Saturday, December 08, 2018

Journey's End (1930)

Journey's End (1930). David Manners (Raleigh), Billy Bevan (Trotter), Colin Clive (Stanhope). Tiffany Gainsborough and Welsh-Pearson. Domaine publique. Wikipedia. Do click to enlarge the image.

Matkan pää / Männen vid fronten
    GB/US 1930. PC: Gainsborough Pictures and Welsh-Pearson / Tiffany Productions. P: George Pearson. D: James Whale. SC: Joseph Moncure March, Gareth Gundrey – based on the play by R. C. Sherriff (1928) – Finnish theatrical premiere 8 Nov 1929 (Turun Suomalainen Teatteri). Cin: Benjamin H. Kline – early sound aperture 1,2:1. AD. Hervey Libbert. S: Buddy Myers – RCA Photophone System. ED: Claude Berkeley.
    C: Colin Clive (Capt. Denis Stanhope), Ian Maclaren (Lt. Osborne), David Manners (2nd Lt. Raleigh), Billy Bevan (2nd Lt. Trotter), Anthony Bushell (2nd Lt. Hibbert), Robert Adair (Capt. Hardy), Charles K. Gerrard (Pvt. Mason), Tom Whiteley (sergeant major), Jack Pitcairn (Colonel), Werner Klingler (German prisoner).
    New York opening: 9 April 1930. GB premiere: 14 April 1930.
    Helsinki premiere: Bio-Bio, 2 March 1931 – distributor: Adams Filmi Oy – Finnish film control number 16753 – K16 – Finnish film control length 3550 m / 129 min – 130 min (AFI Catalog: New York premiere listing) – 110 min (AFI Catalog: London premiere listing) – 3491 m / 127 min
    35 mm print from British Film Institute / National Archive: 120 min.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (James Whale / Centenary of WWI), 8 Dec 2018

"Set in the trenches near Saint-Quentin, Aisne in 1918, towards the end of the First World War, Journey's End gives a glimpse into the experiences of the officers of a British Army infantry company. The story plays out in the officers' dugout over four days from 18 March 1918 to 21 March 1918, the last few days before Operation Michael." (Wikipedia, on Sherriff's play)

R. C. Sherriff's success play was popular in Finland, too. It premiered in 1929 in Turku, Helsinki and Kotka, and in 1930 in Pori, Viipuri, Lappeenranta, Savonlinna, Joensuu, Tampere, Lahti, Rovaniemi, and another theatre in Turku. In 1932 it premiered in Riihimäki, in 1934 in Kajaani.
    In The Finnish National Theatre the casting included Aarne Leppänen as Stanhope, Urho Somersalmi as Osborne and Uuno Laakso as Trotter. Joel Rinne, Yrjö Tuominen, Jussi Snellman, Uuno Montonen, Leo Lähteenmäki, Jaakko Korhonen and Ilmari Unho were also cast. These actors were so active in films that it is possible to imagine how they might have interpreted Journey's End.

The film adaptation was released in the middle of a remarkable wave of WWI films, including The Big Parade (premiere 5 Nov 1925), What Price Glory (23 Nov 1926), Wings (19 May 1927), Four Sons (13 Feb 1928), Verdun, visions d'histoire (23 Nov 1928), Journey's End (9 April 1930), The Dawn Patrol (10 July 1930), Hell's Angels (15 Nov 1930), The Last Flight (29 Aug 1931), All Quiet on the Western Front (21 April 1930), Westfront 1918 (23 May 1930), and Les Croix de bois (17 March 1932).

I had never seen Journey's End before. It is a grim, relentless and compact war film respecting the classical unities. I was thinking that the screenwriters of The Dawn Patrol may have been familiar with Sherriff's play because of important affinities, although there is no question of imitation. I was also reminded of King & Country, Joseph Losey's masterpiece based on the WWI play by John Wilson.

Journey's End is still a transitional work of early sound cinema. The visual magic of late silent cinema is gone. Instead we have a static record of filmed theatre in long takes and long shots.

The combat scenes feel authentic, the battlegrounds are desolate, and the nervous tension is palpable.

James Whale was himself a war veteran. Colin Clive was not, but he was born into a military family and had attended Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

According to the AFI Catalog synopsis Hibbert is feigning psychological illness, but in the film it is clear that his troubles are real. He is only acknowledging openly what everyone else is experiencing, with the possible exception of Trotter.

