Friday, August 30, 2019

Dolor y gloria / Pain and Glory

Kärsimys ja kunnia / Smärta och ära.
    Un film de Almodóvar.
    ES 2019. PC: El Deseo. P: Agustín Almodóvar, Ricardo Marco Budé. D+SC: Pedro Almodóvar. Cin: José Luis Alcaine – digital – camera: Arri Alexa SXT – colour – 1,85:1 – released on DCP. PD: Antxón Gómez. AD: María Clara Notari. Cost: Paola Torres. Makeup: Ana Lozano. Hair: Sergio Pérez Berbel. VFX: El Ranchito. Graphic design and animation: Juan Gatti. M: Alberto Iglesias. S: Pelayo Gutiérrez. ED: Teresa Font.
    C from Wikipedia:
Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo
Asier Flores as Salvador Mallo (as a child)
Asier Etxeandia as Alberto Crespo, actor
Leonardo Sbaraglia as Federico Delgado, Salvador's friend from the Movida period
Penélope Cruz as Jacinta Mallo, Salvador's mother
Julieta Serrano as Jacinta Mallo (in old age)
Raúl Arévalo as Salvador's father Venancio Mallo
Cecilia Roth as Zulema
Pedro Casablanc as Doctor Galindo
Nora Navas as Mercedes
Susi Sánchez as Beata
Julián López as presentador
Paqui Horcajo as lavandera Mercedes
Marisol Muriel as lavandera Mari
Rosalía as lavandera Rosita
César Vicente as Eduardo
Neus Alborch, Kiti Mánver, Carmelo Gómez.
    Songs include:
– "A tu vera" (comp. Juan Solano, lyr. José Antonio Ochaíta and Xandro Valerio, 1962 for the movie El balcón de la luna, sung by Lola Flores), perf. Rosalía and Penélope Cruz as lavanderas.
– "Come sinfonia" (Pino Donaggio), perf. Mina (1961). The song is heard in extenso also in the music trailer of the film.
    Film excerpts:
– Lucrecia Martel: La niña santa
– Elia Kazan: Splendor in the Grass – Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood
– Henry Hathaway: Niagara – Marilyn Monroe, "Kiss"
    Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing International.
    Spanish premiere: 22 March 2019
    Finnish premiere: 30 Aug 2019, released by Finnkino with Finnish subtitles by Jaana Wiik.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 2, Helsinki, 30 Aug 2019.

Official synopsis (Cannes 2019): "Salvador Mallo, a film director in his physical decline, experiences a series of reencounters. Some of them in the flesh, others remembered. His childhood in the 60s, when he emigrated with his parents to a village in Valencia in search of prosperity; the first desire; his first adult love in the Madrid of the 80s and the pain of the breakup while this love was still alive and intense; writing as the only therapy to forget the unforgettable; the early discovery of cinema; and the infinite void that creates the incapacity to keep on making films. In recovering his past, Salvador finds the urgent need to recount it and, in that need, he also finds his salvation."

AA: Dolor y gloria is a mellow and serene reflection on pain: the pain of getting old, facing declining health, losing one's creativity. The story emerges in a purgatory of the film director Salvador Mallo. On a memory journey back to childhood Salvador reassesses his life, and his passion for film-making is rekindled.

Having directed personal films of gravity (Todo sobre mi madre, Hable con ella, La mala educación, Volver) Pedro Almodóvar indulged in genre cinema: a romantic thriller (Los abrazos rotos), a horror film (La piel que habito), and a comedy / musical / catastrophe mix (Los amantes pasajeros). With Julieta he returned to gravity.

With Dolor y gloria Almodóvar returns to self-reflection, following La ley del deseo and La mala educación. Autobiographical affinities were present in Volver and Los abrazos rotos, too. Having externalized his flights of visual fancy into genre movies Almodóvar adopts a more sober and serene approach in Julieta and Dolor y gloria. Julieta introduced the presence of conscience more prominently than before, and this presence continues in Dolor y gloria.

Salvador processes his final meetings with his mother who is dead by now. In their last moments his mother reveals him certain truths for the first time. "You have not been a good son", she states. "Don't put our life into your films. No auto-fiction. The village people don't like what you have done. You have presented them as stupid." Salvador protests: "I owe you everything". Mother insists: "They don't like it". (Quotes are not verbatim).

