).

Almost all actors are new to Almodóvar, but Susi Sánchez, who plays Julieta's mother, has acted in two recent films of his. Rossy de Palma is the only true Almodóvar regular. She is Xoan's maid Marian, always volunteering to warn about dangerous consequences. With her interference she makes them happen. She is not Mrs. Danvers but she has a similar function in the narrative. She certainly does not make Julieta feel home. It is a memorable performance.

Julieta is an anti-melodrama. It is a film of spiritual generosity. The greatest and most fundamental factor in Almodóvar's oeuvre is love, love bigger than melodrama. Perhaps the maid Marian and the 18-year-old Antía can be seen as incarnations of melodrama here. There is a connection with the theme of children judging their parents in classic Universal melodramas from Back Street to All That Heaven Allows.

Although there are no meta-filmic scenes here, let's register a blink-and-you-miss-it moment of a background of movie posters in front of a cinema with Winter's Bone, Le Havre and Nader and Simin.

Almodóvar remarks that all his films benefit from being seen again. I do look forward to revisiting Julieta. And read Munro.

Julieta is Almodóvar's second digitally photographed film. The visual quality is rich and warm in the many seasons and milieux of this odyssey of the conscience. Almodóvar is a leading colourist of contemporary art. The bold colour world must not be subdued nor garish. In Julieta it seems just right.