Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tapani Maskula: Intohimosta elokuvaan / [A Passion for the Cinema] (a book)

Tapani Maskula: Intohimosta elokuvaan. Valitut elokuvakritiikit 1960-2010-luvuilta / [A Passion for the Cinema. Selected Film Reviews from the 1960s to the 2010s]. Ed. Juri Nummelin. Turku: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Sammakko, 2018. 383 p.

Tapani Maskula (born in 1941) is one of the greatest Finnish film critics. Based in the city of Turku, he started in the 1950s and is still going strong, today with an active online presence. He writes film reviews on his own Facebook page and contributes to an online journal carrying the humoristic title Elitisti,

Finnish film criticism has a distinguished tradition dating back to our very first film screening (and first press screening!) by the Lumière company in 1896. The current high profile continuity of modern film criticism dates back to 1951 when Jerker A. Eriksson became a model for everyone.

Tapani Maskula is a prominent representative of the golden age of film criticism, from the 1960s till the 1980s. I have just read the magnificent Cineaste anthology on film criticism and was impressed to discover how much of the international development is relevant to Finland. Maskula started as a contemporary to Peter von Bagh (1943–2014) who appears in this book's introduction as a referee.

Let's state the main thing first: Tapani Maskula has always had a voice of his own. These texts emerge from a compelling mission: Maskula has something to say. That is the secret of the unity and continuity in these writings. The reviews are all contributions to a bigger personally felt saga of the cinema and the world which they have reflected and influenced.

Maskula is a professional critic but he has never been financially dependent on criticism. He is immune to temptations to be understanding to the sacrifices made by the artists or the investments of the producers or distributors. He is untouchable and merciless. He discusses the films solely on their merits. He is subjective and partial and expects the same from others. When he participated on critics' panels where contributors gave star ratings he became famous / infamous as "the one star Maskula".

Professionals were shocked by his lambasting of a high profile patriotic effort such as The Winter War. But today I hear from the inner circle then involved in its marketing that Maskula was the only one who said it like it was.

In this excellent anthology edited by Juri Nummelin there is room for the classics starting from Murnau and Chaplin, produced before Maskula's start as a critic. It is exciting to read how Maskula discovers modernist films such as L'Année dernière à Marienbad, L'Arme à gauche, and films by Bresson, Jarman, Cavalier, Angelopoulos, and Carax on their first release. His curiosity has never stopped, and he finds illuminating things to say about Gaspar Noé, Bruno Dumont, the Dardenne brothers, Lars von Trier, Iñarritu, and Mungiu.

Maskula's interest in Finnish cinema is broad. It is relevant to mention that Maskula also belongs to the best connoisseurs of Finnish popular music, including the period before rock and roll. Maskula has real insight in Teuvo Tulio and Aki Kaurismäki, among others. The anthology also contains its share of scathing reviews, including the infamous piece on The Winter War.

Maskula's greatest love belongs to American cinema. He discusses the great masters from Ford to Welles. But his special passion belongs to directors such as Irving Lerner, Roger Corman, Samuel Fuller, John Cassavetes, Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia), Barbet Schroeder (Barfly), and the Coen brothers.

Maskula is a connoisseur of film noir and American crime film with insightful pieces on Robert Wise's Born to Kill, Roy Rowland's The Rogue Cop, André de Toth's Crime Wave, Philip Leacock's Let No Man Write My Epitaph (Maskula's first review published in a newspaper, in 1961), Roger Corman's St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, and Abel Ferrara's The Funeral. His range of interests includes forgotten talents such as Arnold Laven and Harry Horner.

In the genre of the Western Maskula's taste expands from the expected names to Budd Boetticher, Jack Arnold (No Name on the Bullet), and Monte Hellman. Maskula also belongs to the most insightful critics on horror films. Writing on Dan Curtis's Burnt Offerings he discusses horror film as pure cinema and finds in horror the only genre with an original trust in the magic of the moving images. Maskula discovered the unique power of Herk Harvey's The Carnival of Souls, one of his favourite films, during its original run.

With Maskula nothing can be taken for granted. Each text is a discovery. The reviews are well written with deliciously literate and unusual formulations. There is a subtle sense of humour in Maskula's writings. He takes seriously the works and the issues they discuss, but he does not take himself seriously.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sorcerer (2013 digital restoration in 4K of the Director's Cut)

Sorcerer (1977)
Theme: Love & Anarchy Trailblazers
Country: United States
Director: William Friedkin
Screenplay: Walon Green (Georges Arnaud)
Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri
Production: William Friedkin / Universal Pictures, Film Properties International
121 min
    Language: English
    Distribution: Park Circus
    Print source: Park Circus
    Cinematography: John M. Stephens, Dick Bush
    Music: Tangerine Dream
    Editing: Bud Smith, Robert K. Lambert
    Restored in 4K
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
2K DCP viewed at Theatre Savoy, Helsinki, 29 Sep 2018

Mark Kermode as quoted by HIFF: "It has taken this long for people to wake up and go: this is a masterpiece. Sorcerer is a really, really terrific film. It’s proper, visceral, muscular cinema that needs to be seen on big screen. It’s one of the most gruellingly intense, stripped-down, weirdly mean-spirited, absolutely edge-of-your seat nihilistic thrillers that American cinema has made in the past half century. It has a brilliant score by Tangerine Dream." Mark Kermode, BBC, as quoted by HIFF

Peter Bradshaw as quoted by HIFF. "William Friedkin’s 1977 thriller, in which four desperate men drive nitroglycerin through an inhospitable jungle, is a tense study in psychological breakdown. Sorcerer is a distinctive, gritty and gloomy movie – a determined slow-burner, resisting the traditional structure of narrative and central character. It involves four guys in four desperate situations, each introduced in leisurely vignettes: New Jersey mobster Scanlon (Roy Scheider), crooked Parisian businessman Manzon (Bruno Cremer), Mexican hitman Nilo (Francisco Rabal) and Middle Eastern terrorist Kassem (played by the Moroccan actor Amidou). For individual reasons, they all need to disappear and lie low for a while. […] A fierce, austere and intriguing film: a cinematic concerto of pessimism." Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, as quoted by HIFF

AA: Henri-Georges Clouzot's thriller The Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la peur, 1953) is a masterpiece based on the novel by Georges Arnaud (1950). Its original Finnish theatrical release was a short version of 128 minutes: it skipped the long introduction at the sleepy village of Las Piedras but was otherwise intact. I only saw the complete version in 2006 when it was released on dvd in our country in the Filmolaque Cinarchives / Lobster restoration of 148 minutes. The vision is stunningly dark, and the development of suspense so powerful that even Hitchcock had to take notice.

One of the most thrilling movies of all times, I found Le Salaire de la peur so perfect that I was in no hurry to see William Friedkin's adaptation of the same novel; he refuses to call his film a remake. Also Friedkin's film was theatrically released in our country in a short version. It clocked at 93 minutes. Friedkin's grandiose big budget interpretation failed at the box office and received bad reviews but the director has always considered it his masterpiece.

Perhaps Sorcerer at the time of its premiere was seen as one of the bloated and expensive follies of the masters of the new American cinema.

Now in its original length it is revealed as a stunningly expressive and visionary thriller. Many of Clouzot's immortal setpieces (the rotten platform above the abyss, the boulder blocking the road, the oil-filled crater emerging from the explosion of the first truck) have been replaced by others, equally thrilling (a bridge crumbling during a thunderstorm, an immense tree trunk as a roadblock, bandits attacking the remaining truck).

Neither film is merely a "roller coaster ride" of incredibly thrilling scenes. Clouzot's film is an infernal vision of colonialism in oil-producing countries and the desperate measures taken to bypass union rules of elementary work safety.

Seen today, Friedkin's film seems relevant as a dark allegory of the world today. The images are more topical than ever.

The burning oilfields.

The perilous journey.

The sense of being on the brink of an abyss.

The investment banker gone to hiding after his fraud at collateral has been exposed at the Paris Stock Exchange.

The Arab activist also in hiding after a terrorist explosion attack at the Damascus Gate.

From the viewpoint of the general audience the title "Sorcerer" is somewhat misleading because it leads thoughts to "The Exorcist". These films belong to different genres altogether. Yet on a subterranean level there is also an affinity. In both there are powerful and enigmatic scenes filmed in the ancient locations of civilization. There is a ubiquitous sense of compassion to suffering and alienation.

