Monday, December 31, 2018

Senses of Cinema World Poll 2018: my favourites

Jean-Luc Godard: Le Livre d'image (2018).

Never before have there been so many lists of the best films of the year. Particularly the compilation in Sight & Sound's end of the year double issue is amazing and well-edited with special thematic articles and essays.

The distinction of the Senses of Cinema World Poll 2018 collection of 160 lists, published yesterday, is its anarchic and unwieldy character. I have spent two days reading those lists, and it's mind-blowing. Certain titles stand out, being repeated on many lists, but even more interesting are the differences. The listings of rediscovered classics are also rewarding to study.

I sent my entry to Senses of Cinema two months ago, on 3 December 2018, and now that it has been published I copy it here. The films are in chronological order – in the order in which I saw them.

As a film viewer I am normally a heavy user. Ten films a week is my normal diet, in addition to which I watched ten dvd's a week when I had a five-year crash course in the dvd phenomenon. During a film festival my regular diet is around 40 shows (feature films or short film programmes).

Now I'm having a "less is more" period since seven years. Only in festivals do I try to watch films from morning till night, 30-40 shows per festival. Otherwise I watch less films than ever and spend more time digesting them than ever. It's gotten to a rhythm of two hours watching a film and ten hours digesting and writing. Some of the films I digest so thoroughly that I run out of time to write which is why I fail to incorporate the most important films in my blog! I keep being amazed how rich and rewarding the truly worthwhile films are when one takes the time really to study them. All the films below are such cases.


Machines (Rahul Jain, 2016). Documentary. Shot in India, the reality of labour and exploitation in global economy
Nokia Mobile (Arto Koskinen, 2017). Documentary. The inside story of the rise and fall of the Nokia community. Phenomenal call options for a tiny elite destroyed the common spirit.
G. J. Ramstedtin maailma / Eastern Memories [The World of G. J. Ramstedt] (Niklas Kullström, Martti Kaartinen, 2017). Documentary. The story of an explorer, linguist and diplomat in Mongolia, Japan, and Korea a hundred years ago. The way to the discovery of a foreign language through its spiritual essence.
Polte / Flame (Sami van Ingen, 2018). An experimental short. In the decayed footage of Teuvo Tulio's Nuorena nukkunut / Silja (1937) the fire is still burning.
The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017). Steven Spielberg in his best form in a taut historical drama about the freedom of the press and being the sole woman in an all male panel.
Une saison en France / A Season in France (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2017). Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is one of the greatest masters of contemporary cinema. A work of rare dignity and humanity about an asylum-seeker's agony.
Le vénérable W. / The Venerable W. (Barbet Schroeder, 2017). Documentary. An exceptional and terrifying movie, an inside story about the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
M – a Film by Anna Eriksson (Anna Eriksson, 2018). An artist's film, a debut film, an independent film by a popular singer. A passion play, a work of body art, about the suffering of the flesh and the illusoriness of the image.
Ilosia aikoja, mielensäpahoittaja / Happier Times, Grump (Tiina Lymi, 2018). A new entry in the saga of the Grump, the one for whom everything was better in the past. A comedy with gravity. The memorial after a funeral destroys any remaining family spirit. The Grump starts crafting a coffin for himself. In the finale he crafts a cradle for his great-grandchild.
Vieras / Strange (Mox Mäkelä, 2018). A feature length artist's film by a pioneering conceptual artist. A sound play movie, abundant, generous, literate, hand-crafted, full of associations. A paean to life, not only human, but to all living things. Unwieldy and unforgettable.
BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018). Spike Lee at his best. The approach can be compared with Ernst Lubitsch in To Be Or Not To Be. Well cast. Laura Harrier is one to watch.
Le Livre d'image / The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, 2018). The poet's view gets darker. This cosmic poem of associations focuses on the maelstrom of violence and terrorism of our times.
Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018). Granik's first fiction feature after Winter's Bone. The forest sense strikes a chord familiar to a Finn. The forest is the last refuge for the PTSD father whose daughter needs to break free from his nomad life.


K.S.E. Komsomol – Shef elektrifikatsii / K.S.E. Komsomol – Leader of Electrification (Esfir Shub, 1932). Non-fiction, no compilation. An industrial montage film with an avantgardistic approach in sound, including the theremin. (Our "Mothers of the Montage Film" retrospective dedicated to Esfir Shub and Nicole Vedrès.)
Scener ur ett äktenskap 1–6 / Scenes from a Marriage 1–6 (Ingmar Bergman, 1973). The 2002 restoration, part of the Bergman 100 touring show. Bergman at his most reduced and at his most emotionally powerful.
Slnko v sieti / The Sun in the Net (Štefan Uher, 1962). A Slovakian New Wave film set in Bratislava. Could be a double bill with Antonioni's L'eclisse.
Prästen i Uddarbo / The Minister of Uddarbo (Kenne Fant, 1957). A mix of Don Camillo and Bresson's The Diary of a Country Priest, a unique saga of Swedish Protestantism, starring Max von Sydow and with Ingmar Bergman as advisor in their annus mirabilis. (Ingmar Bergman Centenary).
The Patsy (Jerry Lewis, 1964). Jerry Lewis's last Paramount film, a nightmare comedy about the loss of identity, with Jill St. John as a center of sanity. The cosmic solitude. The Pygmalion narrative taken to metaphysical dimensions. (Jerry Lewis in memoriam).
La donna scimmia / The Ape Woman (Marco Ferreri, 1964). From Ferreri's greatest period, a constantly surprising saga of itinerant performers: a ruthless showman (Ugo Tognazzi) and his hairy woman (Annie Girardot). (Viva Erotica! festival, alerted by Olaf Möller).
The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948). The Nitrate Picture Show. "About art worth dying for". Striking in the vintage print is the softness of the image and the subdued quality of the colour dreamspace. The 2009 digital restoration looks completely different with its loud and bright colour world.
Vechir na Ivana Kupala / The Eve of Ivan Kupalo (Yuri Ilyenko, 1968). 70 mm. Stunning Ukrainian psychedelia based on Nikolai Gogol's Dikanka stories, from the "Crazy Year 1968". (50 Years Ago).
Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968). A beautiful 50th anniversary restoration, a sing-along performance at the Big Top in Midnight Sun Film Festival. I saw this during the first run but now the surreal animation stands out more clearly. (50 Years Ago).
Seed (John M. Stahl, 1931). John M. Stahl was the discovery of this year. Melodrama taken seriously, interpreted with tact and restraint. The mystery of the wooden male protagonists in Stahl's 1930s films was illuminated by Imogen Sara Smith.
1898. Anno Tre: Vues scientifiques: science and science fiction. Curated by Mariann Lewinsky for Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, films by Londe, Doyen, Lumière, Breteau, and Méliès. Film programming of the highest order, startling associations from fiction to non-fiction, from medical records to surrealism.
Luciano Emmer: Goya: La festa di Sant'Isidoro (1950), Picasso (1954) and Leonardo da Vinci (1952). As recognized by André Bazin, Luciano Emmer was the first to truly understand the unique contribution of the cinema to art biography via a montage of the artworks themselves. Though the prints are woeful the Emmer inspiration remains exemplary. (Luciano Emmer retrospective at Il Cinema Ritrovato).
Monterey Pop (D. A. Pennebaker, 1968). 50th Anniversary Restoration in 4K. The manifesto of counterculture looks and sounds better than ever. Electrifying, mesmerizing, inspiring. (50 Years Ago).
Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977). The 2013 restoration of the Director's Cut. The burning oilfields, the Paris Stock Exchange, the Damascus Gate, and the perilous journey are even more potent images today than at the time of the first run. (Helsinki Film Festival at Savoy).
The Lincoln Cycle (John M. Stahl, 1917). This Benjamin Chapin vehicle grows into a marvellous parallel saga about the Lincoln family and the U.S. Civil War. Of equal grandeur as John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln. (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto).
Das alte Gesetz / The Ancient Law (E. A. Dupont, 1923). The 1984 restoration was distinguished but this 2018 restoration is a revelation. A masterpiece emerges. The story is the same as in The Jazz Singer, but this film is more rich and profound. We know Lotte H. Eisner's praise of the exceptional visual quality of this movie in L'Écran démoniaque, This restoration helps us understand why. (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, live cinema with Donald Sosin and Alicia Svigals).
The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932). The 2017 Cohen Collection restoration. James Whale's greatest horror film and the greatest haunted house film deserves this subtle restoration that does justice to the cinematography of Arthur Edeson and the incredible cast.
Godovshchina revoliutsii / Anniversary of the Revolution (Dziga Vertov, 1918). Nikolai Izvolov surprises the world with the reconstruction of Vertov’s first feature believed lost for almost a hundred years. It is a linear and and traditional compilation but the footage is stunning and mostly unseen. (Cinema Orion, event made possible by Birgit Beumers and Nikolai Izvolov).