All others drown their psychological problems in alcohol, and the worst of all is Captain Stanhope. Colin Clive plays Stanhope in the same highly strung mode as Dr. Frankenstein. Stanhope is badly in need of a holiday, but he refuses to take a break. He is unjust and unreasonable towards the more sensitive and inexperienced ones, but in the finale he expresses tenderness towards the mortally wounded Raleigh.

Colin Clive's Stanhope is a personification of agony.

Comic relief is provided by the absent-minded cook Mason who mixes pineapples with soup and tea with onions. An outlet of fantasy is provided by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland which Stanhope keeps reading and quoting. There are no women in the film, not even in images. Images are seen by the soldiers but not by us.

The finale is stunning and memorable.

There is no music.

We screened the film in the full high frame of the early sound aperture. The print has been properly copied without marks of cropping. The visual quality is fine. There are no signs of wear and tear. There seem to be versions of different lengths; this BFI print runs 120 minutes.


Friday, December 07, 2018

Chibusa yo eien nare / The Eternal Breasts

The Eternal Breasts. Tanka poet Fumiko Shimojō (Yumeji Tsukioka) and her best friend Kinuko (Yōko Sugi).

The Eternal Breasts. The journalist Akira Ōtsuki (Ryōji Hayama) and Fumiko. The poet experiences the first and last love of her life on her deathbed.

乳房よ永遠なれ / Pechos eternos / Maternité éternelle / Груди навсегда
    JP 1955. PC: Nikkatsu. P: Hideo Koi. D: Kinuyo Tanaka. SC: Sumie Tanaka. Cin: Kumenobu Fujioka. PD: Kimihiko Nakamura. M: Takanobu Saito. S: Masakazu Kamiya.
    C: Yumeji Tsukioka (Fumiko Shimojo), Ryoji Hayama (Akira Otsuki), Junkichi Orimoto (Shigeru Anzai), Hiroko Kawasaki (Tatsuko), Shiro Osaka (Yoshio), Toru Abe (Yamagami), Masayuki Mori (Mori), Yoko Sugi (Kinuko), Kinuyo Tanaka (neighbour's wife), Choko Iida (Hide), Bokuzen Hidari (Hide's husband), Yoshiko Tsubouchi (Ms. Shirakawa).
    Premiere: 23 Nov 1955.
    35 mm print with English subtitles by Tadashi Shishedo from Japan Foundation.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Woman in the World of Cinema), 7 Dec 2018.

I see the hills
looking like the breasts I have lost
In winter, let them be decorated
by withered flowers
– Fumiko Nakajo

I have a past
to be opened by a surgical knife
My fetuses are
kicking each other in darkness

– Fumiko Nakajo

With no hesitation on her part,
your wife's tears 
proudly announce to all
the depths of her misery.
– Fumiko Nakajo

Seeing her publicly
crying over his remains,

socially acceptable simply because she is his wife,
I can only envy her social status.
– Fumiko Nakajo

The Eternal Breasts is based on the life of the tanka poet Fumiko Nakajo (1922–1954), in the film called Fumiko Tsujioka and interpreted with refined passion by Yumeji Tsukioka.

For the first time in Finland a film directed by Kinuyo Tanaka was screened. Tanaka, one of the greatest film stars in Japan (from the 1920s until the 1970s), was also a talented film director.

Tanaka was the heroine of Kenji Mizoguchi's pioneering series of pre-feminist films in the 1940s and the 1950s. The Victory of Women (1946) was about a female lawyer, The Love of Actress Sumako (1947) about a pioneer of modern theater, and My Love Has Been Burning (1949) about Japan's first fighter for women's rights. It is disappointing to read that Mizoguchi not only failed to encourage Tanaka as a director but actually tried to prevent her.

Fumiko Tsujioka is languishing in marriage hell, albeit with two lovely children. Divorce does not make life easier. Poetry is Fumiko's refuge, oasis and rescue. Fumiko participates in a tanka circle, and thanks to its recommendations her poems get published nationwide.

She is frankly and daringly autobiographical in her poetry, discussing her marriage crisis and the catastrophe of breast cancer.

This tale of a poet is frankly realistic in its account of mastectomy and its after-effects. In the shadow of death Fumiko meets a sensation-seeking journalist. The encounter transforms into an unexpectedly profound love affair, spiritual and carnal.

Kinuyo Tanaka's touch as a director is matter-of-fact in this character-driven film. Fumiko's husband is disappointing but the aspiring poet meets also supportive men (Mori played by Masayuki Mori), and the final encounter with the journalist is transformative.