The Exorcist is often remembered for the unheard-of shock impact of its horror setpieces. But its most durable legacy is in its gravity and the profound melancholy of its account of solitude, alienation and the generation gap.

Similarly the deepest current of Sorcerer is not in the thrill scenes but in wonderfully expressive close-ups of human suffering in the colonized oil country, of the exploited workers, and of the tormented inhabitants of the occupied Holy Land.

William Friedkin excels in revealing the human in circumstances that are inhuman. This is particularly true about his four villains. They have committed heinous crimes, and the desperate journey becomes hell on earth for each. The extreme pain and suffering is conveyed with furious intensity by Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou.

The uncomfortable truth is that they are us.

The visceral impact of the perilous journey in the jungle and in tropical thunderstorms has been conducted very well in the digital restoration in 4K, and it is conveyed powerfully in a 2K presentation.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Leave No Trace

Theme: United States of Indie
Country: United States
Director: Debra Granik
Screenplay: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini (Peter Rock)
Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey, Dana Millican
Production: Anne Harrison, Linda Reisman, Anne Rosellini / Harrison Productions, Reisman Productions, Still Rolling Productions
108 min
Language: English
Distribution: Selmer MediaPrint source: Selmer Media
Cinematography: Michael McDonough
Music: Dickon Hinchliffe
Editing: Jane Rizzo
Loc: Eagle Fern Park in Clackamas County
US © 2018 My Abandonment LLC.
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF)
DCP with Swedish subtitles by Martin Andersson viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki 28 Sep 2018

Mark Kermode as quoted by HIFF: "A tale of a father and daughter living off the grid in the forests of the Pacific north-west of the US proves the perfect material for Winter’s Bone [HIFF 2010] director Debra Granik. Renowned for her empathetic portrayal of marginalised outsiders, Granik here conjures a low-key drama about cultural and generational divides that is alternately gripping and melancholic, but always shot through with the unmistakable ring of truth. The result is work of overwhelming, understated power that quite simply took my breath away."

"In the secretive midst of a vast public park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon […], reclusive veteran Will (Ben Foster, typically intense) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), live in camouflaged encampments, moving regularly to evade detection. Their existence is elemental; they make fire from the earth and gather water from the sky […]. But when their cover is blown, the pair are captured, interrogated, and forced to re-enter the modern world, with divisive results."

"McKenzie, the rising New Zealand star […] combines the astonishing technical skills of a young Jennifer Lawrence with the wide-eyed naturalism of David (”Dai”) Bradley in Kes. Watching Leave No Trace, we feel as though we are watching her grow up before our eyes; her pain, courage and compassion are tangible and real. It’s a pitch-perfect performance around which Granik builds her flawless, deeply affecting film." Mark Kermode, Observer, as quoted by HIFF

AA: Leave No Trace is Debra Granik's first fiction feature film after the unforgettable Winter's Bone (2010). It has the same approach of honest authenticity in its affectionate tale of outsiders. Winter's Bone of course was the amazing breakthrough vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence. Otherwise I find Leave No Trace an even more powerful movie.

The deeply felt sense of the forest is something that strikes a familiar chord in a Finnish viewer (and no doubt also in a Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, or Canadian viewer). For the protagonists of this tale the forest is the true home, and urban communities feel strange and distant. The same sense was caught by Akira Kurosawa in Dersu Uzala.

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) are very intelligent people, and there is a tragicomic feeling in the scenes in which they are put to psychological tests which are an insult to anyone's intelligence.

Suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder after service in the Iraq War Will has become a misfit. The northwestern forests seem to house many such outsiders. Will has taken good care of his daughter, but inevitably Tom will not stay with her father forever.

The title "Leave No Trace" has a double meaning. It is the true forest trekker's guideline in any circumstances. Here it also means that Will and Tom will have nothing to do with society.

Visually, the movie is magnificent in its account of the great outdoors. This scope format movie is best experienced in a large cinema such as Bio Rex.

Green is the dominant colour. It is the most difficult colour. (In fact "green" is a thousand colours). Especially for digital it is the most challenging colour.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Minu näoga onu / The Man Who Looks Like Me

Palju õnne, Eesti!
D: Andres Maimik, Katrin Maimik
SC: Andres Maimik, Katrin Maimik
C: Rain Tolk, Roman Baskin, Evelin Võigemast
PC: Maie Rosmann-Lill, Maario Masing / Kuukulgur Film, Kinosaurus Film
100 min
    Language: Estonian   
    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: Kinosaurus Film
    Print source: Kinosaurus Film
    Cinematography: Mihkel Soe
    Music: Sten Šeripov
    Editing: Helis Hirve
Loc: Pärnu,
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF)
In the presence of Andres Maimik and Rain Tolk.
Viewed at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 27 Sep 2018

Laurence Boyce as quoted by HIFF: "In The Man Who Looks Like Me, directorial duo Katrin and Andres Maimik once again explore the differences between two generations […]. Hugo (Rain Tolk) is a music critic who discovers that his wife has been cheating on him. After moving to the countryside to rebuild his life and work on his latest book, his life is disrupted when his estranged father, Raivo (Roman Baskin), arrives on the scene. As Raivo reveals he is going to die, Hugo decides to tolerate his presence. But when Hugo meets therapist Marian (Evelin Võigemast), the father and son find that the direction that their lives have taken means that they are more divided than they once thought."

"While the topic of the film is a well-worn trope, the Maimiks create a fresh angle on proceedings, as the film works as both an exploration of familial conflict and a satire of academic posturing. […] While it is frequently funny – thanks mainly to Tolk and Baskin’s chemistry – the film is unafraid to explore darker territory, examining abandonment and jealousy. The movie also makes good use of its bucolic setting, with Mihkel Soe’s cinematography veering between verdant greenery and rain-sodden skies, mirroring the emotional changes that the characters find themselves undergoing." Laurence Boyce, Cineuropa as quoted by HIFF

AA: A humoristic drama about a prominent music critic facing two crises. He loses his wife. And his father, a bohemian trombone player, is dying.

The music critic is called Hugo, and he has a lot of catching up to do in his relationships with women. He is short-tempered, jealous, and difficult to live with, but he is willing to move to a new level of maturity.

The father is his main headache. Raivo has been a bad father, and now Hugo needs to take care of him. Although Raivo is not well, he has still a nicer touch in the company of women than Hugo. Through his father Hugo learns to know the therapist Marian.

I like the sense of humour in this film. The dating scenes of Marian and Hugo are fresh and sensual. In the climax of the film Hugo arranges his father's funeral complete with a touching funeral speech, and then it turns out to be Raivo's 70th anniversary party: Raivo is very much alive, but not for long.

The location, a lovely beach around Pärnu, is expressively used. It is a soulscape that is used as a location for actual therapy by Marian. Hugo realizes that he is in need of therapy, as well. He has never fully come to terms with the neglect he experienced as a child, and he has never had a good relationship with anybody. He is passive-aggressive, but he has a will to grow up.

Excellent performances from Rain Tolk, Roman Baskin, and Evelin Võigemast. Eloquent cinematography by Mihkel Soe. An intelligent screenplay and fine direction by the duo Andres Maimik, Katrin Maimik.

There is a general affinity to High Fidelity (the novel by Nick Hornby, the film by Stephen Frears) in the gentle satire of the ardent music lover's dilemmas in relationships. No concrete similarity, just a familiar level of intelligence in observing the irreconcilable commitments to music and life.

In the Q&A we learned that Roman Baskin, who plays the grumpy old father, had just died on 13 September 2018. In the recent Finnish film Ilosia aikoja, mielensäpahoittaja, there is a similar theme of a father and a son discovering to their horror that the son has become the mirror image of his impossible father.


Le Livre d'image / The Image Book

Theme: French Touch Selection
Country: France, Switzerland
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Jean-Luc Godard
Production: Fabrice Aragno / Casa Azul Films
Duration: 85 min
Age limit: K7
    Language: Arabic, English, Italian, French
    Subtitles: English, partly English
    Distribution: Wild Bunch
    Print source: Wild Bunch
    Cinematography: Fabrice Aragno
    Music: Editions ECM
    Editing: Jean-Luc Godard, Fabrice Aragno
FR/CH © 2018 Caza Azul Productions.
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF)
DCP with English subtitles viewed at Kino Engel, Helsinki, 27 Sep 2018

Peter Bradshaw quoted by HIFF: "The Image Book is a work that reprises many of Jean-Luc Godard’s familiar ideas, but with an unexpected urgency and visceral strangeness. It’s an essay film with the body-language of a horror movie, avowedly taking Godard’s traditional concerns with the ethical status of cinema and history and looking to the Arab world and indirectly examining our orientalism […]."