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ihmisen osa

Människans lott.
    FI/DK © 2018 Bufo. P: Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff. Associate P: Smile Entertainment / Timo T. Lahtinen, Teemu E. T. Lahtinen. Funding: Suomen elokuvasäätiö / Nordisk Film & TV Fond / Kirkon mediasäätiö. In collaboration: Yleisradio, DR.
    D: Juha Lehtola. SC: Kari Hotakainen, Juha Lehtola – based on the novel (2009) by Kari Hotakainen – adaptation and dramatugy: Leo Viirret. Cin: J-P Passi – 1,85:1. AD: Otso Linnalaakso. Cost: Roosa Marttiini. Makeup: Pia Mikkonen. M: Halfdan E. S: Karri Niinivaara – Dolby Digital 5.1. ED: Samu Heikkilä.
    C: Hannu-Pekka Björkman (Pekka Malmikunnas), Leena Uotila (Salme Malmikunnas), Asko Sarkola (Paavo Malmikunnas), Ria Kataja (Helena Malmikunnas), Armi Toivanen (Maija Malmikunnas), Kari Hietalahti (Kimmo Hienlahti), Nicole Stiles (Bika), Della McLoud (Sini Malmikunnas).
    Loc include: Maxill (Korkeavuorenkatu, Helsinki), the Five Corners of Töölö (Helsinki).
    Language: Finnish. Subtitle options: Finnish / Finnish and Swedish / Finnish for hard-of-hearing / Swedish / English. Audio description available.
    108 min
    Released by B-Plan Distribution in 2K DCP.
    Premiere: 21 Dec 2018.
    Viewed with Swedish subtitles by Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski at Tennispalatsi 9, Helsinki, 28 Dec 2018   

Kari Hotakainen (b. 1957) is one of Finland's most acclaimed writers, and he is at the height of his success with a non-fiction book on the monosyllabic Formula One racing driver Kimi Räikkönen also known as "the Iceman".

There has been a film connection in Hotakainen's oeuvre from the start. His debut novel was called Buster Keaton: elämä ja teot ([Buster Keaton: Life and Works], 1991), although it is not about Buster Keaton. Previously Hotakainen had been a journalist, columnist, copywriter, poet and author for children and young people. The illustrator of Hotakainen's Lastenkirja ([Book for Children], 1990) was the great Estonian animator Priit Pärn. Two of Hotakainen's novels have been filmed before: Klassikko ([The Classic], 2001) and Juoksuhaudantie ([Trench Road], 2004)

Ihmisen osa ([Man's Lot], 2009), one of Hotakainen's most acclaimed novels, launched a satiric trilogy also including Jumalan sana ([The Word of God], 2011) and Luonnon laki ([The Law of Nature], 2014). The trilogy is an exploration into the turbulence of everyday life affected by money, economy and constant changes in the workspace.

Before writing Ihmisen osa Hotakainen had unsuccessfully tried to create a theatre monologue for the great actress Ritva Valkama. Ihmisen osa emerged as a cycle of twelve short stories, and while Hotakainen shaped them into a novel they transformed into a mother's monologue perfect for Valkama.

Ihmisen osa was produced at Helsinki City Theatre to great success, and it provided the farewell role to the long career (1955–2013) of Valkama, born in 1932. Ihmisen osa became a popular title in Finnish theatre repertory even more generally.

In the movie some actors from the theatre production (Leena Uotila, Armi Toivanen) reappear, but the story has been totally reworked. The screenplay, the first in which Hotakainen himself participated, is a new work based on familiar characters and themes. Most importantly, the focus has been removed from the mother to the loser of the family (see poster above).

I have not yet seen the debut film Boy Upside Down (2014), nor the acclaimed telemovie Woman in the Meadow (2003) of the prize-winning director-screenwriter Juha Lehtola who is experienced in theatre and television and who, among other things, was co-screenwriter in Happier Times, Grump (2018) earlier this year. Having seen Ihmisen osa I look forward to seeing them.

Ihmisen osa is well directed. It is a twisted satire, and an assured sense of style is needed to keep all the parts in balance.

The cinematographer J-P Passi has strong roots in documentary and realism, but in Ihmisen osa his approach is highly stylized. The cinematography is dynamic, versatile, effective and exciting. Based on the familiar, there is a touch of the unfamiliar.

The Danish composer Halfdan E, experienced in Nordic co-productions, creates an original and interesting score which brings new dimensions to the offbeat film.

Ihmisen osa has a strong visual and musical sense, but fundamentally it is a story- and character-driven film.

The story is a variation of a classic comedy formula: the parents in the countryside come to visit the children in the city and are shocked to find out how it really is. I don't know how old this formula is, but it was popular already in early cinema. In Finland the first film based on this formula was probably Erkki Karu's Runoilija muuttaa / [A Poet Is Moving] (1927).