Salvador is depressed and does not sleep well. A letter from childhood surprises him like a message in a bottle. In a gallery of amateur art specializing in naivism a portrait appears of Salvador as a child reading. It is a water-colour painted by a mason who helped make the poor family's miserable cave into a much more beautiful space. The mason was illiterate, and little Salvador taught him to read, write and calculate, thus transforming him and changing his life. In return, the athletic mason's nude bath provided little Salvador his "el primer deseo", still unconscious, still latent. The letter behind the painting expresses the mason's gratitude from 55 years ago.

A fun detail for programmers of film archives: there is a sequence about Filmoteca Española mounting a tribute to Salvador Mallo at Madrid's legendary Cine Doré. Salvador has been invited as a guest of honour together with the lead actor Alberto Crespo to answer questions about their most revered movie Sabor. Since both are on heroin, they fail to come. Instead they give a disastrous Q & A via the mobile phone.

In Julieta we saw mostly actors new to Almodóvar, but in Dolor y gloria his regular talents return. It is a thrill to see Antonio Banderas doing "Almodóvar"; a bit like Ward Bond interpreting "John Ford" in Wings of Eagles, but Banderas's performance is much deeper, richer and subtler. Cecilia Roth brings bite to her brief and important role as Zulema who puts the story in motion. Penélope Cruz is wonderful as Salvador's mother, but especially gripping is Julieta Serrano portraying the final days of the same mother. The presence of these beloved faces adds enormously to the wealth of the texture of the movie.

As every movie by Almodóvar, Dolor y gloria is a striking piece of modern visual art. It may be less self-consciously image-driven than some of his other visions, but there are more than enough of visual delights here. Image-driven visions start right with the first shots: a depressed Salvador in an underwater session, and four singing lavanderas by the riverbank of Salvador's childhood.

Graphic design and animation are by Juan Gatti. The main credit title is like a gallery piece of video art of psychedelic colours. Salvador's alarming health condition is portrayed as a medical animation sequence.

Dolor y gloria is Almodóvar's third digitally photographed film. Julieta, shot by Jean-Claude Larrieu, displayed a subtle, rich and warm colour world without digital aberrations to garish colour or a gray-blue palette. The imagery was close to an oil painting.

Dolor y gloria like Los amantes pasajeros, Almodóvar's first digitally photographed film, has José Luis Alcaine as the cinematographer. Both films follow a frankly digital looking approach: unrealistic, stylized, bright, hard, and sharp. Digital stylization looks different than the photochemical stylization for which Almodóvar became famous in films like Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown, also shot by Alcaine.

The impact of Dolor y gloria is sinking in, and it remains to be seen if it will be as deep as in Almodóvars photochemical masterpieces. Digital is more striking on the surface, but surface is only an invitation to reach the beyond, the infinite.


Pedro Almodóvar: Dolor y gloria production notes (El Deseo 2019)

Dolor y gloria. Penélope Cruz (Jacinta Mallo), Asier Flores (Salvador Mallo as a child).


a film by Pedro Almodóvar

production notes


Pain and Glory tells of a series of reencounters experienced by Salvador Mallo, a film director in his physical decline. Some of them in the flesh, others remembered: his childhood in the 60s, when he emigrated with his parents to a village in Valencia in search of prosperity, the first desire, his first adult love in the Madrid of the 80s, the pain of the breakup of that love while it was still alive and intense, writing as the only therapy to forget the unforgettable, the early discovery of cinema, and the void, the infinite void that creates the incapacity to keep on making films. Pain and Glory talks about creation, about the difficulty of separating it from one’s own life and about the passions that give it meaning and hope. In recovering his past, Salvador finds the urgent need to recount it, and in that need he also finds his salvation.


Salvador Mallo is a veteran film director, afflicted by multiple ailments, the worst of which is his inability to continue filming. His physical condition doesn’t allow it and, if he can’t film again, his life has no meaning.

The mixture of medications, along with an occasional flirtation with heroin, means that Salvador spends most of his day prostrate. This drowsy state transports him to a time in his life that he never visited as a narrator. His childhood in the 60s, when he emigrated with his parents to Paterna, a village in Valencia, in search of prosperity. His mother is the beacon of that era, struggling and improvising so that the family can survive. Also the first desire appears. His first adult love in the Madrid of the 80s. The pain of the breakup of that love while it was still alive and intense. Writing as the only therapy to forget the unforgettable, the early discovery of cinema when films were projected on a whitewashed wall, in the open air. The cinema of his childhood smells of piss (the children urinated behind that wall), of jasmine and of the summer breeze. And also cinema as the only salvation in the face of pain, absence and emptiness.