"The Image Book is the signature Godard irony-mosaic of clips and fragments, with sloganised, gnomic texts, puns in brackets, sudden fades-to-black, unpredictable, unsynchronised sound cues which appear to have been edited quite without the usual concern for aural seamlesness, and vast, declamatory orchestral chords."

"In The Image Book he appears to gesture, again, at the subject of cinema’s culpable failure to witness the horrors of the modern world, failure to account for Auschwitz and Hiroshima. […]. This is, I think, still at the heart of Godard’s view and at the heart of the title here. What is the status of the image? Is it text? If it is a sign then what is its real-world referent? Just another sign?"

"It is bewildering. I’m not sure I understood more than a fraction and of course it can be dismissed as obscurantism and mannerism. But I found The Image Book rich, disturbing and strange." Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, as quoted by HIFF

AA: Jean-Luc Godard is at his most serious in his new film.

I start with quoting a poem from JLG himself. It is the official synopsis of the movie:

Te souviens-tu encore comment nous entrainions autrefois notre pensée ?
Le plus souvent nous partions d’un rêve …

Nous nous demandions comment dans l’obscurité totale
Peuvent surgir en nous des couleurs d’une telle intensité

D’une voix douce et faible
Disant de grandes choses
D’importantes, étonnantes, de profondes et justes choses

Image et parole

On dirait un mauvais rêve écrit dans une nuit d’orage

Sous les yeux de l’Occident
Les paradis perdus

La guerre est là …

Le Livre d'image is an eminently visual book of contemporary poetry, a picture book, a stream of consciousness.

The first part of the movies is a rearrangement of JLG's visual obsessions, familiar from Histoire(s) du cinéma and others. Visual memory flashes gain new meanings. We are invited to an inner dialogue with films, books, poems, and artworks.

The latter part largely focuses on the turbulence in the Arab world, and the roots of terrorism in the war of Algeria. The violence and the horror of war has never been more startling in a Godard film.

Adieu au langage was one of Godard's best movies. He was the youngest film-maker of the year 2014 with an explosive, playful touch and a great sense of the rhythm of the montage.

Le Livre d'image is darker, more obsessive.

Godard keeps honing his own personal approach to colourism. The images are electronic paintings with a colour range from the extremely subdued to the ultra exaggerated. Low definition is a means of expression.

Often the image vanishes, and only the sound remains. As a sound work Le Livre d'image is an impressive artistic achievement, from the muttered inner monologues to the roaring sounds of burning and warfare.

I keep thinking about the madness that was revered by the classics of antiquity. Madness as a source of creativity and inspiration. All is not meant to make sense. We are swimming beneath consciousness.

The final remarks about hope bring to my mind the last films of Peter von Bagh and Aki Kaurismäki.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Hölmö nuori sydän / Stupid Young Heart (Finnish gala premiere)

Selma Vilhunen: Hölmö nuori sydän / Stupid Young Heart (FI 2018) with Jere Ristseppä (Lenni) and Rosa Honkonen (Kiira).

Theme: Gala Films
Country: The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland
Director: Selma Vilhunen
Screenplay: Kirsikka Saari
Starring: Jere Ristseppä, Rosa Honkonen, Abshir Sheikh Nur, Ville Haapasalo, Pihla Viitala
Production: Elli Toivoniemi, Venla Hellstedt / Tuffi Films
    Language: Somali, Finnish    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: Nordisk Film
    Print source: Nordisk Film
    Cinematography: Lisabi Fridell
    Music: Timo Dirksen
    Editing: Michal Leszczylowski, Yva Fabricius
    Loc: Itäkeskus, Helsinki.
    102 min
    Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF), Finnish Gala.
    In the presence of Selma Vilhunen and Rosa Honkonen.
    Presenters: Anna Möttölä, Pekka Lanerva.
    DCP with English subtitles viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 25 Sep 2018

Production notes as quoted by HIFF: "Stupid Young Heart is a film about the first love between the skinny and carefree Lenni and the gorgeous and popular Kiira. Not yet in a relationship, nor out of highschool, they discover that they are expecting a baby. Lenni has nine months to become a man."

"Having grown up without a father figure, Lenni finds longed-for adult attention and guidance from an unlikely friend Janne, a member of a right wing group that has recently moved into Lenni’s diverse neighbourhood. After taking part in a scrambled attack on a local Mosque, while Kiira is rushed to the hospital to give birth, Lenni realises that he must learn to be a man in his own way, even though he never had a chance to be a child himself."

"Selma Vilhunen is a director and screenwriter of both fiction and documentary films. She is also one of the co-founders of the production company Tuffi Films. Her latest works as a director include the documentary Hobbyhorse Revolution [HIFF 2017], which premiered at the Tampere Film Festival and won the main prize in domestic competition as well as the Risto Jarva main prize. It also won several other awards in Finland and abroad."

"Her fiction feature debut Little Wing [HIFF 2016], which she both wrote and directed, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2016 and won the Golden Camera Taodue Award for best first or second feature at the Rome Film Fest 2016. The film also received the Nordic Council Film Prize in 2017."

"Previously, she has directed the short film Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? which received an Oscar nomination in 2014, as well as the feature documentaries Song (2014) and Pony Girls (2008). She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences." Production notes as quoted by HIFF

AA: Another little big film from Selma Vilhunen. A piece of candid realism with amazingly fresh performances from the young actors.

It is the oldest story in the world, but it becomes new in the hands of Selma Vilhunen, her screenwriter Kirsikka Saari, and the leading actors Rosa Honkonen and Jere Ristseppä.

Teenage pregnancy changes the lives of the 15-year-old Kiira and Lenni, the result of a one night stand during a party.

To the surprise of the audience and each other Kiira and Lenni agree on keeping the baby and moving together. They have no money, but they have a will and a plan to make it work.

As usual in the life of teenagers of the same age, Kiira is the more mature one, and Lenni has more growing up to do. What is worse, he is drawn to a circle of populist nationalist activists who keep sabotaging the local mosque and terrorizing people of colour.

This dimension of the film is topical and rewarding. We are made to understand backgrounds to racism, populism, and neo-nationalism.

The motherhood / fatherhood story is eternal and always new. The mother and the father are children themselves. They are children from broken homes. But their life-force is great. This contradiction is conveyed by Rosa Honkonen and Jere Ristseppä very well. The flow of emotions, instincts, and hormones is overwhelming in this movie.

Selma Vilhunen directs the movie with a great sense of humour.

There is a sense of raw immediacy in the often handheld cinematography which is based on a low definition, slightly denatured digital look, relevant to the world of social media videos.



Theme: Spotlight Selection
Country: The Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, Dominikaaninen tasavalta, Spain, Lebanon, Mexico, Portugal, France, Switzerland, United States
Director: Lucrecia Martel
Screenplay: Lucrecia Martel
Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín, Lola Dueñas, Rafael Spregelburd
Language: Spanish
Distribution: The Match FactoryPrint source: The Match Factory
Cinematography: Rui Poças
Editing: Miguel Schverdfinger, Karen Harley
Production: Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Gallelli, Matías Roveda, Vania Catani / Rei Cine, Bananeira Filmes
Duration: 115 min
Age limit: K16
    Helsinki International Film Festival
    DCP with English subittles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 25 Sep 2018

David Sims (The Atlantic) quoted by HIFF: "The Argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel’s first narrative film in nine years, Zama is a warped portrait of colonial power left to rot in the sun, a feverishly funny and surreal experience that mostly turns its nose up at narrative."

"The film is set in the late 18th century; [Diego de] Zama is the corregidor (colonial administrator) of some distant province […], but he craves a more splendid post. Every attempt to move away runs into procedural and bureaucratic bulwarks; travelers come from more prosperous, far-off places the viewer never sees. Zama is trapped, and as the film progresses his little fiefdom devolves further into disrepair."

"Martel’s movie benefits from not feeling lavish; for all the lush period details there’s nothing aspirational about the life depicted in Zama (a common trap for any satire about life atop a colonial empire). The film is too disorienting and queasy for that."