Comedy is based on stereotypes, and a good comedy adds layers to stereotypes. This is what happens here, thanks to the great cast.

Maija (Armi Toivanen) has claimed she's living with a guy called Mika, but the parents discover a Bika, of different gender and ethnicity.

Pekka (Hannu-Pekka Björkman) has let it be understood that he is a successful IT executive, but in fact he is jobless, homeless, wifeless, broke and in debt.

Helena (Ria Kataja) is the only one not caught lying, but she is instantly revealed as a ruthless careerist who fires experienced professionals just like that.

There is one shock after another for the parents, Salme (Leena Uotila) and Paavo (Asko Sarkola).

The main character in the film adaptation is Pekka whose fabrications and fraudulent habits grow to epic proportions. For lunch he crashes funerals. He steals a canister of blueberry juice by donning an organizer's safety vest at a ski contest. He visits a revival meeting to borrow money with no intention to pay back.

Björkman conveys the horror of living in an escalating web of lies perfectly. Yet he maintains his dignity even in deepest humiliation, at a nude "rooster dance" for a rich widow.

The key confrontation is when Pekka meets a professional swindler, the scary Kimmo Hienlahti (Kari Hietalahti), a prize-winning speaker for whom words are merely means of suggestion and manipulation. There is a hit and run incident in which Helena's daughter Sini (Della McCloud) is almost mortally injured. Pekka tracks down Kimmo for a horrendous act of revenge, but in the finale they become partners.

There is a macabre dimension in this unsettling satire about the disintegration of a family and the loss of honesty in public speech.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Jan Holmberg: Författaren Ingmar Bergman / [The Writer Ingmar Bergman] (a book)

Ingmar Bergman writes. Photo: Svensk Filmindustri.

Ingmar Bergman Skrifter. Photo: Norstedts.

Ingmar Bergman Filmberättelser. Photo: Norstedts.

Ingmar Bergman Centenary book series (40 by Bergman plus one by Jan Holmberg).

Jan Holmberg: Författaren Ingmar Bergman / [The Writer Ingmar Bergman]. ISBN 978-91-1-307652-2. 289 p. Stockholm: Norstedts, 2018.

From the pages of the Norstedts publishing house:

Norstedts firar Bergmanåret 2018: Författaren Ingmar Bergman står i fokus när vi firar 100-årsjubilaren med en utgivning av hela fyrtio titlar. / [Norstedts celebrates the Bergman Year 2018: The writer Ingmar Bergman is in focus as we celebrate the centenary hero with a release of 40 titles.]

Ingmar Bergman Skrifter: sex band i bibliofilformat / [Works of Ingmar Bergman: six volumes in bibliophile format]:
Laterna Magica
Arbetsboken 1955–1974 / [The Work Book 1955–1974]
Artiklar, essäer, föredrag
/ [Articles, Essays, Lectures]
Ofilmat, ospelat, outgivet
/ [Unfilmed, Unplayed, Unpublished]. Foreword by Abdellah Taîa.
Arbetsboken 1975–2001
/ [The Work Book 1975–2001]. Foreword by Karl Ove Knausgård.
Romantrilogin: Den goda viljan (1991), Söndagsbarn (1993) och Enskilda samtal (1996)
/ [The Novel Trilogy: The Best Intentions, Sunday's Children, Private Confessions]. Foreword by Daniel Mendelsohn.

Ingmar Bergman: Filmberättelser. 34 band som print on demand. Samtliga av Bergmans filmmanus med kortare efterord av Jan Holmberg och i vissa fall förord av författaren själv. / [Ingmar Bergman: Film Stories. 34 volumes in print on demand. Bergman's complete film scripts with short afterwords by Jan Holmberg and in certain cases with forewords by the writer himself]:

/ Torment (1944)
Fängelse / Prison (1949)
Till glädje / To Joy (1949)
Sommarlek / Summer Interlude (1951)
Kvinnors väntan / Secrets of Women (1952)
Gycklarnas afton / Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
En lektion i kärlek / A Lesson in Love (1954)
Kvinnodröm / Dreams (1955)
Sommarnattens leende / Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Sista paret ut / Last Pair Out (1956)
Det sjunde inseglet / The Seventh Seal (1957)
Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries (1957)
Ansiktet / The Magician (1958)
Såsom i en spegel / Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
Nattvardsgästerna / Winter Light (1963)
Tystnaden / The Silence (1963)
Persona / Persona (1966)
Vargtimmen / Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Skammen / Shame (1968)
Riten / The Rite (1969)
En passion / The Passion of Anna (1969)
Reservatet / The Lie / The Sanctuary (1970)
Beröringen / The Touch (1971)
Viskningar och rop / Cries and Whispers (1973)
Scener ur ett äktenskap / Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
Ansikte mot ansikte / Face to Face (1976)
Ormens ägg / The Serpent's Egg (1977)
Höstsonaten / Autumn Sonata (1978)
Ur marionetternas liv / From the Life of the Marionettes (1980)
Fanny och Alexander / Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Efter repetitionen / After the Rehearsal (1984)
Larmar och gör sig till / In the Presence of a Clown (1997)
Trolösa / Faithless (2000)
Saraband / Saraband (2003)

AA: Among the lasting achievements of the Ingmar Bergman Centenary Year is the launching in newly restored editions of the complete films of the maestro in both 35 mm and digital formats. They have also been released as a monster 30 blu-ray box set in the Criterion Collection, complete with documentaries, introductions and a book. There are 39 films in the box set. Even for the one who has access to the films proper the Criterion editions are indispensable because of the documentaries. For instance, Bakomfilm Höstsonaten at 210 minutes is a stunning record of Bergman as a director of actors, a veritable masterclass.

Less well known is that Bergman's publishing house Norstedts has published his collected writings in an edition of 40 volumes (see list above). I have not even started to study them but it is great to know that they are available. Most of the titles are well-known, but also unproduced screenplays have now been published for the first time. Amazingly, some of Bergman's most famous film scripts such as The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries have been published in Swedish only now, in 2018. (They have been available in English and other languages since the 1950s).

Bergman himself was for a long time reluctant to let his screenplays be published. As long as he was fully engaged as a director for the cinema and the theatre he was insecure of his qualities as a writer. But his last film Fanny and Alexander was a turning-point. It was as if a magic fountain had been opened, and he started writing engrossing novels such as the trilogy The Best Intentions, Sunday's Children, and Private Confessions, and classic memoirs such as Laterna Magica and Bilder.

Jan Holmberg, director of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, has now published the first comprehensive study of Bergman as a writer. Among his distinguished predecessors is Maaret Koskinen who focused on Bergman's largely unknown early achievements as a writer in her study I begynnelsen var ordet – Ingmar Bergman och hans tidiga författarskap / [In the Beginning Was the Word – Ingmar Bergman and His Early Years as a Writer] (2002).