In recovering his past, Salvador finds the urgent need to recount it, and in that need he also finds his salvation.


Quite unintentionally, Pain and Glory is the third part of a spontaneously created trilogy that has taken thirty two years to complete. The first two parts are Law of Desire and Bad Education. In the three films, the protagonists are male characters who are film directors, and in the three desire and cinematic fiction are the pillars of the story, but the way in which fiction is glimpsed alongside reality differs in each one of them. Fiction and life are two sides of the one coin, and life always includes pain and desire.

Pain and Glory reveals, among other themes, two love stories that have left their mark on the protagonist, two stories determined by time and fate and which are resolved in the fiction. When the first story happens, the protagonist is unaware of living it. He only remembers it fifty years later. It’s the story of the first time he felt the impulse of desire. Salvador was nine years old and the impression was so intense that he fell to the floor in a faint, as if struck by lightning.

The second is a story that takes place at the height of the 80s, when the country was celebrating the explosion of freedom that came with democracy. This love story which Salvador writes so as to forget about it ends up transformed into a monologue, performed by Alberto Crespo and also signed by him because Salvador doesn’t want anyone to recognize him. He cedes his authorship to the actor, giving into his insistent demand. The monologue is titled The Addiction and Alberto Crespo performs it in front of a bare, white screen as the only décor.

THE WHITE SCREEN represents everything: the cinema which Salvador saw in his childhood, his adult memory, the journeys with Federico to escape from Madrid and from heroin, how he was formed as a writer and as a filmmaker. The screen as witness, company and destiny.


The story of The Addiction alludes to the passion lived by Salvador and Federico when they were young in the ‘80s. It also explains the reason they separated, even though they still loved each other. The theater, words performed in front of a bare screen, acts as a messenger between the former lovers, thirty years later.

Federico comes back to Madrid after more than thirty years. He goes into a theater to pass the time and, astonished, witnesses the dramatization of his story with Salvador. Their names might have been changed, but the pain, the happiness and the reasons for which he left Salvador are the substance of the show. Recounted as a monologue by Alberto Crespo, Federico recognizes Salvador in every word even though Crespo has signed the work. The monologue makes it possible for the two former lovers to meet again. The actors involved in this block of sequences, Asier Exteandía (the actor), Leonardo Sbaraglia (Federico) and Salvador (Antonio Banderas), are dazzling. I think it is one of the blocks that move me most.


If you write about a director (and your work consists of directing films), it’s impossible not to think of yourself and not take your experience as a reference. It was the most practical. My house is the house where Antonio Banderas’ character lives, the furniture in the kitchen – and the rest of the furnishings - are mine or have been reproduced for the occasion and the paintings that hang on its walls. We tried to make Antonio’s image, especially his hair, look like mine. The shoes and many of the clothes also belong to me, and the colors of his clothing. When there was some corner to fill on the set, the art director sent his assistant to my house to get some of the many objects with which I live. This is the most autobiographical aspect of the film and it turned out to be very comfortable for the crew. As a matter of fact, José Luis Alcaine came to the house several times to see the light at different hours of the day, so as to reproduce it later in the studio. I remember that during rehearsals I said to Antonio: If you think that in any sequence it’ll help if you imitate me, you can do it. Antonio said no, that it wasn’t necessary. And he was right, his character wasn’t me, but it was inside me.


Over the course of the story we see the veteran director Salvador Mallo in three periods of his life: his childhood in the 1960s; his adulthood in the 80s in Madrid (Salvador is a character shaped in the Madrid explosion of that decade); and we also see Salvador at present, isolated, depressed, victim of various maladies, cut off from the world and from the cinema. I identify with all those eras, I know the places and the feelings the character goes through, but I never lived in a cave and I never fell in love with a laborer when I was a child, for example, although both things could have happened.

At first, I took myself as a reference but, once you start writing, fiction lays down its rules and makes itself independent of the origin, as has always happened to me when I’ve dealt with other themes with real references. Reality provides me with the first lines, but I have to invent the rest. At least that’s the game I like to play.


Years before she died, my mother had already explained to my older sister how she wanted to be laid out. My sister listened to her with the same naturalness with which my mother talked about herself when she would be dead. I have a childish, immature relationship with mortality. I have always admired the naturalness which my mother instilled into my sister with regard to death and its rites, as befits a good Manchegan woman. In my land, there is a very rich culture of death which manages to humanize the event without it losing spirituality. Unfortunately I haven’t inherited that culture, although my cinema is impregnated with it.