"Martel has never made a film quite this strange, but she’s always been an opaque storyteller. Zama, much like her other works […], burrowed into my brain after I’d seen it. There’s absolutely nothing else like it […]. Zama is a viewing experience that […] blooms in bold, surprising directions." David Sims, The Atlantic quoted by HIFF

AA: I managed to catch the first 45 minutes of Lucrecia Martel's new film. It is a historical story from the 18th century told with an intimate approach. The corregidor Diego de Zama is officially in charge but actually terribly lost in the circumstances of colonial administration. His story is another illustration of Hegel's claim that in conditions of slavery no one is free.

The film is very sensual and vibrant, starting from the native women's mudbath which Zama is caught snooping. The name of the enigmatic rebel Vicuña Morto keeps reappearing. He has been reported killed 1000 times, but he never seems to go away. The ubiquitous atmosphere of oppression is caught without undue graphic detail of violence.

Everywhere there is a sense of awkwardness and fatigue. Everybody is ill at ease.

The colour solution is unusual: the colour is muted and opaque.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Cynthia Lucia and Rahul Hamid: Cineaste on Film Criticism, Programming, and Preservation in the New Millennium (a book)

Cynthia Lucia and Rahul Hamid: Cineaste on Film Criticism, Programming, and Preservation in the New Millennium. Austin: University of Texas Press, November 2017. 392 p. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1341-1

A stunning survey on film culture during its biggest period of turbulence. I have been reading this book over a period of several months, as slowly as that since all the contributions are highly charged with important observations. Because I don't want to favour any contributor I simply copy the list of contents below with its roll of honour of critics, programmers and preservation experts.

In Finland the number of professional cultural journalists has dropped by 90% in ten years, and a similar thing has happened everywhere. There is more writing on the cinema than ever, but that is amateur criticism, not professional, paid activity with which anyone could earn a living.

The concerns of programmers and preservationists are closely linked. The digital revolution is wonderful for distribution, but there is no solution as yet for digital preservation, because no digital file is durable. Film prints stayed around for decades, but access to DCPs is usually counted in months.

This book I would recommend to every film critic and programmer. The problems of film preservation in the digital age have been discussed many times elsewhere, but the relevant dossier in this book is marvellously compact and many-sided, and likely to be rewarding even for preservation experts.

A rewarding companion film: Gerald Peary: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (2008).

Part I. Film Criticism in the New Millennium

        1. Film Criticism in America Today: A Critical Symposium (2000). By David Ansen, Jay Carr, Godfrey Cheshire, Mike Clark, Manohla Dargis, David Denby, Morris Dickstein, Roger Ebert, David Edelstein, Graham Fuller, J. Hoberman, Stanley Kauffmann, Stuart Klawans, Todd McCarthy, Peter Rainer, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Andrew Sarris, Richard Schickel, Lisa Schwarzbaum, John Simon, David Sterritt, Peter Travers, Kenneth Turan, Armond White

        2. International Film Criticism Today: A Critical Symposium (2005). By Argentina: Quintín (Eduardo Antin); Australia: Adrian Martin; Austria: Christoph Huber; Brazil: Pedro Butcher; China: Li Hongyu; France: Michel Ciment; France: Jean-Michel Frodon; Germany: Olaf Möller; Greece: Angelike Contis; Hong Kong: Li Cheuk-to; India: Meenakshi Shedde; Italy: Tullio Kezich; Italy: Roberto Silvestri; Japan: Tadao Sato; Mexico: Leonardo García Tsao; Philippines: Noel Vera; Russia: Lev Karakhan; South Africa: Leon van Nierop; Thailand: Kong Rithdee; Tunisia: Tahar Chikhaoui; United Kingdom: Jonathan Romney; Uruguay: Jorge Jellinek

        3. Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet: A Critical Symposium (2008). By Zach Campbell, Robert Cashill, Mike D’Angelo, Steve Erickson, Andrew Grant, J. Hoberman, Kent Jones, Glenn Kenny, Robert Koehler, Kevin B. Lee, Karina Longworth, Adrian Martin, Adam Nayman, Theodoros Panayides, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dan Sallitt, Richard Schickel, Campaspe, Girish Shambu, Michael Sicinski, Amy Taubin, Andrew Tracy, Stephanie Zacharek

        4. Film Criticism: The Next Generation: A Critical Symposium (2013). By Ben Kenigsberg, Gabe Klinger, Michael Koresky, Kiva Reardon, Andrew Tracy

        5. “I Still Love Going to Movies”: An Interview with Pauline Kael (2000). By Leonard Quart

        6. Cult Films, Commentary Tracks, and Censorious Critics: An Interview with John Bloom (2003). By Gary Crowdus

Part II. The Art of Repertory Film Exhibition and Digital-Age Challenges

        7. Repertory Film Programming: A Critical Symposium (2010). By John Ewing, John Gianvito, Bruce Goldstein, Haden Guest, Jim Healy, Kent Jones, Laurence Kardish, Marie Losier, Richard Peña, James Quandt, David Schwartz, Adam Sekuler, Dylan Skolnick, Tom Vick

        8. Utopian Festivals and Cinephilic Dreams: An Interview with Peter von Bagh (2012). By Richard Porton

        9. The (Cinematic) Gospel According to Mark: An Interview with Mark Cousins (2013). By Declan McGrath

Part III. Film Preservation in the Digital Age

        10. Film Preservation in the Digital Age: A Critical Symposium (2011). By Schawn Belston, Margaret Bodde, Paolo Cherchi Usai, Grover Crisp, Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, Jan-Christopher Horak, Annette Melville, Michael Pogorzelski, Katie Trainor, Daniel Wagner

        11. MOD Man: An Interview with George Feltenstein (2011). By Robert Cashill. [MOD = manufacturing-on-demand].

Pekka Tarkka: Onnen Pekka / [Lucky Peter] (a book)

Pekka Tarkka: Onnen Pekka. Muistelmia / [Lucky Peter. Memoirs]. Helsinki: Otava, 2018. 575 p., ISBN: 9789511288114

When I started to understand anything about anything, around 1965–1966, Olof Lagercrantz was the editor-in-chief, with a special emphasis on culture, in Dagens Nyheter, the biggest and best newspaper in the Nordic countries.

Lagercrantz's ambition was the greatest possible: the newspaper could be a cultural and political force with full coverage on all aspects of culture and a lively debate section with conflicting views on topics of the greatest importance. It was electrifying, and although I was only a schoolboy, it was impossible not to be influenced by this spirit of grandeur.

The same spirit inspired also Finnish newspapers. My father at the time held a job whose benefits included subscriptions of over ten newspapers, many magazines, and access to all books: he was editor-in-chief of a magazine with an extensive coverage of books.

I spent a lot of time reading those papers, also learning Swedish from Dagens Nyheter and Hufvudstadsbladet. Those were wonderful years to read the cultural sections in both countries. (And I understand also in other Nordic countries).

Pekka Tarkka was a key figure in that glorious period, in newspapers such as Uusi Suomi and Helsingin Sanomat. During his years Helsingin Sanomat even surpassed Dagens Nyheter. Little could anyone have anticipated that the inability to adjust to the internet revolution and the listing of Sanoma in the stock exchange in 1999 would reduce the formerly magnificent newspaper to a shadow of its former self.

The same thing happened in all Nordic countries. An important survey, and a well-known university textbook, is Tomas Forser's Kritik av kritiken, about the "journalistization" and tabloidization of the cultural sections.

But a period of grandeur will remain as a challenge for the future. What was possible then must be possible to achieve again.

I don't agree with everything and don't even understand all terms in Mr. Tarkka's excellent book, for instance about the political bubbles of the period. For me, the key years politically would be 1958 and 1964. Much is still unknown, much left unsaid.

Pekka Tarkka finishes his memoirs in the 1980s when he resigned from his position as the head of the cultural section in Helsingin Sanomat. He focuses on the happy years until then. This is a rich and rewarding book with profound insight in cultural history and amusing anecdotes on fascinating figures. This book is also a great piece of literature.