In his book Holmberg covers the entire field of Bergman as a writer: workbooks, letters, essays, reviews, obituaries (Victor Sjöström), plays, short stories, script editorship, memoirs, and novels. And most importantly, his screenplays or filmberättelser (film stories): that was the term agreed on with his trusted publisher, Lasse Bergström at Norstedts.

Bergman was a graphomaniac who shared Zola's conviction of nulla dies sine linea (not a day without a sentence). Every day he wrote for three hours. He conquered the horror of the blank page by frontal attack: he started by scribbling banal observations and trivial nonsense until meaningful words started to materialize. The mechanical practice of writing led to the emergence of words and thoughts that mattered.

An important apprenticeship took place during the war under the stern leadership of Stina Bergman (no relation: she was the widow of the writer Hjalmar Bergman): Bergman polished, edited and rewrote script materials on a conveyor belt for the biggest film company of the country, Svensk Filmindustri (now called SF Studios). Bergman viewed daily the latest Hollywood productions and learned by heart the classical Hollywood narrative and its twisted 1940s variations as studied recently by David Bordwell in Reinventing Hollywood (2017). (The best account of this apprenticeship is in Mikael Timm's supreme, magisterial biography Lust och dämonerna [The Desire and the Demons, 2008], which should be translated and made widely known).

Having learned the craft of classical storytelling Bergman was able to embark on his personal career with an original approach in film stories such as Fängelse / Prison and Sommarlek / Summer Interlude.

Whatever one thinks of Bergman as a writer, the joy and passion in his writing is undeniable. I discovered Bergman as a writer in 1974 when Scenes from a Marriage was published in Finnish as a book. I bought it and read it several times. Scenes from a Marriage the book was the turning-point of Bergman as a popular writer also in Finland.

Bergman's dialogue has been criticized for being unnatural, but his defenders compare him with Shakespeare: nobody ever spoke like the characters of Shakespeare. Bergman's dialogue is elevated and stylized but effective, and actors love to perform it also in theatre productions.

Already Marianne Höök in her pioneering Bergman biography in 1962 saw Bergman's oeuvre as "ett enda stort jagdrama" – "one big drama of self-searching". It was a long quest in a hall of mirrors. "Jag är jag och du är du. Fast det är väl inte alldeles säkert" – "I am me and you are you. Although it is not quite certain".

Like his friend Federico Fellini, Bergman was "a sincere liar". Like Pablo Picasso, art was for him "a lie that helps to find the truth" (as quoted by Orson Welles in F for Fake).

After Fanny and Alexander Bergman in his every book found a new dimension in the family drama of his parents. In the most moving moment of Sunday's Children Erik Bergman as his last words on his deathbed gives his blessing to Ingmar. Ingmar was coming to the realization that he had done a great injustice to his father. Finally, when it was already too late, Ingmar was ready to ask for forgiveness. Jan Holmberg sums up that the novel trilogy is "Ingmar Bergman's ambivalent and hopelessly belated confession of love to his parents – particularly his father".

Delving deeper into his memories Bergman confessed that "I live constantly in my childhood", but also that "I live permanently in my dream and from there perform visits to reality". As if he was living in Strindberg's Dream Play where "time and space don't exist". Ever since Fängelse / Prison he was obsessed by Swedenborg's view that hell already exists on Earth. And like Ibsen in Når vi døde vågner / When We Dead Awaken he constantly returned to the theme of being already dead without realizing it. On the other hand, having given up formal and official church religion, since the 1960s Bergman saw love as the conquering reality. He cherished holiness in life and the human beings themselves. Like Bach, he wanted to dedicate his work Soli Deo Gloria.

Holmberg has a vested interest in launching Bergman as a writer since his foundation is the rightholder of Bergman's literary legacy, including the rights for theatre and opera productions. Provocatively Holmberg downplays Bergman as a film-maker and emphasizes him as a writer. I agree with Holmberg about Bergman's status as a writer but it is also clear that Bergman's standing as a film-maker keeps growing, not least thanks to the rediscoveries of this centenary year.

A case in point for Holmberg is The Hour of the Wolf which he thinks is superior as a book and not very successful as a film, and actually unfilmable. I am happy to disagree. I look forward to reading the book but when I revisited The Hour of the Wolf the film six years ago I found it had grown in intensity. One of Bergman's most personal and mysterious films, it belongs to a special core in his work which also includes Persona and Ansikte mot ansikte.

Jan Holmberg digresses at times to formalities and pedantry, and there is even an excursion into Bergman's use of punctuation marks. But the last three chapters (on memoirs, novels, and the late writings) are of real substance and include some of the finest writing on Ingmar Bergman.

During the centenary year it has become clearer that Bergman is with Andersen, Ibsen, Strindberg and Sibelius one of the greatest Nordic artists of all times.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Ragtime poster with an Evelyn Nesbit angle.

Ragtime poster with a black awareness angle.

Ragtime – toivon ja vihan aika / Ragtime – hoppets och hatets tid.
    US © 1981 Sunley Holdings, Ltd. PC (AFI Catalog): Ragtime Productions Ltd. / Sunley Productions. PC (IMDb): Dino De Laurentiis Company (A Milos Forman Film) (presents) / Sunley Productions Ltd. P: Dino De Laurentiis. US theatrical distributor: Paramount Pictures.
    D: Milos Forman. SC: Michael Weller – based on the novel (1975) by E. L. Doctorow – translated into Finnish by Kalevi Nyytäjä / Tammi: Keltainen kirjasto (1976). DP: Miroslav Ondrícek – Todd-AO 35 – Technicolor – 2,35:1. PD: John Graysmark. AD: Patrizia von Brandenstein, Tony Reading. SFX: Edward Drohan, George Gibbs. VFX: Charles Staffell. Cost: Anna Hill Johnstone. M: Randy Newman. ”One More Hour” (Randy Newman) perf. Jennifer Warnes. Choreography: Twyla Tharp. ED: Anne V. Coates, Anthony Gibbs, Stanley Warnow. S: Christopher Newman – mono. Casting: Mary Goldberg.
    C: James Cagney (Rheinlander Waldo, New York Police Commissioner), Brad Dourif (Younger Brother), Moses Gunn (Booker T. Washington), Elizabeth McGovern (Evelyn Nesbit), Kenneth McMillan (Willie Conklin), Pat O’Brien (Delphin), Donald O’Connor (Evelyn's Dance Instructor), James Olson (Father), Mandy Patinkin (Tateh), Howard E. Rollins Jr. (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.), Mary Steenburgen (Mother), Debbie Allen (Sarah), Jeffrey DeMunn (Houdini), Robert Joy (Henry K. Thaw), Norman Mailer (Stanford White), Bruce Boa (Jerome), Norman Chancer (Gent No. 1 – Agent), Erwin Cooper (Grandfather), Jeff Daniels (P. C. O’Donnell), Fran Drescher (Mameh), Frankie Faison (Gang Member No. 1), Hal Galili (Police Captain No. 1), Alan Gifford (judge), Samuel L. Jackson (gang member no. 2), Bessie Love (old lady – T.O.C.).
    US premiere (general release): 25 Dec 1981.
    Helsinki premiere: 12 March 1982, Gloria – distributor: Magna-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Satu Laaksonen / Maya Vanni – vhs: Nordic Video – dvd: Scanbox – telecast: 10 May 1997, 10 July 1998, 23 Sep 2005 Yle TV2 – VET 89943 – K16 – 4275 m / 156 min
    Vintage 35 mm print screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (in memoriam Milos Forman 1932–2018), 23 Dec 2018

The name Coalhouse Walker is an acknowledgement to Michael Kohlhaas, the novella (1810) by Heinrich von Kleist.