Every time I wrote and rewrote the sequence where the mother Jacinta says to Salvador “If they tie my feet to bury me (they usually do this so that the feet don’t fall to each side), you untie them and say I asked you to. The place where I’m going, I want to go in very quickly”, I’d end up crying in front of the computer.

I called Julieta Serrano to play Jacinta at 84. I’d wanted to work with her for some time and to do it again produced me the same pleasure as on our shoots in the 80s.

Old age has turned Jacinta into a slightly bitter, dry woman. She doesn’t make life easy for her son Salvador.

When I was working on the fourth part of the script, on the sequence in which Salvador installs his assistant Mercedes in the bedroom which his mother had occupied, it is Jacinta who really installs herself in that part of the script and, with her, the idea of death. Death was already stalking the mother, but it was also prowling around in Salvador’s life when the narrative is contemporary. Salvador sits in the armchair where his mother sat four years before and asks Mercedes for a tin box in which she kept a load of bits and pieces.

Thinking of my own mother at that age I’d shown her lovable, funny version in The Flower of My Secret, but for this occasion I felt that it would be more interesting if things weren’t easy between mother and son, if the last conversations were bitter. Jacinta had become a hard, dour woman with the years and she talks to her son with that cruelty without apparent wickedness with which the elderly and the sick treat those closest to them.

From the first moment, Julieta Serrano’s performance was so precise and genuine that it dazzled me and I wanted her contribution to be longer. So during shooting I wrote, really I improvised, several new sequences for her, which were inspired by the pleasure of seeing them performed by the actress, but which in some way were hidden in some unconscious part of myself, sequences that became essential for the film and which left me as perplexed as Salvador was. I’m talking about the sequences in the hallway and the one on the terrace.

After writing them and filming them, they seem so real to me that I wonder if between my mother and me there was something similar to that dark underlying tension. I have the impression that those improvised sequences say more about me, about my relationship with my parents and with La Mancha and the places where I lived in my childhood and adolescence than everything I’ve said about them to date.


While they wait in a radiologist’s office, Mercedes shows Salvador an invitation to an exhibition of anonymous popular art. The invitation shows a watercolor with a boy sitting in an interior, whitewashed patio, surrounded by flowerpots, reading a book, on a floor of hydraulic tiles with a Matisse-style design. Salvador is struck by the image, he is about to talk to Mercedes about it, but at that moment the nurse calls him, it is his turn to have a CAT scan of his neck.

Salvador slides into the CAT machine as if he were entering a spaceship. Once he has got over the initial claustrophobia, the enormous machine, shaped like a gigantic metal doughnut, acts as a time tunnel. Alone with his memories, Salvador evokes the moment in which the watercolor he has just seen was done. He was that child, he was nine and living with his family in a cave in Paterna, a village on the Levante where he had emigrated with his family in search of prosperity. It was the 60s, Spaniards were moving inside and outside the country. It was Sunday, his mother had gone to sew at the house of the village’s pious woman, his father was in the bar and he had stayed in the cave accompanied by a young laborer who was finishing off a job on the kitchen sink.

Salvador is sitting under the skylight, the only ventilation in the cave, bathed by the light shining directly on him. It forms a very beautiful, very impressionist image, along with the flowerpots, the whitewashed walls and the hydraulic floor. The young laborer – fond of painting - looks at him for a moment, fascinated by the scene, and decides to draw it on a empty cement bag and take the sketch home to finish coloring it.

This scene comes to Salvador’s mind in the midst of the CAT radiations like a revelation. The scene is totally pure, the two characters act with total innocence, but from the distance of those fifty years which have led him to be trapped in the CAT machine, Salvador discovers his first sexual impulse towards another man, the young laborer. The moment, breathtaking and magical, is crystallized in that watercolor, which the laborer would send to him months later when neither of them was in Paterna. Salvador was in a seminary so he could study for his high school diploma and his mother never told him about the arrival of the watercolor with a tender note written on the back by the young laborer. She was the only one who noticed that a sentiment was arising between those two boys and it had to be aborted before it took shape and overwhelmed them. So she intercepted the communication between them. The watercolor ended up in the flea market in Barcelona and a collector of anonymous works bought it and exhibited it in a little gallery in Madrid where Salvador could buy it fifty years later.

Salvador feels an impulse again as powerful as that past desire; on this occasion it is the desire to narrate the origin and the circumstances in which the watercolor was painted, and his life in the cave, how he taught the laborer to read and write, under the vigilant eye of his mother, and in return the young man painted the cave for her and fixed the sink. A time of scarcity for the family that he always remembers as bathed by the light from the skylight that connected the cave with the exotic exterior.