Kari Glödstaf: 1000 mykkäelokuvaa / [1000 Silent Films] (a book)

Kari Glödstaf: 1000 mykkäelokuvaa. Sirpaleita elokuvan kulta-ajalta. Turku: Kustantamo Helmivyö, 2018. Soft cover, 444 p., book on demand, also available on webstores, see the publisher's site, ISBN 978-952-7211-23-6

In Finland Kari Glödstaf is a well-known connoisseur and expert of silent cinema, author of three books on the subject, and curator and advisor on silent cinema for two Finnish silent film festivals: The Forssa Silent Film Festival and the Loud Silents in Tampere. Since 2005 Mr. Glödstaf has also run his own blog with regular reviews on silent film releases.

The "1000 films / books / records you need to see / read / listen to before you die" concept has been popular in recent decades. I am myself an early representative (I had models but not aware of any predecessor with a "one thousand" concept) in this trend with my 1995 guide of 1000 films for the centenary of the cinema.

As far as I know Kari Glödstaf is unique in compiling a guide of 1000 silent films. It's amazing to observe that such an endeavour is worthwhile. The silent film revival which started with the 1978 FIAF Brighton Congress and Kevin Brownlow's Napoleon resurrection and the Brownlow-Gill television series Hollywood: The Pioneers has continued and expanded with such a result that today we have a better overview in silent cinema than during any year of the cinema's silent period itself. Although by far most of the silent films are believed lost.

I admire Kari Glödstaf's truly global approach, covering everything from Hollywood to China, and from Russia to Australia.

The crucial decision is about covering short films. Most of the silent films were short. Almost all were short during the first 20 years. Mr. Glödstaf has restricted himself to features with a few exceptions such as The Trip to the Moon, Chess Fever and Un chien andalou. Thus, no Edison, no Lumière, no R. W. Paul, no Chomón, hardly any comedy shorts... I totally agree with this decision. There are so many great silent shorts that it is not possible to do justice to them in a book devoted to 1000 films.


Kristin Thompson, David Bordwell: Film History. An Introduction. Fourth Edition (2018) (a book)

Kristin Thompson, David Bordwell: Film History: An Introduction. Fourth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018. 780 p., 28 cm, ISBN: 9781260084856.

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell's Film History, originally published in 1994, is now in its fourth edition, thoroughly updated. It tells the full story from early cinema (and pre-cinema) to the latest digital developments. A U.S. bias is obvious and transparent, but this is a genuinely global story, paying attention to all film-producing continents.

I will not have read all these large 780 pages any time soon, but I register the amazing update of a reliable textbook. I have consulted our library copy and will need to acquire a personal copy probably in the loose leaf format (130 USD) which I then will need to put into a binder.

David Bordwell is one of my favourite commentators on the digital revolution. Pandora's Digital Box (2012) is one of the key overviews of the great change. I take a liberty of copying a sample from Film History, in the belief of acting fairly, as this is the excerpt published by Thompson & Bordwell themselves in their blog Observations on Film Art:

Kristin Thompson, David Bordwell: Film History Fourth Edition (2018), p. 723: "Digital convergence worked hand in hand with global­ization and the power of the American studios. The top Hollywood pictures were successful in most countries, and they could be delivered on many platforms. But in the swift media churn, with new formats coming up all the time, would traditional filmmaking die?"

"Evidently not. For one thing, the number of feature films was surging. In 2002, the world made over 4,000 fea­ture films. In 2016, that number was over 7600. This vast output included blockbusters, modest independent films, and every form in between. The boom took place in the face of home video, cable, satellite, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and streaming. It happened despite the fact that a handful of American blockbusters ruled nearly every national market."

"But perhaps theaters, the public side of film culture, were in danger? Just the opposite. Screen growth was robust through the 2010s. In 2016, the world had over 163,000 screens. Even without counting the millions of television monitors, computers, and mobile devices, there were far more movie screens than ever before. And plenty of people wanted to visit them. The year 2015 set a record high in worldwide attendance, 7.4 billion admis­sions. This amounted to about one ticket for every man, woman, and child on Earth."

"Digital convergence, boosted by globalization, encour­aged the spread of cinema. Personal computers, the Inter­net, mobile phones, game consoles, tablets, and portable music devices initially could not display films, but all were eventually adjusted to do that. Film wriggled its way into every media device that came along. From broadcast tele­vision and videotape to DVD and streaming, films spread beyond the theater. They entered our living rooms and went with us anywhere. Today, more people are watching more hours of motion pictures than at any other time in history. As newer technologies emerge, we suspect that they too will serve the cinematic traditions that have devel­oped over 120 years."
Kristin Thompson, David Bordwell: Film History Fourth Edition (2018), p. 723

Joseph McBride: How Did Lubitsch Do It?

Joseph McBride: How Did Lubitsch Do It? New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. 576 p.

This is a book I have been looking forward to, and as soon as I had it in my hands it bypassed all others. I love Joseph McBride's books on Hawks, Ford, Welles, Spielberg, and (with reservations) Capra.

Lubitsch is a different subject altogether, perhaps the most difficult director to assess. Many have tried, and I have enjoyed them all. Herman G. Weinberg's The Lubitsch Touch is not only my favourite book on the director but one of my favourite books in general. Weinberg created a Lubitsch companion in the spirit of the master. He saw these films when they were new and conveys something of the flavour of their original reception, including of films now lost.

Weinberg was also a friend of Lubitsch, and he refrained from discussing his private life. Later biographers have no such hindrances. McBride writes with insight about the discrepancy of the master of romantic comedy being unhappy in his personal love life.

At his most rewarding McBride is in his extended and original discussions of Lubitsch's films. They include some of the best writing about them. He brings the films to life on the page, and illuminates convincingly why they are timeless.

Inevitably, he also writes about the term "the Lubitsch touch" which Lubitsch himself and most others have rejected: there is no such thing. Myself, I find it useful as long as it is not over-used. For me, a Lubitsch touch is a moment of mordant cinematic wit, a dark illumination seasoned with a tender sense of generosity. Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and many others were influenced, but only Ernst Lubitsch himself possessed the secret, and even for Lubitsch himself it was probably not conscious and certainly not calculated.

I have also been involved in an Ernst Lubitsch book project. In 1987 we screened at Cinema Orion the first complete Ernst Lubitsch retrospective in Finland. I wrote the program notes and took further notes of all the films; I usually saw them twice. Peter von Bagh took notes, as well, wrote many wonderful pages, and suggested that we should write a book together. But he had also 15 other book projects in development, and this one was shelved.

We were a bit tired of the "Erotikon – A Woman of Paris – The Marriage Circle" narrative about the genesis of Lubitsch's mature style, based on Weinberg. But McBride now states the case of Erotikon as Lubitsch's greatest influence more powerfully than anyone, based on the statements of Billy Wilder to Cameron Crowe and others. Having seen Erotikon, "That was when Lubitsch became Lubitsch" (Billy Wilder).

A chapter important in American cinema that McBride decides to omit is the genre of the sophisticated comedy of the 1920s, directly inspired by Chaplin and Lubitsch, with directors such as Monta Bell, Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast, Paul Bern, and Malcolm St. Clair.

Mostly I agree with McBride about the favourite Lubitsch films. One Hour With You I rate much higher than he. For McBride it is an inferior remake of The Marriage Circle. For me, it's a wonderful and original musical. Peter von Bagh appreciated the "Brechtian" approach of Maurice Chevalier's interpretation. At Midnight Sun Film Festival, Paul Morrissey chose it as the film he would take to the desert island.

That Uncertain Feeling is another film that leaves McBride without enthusiasm. (It is also a remake, this time about a lost masterpiece, Kiss Me Again, found by many as Lubitsch's best film). I happen to like also That Uncertain Feeling very much, probably due to the fact that it was one of the first films I possessed on VHS video. I proudly showed it many times to friends, and it kept getting funnier. Egészségére!