Milos Forman's director's cut of Ragtime was almost three hours, but the producer Dino De Laurentiis ordered it cut by some 20 minutes. Off went the entire character of Emma Goldman. In Warren Beatty's Reds (1981), made simultaneously, Goldman is played by Maureen Stapleton. According to Forman the shorter version feels longer because scenes were lost that made the film more engrossing.

I saw Ragtime for the first time, and since I have not read E. L. Doctorow's novel, either, I experienced it as a perfect innocent.

The first impression: a brilliant, lavish spectacle, perfect for Christmas holidays. (Its original release date 37 years ago was, in fact, on Christmas Day). The Technicolor cinematography by Miroslav Ondricek is gorgeous. There has been no cutting of corners in the period detail. All aspects of the physical production are perfect, including the production design by John Graysmark and costume design by Anna Hill Johnstone. Randy Newman's score is wonderful and versatile.

The cast is excellent including Howard E. Rolling, Jr. as Coalhouse Walker and Mary Steenburgen as Mother. In early stages of their careers we meet Elizabeth McGovern as Evelyn Nesbit and Mandy Patinkin as Tateh.

Deeply moving for cinephiles is the appearance in the last roles of their careers of James Cagney as Rheinlander Waldo and Pat O'Brien as Delmas. Since 1934 Cagney often co-starred with O'Brien, "his dearest friend" in movies such as Ceiling Zero and Angels with Dirty Faces. "I've been with him in every uniform", stated O'Brien. Here they are a police chief and a defense lawyer.

Brad Dourif, familiar from One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, is back with Forman as the demented inventor brother of Mary Steenburgen's character. In the cast is also Bessie Love, a living legend from the actual period of the story: she appeared in D. W. Griffith's Intolerance, co-starred with Douglas Fairbanks in films like The Good Bad Man and was immortalized in her natural beauty by the photographer Edwin Bower Hesser.

Ragtime is a film about the period known in Europe as Belle Époque. In the finale of the movie World War I is announced: viewed this year, Ragtime is yet another centenary story.

This is a period of the breakthrough of mechanical reproduction in culture: key phenomena are the T-Model Ford (in Coalhouse's story) and the cinema (in Tateh's story). Popular entertainments include also vaudeville (in Evelyn's story) and of course ragtime (Coalhouse is a successful pianist).

Doctorow composed his narrative as a multi-character study with four storylines, and his strategy was to mingle actual historical characters with fictional ones. Robert Altman was the cinematic master of such strategies. He was, indeed, the original choice to direct, but he was fired by De Laurentiis who found his plans too ambitious.

The beginning of the film is based on the true story of the murder of the architect Stanford White (Norman Mailer) by the millionaire Harry K. Thaw (Robert Joy), jealous for his wife Evelyn Nesbit, a former model and chorus girl. In Richard Fleischer's The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing the cast included Joan Collins as Evelyn Nesbit, Ray Milland as White and Farley Granger as Thaw.

I do not know whether Evelyn Nesbit is such a household name in America that she needs no introduction, but in Europe it is perhaps not generally known that she was a pioneering celebrity in advertising, her face ubiquitous in the mass media, in great demand in fashion photography, and one of the earliest popular pin-up girls, perhaps the first pin-up girl known by name. She was a calendar girl, a cover girl, a popular advertising model (including for Coca-Cola), a Gibson Girl, and a successful mignon postcard model. Interestingly, the first choice to play The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing was Marilyn Monroe, but she declined, probably because she fought to distance herself from the very status that Evelyn Nesbit epitomized.

Towards the finale the focus shifts to Coalhouse's story. He is deeply humiliated by a volunteer fire department (they vandalize his new car), and when his fiancée Sarah seeks justice she is beaten to death. Their projected wedding turns into a funeral. Coalhouse with his friends turn into masked avengers who start to kill firemen and terrorize fire stations. Even the intervention of Booker T. Washington (Moses Gunn), the great champion of civil rights, cannot help Coalhouse change his mind.

Tateh's story from a street artist creating silhouettes and flipbooks to a successful film producer remains undeveloped in this film version. But the central New Rochelle family story remains original and intriguing. The uptight Father (James Olson) has to keep adjusting to realities. A black baby discovered in the family garden leads to a chain of events in which the Father, after the failure of Booker T. Washington, gets to negotiate with Coalhouse. He both succeeds (in stopping the terrorist rampage) and fails (in saving Coalhouse). From his viewpoint the whole thing is a tragedy since he loses his wife to Tateh.

There is a tension in the project between making a work of real complexity and creating a huge entertainment blockbuster. There are temptations to the flippant, the superficial and the ingratiating, familiar from One Flew from the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus.

There are also centers of gravity. Coalhouse's story remains complex and powerful. The story of the emancipation of Mother (Mary Steenburgen) is engaging.

Fredric Jameson famously highlighted Ragtime (the novel) as a prime example of the "weakening of historicity" in his magnum opus on postmodernism. He called Doctorow "the epic poet of the disappearance of the American radical past", and Ragtime was for him "the most peculiar and stunning monument to the aesthetic situation engendered by the disappearance of the historical referent. This historical novel can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only 'represent' our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby at once becomes 'pop history')." We "are condemned to seek History by way of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach."

I agree with Jameson's key insight about the weakening of historicity but suspect that he is too merciless and inordinate towards Ragtime. Even the film adaptation, which has been adapted with a strong sense of the entertainment value, manages to dramatize important historical issues and make them valid for the contemporary audience. Pop history maybe, but also more than that.

As a film historian I have to comment that the newsreel sequences are not presented in an authentic fashion. The pre-1915 newsreel clips, real and simulated, are always in high contrast, screened in overspeed and cropped to fill the scope frame. That was not the way they were seen at the time. But it is a nice to observe that the cinema pianist (Coalhouse Walker) plays well on a well-tuned piano.