Tanaka conveys a warm and tender family feeling, and her account of mortal illness and death is unflinching. Tanaka does not wallow in morbid detail, but her sober look brings dignity to the tragedy.

The film is set in Hokkaido. There is a pastoral approach to the account of the life in the countryside in this tale alternating between the country and the city. The four seasons are relevant to the film, fittingly for a film about tanka / waka poetry.

The main instrument in the score is the accordeon played with a wistful sound.

A very nice print from Japan Foundation.


Thursday, December 06, 2018

Täällä Pohjantähden alla / Under the North Star (Centenary of the Cinema print 1995)

Täällä Pohjantähden alla / Under the North Star. Red Guard platoon leader Akseli Koskela (Aarno Sulkanen), to the right: Akusti Koskela (Paavo Pentikäinen), Oskari Kivivuori (Pekka Autiovuori) and Elias Kankaanpää (Kari Franck). – On the way to the front when it is already obvious that the cause is lost. The way is littered with corpses.

Under Polstjärnan
    FI 1968. PC: Fennada-Filmi. P: Mauno Mäkelä. D: Edvin Laine. SC: Väinö Linna, Juha Nevalainen, Edvin Laine, Matti Kassila – based on the novels by Väinö Linna Täällä Pohjantähden alla I–II (1959–60). Cin: Olavi Tuomi – 35 mm – Eastmancolor. AD: Ensio Suominen, Jukka Salomaa. M: Heikki Aaltoila. Theme tune: "The Wedding Waltz of Akseli and Elina" (Heikki Aaltoila). Cost: Aino Mantsas-Kassila, Mirja Traat. ED: Juho Gartz. Narrator: Matti Kassila. S: Matti Ylinen, Ensio Lumes – Evan Englund. Lab: Kurkvaara-Filmi.
   C: Aarno Sulkanen (Koskelan Akseli), Titta Karakorpi (Elina), Risto Taulo (Koskelan Jussi), Anja Pohjola (Alma), Kalevi Kahra (räätäli Halme), Rose-Marie Precht (kirkkoherran rouva), Matti Ranin (kirkkoherra), Mirjam Novero (Kivivuoren Anna), Kauko Helovirta (Kivivuoren Otto), Maija-Leena Soinne (Leppäsen Aune), Paavo Pentikäinen (Koskelan Akusti), Eero Keskitalo (Koskelan Aleksi), Tuula Nyman (Laurilan Elma), Pekka Autiovuori (Kivivuoren Osku), Esa Saario (Kivivuoren Janne), Elsa Turakainen (Leppäsen Henna), Veikko Sinisalo (Laurilan Anttoo), Aarne Laine (Töyryn isäntä), Kaisu Leppänen (Töyryn emäntä), Kaarlo Halttunen (Leppäsen Preeti), Helge Herala (Kiviojan Vikki), Olavi Ahonen (Kiviojan Late), Runar Schauman (paroni), Gerda Ryselin (paronitar), Kari Franck (Kankaanpään Elias), Martti Kuisma (Laurilan Uuno), Martti Järvinen (Ilmari Salpakari), Eila Rinne (Laurilan Aliina), Leevi Linko (Yllön isäntä), Juhani Kumpulainen (Mellolan isäntä), Asta Backman (Halmeen Emma), Dagi Angervo (Priita), Heikki Kinnunen (Leppäsen Valenti), Kosti Klemelä (nimismies), Mikko Niskanen (sotatuomari), Tapio Hämäläinen (Hellberg ), Fritz-Hugo Backman (apteekkari), Elvi Saarnio (luutamummo), Jyrki Kovaleff (laulajapoika), Artturi LAakso (punapäällikkö), Arvo Lehesmaa (sanantuoja), Ekke Hämäläinen (Carl-herra), Taneli Rinne (Arvo Töyry), Jaakko Jokelin (Timofei), Oiva Sala (rovasti Wallen), Ossi Räikkö (Eetu Salin), Mauri Jaakkola (Silander), Yrjö Järvinen (päällikkö), Esko Mattila (Ylöstalon isäntä), Jukka Sipilä (vääpeli), Eero Eloranta, Ville Salminen, Rolf Labbart, Raimo Nupponen, Aimo Tepponen, Leo Mustonen, Matti Lehtelä, Seppo Kolehmainen, Keijo Komppa, Pentti Lähde, Pentti Saares, Esko Töyri, Risto Palm, Heikki Heino, Teemu Rinne, Holger Blommila, Boris Levitzky, Matti Vihola, Paavo Hukkinen, Juuso Jokela, Pekka Salovaara, Kauko Kokkonen, Vilho Ruuskanen, Erki Salin, Aino-Inkeri Notkola, Mirjam Salminen, Katriina Rinne, Sointu Angervo, Alli Linko, Marjatta Rinne, Rauha Puntti, Eila Roine, Jaana Kahra, Petra Frey, Virpi Uimonen, Maija Leino, Tarja Markus, Tapio Parkkinen, Allan Lindfors, Kaarlo Wilska, Arto Halonen, Toivo Kaunonen, Teemu Jokela, Tapio Väisänen, Ari Laine, Turkka Lehtinen, Robert Ekering, Ale Porkka.
    Helsinki premiere: 13.9. 1968 – telecasts: YLE TV 1: 1970, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1988, 1992, 200 ja 2.3. 2003 YLE Teema – VET A-20358 – K16 – 5090 m / 185 min
    KAVI 35 mm Centenary of the Cinema print (1995).
    On 4 Dec 2018 we had a Pentinkulma Panel (Pentinkulma is the name of the fictional village where Under the North Star takes place) with three distinguished doctors, Mr. Lasse Lehtinen, Ms. Kukku Melkas, and Mr. Pertti Haapala, all of whom have published a book this year on the events of 1918. Under the North Star was controversial as a book, as a theatre dramatization, and as a film in the 1960s, and as a telecast of the film in the 1970s. It was also a national event which, while controversial, helped purge the air. We started to emerge from the old trenches. That process was happening anyway, but the timing for Under the North Star was right, and thus it come to serve in a major way in our Vergangenheitsbewältingung of the 1918 events.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Independence Day / Memorial Year 1918 / Centenary of WWI / 50 Years Ago: The Crazy Year 1968), 6 Dec 2018