A wonderful book, but the manuscript would have benefitted from one more round of editing. There are needless repetitions as the text stands now.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Zimna wojna / Cold War

Cold War / Cold War.
    PL/FR/GB © 2018 Opus Film Sp. z o.o. / Apocalypso Pictures Cold War Limited / MK Productions / ARTE France Cinéma / The British Film Institute / Channel Four Television Corporation / Canal+ / EC1 Łódź / Mazowiecki Instytut Kultury / Instytucja Filmowa Silesia Film / Kino Świat / Wojewódzki Dom Kultury w Rzeszowie.
    P: Tanya Seghatchian, Ewa Puszczyńska.
    D: Paweł Pawlikowski (story, direction, image). SC: Paweł Pawlikowski and Janusz Głowacki with the collaboration of Piotr Borkowski. DP: Łukasz Żal – b&w – 1,37:1 – camera: Arri Alexa XT – source format: ARRIRAW 3,4 K – master format: digital intermediate 4K. PD: Katarzyna Sobańska, Marcel Sławiński. Cost: Aleksandra Staszko. Hair and make-up: Waldemar Pokromski.
    Jazz and song arrangements: Marcin Masecki. The Jazz Quintet: Piano Marcin Masecki, Saxophonist Luis Nubiola, Double-bass player Piotr Domagalski, Trumpeter Maurycy Idzikowski, Drummer Jerzy Rogiewicz. Under the direction of Marcin Masecki. Soundtrack listing: see previous post (Zimna wojna / Cold War pressbook).
    S: Maciej Pawłowski, Mirosław Makowski. ED: Jarosław Kamiński. Casting: Magdalena Szwarcbart.
Zula / Joanna Kulig
Wiktor / Tomasz Kot
Kaczmarek / Borys Szyc
Irena / Agata Kulesza
Michel / Cèdric Kahn
Juliette / Jeanne Balibar
Consul / Adam Woronowicz
Minister / Adam Ferency
Sleuth 1 / Drazen Sivak
Sleuth 2 / Slavko Sobin
Waitress / Aloïse Sauvage
Guard / Adam Szyszkowski
Ania / Anna Zagórska
Leader of ZMP / Tomasz Markiewicz
Mazurek / Izabela Andrzejak
     89 min
    Premiere in Poland: 8 June 2018.
    Finnish premiere projected: 26 Oct 2018. Released by Finnkino, digital cinema, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Nina Ekholm.
    Helsinki International Film Festival gala opening, introduced by Anna Möttölä and Pekka Lanerva.
    Viewed at Bio Rex, 20 Sep 2018.

Synopsis from the pressbook: "Cold War is a passionate love story between a man and a woman who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland. With different backgrounds and temperaments, they are fatally mismatched and yet fatefully condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the couple are separated by politics, character flaws and unfortunate twists of fate – an impossible love story in impossible times."

AA: In his masterpiece Ida Pawel Pawlikowski gave us an account of Poland in the early 1960s, a time of his early childhood. Ida was a tragic story of two women who must come to terms with the twin catastrophes of the holocaust and Stalin's terror.

In Zimna wojna / Cold War the story expands to a longer period of time: 15 years, from 1949 till 1964. Dedicated by the director to his own parents, this is a tragic love story. A tale of a love affair crushed by a brutal government. But also made impossible by the fundamental incompatibility of the lovers. They cannot live without each other. They cannot live with each other.

Zimna wojna / Cold War is chronological, but otherwise it breaks dramatic unities. Cold War must have been a difficult equation for Pawlikowski to solve, but it works like a dream.

Pawlikowski denied having been particularly influenced by Polish New Wave films of the late 1950s and the early 1960s when we made a tribute to him to honour the accomplishment of Ida. There are dozens of distinguished films in the Polish New Wave, many of them waiting re-discovery for the international audiences of today.

The achievement of Ida and Cold War is even more astonishing if Pawlikowski has indeed not been particularly influenced by the Polish New Wave. It must have been in his cultural genes to create this combination of psychological complexity, awareness of a national disaster, affinity to the freedom of jazz, and a penchant for a mise-en-scène opportune to all that. Perhaps the fresh and original approach of his Polish stories is due to his having independently come to solutions that seem to connect with the best traditions of Polish cinema.

The lovers Zula and Wiktor are played by Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot with a sensitive and unpredictable authenticity.

Pawlikowski: ‘Well, this type of relationship that is a bit of a war all the time. Two strong, restless individuals, very unlike each other, two extreme poles. Zula and Wiktor have other lovers, relationships, husbands and wives, but they realise with time that nobody will ever be as close to them as each other, because – for all the historical and geographical comings and goings – nobody knows who they are as well as each other. At the same time, paradoxically, they are the one person they can’t be with.

Zimna wojna / Cold War is also a story about exile. Wiktor cannot stay in Stalin's Poland, but in exile he loses something of his manhood, even in the most concrete way, as observed by Zula. The film critic Matti Rämö sitting next to me remarked that this theme was also discussed by Krzysztof Kieslowski in Three Colours: White.

Wiktor returns to Poland and a long prison service in hard labour. There his arm is injured, making him unable to continue as a pianist ever. It is Thaw, but the change is left unobserved in the movie. Reunited for a brief moment, Zula and Wiktor find a way to join in eternity.

Zimna wojna / Cold War is also a rich film about music, particularly rewarding about Polish folk music and jazz. Pawlikowski intertwines his many musical motifs in multiple ways. Bach and jazz were present in Ida, and so they are also here.

Marcin Masecki is the talented arranger of the jazz and song contributions. It all makes sense. The affection to the folk music is genuine.

An element of ambiguity is introduced by "Kak mnogo devushek horoshih (Serdtse)" from the Alexandrov-Dunayevsky musical Jolly Fellows, a Stalinist comedy with a sense of the absurd. A song belonging to the repertory of both Pussy Riot and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. An aspect of satire intrudes with the Stalin cantata by Alexandrov and the horror film theme conducted by Wiktor in a French film studio.

Fine jazz is heard in Marcin Masecki's piano solos and in the playing of his jazz quintet. Masecki also plays Chopin's Fantaisie impromptu in C sharp minor. Classic jazz from Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Coleman Hawkins is incorporated in the soundtrack. During the end credit dedication to the director's parents we hear Glenn Gould at the Goldberg variations.

The cinematography of Łukasz Żal is brilliant in composition and lighting. The black and white Academy frame does not feel studied. The eerie element is the decision to use digital cinematography in this fashion. Yesterday I saw BlacKkKlansman in which the digital projection retained a juicy and vibrant sense of life. In Zimna wojna / Cold War the airless and lifeless lack of atmosphere connected with a trailer we saw before the feature: Damien Chazelle's First Man and its views of the Moon. This feeling is certainly relevant to the title and the theme of the film.

Zimna wojna / Cold War pressbook

Zimna wojna / Cold War. Joanna Kulig as Zula.

Official selection
Festival de Cannes



in association with PROTAGONIST PICTURES

2018 / Poland-UK-France / 89 mins


Cold War is a passionate love story between a man and a woman who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland. With different backgrounds and temperaments, they are fatally mismatched and yet fatefully condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the couple are separated by politics, character flaws and unfortunate twists of fate – an impossible love story in impossible times.

Pawlikowski’s most recent film, Ida, was a global success, winning the Oscar and BAFTA for best foreign language film as well as five European Film Awards including best European film, director and screenplay. His other key credits include My Summer Of Love and Last Resort.

The film is a Polish/UK/French production, produced by the writer- director’s long time partners Tanya Seghatchian (My Summer of Love) of Apocalypso Pictures and Ewa Puszczyńska (Ida) from Piotr Dzięciol’s Opus Film (Poland), along with France’s MK Productions.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Cud nad Wisłą / Miracle on the Vistula (2010 Filmoteka Narodowa reconstruction)

Ryszard Bolesławski: Cud nad Wisłą / Miracle on the Vistula (PL 1921). The valiant priest Jan Skorupka leads Polish troops to combat Bolsheviks.

[Ihme Veikselillä]
    PL 1921. PC: Orient-Film. 
    D: Ryszard Bolesławski. SC: Adam Zagórski. CIN: Zbigniew Gniazdowski. AD: Ewelina Librowicz-Mucharska, N. Borowski, Józef Galewski.
    C: Jadwiga Smosarska (Krysta – Maciej Wieruń's daughter), Anna Belina (Ewa – daughter of the hospital caretaker Piotr), Władysław Grabowski (Dr. Jan Powada), Edmund Gasiński (Maciej Wieruń, from Kresów), Leonard Bończa-Stępiński (Boneza / the hospital janitor Piotr), Stefan Jaracz (bolshevik agitator Jan Rudy), Zygmunt Chmielewski, Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski (bolshevik agent), Honorata Leszczyńska (Mrs. Granowska), Jerzy Leszczyński (Jerzy Granowski), Wincenty Rapacki (father Granowski), Janusz Strachocki (gamekeeper), Bogusław Samborski (Michał, Krysta's brother), Michał Znicz (actor in the theatre troupe).
    Loc: Eastern Kręzy, the battlefield between Poles and bolsheviks 1920.
    The only surviving film where the legendary theatre actors Honorata Leszczyńska and Wincenty Rapacki can be seen on screen.
    Not released in Finland.
    A film in two parts and eight acts. Half of it survives: footage from acts 1, 3, 6, and 8. The Filmoteka Narodowa 2010 digital reconstruction with explanatory titles 44 min
    Introductory lecture by Jarno Hänninen.
    Screened a DCP processed from the Filmoteka Narodowa digital file, with Johanna Pitkänen at the piano and e-subtitles in Finnish by Petteri Kalliomäki, at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Centenary of the Restoration of Polish Independence), 19 Sep 2018

We are celebrating many centenaries, all connected: the First World War, the Russian Revolution, Finnish Independence, Finnish Civil War, Restoration of Polish Independence, Estonian Independence...