I think it is a splendid idea in a period film to sample newsreels. One can convey a lot of context and atmosphere in this way. In the latest film adaptation of Unknown Soldier (2017) this Ragtime idea (innovation?) was used, and I was happy to observe that the visual quality was great.

It was a pleasure to enjoy a juicy vintage print full of vibrant detail and with its beautiful colour intact. No matter that there are some scratches in the heads and tails of reels.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tammisunnuntai 1918

Tammisunnuntai 1918. MRP Matila Röhr Production Oy / Riku Isohella.

En söndag i januari 1918.
    FI 2017. PC: MRP Matila Röhr Productions Oy. P: Marko Röhr. Line P: Hanna Järvinen. D: Ilkka Vanne. SC: Antti Tuuri. Cin: Teemu Liakka. Taustatuottaja: Pekka Kärnä. ED: Altti Sjögren. AD: Päivi Kettunen. S: Pekka Karjalainen. Cost: Teija Rissanen.
    C: Jukka Peltola (Ahto Sippola), Sauli Kangas (Eljas Erkko). Narrators: Elsa Saisio, Mikko Virtanen.
    Festival premiere: 17 Nov 2017 at Filmiä ja Valoa Festival (Ylistaro).
    Premiere: 24 Nov 2017 in cinemas of South Ostrobothnia such as Matin-Tupa in Ylistaro – K12 – 50 min – 2K DCP
    DCP from MRP screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Memorial Year 1918), 19 Dec 2018

Tammisunnuntai (January Sunday) is being celebrated annually by the memory organizations of White Finland to commemorate the events of Sunday, 27 January 1918.

Antti Tuuri has also published a related novel, Tammikuu 18 [January 18] (2017), which belongs to the same Äitini suku / The Family of My Mother series, as Ikitie / The Eternal Road, also released as a film adaptation in 2017.

The film Tammisunnuntai 1918 [The January Sunday 1918] is a compact account of the start of White Finland's war activities at Ylistaro in South Ostrobothnia.

Finland had been an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire since 1809 (but since 1899 the autonomy had been eroded in a process of Russification). When World War I started, a state of war was declared in Finland on 31 July 1914. Russia prepared to a massive German landing via Finland via fortifications and stationing troops, but acts of war were few and far between. Finns did not participate in WWI combat with the exception of a small number of volunteers. Finland was more important for the Russian war effort through its industry. War years were boom years for Finnish industry, commerce and transport. Finnish railways were in heavy use for transports from the West to Russia.

After the Russian Revolution on 7.–8. November 1917 the Russian government agreed on a ceasefire with its enemies in December 1917. Demobilization of Russian troops started but many remained in Finland although Russia had recognized Finnish independence and the Finnish Senate requested full and immediate demobilization. Officially there were 73 000 Russian troops in Finland in the middle of January 1918, but in reality many defected, and troops were diminishing rapidly. Generally Russian soldiers were not Bolsheviks, and certainly not the officers. On 26 January 1917 Nikolai Podvoisky, the first commissar of defence in the Council of People's Commissars of Russia, telegraphed to the Russian troops in Finland and ordered them to stay neutral in the anticipated civil war. The telegraph arrived too late to influence Mannerheim's decisions in Ostrobothnia.

Most Russian troops wanted nothing more than being sent back home. The civil war slowed down demobilization as railways and other transport channels were blocked. The situation remained confusing until Russia officially withdrew from WWI in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918.

On Sunday 27 January 1918 White Guards conducted the disarmament of Russian troops in South Ostrobothnia, starting in Ylistaro.

With backing from Vapaussodan ja Itsenäisyyden Etelä-Pohjanmaan Perinneyhdistys ry [Southern Ostrobothnian Memorial Society of the Freedom War and Independence], written by Antti Tuuri, and directed by Ilkka Tuuri, Tammisunnuntai 1918 is impressive in its action sequences.

We follow the well planned and conducted disarmament, the military efficiency under the leadership of General Mannerheim.

Another exciting sequence is the railway sabotage attack. The target is a Russian military train, but due to delays in train schedules young pioneers accidentally hit a post train of the Finnish government carrying senators escaping Helsinki to the sheltering Ostrobothnia.

Much of the beginning and the ending of the film is an illustrated lecture of Finnish history before and after the civil war. The interpretation of this movie reminds me of the lessons I received as a schoolboy in the 1960s and the 1970s. In this narrative the civil war is seen mainly as a war against Russians (vapaussota = freedom war). For the workers' Finland the war was indigenous, a war for justice and equality. The warring sides had an irreconcilable view of what it was about.

Most of Finnish history has never been covered in films. Two subjects that I would most look forward to seeing in Finnish historical epics are the great revolutionary periods of 1905 and March 1917 when the people was united in its fight for freedom and against injustice.


Kahtia jaettu kansa – Jämsänjokilaakson tarina / A Nation Divided – the Aftermath of the Finnish Civil War

Kahtia jaettu kansa. A blood-stained book from 1928.

Rauhan ja sovinnon muistomerkki / Memorial of Peace and Reconciliation. Jämsä Cemetery, 1946, 2001. Sculptor: Heikki Häiväoja,

FI 2016. P+D+SC: Noora Kytöharju. Cin: Oskar Repo. Aerial photography: Jani Töllikkö. M+S: Simo Orpana. ED: Mikael Leinonen, Noora Kytöharju.
    Featuring: Tapio Hakonen, Hannu Ahlstedt, Veikko Lehtonen, Helvi Lehtonen, Risto Hakola.
    Song: "On Jämsän pitäjästä tää laulu niin suruinen".
    Film excerpts: – Punainen Suomi (1918), – Suomen parhaillaan käytävästä vapaustaistelusta (1918).
    Radio transmissions: – Arja Paakkanen: Vuoden 1918 tapahtumista Jämsässä – Alun aikalaiskertomus: Elli Vuorinen – Kauhun ajoilta Jämsässä 1918: Edwin Mäkinen – Isä vankina Saarella: Tapio Hakonen.
    Books referred to include: – Kärsimysten teiltä. Kymmenvuotismuistoja. Osakeyhtiö Hämeen Kansa, 1928. – Jukka Rislakki: Kauhun aika. Neljä väkivallan kuukautta keskisuomalaisessa jokilaaksossa. Helsinki: Vastapaino, 1995; uusittu ja laajennettu laitos: Helsinki, Ajatus, 2007.
    Premiere: 9 Dec 2016 Ilveslinna, Jämsänkoski.
    DCP from a H.264 digital file from Noora Kytöharju with English subtitles by Anne Aho. 30 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Memorial Year 1918), 19 Dec 2018.

Kahtia jaettu kansa – Jämsänjokilaakson tarina is the first documentary film by Noora Kytöharju. It is a story about the aftermath of the civil war in 1918 in her native Jämsä.

