Thursday, March 08, 2018

G. J. Ramstedtin maailma / Eastern Memories

Niklas Kullström, Martti Kaartinen | Finland 2017 | Documentary | 86 min
Tampere Film Festival (TFF), National Competition, Plevna 2, Thursay 8 March 2018

TFF: "Eastern Memories is a visually stunning journey into the past and present Far East. A story of adventure and exploration, love and death, conspiracies and the fall of nations. All told by a dead Finn from the distant north."

"G. J. Ramstedtin maailma on visuaalisesti häikäisevä matka menneisyyden ja nykypäivän Kaukoitään. Se on tarina seikkailusta ja tutkimusmatkailusta, rakkaudesta ja kuolemasta, salajuonista ja kansojen tuhosta. Tarina, jonka kertoo kuollut suomalainen kaukaa Pohjolasta." (TFF)

AA: G. J. Ramstedt (1873-1950) was a Finnish explorer, linguist and diplomat who mastered Asian languages including Mongolian, Japanese, and Korean. He published classic works on the oral tradition of Mongolian epic poetry and proverbs, and a foundation work on Korean grammar. He was the first Finnish chargé d'affaires in Japan and a translator of Japanese poetry. He published his memoirs at first as a radio series. I have in my bookshelf Seitsemän retkeä itään [Seven Trips to the East {1898-1912}] and Lähettiläänä Nipponissa [An Envoy in Japan {1919-1929}] in a one volume edition of 1967 in the Ikivihreitä muistelmia [Evergreen Memoirs] series. Having seen this film I now look forward to finally reading them.

Many years in the making, the film by Niklas Kullström and Martti Kaartinen focuses on the spiritual essence of Ramstedt's encounter of different cultures. In the film we identify with the cultural passion and mission of G. J. Ramstedt, and it is easy to understand why he could win the sympathy of the cultural figures and leaders of the countries he visited.

Languages are unique vehicles of understanding the world, the being itself, and Ramstedt tried to find his way to the spiritual essence of the languages he studies. For instance via religion, poetry, myth and wit. Schooled in the young academic tradition of Finnish linguistics and folklore studies he was fascinated by other old cultures with deep oral traditions.

Niklas Kullström and Martti Kaartinen's film is full of wisdom and food for thought. Meeting different cultures we need constantly to rethink ourselves. "Best I thrived in Mongolia. Nowhere have I met such good people. If you see a stranger on the steppe it is customary to step down from the horse and wait. For a half an hour you exchange courtesies. Then you may get to the point". Good training for diplomacy.

The main narrative of the film takes place a hundred years ago, but there is no historical footage in the film. All footage is contemporary while we hear G. J. Ramstedt's memoirs and hear the evocative music score on the soundtrack.

The film takes place on two time levels: the past in the commentary and the present in the imagery. But the past lives in the present, and the visuals are full of references to the past.

I was thinking about Claude Lanzmann's Shoah because of the structural solution to avoid historical footage. Amazingly, it can make the film more powerful in evoking history.

We are also learning from a philosophy of time different from the Western one, projecting to the past and the future. The Mongolians soon recognize in Ramstedt an incarnation of one of their own. The film-makers also document Mongolian as a living language for instance in performances of Mongolian rap. Mongolian apparently is especially suitable for rap.

The general visual sense is epic: the immense steppes, the infinite sky.

I would recommend this movie to diplomats, but this movie is about much more than diplomacy. It is about friendship of the deepest kind, the unity of humankind.

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