Based on the first two parts of Väinö Linna's novel trilogy, Under the North Star is one of the most popular Finnish films ever. It received more than a million viewers in its initial theatrical release and even bigger figures in many telecasts (in a country with less than a five million inhabitants at the time).

During the crazy year 1968 this Finnish national epic was mercilessly lambasted by native critics from all sides. The subject (the civil war 1918) was still too inflammatory for conservative and traditional viewers. The approach was perceived as too old-fashioned for new wave radicals.

The film was much better received in Sweden, as had also been the case with Linna's novels.

Seen from the global viewpoint of the many centenaries we have been commemorating in these years Under the North Star has a place of honour as one of the internationally outstanding works that deal with the turbulent period of revolutions and civil wars in 1917–1922.

The main achievement of the novel and the film in Finland was that they showed that the civil war was indigenous, born of our own internal social conflicts that had been brewing for decades. The official version, also in school history lessons, had been that the revolution was a foreign import.

Although Laine's film was seen as old-fashioned, its rapid vignette style and openly theatrical mode of address had in fact also affinities with modernism. Laine had developed this style in The Unknown Soldier (1955), and he had a knack of introducing a cast of dozens of instantly memorable characters.

Although Laine certainly was on the one hand an old-fashioned traditionalist I have compared aspects of his address with the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht, and indeed, Laine was a pioneering director of the plays of Hella Wuolijoki who was a personal friend of Brecht and hosted him during his Finnish exile.

I have also compared Laine's approach with the multi-character studies of Preminger, Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson, and others. Blatantly, Under the North Star proceeds with a "short cuts" method, squeezing decades of history and blending the saga of a vast cast of characters with the saga of our "birth of the nation".

The beginning of the film is a breathless series of historical tableaux from the national romantic awakening (1880s) to Russification (1899), the 1905 revolution, the first democratic parliament election in 1907, WWI, the March 1917 revolution, and Finnish independence right after the October 1917 revolution.

In the account of the 1918 civil war the film slows down to a more measured, majestic, and tragic pace. What has been shown before helps us understand why. Now we see how.

When violence is at sway innocents suffer. Tailor Halme has consistently promoted pacifism, but he is executed by the white guards for atrocities he tried to prevent. Injustice breeds injustice. But for his conviction Mr. Halme is ready to carry the ultimate responsibility although he is innocent of violence.