There were no battles in Jämsä, yet there was a bloody retribution after the civil war. Only the relatives of the reds were willing to contribute to the interviews of this film.

A blood-stained copy of an old memorial book and a vintage dirge from 1918 introduce this film of testimonies. It is a history of deep divisions and memories that have only recently started to heal. An important role was played by the book Kauhun aika [A Time of Horror] by Jukka Rislakki in 1995 as well as the Memorial of Peace and Reconciliation by the sculptor Heikki Häiväoja in 2001.

Local histories have enriched our views in this memorial year of 1918, and Noora Kytöharju's film is a distinguished contribution to this development.

The deeply human presence of Elli Vuorinen (voice only), Tapio Hakonen, Hannu Ahlstedt, Veikko Lehtonen, Helvi Lehtonen, and Risto Hakola helps make these memories come alive in the present.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Il caimano / The Caiman

Le Caïman / Kaimaani / Viva Zapatero! / Kajmanen.
    IT/FR © 2006 Sacher Films / Bac Films. PC: Bac Films, FR3, Sacher Films S.r.l., Stéphan Films, Lucky Red, Sciocco Produzione, Secol Superbo, Studio Uno. P: Angelo Barbagallo, Nanni Moretti. D: Nanni Moretti. SC: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli – based on a story by Nanni Moretti & Heidrun Schleef. Cin: Arnaldo Catinari – negative: 35 mm – colour – 1,85:1. PD: Giancarlo Basili. Cost: Lina Nerli Taviani. Make-up: Enrico Iacaponi. Hair: Aldina Governatori. SFX: Danilo Bollettini. VFX: Francesco Grisi etc. M: Franco Piersanti. G. F. Händel: "Dixit dominus". S: Marta Billingsley – Dolby Digital. ED: Esmeralda Calabria.
    C: Silvio Orlando (Bruno Bonomo), Margherita Buy (Paola Bonomo / Aidra), Jasmine Trinca (Teresa), Michele Placido (Marco Pulici / Silvio Berlusconi), Giuliano Montaldo (Franco Caspio), Antonello Grimaldi (direttore di produzione), Paolo Sorrentino (Aidran puoliso), Elio De Capitani (Silvio Berlusconi), Tatti Sanguineti (Beppe Savonese), Jerzy Stuhr (Jerzy Sturovsky), Matteo Garrone (direttore della fotografia), Carlo Mazzacurati (cameriere), Nanni Moretti (Nanni Moretti / Silvio Berlusconi), Paolo Virzi (dirigente Maoista).
    Clip: Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001).
    Loc: Rome, Sabaudia, Milan.
    Premiere: 24 March 2006.
    Helsinki premiere: 11 Aug 2006 Kinopalatsi 4 – distributor: Cinema Mondo Oy, Finnish subtitles (only) by Jonne Ahvonen – dvd: 2007 PAN Vision – VET: 203260 – K11 – 3114 m / 112 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Nanni Moretti), 18 Dec 2018 

Nanni Moretti's Il caimano, one of the most successful Italian films of 2006, was released just before the start of the elections, which Silvio Berlusconi lost.

On the deepest level Il caimano is about the impossibility to make a film about Berlusconi. Abroad people cannot understand how Italians let this character go on rampage in their country for 12 years. And the Italian protagonists of the film can best make sense of Berlusconi via a foreign television documentary.

A garish television presence, arrogance, a ruthless use of secret holding companies, slush funds and Swiss bank accounts enable Berlusconi's career.

Il caimano starts with the chaos in the life of the independent film producer Bruno Bonomo (Silvio Orlando) who is launching a film about the return of Columbus while his family is breaking and his wife is filing for a divorce. Bonomo's experienced director Franco Caspio (Giuliano Montaldo) quits the project because of its low budget.

Then a young woman film-maker Teresa (Jasmine Trinca) presents Bonomo with an exciting script about Berlusconi called Il caimano. Bonomo finds a Polish co-producer Jerzy Sturovsky (Jerzy Stuhr) and a name actor, Marco Pulici (Michele Placido), but because of the sensitive nature of the material Pulici withdraws, and so does Sturovsky. Bonomo's company is in a financial mess, and his studio is being torn down.

Yet Bonomo lets Teresa direct footage for Il caimano, casting in the Berlusconi role none other than Nanni Moretti himself.

The film itself has been so far chaotic, loose, and rambling, but the finale about the Berlusconi trials is startling, dynamic, and electrifying. Without presenting solutions Moretti connects with the Berlusconi phenomenon in an emotional and irrational level. Without looking at all like Berlusconi he captures the fire, the charisma and the violence in his character.

Il caimano was topical when it was made.

Today it looks prophetic: the analysis of the Berlusconi phenomenon helps make sense also of Putin, Trump, Brexit and the current wave of neo-populism in the Western world.

An excellent print.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Anders Thunberg: Karin Lannby – Ingmar Bergmans Mata Hari (a book)

Zacharias Topelius: Fågel Blå / The Blue Bird (1866). Sagoteatern, autumn 1941. Director: Ingmar Bergman. Prinsessan Forella (Karin Lannby). Foto: Almberg & Preinitz Fotografiateljé © Almberg & Preinitz Fotografiateljé. From: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Anders Thunberg: Karin Lannby – Ingmar Bergmans Mata Hari. 415 p. Hard cover. Illustrated. ISBN 978-91-27-11804-1. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur, 2009
    The book is out of print, but Jörn Donner generously let me read his copy.

I thank Jan Winter for recommending this book. Jan Winter's recent Dieters bok (2018), the story of his father's survival during the Holocaust, set facts straight about Ingmar Bergman's Nazi fabulations regarding his family.

Anders Thunberg's book is well researched and written. Karin Lannby (1916–2007) was an adventurous young woman in the 1930s and the 1940s, but more than half a century she lived a quiet life as Maria Bouyer with her husband Louis Bouyer, a working priest in a Paris suburb, both committed to pro bono social work.

Accounts about Karin Lannby have been full of mistakes and fabrications, most damaging of them the claim that she might have been a Gestapo agent. Thunberg has conducted vast archival research. Lannby indeed was a secret agent on two occasions: for the Spanish government during the Civil War in 1937, and for the Swedish Defence Staff (Försvarsstaben) during 1939–1945.

In both missions she infiltrated the enemy camp efficiently, and anyone who reads this book can have no doubt that all her life Lannby was a committed anti-fascist. Politically she was a leftist, joining the Clarté (the international socialist organization founded by Henri Barbusse) at 15 and the youth organization of the Swedish communist party soon after.

But in the spring 1937 in Barcelona Lannby witnessed the "civil war within the civil war" between anarchists and communists and was shocked by the Realpolitik turn in the strategy of Comintern / Stalin. That is when she started to distance herself from communists and broke away from the party.