This was a rewarding and rounded presentation of Richard Boleslawski's Miracle on the Vistula. Although half of the movie is missing, the Filmoteka Narodowa reconstruction helps make sense of what remains. Jarno Hänninen's informative lecture helped flesh out the turbulent historical context. Petteri Kalliomäki handled the electronic subtitling smoothly. Johanna Pitkänen brought a sense of Polish spirit with her inspired interpretation of Chopin's mazurkas.

I don't remember having seen Boleslawski's silent films before. I was struck by his assured touch all over. I liked already the portrait credit titles. Boleslawski does have a firm sense of mise-en-scène. The lighting is superb as are all aspects of the cinematography by Zbigniew Gniazdowski. The imagery is enchanting. The art titles are stylish. Moving masks and split screens are in use. Memory flashes are conveyed as ingrained superimpositions of faces.

Quite evidently this was a prestige production.

The actors are good, and Boleslawski is a good director of them. He had been a pupil of Konstantin Stanislavski at the Moscow Art Theatre. In 1923 in New York, together with Maria Ouspenskaya, he established the American Laboratory Theatre. Their students included Stella Adler, Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg.

With materials as fragmented as these, it is impossible to comment on the storytelling.

As for historical accuracy, it is probably better to consult a good history book. Suffice it to say that the enemy is portrayed in gross caricature, as an incarnation of the Devil. The epic battle scenes are well staged.

A beautiful job of restoration by Filmoteka Narodowa. I like the refined simulation of toning. It looks like this copy has been produced without adjustment to silent speed (the proper speed might be 20 fps). There are music credits in the end titles, but this copy is silent.



BlacKkKlansman / BlacKkKlansman
    US © 2018 Focus Features. Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures present in association with Perfect World Pictures a QC Entertainment / Blumhouse production – a Monkeypaw / 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production – A Spike Lee joint.
    P: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele, Spike Lee, Shaun Redick.
    D: Spike Lee. SC: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee – based on the book Black Klansman (2014) by Ron Stallworth. CIN: Chayse Irvin – colour – 2,39:1 – shot on 35 mm and 16 mm – digital intermediate 4K (master format) – release: D-Cinema. PD: Curt Beech. Cost: Marci Rodgers. M: Terence Blanchard. S: Phil Stockton – Dolby Atmos. ED: Barry Alexander Brown
    C: John David Washington (Ron Stallworth), Adam Driver (Flip Zimmerman), Topher Grace (David Duke), Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), Ryan Eggold (Walter Breachway), Jasper Pääkkönen (Felix), Corey Hawkins (Kwame Ture), Paul Walter Hauser (Ivanhoe), Ashlie Atkinson (Connie), Alec Baldwin (Beauregard / Narrator), Harry Belafonte (Jerome Turner).
    134 min
    US premiere, Finnish premiere: 10 Aug 2018.
    DCP with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 8, Helsinki, 19 Sep 2018.

Spike Lee is at his best in BlacKkKlansman.

I have loved Spike Lee's work since She's Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing. Released by Universal, Do the Right Thing was his breakthrough film in Finland, and next year we screened the independent prodution She's Gotta Have It at Cinema Orion. Other special favourites of mine include Malcolm X and 4 Little Girls, a documentary about the Birmingham Baptist church massacre in 1963 by the Ku Klux Klan.

As a work of political cinema and engaged cinema BlacKkKlansman is of the highest order. It is an account of the black civil rights movement and the transformation of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s.

The speech sequence of the civil rights leader Kwame Ture (ex-Stokely Carmichael) is engrossing and compelling. It is one of the best sequences I have seen about radical political movements in the 1970s. An anthology piece of positive energy.

The Ku Klux Klan story feels convincing, too, based on the true story of an undercover detective. Psychologically I can believe in these characters. I knew neo-Nazis in my country at the time. They were complex figures, with a kind of a joking approach, yet fundamentally taking it seriously.

The undercover story of a black Klansman would seem impossible if it were not true. This is not a story like the one in Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor where a black inmate of a lunatic asylum starts race riots in the white hood of a Klansman. Affinities are closer to stories of Jews infiltrating Nazi organizations, even including To Be Or Not To Be.

That association is relevant. Both Ernst Lubitsch and Spike Lee manage something almost impossible: discussing a brutal aspect of history with a profound sense of irony, satire and humour. This is Spike Lee's greatest achievement and I think here he takes a big step forward. Without watering down his case. Instead making it stronger.

"If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you". (This saying has been attributed to G. B. Shaw, but the same idea appears also in the classics of antiquity).

BlacKkKlansman is a meta-cinematic film, challenging the great tradition of The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. There is also an extended discussion between Ron and Patrice about blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Spike Lee's is the most serious attack ever against The Birth of a Nation, a film which incited the re-birth of the Klan and an outburst of brutal racial violence.

Towards the end we hear in graphic detail the first-hand account of Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) of the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916 – a horrible crime directly provoked by a screening of The Birth of a Nation.

I believe that The Birth of a Nation can provoke such a reaction. I had found the film offensive but harmless until 23 years ago I saw a Centenary of the Cinema screening of a restored version with the engrossing original music played live. The film was better than ever, but also for the first time I was shocked at the horrible implications. I think Spike Lee makes a mistake in sampling inferior material of the film with underwhelming music, although this may be authentic to the way the film was seen in the early 1970s.

As a cop film and an undercover thriller BlacKkKlansman is different and original. In many levels it is about strangers trying to pass in foreign territories: the first black cop in the Colorado Springs force, a cop trying to infiltrate a radical student meeting, a black man trying to join the Ku Klux Klan, his white substitute attempting a double impersonation (both as a cop at the KKK and a Jew standing for a black guy)... this is also a profound and revelatory account about true identities and playing roles. Also the presumed difference between a white and a black person's voices is discussed.

The romantic story reflects this. Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) suspects Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) from the start, but their reactions are complex. Ron approaches Patrice as an undercover cop, but also as a man genuinely attracted to her, and the feeling is mutual.

BlacKkKlansman is a political film but not un film à these. The main characters are rounded and three-dimensional. Also the account of the police department is complex. Ron meets deeply ingrained racism but also the unconditional support of the force in his outlandish plan to infiltrate the KKK. The account of the esprit de corps if impressive.

The cast is terrific: John David Washington, Adam Driver and Topher Grace are memorable as the male leads. A Finnish talent, Jasper Pääkkönen, gets to play the lunatic Felix, the most fanatic and dangerous KKK member.

My favourite is Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas, playing her with an Angela Davis approach. There is nothing more beautiful than a fighting woman. Angela Davis was world-famous at the time. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono were inspired and even dedicated songs to her. Even in Finland there was a "Free Angela Davis" petition campaign. I signed it as a schoolboy.

Visually, BlacKkKlansman is engaging. The DP Chayse Irvin has shot the film on 35 mm and 16 mm, and in the 4K intermediate the rich photochemical quality has been successfully translated into digital.