The cinematography and the art direction are plain and uncluttered, with no frills. The film was essentially financed by television (The Finnish Broadcasting Corporation), and there is an emphasis on close-ups and medium shots ideal for television. But there is also a generous share of epic historical crowd scenes.

All characters are memorable, and every face in the crowd scenes stands out, individual and full of life. The crowd in this epic is not a faceless mass. Such was Laine's talent.

Caricature is inevitable in such a vignette and tableau style. The talent of balancing the sublime with the ridiculous is another forte of Edvin Laine. This is a national tragedy, yet there is a sense of the ridiculous and absurd. The great addresses are solemn and dignified, but there is also always something that makes us smile without dimishing the gravity of the scene.

In this Laine has an affinity with John Ford. We can compare tailor Halme with Ford's preacher Casey, and Akseli Koskela with Tom Joad.

Among the greatest performances I would single out Kalevi Kahra as tailor Halme, Kauko Helovirta as Otto Kivivuori, Veikko Sinisalo as Anttoo Laurila, and Aarne Laine as the master of Töyry.

The female leads make more of their roles than is written into them. Even walk-on parts are memorable such as Elvi Saarnio as the Broom Lady; somehow I was thinking about the Log Lady.

From the beginning I was so moved that I was not able to take notes.

We screened the film in Academy and it looked great although a couple of times there was a glimpse of the boom mike at the top of the frame. (The film was shot with a dual aspect ratio option: full Academy frame for tv and masked 1,66:1 widescreen for the cinema release.)

The Centenary of the Cinema print has juicy, vivid colour, and it is complete, clean and spotless. A few times the definition of light is a bit off but not jarringly so.


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Sügisball / The Autumn Ball (in the presence of Juhan Ulfsak)

Sügisball. Kunstnik Aadam Kaarma. Homeless Bob Production. Mirtel Pohla (Jaana), Rain Tolk (Mati).

Syystanssiaiset / Syystanssi / Ballo d’autunno / Höstbal / Lasnamjaeski bal / Öszi bál / Fthinoporinos kyklos
    EE © 2007 Kuukulgur Film, Homeless Bob Production. PC: Kuukulgur Film, Homeless Bob Productions, Tugev Tuul Films. P: Katrin Kissa. D: Veiko Õunpuu. SC: Veiko Õunpuu – based on the novel (1979) by Mati Unt – translated into Finnish as Syystanssi (1980) by Eva Lille / Gummerus. Cin: Mart Taniel – colour – 1:1,85 – 35 mm. Lighting: Jarand Rorgemoen, Nils Johansson, Hendrik Saks. AD: Ain Nurmela. Cost: Helen Ehandi. Makeup: Kaie Hendrikson, Maarja Sild. M: Ülo Krigul – perf. Ülo Krigul, Andreas Lend, Pärt Tarvas, Villu Vihermäe, Margus Uus. S: Olger Bernadt, Janne Laine – Dolby SR. ED: Veiko Õunpuu, Tambet Tasuja.
    C: Rain Tolk (Mati, a writer), Taavi Eelmaa (Theo, concierge, Ulvi's lover), Juhan Ulfsak (Maurer, architect), Maarja Jakobson (Laura, seamstresss), Tiina Tauraite (Ulvi, architect Maurer's wife), Sulevi Peltola (August Kask, barber), Mirtel Pohla (Jaana, Mati naine), Iris Persson (Lotta, Laura's daughter, contacted by August), Laine Mägi (kasvataja), Ivo Uukkivi (Laura's ex-husband, alcoholist), Raivo E. Tamm (lavastaja), Paul Laasik (tv repairman), Janek Joost (owner of Restaurant Miraaž).
    Soundtrack listing: "Kust tunnen kodu" (trad. arr. Jaan Kaplinski), comp. Veljo Tormis, perf. Tartu Ülikooli Akadeemiline Naiskoor.
    Requiem in d-Moll (KV 626), W. A. Mozart, perf. Moskovsky kamerny orkestr, cond. Neeme Järvi, perf. Kaia Urb, Iris Oja, Mati Turi, Uku Joller. – More: see beyond the jump break.
    Tv excerpts from: The Thorn Birds (1983) starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward.
    Loc: Lasnamäe district (Tallinn)
Mustamäe district (Tallinn)
Lasnamäe Linnamäe kindergarten playground (Tallinn)
Lasnamäe Priisle poe tagune tühermaa (Tallinn)
Tigrani šašlõkibaari esine Lasnamäel Mustakivi tee ja Linnamäe tee ristumiskohal (Tallinn) – Theo ja Ulvi einestamise episood
Maardu – Laura's sewing factory
    Premiere: 13.9.2007 Tallinn.
    Finnish tv: 8.10.2009 Yle Teema (Kino Helmi), 30.9.2010 Yle Teema – 123 min
    35 mm print from Rahvusarhiivi filmiarhiiv with English subtitles.
    In the presence of Juhan Ulfsak interviewed by Tapio Mäkeläinen.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonia 100), 5 Dec 2018

"For all men with a gentle soul and a bad liver, those who stand alone in the night. In their underwear".
– The final dedication.