Karin's father Gunnar died at 28 in 1919 to the Spanish flu, and Karin never learned to know him. Karin's mother Lilly Lannby was the head of the Swedish office of MGM and in that capacity escorted Greta Garbo to the U.S. She was also co-owner of Hotel Carlton in Stockholm. Already as a teenager Karin was well connected and travelled, familiar with high life, and participating with her mother on luxury cruises and trips abroad. But early on she confessed that "I don't want to belong to the leisure classes".

Karin was precocious, multi-lingual, sharp-witted, a swimmer, an equestrian, and good at school. But because she was also a radical her mother took her to a long holiday to Tenerife in 1933. Indeed, Karin Lannby was an ardent lover of Spain and the Spanish language, and in Tenerife she got acquainted with the Andalusian Romani culture, cante jondo, the ur-flamenco.

On their way back home, in Madrid, Karin heard about Federico García Lorca's wandering La Barraca theatre group, and later, in Barcelona she saw Bodas de sangre. She eloped from her mother and stayed for a year in Spain and France. Inspired by García Lorca, she wrote poems for Swedish newspapers and even published a collection, Cante jondo.

The Spanish Civil War broke in 1936, and Lannby volunteered as an interpreter and secretary at a hospital in Alcoy in red Valencia. On an intelligence mission in Biarritz Lannby disobeyed orders and wandered to Franco occupied territory in Spain where she was caught.

Karin had an eye for talent, and she attracted the attention of talented people. During the Tenerife holiday she learned to know Heinz Rühmann and Gustaf Gründgens. The agent of the Spanish government who engaged Lannby to spy in Biarritz was none other than Luis Buñuel (he calls her "Kareen" in his memoir book Mon dernier soupir).

In May 1940 Lannby met Ingmar Bergman, and they lived together for two years, until spring 1942. Lannby was important for Bergman, the first woman with whom he lived together. In Laterna magica he calls her his "blowtorch who scorched his intellectual laziness and mental inertia". And opened the bars of his sexuality. Lannby had a chance to read Laterna magica and did not like it. Lannby was the only woman in Bergman's life with whom he lost contact.

After WWII Lannby married a sailor called Rotislav Cyliakus, and she became Maria Cyliakus. He was believed to be of Ukrainian nobility and to have escaped his motherland after the revolution. In WWII he sailed on Swedish ships. He vanished for good after a year of marriage. For once Lannby had a taste of her own medicine since there was a suspicion that Cyliakus was a Soviet agent in deep cover.

In November 1948 Lannby / Maria Cyliakus took a holiday in Italy and headed to Palermo where she heard stories about the legendary outlaw Salvatore Giuliano. Disregarding warnings and prohibitions she took to the mountains and stayed with Giuliano for three days. Her interviews with the bandit were published in the world press.

Lannby never returned to Sweden. In 1950 Jean-Pierre Melville was casting Les Enfants terribles, based on the novel by Jean Cocteau. Maria Cyliakus was cast in the role of the mother.

Anders Thunberg's book is an original and thought-provoking account of the turbulent decades of the 1930s and the 1940s. We meet interesting people in early stages of their careers, including Trygve Lie, Willy Brandt, and Bruno Kreisky. Writers and artists appear in unusual contexts.

There are many Finnish connections, different from ones that are commonly known in my country. It is odd to meet Karin Lannby in Tenerife with O. W. Kuusinen's guide to Marxism as travel reading. The brothers of both Karin Lannby and Ingmar Bergman fought as volunteers in the Finnish Winter War – on the opposite side of O. W. Kuusinen, one may add.

I did not know that J. L. Runeberg's Lotta Svärd was one of the inspirations for Bertolt Brecht's Mutter Courage. Neither did I know or had forgotten that Brecht saw an early theatre production directed by Bergman (Lycko-Pers resa at Mäster Olofsgården) and had good things to say about it. Lannby loved modern drama, including García Lorca but was not convinced by Brecht's epic theatre.

Stockholm was a world capital of espionage in 1939–1945, and Thunberg's book gives us a privileged view into it. This is a world of Realpolitik and Machiavellianism which Lannby had already confronted in its brutality in Spain in 1937. She was so deeply shattered that she was taken to a mental hospital in Sweden. Interestingly, the German-minded Swedish doctors took it as a sign of her mental unbalance that she openly condemned anti-semitism during her transit through Germany.

Thunberg's account of espionage is a cool and fascinating study of what he calls a "hall of mirrors" in which many spies are double agents.

As a spy Lannby was not a civil servant but a freelancer, acting in a gray zone, reporting diligently. The documentation is massive. There was no official recognition, and when she landed in trouble (harassed, captured, jailed, interrogated) she remained on her own.

Lannby lived together with Ingmar Bergman in a one-room apartment when she was at large as a spy. Did he have no idea? Reading Thunberg's book, I can believe, like him, that he hadn't. Lannby's double life remained a secret for him. Ingmar was obsessed with his work, and with Karin as a woman. He was politically indifferent, to the point that he thought that it did not matter what happened in the war as long as he could continue working in the theatre.

Remains Karin Lannby's terrible report to the Swedish Defence Staff ("Staben") about Dieter Müller-Winter, the German Jewish refugee who stayed almost seven years with the Bergman family. From Jan Winter's book we know the true circumstances and the measures taken that Dieter could be saved. The defamatory Müller-Winter report seems out of character for Lannby, incompatible with her political views and philosemitic stance. Perhaps Ingmar's family jealousy was so extreme that it provoked Lannby to do this. Luckily the Staben was better informed.

Based on what I have read about the Finnish Security Intelligence Service in the 1930s and their reports on the first Finnish film society Projektio I have little respect for these kinds of reports.

In his book Anders Thunberg is aware of the bigger picture about what Sweden did to remain neutral in WWII, surrounded by countries occupied by Nazis (Denmark, Norway) or collaborating with them (Finland). It was not always nice.

The title of the book is misleading. Karin Lannby was not Ingmar Bergman's Mata Hari. Their relationship was romantic, passionate, and sexual, and it was a meeting of the minds on profound levels. Both were troubled, talented, literate, creative, restless souls from bourgeois backgrounds, and both were rebels against convention. Karin Lannby was a radical who played straight with the government in her intelligence missions. Ingmar Bergman was a rebel as an artist in a Bohemian way (but an absolute professional in his work).

Karin Lannby hated religion, or at least its current ecclesiastic expressions. She caused scandals by exposing the Catholic church as a key exploiter of poor peasants in Spain in the 1930s and Sicily in the 1940s. She converted to Catholicism to meet the requirements to marry her husband, a Catholic working priest. She did study in a monastery, but not in order to become a nun. I guess her life force was exceptional.

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), All Quiet on the Western Front (21 April 1930), Westfront 1918 (23 May 1930), The Dawn Patrol (10 July 1930), Hell's Angels (15 Nov 1930), The Last Flight (29 Aug 1931), 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.