BlacKkKlansman production notes

A Spike Lee Joint
Running Time: 2 hour 14 minutes

Ron Stallworth…….John David Washington
Flip Zimmerman…….Adam Driver
David Duke…….Topher Grace
Patrice Dumas…….Laura Harrier
Walter Breachway…….Ryan Eggold
Felix…….Jasper Pääkkönen
Kwame Ture…….Corey Hawkins
Ivanhoe…….Paul Walter Hauser
Connie…….Ashlie Atkinson
Beauregard / Narrator…….Alec Baldwin
Jerome Turner…….Harry Belafonte

Directed by…….Spike Lee
Written by.Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Based on the book Black Klansman by…….Ron Stallworth
Produced by Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele, Spike Lee, Shaun Redick

Table of Contents

I.    Synopsis…….     4
II.    An Incredible True Story Comes to Life…….    5
III.    A Powerful Ensemble Takes Shape…….    6
IV.    The Experience of Making BlacKkKlansman…….    8
V.    It’s Not About the Past – This is a Film For Right Now…….     11
VI.    About the Production…….     12
VII.    Ron Stallworth: In His Own Words…….     15
VIII.    About the Cast…….    17
IX.    About the Filmmakers…….    23
X.    Credits…….    33


Friday, September 14, 2018

Mox Mäkelä: Vieras / Strange

Vieras. Kuunnelmaelokuva. [Strange. An audio play movie].
    FI © 2018 Mox Mäkelä.
    SC+D+ED+CIN+S: Mox Mäkelä.
    Voices: Juha Ekola, Annuska Hannula, Sue Lemström, Eero Ojala, Antti Peltola, Tom Pöysti, and a couple of assistants.
    M: Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Georg Friedrich Händel, Edvard Grieg, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Stafford Smith, François Couperin, Joseph Haydn.   
    Thanks: Mark Landis, Mikko Keinonen, Rauno Lauhakangas, Mekaanisen Musiikin Museo, Kuusakoski Oy.
    111 min
    English subtitles: Lola Rogers.
    Digital: Pro-Res processed as a DCP.
    In the presence of Mox Mäkelä introduced by Tytti Rantanen.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (premiere screening), 14 Sep 2018

Mox Mäkelä is a multi-talented Finnish conceptual artist. Since 1978 she has mounted exhibitions, collages, installations, actions and performances. She has pioneered new approaches in moving images and video projections for environment art. She also creates movies, radioplays and short stories.

Her newest work Vieras / Strange, several years in the making, is an artist's film and a kuunnelmaelokuva which means "an audio play movie". It is sound-driven. Voices and sounds are the engine, followed by visuals.

Certain artists' films are based on duration and minimalism. They are slow and meditative. In contrast, Vieras / Strange is a bounty. It is rich, abundant, generous, full of life, full of detail, full of associations. It offers more food for the mind than an average large art exhibition.

Vieras / Strange is a literate film, so verbal that it could be presented as a radio play. The text would deserve to be published as a book. The English translation is by Lola Rogers, acclaimed as the translator of Sofi Oksanen, among others.

Regarding the theme of the stranger announced in the title, Mox Mäkelä avoids direct and topical references. Associations can run freely from the xenia of Homer and Hesiod to existential estrangement, default condition of the artist.

This movie is not only about the human sphere but very much about the sphere of all living beings. Lions, bears and elephants belong to the cast of characters. As do Beluga whales of the Solovetsky Islands: their voices are part of the soundtrack.

This movie about the chaos of estrangement and dissociation has a particularly warm human presence on the voice track, thanks to talents such as Juha Ekola, Annuska Hannula, Sue Lemström, Eero Ojala, Antti Peltola, and Tom Pöysti.

The visual world is boldly experimental and avantgardistic. Time is compressed, transitions are unexpected, associations unconventional, camera angles surprising, jump cuts possible. In the visual sphere we are constantly removed from the comfort zone. This movie is about seeing differently.

The comfort zone is provided by the compilation music soundtrack which reminds me of the oldest radio programme of Finland (and one of the oldest in the world), "Lauantain toivotut levyt" ("Saturday Record Favourites"). A key melody is "Largo", arranged from the opening aria "Ombra mai fu" of Georg Friedrich Händel's lost opera Serse / Xerxes. It was one of the first tunes of which mechanical recordings were made, and on this soundtrack we hear two of them. ("Largo" is also a powerful and popular funeral theme. We requested it for our mother's funeral three years ago).

The ways to transcendence are mysterious and unpredictable.

Out of the ordinary Mox Mäkelä creates something extraordinary.

This movie is impossible to classify and may border on the unwieldy. But it is deeply felt, engaging, and puts my mind in wandering.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Women in the Cinema of the Sixties (a remark)

Onnenpeli / Game of Luck. Kaisa Korhonen, Anneli Sauli, Eija Pokkinen.

Women in New Wave Cinema is the theme of our series and seminar with Risto Jarva Society. Women directors were almost non-existent in the 1960s. There was no change in comparison with the studio era.

But new interesting women characters, defying stereotypes and clichés, emerged on the screen in Finland and elsewhere.

In the cinema of the 1960s there was a trend that the central consciousness in a movie was very often that of a woman. Michelangelo Antonioni is the obvious case in his series of films starring Monica Vitti. An interesting parallel is Alfred Hitchcock's cycle of five films with women protagonists whose name usually starts with the letter "M" (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie). Jean-Luc Godard's muse was often Anna Karina in his extraordinary series of 15 films. Robert Bresson preferred women as protagonists. As did Luis Buñuel in his interesting series of women facing the unknown (The Young One, Viridiana, Le Journal d'une femme de chambre, Belle de jour).

Women were privileged in reflecting the modern psyche. Perhaps the trend had been started by Ingmar Bergman in whose films men tend to be weak but women project an inner strength. In Finland, Jörn Donner was influenced both by Antonioni and Bergman.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Women in New Wave Cinema (Risto Jarva Society seminar) Day Two

Kesäkapina / Summer Revolt. Titta Karakorpi.

Kesäkapina / Summer Revolt. Titta Karakorpi.

Risto Jarva Society / KAVI.
Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 8 Sep 2018.

klo 9.00
Risto Jarva: PAKASTEET II (1970)
Katkelmia Tarja Markuksen elokuvista vv.1968–69.
Tekijävieraana Tarja Markus

klo 10.00
Puheenvuoro: mediatutkija Laura Saarenmaa
Katkelma Jatkoaika (1969) -ohjelmasta

klo 10.30
Eila Kaarresalo: AMPUMARATA (1969)
Tekijävieraana Eila Kaarresalo-Kasari

klo 11.00
Elokuvateatterin aulassa kahvia ja leivonnaisia, käteismaksu.

klo 11.35
Puheenvuoro: tutkimusprofessori Osmo Kontula
Katkelmia: AA:
    Kristiina (1966), D: Asko Tolonen, C: Kristiina Halkola, Pekka Autiovuori.
    Sirkku (1969, D: Timo Bergholm, Osmo Harkimo), starring Petra Frey and Tapio Hämäläinen, a touching drama about a schoolgirl who gets pregnant.
    Sex Kabaree (1967), a youthful approach.
    Sex Kabaree (1971), song by Kaj Chydenius and Veronica Pimenoff.
    Osmo Kontula presented an informative résumé of the sexual revolution in the 1960s

klo 12.15
Puheenvuoro: tietokirjailija Pontus Purokuru
Katkelmia: AA:
    Praha 21.8.1968, by Reijo Nikkilä, a photo montage.
    Ruusujen aika (1969), the scene shot on 21 Aug 1968.
    Jatkoaika (1968), a debate with Hannu Taanila, Lenita Airisto, Mauno Koivisto and Kirsti Wallasvaara, moderated by Aarre Elo. Referring to Koivisto's Harjavalta speech against radicalism, mocking "well-fed radicals".
    Vanhan valtaus (1968), photo montage by Peter von Bagh and his team. "I am worried about the number of provocateurs."

    Pontus Purokuru in his contribution emphasized the role of Kati Peltola, Liisa Manninen, Katriina Kuusi and Liisa Liimatainen. Riitta Jallinoja has stated that the intervention of a single person mattered. If Kati Peltola had not taken the initiative things might have been different. 1960s female activists refused to identify themselves as feminists and still do. Paavo Lipponen in his memoirs states that Liisa Liimatainen and her crowd saved the reputation of Finland by organizing an anti-USSR demonstration on 21 August 1968 in front of the Soviet Embassy. The women radicals were particularly brave and fearless in the 1960s.

klo 12.55
Puheenvuoro: FM, väitöskirjatutkija, ohjelmakoordinaattori Tytti Rantanen
Tekijävieraana Eija Pokkinen
Katkelma: Vihreä leski (1968)

klo 13.30
Jaakko Pakkasvirta: KESÄKAPINA (1970)
Tekijävieraana Titta Karakorpi-von Martens

klo 15.10
Jaakko Pakkasvirta: ELÄKÖÖN NUORUUS! (1968)