"„Sügisball” räägib inimeste eraldatusest ja võimetusest teisteni jõuda. Samas leidub seal muigeid ja absurdi ning mõni vastavalt häälestunud vaataja võib isegi laginal naerda saada. Kui katsuda kuidagi žanri määratleda, siis võib öelda, et „Sügisball” on süsimust komöödia üksindusest, ahastusest ja lootusetusest.” "Autumn Ball" is about the distance between people and the inability to reach others, but there is something mysterious and absurd, and some of the tuned-in viewers can even laugh at laughing. If you try somehow to define its genre, it might be said the Autumn Ball is a pitch black comedy of solitude, anxiety and hopelessness."
– Veiko Õunpuu, režissöör

AA: Our Centenary of Estonian Independence retrospective ended with the remarkable feature film debut by Veiko Õunpuu.

The curator of the retrospective was Jaak Lõhmus, and I managed to see half of the films, all worthy, and I'm aware that I need to see the missing half soon. Estonia has a vital and distinguished film culture. Lauded by everybody, Seltsimees laps / The Little Comrade is currently playing in Helsinki in Cinamon Redi; I'll need to catch it, as well.

A clue to Veiko Õunpuu's influences is given by a poster hanging on a wall of Love Streams by John Cassavetes. I am also reminded of Mike Leigh's films such as Naked.

The Autumn Ball is a multi-character study of broken relationships, urban malaise, cosmic solitude and existential angst.

Veiko Õunpuu is more pronouncedly a visualist than Cassavetes and Leigh whose films are more single-mindedly character-driven.

The cinematography of Mart Taniel and the carefully composed lighting convey the atmosphere announced in the title. Autumn colours, frozen ponds, and thick fogs (Tallinn is a seaport) abound.

The locations consist of arid concrete blocks, three-phase electric power transmission lines, children's playgrounds, a terrain vague, and nocturnal highways. Next to the terrain vague is Restaurant Miraaž, a meeting-place of broken hearts. There is an ambience of desolation, also a pervasive sense of humour.

Alcoholism and depression are among the themes. When barber August Kask acts kindly towards the little Lotta, he is accused of being a pervert and a pedophile. Sexual relations are deeply disturbed. The film begins with a rape – Mati rapes Jaana – but in the finale there is a reconciliation between them. Sügisball belongs to the films which appear to include real sex, but there is seldom joy or happiness in sex.

The music world is distinguished and versatile, from the imposing to the gentle, from original compositions by Ülo Krigul to selections from Mozart's Requiem, from jazz to contemporary dance rhythms.

The visual quality of the print is good and does justice to Mart Taniel's ambitious cinematography.


Sunday, December 02, 2018

La sombra del Caudillo / The Shadow of the Tyrant (digital transfer from Cineteca Nacional México)

La sombra del Caudillo. Tito Junco (General Ignacio Aguirre).

La sombra del Caudillo. General Aguirre is invited to become a presidential candidate.

The Shadow of the Leader [the English title on the DCP]
    MX 1960. PC: Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Producción Cinematográfica (STPC). P: José Rodríguez Granada. D: Julio Bracho. SC: Julio Bracho, Jesús Cárdenas – based on the novel by Martín Luis Guzmán. Cin: Agustín Jiménez. PD: Jorge Fernández. Set dec: Ernesto Carrasco. Makeup: Sara Mateos. Hair: Matilde Montero. M: Raúl Lavista. S: James L. Fields. ED: Jorge Busto.
    Songs: “La Borrachita” (Ignacio Fernández Esperón); “Un viejo amor” (A. Esparza Oteo); ”Tristes jardines” (J. de Jesus Martinez); “Chapultepec” (Higino Ruvalcaba); “Marinero” (Federico Ruiz).
    C: Tito Junco (General Ignacio Aguirre), Roberto Cañedo (presidente de la Cámara de Diputados), Tito Novaro (diputado), Bárbara Gil (Rosario), Miguel Ángel Ferriz (El Caudillo), Ignacio López Tarso (General Hilario Jiménez), Carlos López Moctezuma (diputado Emilio Olivier Fernández), Víctor Manuel Mendoza (General Elizondo).
    Loc: Mexico City – Camara de Diputados (Distrito Federal); Av. Juárez (Centro Histórico); Plaza de la Constitucion (Distrito Federal).
    Premiere: 25.10.1990.
    Not released in Finland – 121 min
    Digitally transferred in 2K by Cineteca Nacional México at Laboratorio de Restauración Digital, from a 35 mm acetate dupe negative and a 16 mm acetate dupe negative. The film was censored for thirty years, the original negatives have never been found. Dupe negatives were in a significant state of deterioration.
    Revolution and Adventure: Mexican Cinema in the Golden Age, curated by Daniela Michel and Chloë Roddick for Il Cinema Ritrovato (Bologna, 2017).
    2K DCP with English subtitles from Cineteca Nacional México.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 2 Dec 2018

Synopsis from the Mexican Wikipedia: "Towards the end of 1924, the presidential term of "el Caudillo" (identified as Álvaro Obregón) was about to end, favoring the candidacy of his government minister, General Hilario Jiménez (identified as Plutarco Elías Calles). The Minister of War, General Ignacio Aguirre (a mixture of Adolfo de la Huerta and Francisco R. Serrano), is invited to become presidential candidate, but decides to align himself with the designs of the Caudillo."

"However, two events make Aguirre change his mind: the kidnapping of deputy Axkaná González (a kind of alter ego of the writer Martín Luis Guzmán), who was his friend, and a discussion with General Jiménez. Once he has launched his candidacy he learns that he will be arrested under the pretext of avoiding a civil revolt, escapes and asks for help from General Elizondo, whom he considers his supporter. But Aguirre is betrayed and killed on the road to Mexico-Toluca. This murder corresponds in real life to the tragedy of Huitzilac, where Francisco R. Serrano died. It was the allusion to this historical event that was the main reason why the premiere was prevented for thirty years
" (Synopsis from the Mexican Wikipedia)

AA: A grim and violent political thriller from Mexico around 1924–1927. This account of merciless power play brings to mind other sagas of authoritarian countries and dictatorships but also gangster films. There is an affinity with Francesco Rosi's political films starring Gian Maria Volontè. The ambience is that of a ruthless macho world full of weapons, threats, insults, shouting matches, smear campaigns, cars in the night, alcohol. Women appear only as playthings or as the other women. There is no family life.
    The presidential campaign is literally a war for the presidency. A Machiavellian atmosphere contaminates everybody. "One must play on all sides" is a refrain in the opening sequences. The approach is darkly satirical.
    The cinematographer Agustín Jiménez catches all this with his fluidly mobile camera, dynamizing the spaces of the Chamber of Deputies as well as ominous mountain roads seen from an eagle's eye viewpoint: an extreme high angle in an extreme long shot. The eagle is also symbolic in the narrative. The predator is, indeed, a key image in this particular political saga.
    The ideals of the revolution are being trampled into the mud. The generals and the politicians become stuck in a vicious circle of a power game. Power becomes an end in itself. Violence breeds violence.
    This most recent film in Daniela Michel and Chloë Roddick's marvellous retrospective "Revolution and Adventure: Mexican Cinema in the Golden Age" closes the circle started by El compadre Mendoza. A Mexican saga of the troubled legacy of the Revolution, it has affinities with histories of other countries with violent pasts.
    La sombra del Caudillo became "un film maudit", censored for 30 years, bringing to a finish the successful part of the career of maestro Julio Bracho from whom we saw in this series also the haunting Historia de un gran amor.
    Due to the censorship history of this film the digital transfer by Cineteca Nacional México had to be conducted from very difficult source materials. Although the visual quality may be modest at times, the general impact is very powerful, indeed.


Jan Winter: Dieters bok. Flykting hos familjen Bergman / [Dieter's Book. A Refugee in the Bergman Family] (a book)

Jan Winter: Dieters bok. Flykting hos familjen Bergman / [Dieter's Book. A Refugee in the Bergman Family]. ISBN 978-91-633-0174-2. Hard cover. Illustrated. 289 p. Uppsala: Förlaget Tongång, 2018.

Jan Winter (born 1950) is the son of Dieter Winter who was born in 1921 in Berlin-Lichterfelde and died in 2010 in Bålberga, Borensberg, Sweden. Dieter's mother Elisabeth, née Goldstein, was Jewish.

In 1939 Erik and Karin Bergman invited Dieter Winter to live in their home at Storgatan / Jungfrugatan where he stayed for almost seven years. Erik Bergman was the vicar of the Hedvig Eleonora congregation in the Östermalm district of Stockholm. There he also provided Dieter Winter with employment, securing all conditions of Dieter's permit to stay in Sweden.

Dieter's father, Captain Erwin Müller-Winter, died in Berlin on 9 September 1939 when Dieter was already at the Bergman family. Erik Bergman arranged a private memorial service for his father at the Hedvig Eleonora church, complete with the death knell.

Erik and Karin became quasi foster parents to Dieter although they also rescued Dieter's mother Elisabeth Müller-Winter to Stockholm. The German official in charge of Elisabeth was SS-Obersturmführer Adolf Eichmann. Erik and Karin helped Jewish and Norwegian refugees also in general.

Dieter's story proves that Ingmar Bergman's account of his family having been Nazi-oriented was not only a fabrication. It was in fact a defamation.

Jan Winter also confirms that Ingmar's self-accusation of having been a Nazi sympathizer is another fabrication, a masochistic invention. There was but one Nazi in the family: the eldest son, Dag Bergman.

Most aggravatingly, Jan Winter writes that in March 1941 Karin Lannby, with whom Ingmar Bergman lived at the time, informed on Dieter Winter to the Swedish military information service claiming that Dieter was in Sweden on false premises. The purpose of Lannby's report was to have Dieter Winter classified as an illegal alien. Had the report been taken seriously it would have meant his deportation back to Germany.

On 6 September 1939 there was a clash at the Bergman home, and Ingmar moved out. In contrast to the habitual version Jan Winter reports that the clash was not between Ingmar and father Erik but with mother Karin. Dieter Winter had been living in the same room with Ingmar. There Dieter now remained alone except when Ingmar returned time and again.

In an interesting chapter Jan Winter discusses Dieter Winter and Ingmar Bergman studying a set of Die Dreigroschenoper records together in February 1941. Dieter helped Ingmar make sense of the lyrics. Ingmar may have seen the Riksteatern production of Die Dreigroschenoper in Stockholm in 1938. When Ingmar directed the play himself in 1950 he wrote in the handbill that he remembered having heard "Seeräuberjenny" for the first time in the summer of 1933. Anyway, Ingmar infected Dieter with a Bertolt Brecht bug.

Ingmar's accounts of his stay as an exchange student in Nazi Germany are full of discrepancies. To Jörn Donner and Peter Cowie he told he had fallen in love with a Jewish girl called Renata; in Laterna magica she is called Clara/Clärchen; for Mikael Timm he is Rebecka. Ingmar claimed that he was in Germany in 1934 when in fact he was there in 1936. He claimed to have met the girl at a prosperous Jewish banker's family where they listened to forbidden Die Dreigroschenoper records, but such a family situation would have been impossible in 1934 or 1936.

In Ingmar Bergman's memoirs Dieter Winter is absent. He does not exist. The Winter family interpretation is that it was a case of jealousy; jealousy for Karin Bergman's affection.

Undoubtedly Ingmar had a guilty conscience for something bad that happened during the Third Reich. He claimed to have left "Rebecka's" letters unanswered. But perhaps in 1941 he wanted to denounce Dieter Winter one month after having listened to Die Dreigroschenoper records with him.

At its most gripping Jan Winter's book is in the account of daily Jewish existence in the Third Reich, such as Elisabeth's humiliations during her husband's hospital stay and funeral in Berlin in 1939.

There is a honest, consistent and transparent current of contempt towards Ingmar Bergman in this book. The reader has to struggle to separate and redeem the wealth of valuable insights from common Swedish anti-Bergmanianism.

A lasting contribution of this book to Bergman studies is that we can here perhaps discover the source for his "cinema of bad conscience" in films such as Törst, Sånt händer inte här, Tystnaden and Skammen.

Certainly the model for Ingmar Bergman's authoritarian and anti-semitic tyrant figures, from Caligula (Hets, 1944) to Bishop Vergérus (Fanny and Alexander, 1982) was not Erik Bergman.