Salvador races to the computer when he gets home and again feels the excitement of delving into writing, ready to live the only adventure that over the entire course of his life has given him illusion and meaning.


Reducing it to a list of cities and ailments, in relation to the chapters titled Geography and Anatomy, respectively, seemed to me the most concise way of establishing the poor education received by Salvador as a boy and his discovery of geography, through promotional journeys as director, and of anatomy though pain and illnesses.

In just three pages I summarized the protagonist’s poor academic childhood and established his profession as a film director who had been successful, otherwise he wouldn’t have traveled to promote his work. At the same time, in those same pages I informed of his many health problems, dedicating the minimum time to the matter, without the need to go back over the subject. Pain is very passive, not very cinematic and boring to recount, but I had to mention it in some way to situate the protagonist and explain his eventual self-destructive reaction, his melancholy and misanthropy.

The narrative force of these two sequences (Geography and Anatomy) is supported by the dynamic, theatrical music composed by Alberto Iglesias and by Juan Gatti’s animated pieces that are both educational and original.

In addition to these pieces, I allowed myself to stress two paragraphs from two books which Salvador is reading: The Book of Disquiet, by Pessoa, and Nothing Grows by Moonlight, by Torborg Nedreaas, to show what is seething in his mind. It isn’t as lucid a recourse as that of the chapters of Geography and Anatomy, but I hope it helps to understand the protagonist’s depressive mental state.


Alberto Iglesias has composed the soundtrack, as he has been doing since The Flower of My Secret (1995).

On this occasion he divides his score into three different sounds or atmospheres. The first is related to the protagonist’s returns to the past. The pieces derive from the overhead light in the cave, they are all connected with the sunlight in Paterna and the overhead light that illuminates young Salvador’s existence in the cave.

The second sound is related to the moments of pain and isolation. The suspended musical phrases cover the silences and coexist within the more dramatic dialogue, as part of it. This second sound also adopts faster, repetitive patterns (in the argument between Alberto and Salvador, for example), more frantic musical movements or little tremors. The first acceptance evokes the character in suspension (alone and prostrated), the music itself seems to be suspended, when the rhythm grows and darkens the music connects with the character’s anxiety.

The third sound envelops the scenes with the elderly mother and the son, in Madrid. The music adopts the mother’s attitude to death. It isn’t a funereal preamble but natural and in some way luminous in its simple spirituality. “Where I am it’s neither cold nor hot”, she says in the hospital referring to a dead neighbor. Or “The place where I’m going, I want to go in very quickly”. It’s inevitable that the music has a certain (happy) melancholy to arrive at a utopian place, the preamble to a death accepted without fears.

The soundtrack is written for a string sextet, with piano and clarinet. There are moments of greater sound and orchestral magnitude but without going beyond the limits of intimacy. Alberto Iglesias, as always, has created a music that is born from the depths of the images like something organic, that envelops and accompanies them on their narrative journey.

Once again he has surprised me with his originality, his versatility, his capacity and his dedication.


Rosalía sings the copla A tu vera a capella at the river, along with the choir of washerwomen. It is one of Salvador’s happiest memories. Seeing his mother exultant spreading out the clothes amidst the reeds and pennyroyal bushes, on the river bank.

La vie en rose, in the legendary version by Grace Jones, at the height of disco music’s splendor, appears in Alberto Crespo’s monologue.

Cómo pudiste hacerme esto a mí by Alaska and Dinarama accompanies the credits of Sabor, the film by Salvador Mallo that is shown in the Cinematheque. The theme puts a date on the film, the mid-80s, and also pays tribute to its author, Carlos Berlanga, one of the great icons of that time and also a much loved friend.

I’ve looked for artists (actors, painters, musicians) with whom I am familiar and, in most cases, with whom I have grown. There are many works by the painters Guillermo Pérez Villalta, Sigfrido Martín Begué, Jorge Galindo, Manolo Quejido, Miguel Ángel Campano, Dis Berlín, etc. All from the late 70s and with whom I have been shaped in more than one sense. This is one of the most autobiographical aspects of the film. It is all familiar to me. And of course, going back to the music, the presence of Chavela Vargas and Mina, who belong to my emotional and artistic family.

From Mina I have chosen Come sinfonia to accompany the entire scene of the watercolor sketch. It’s a theme from 1960 full of delicacy and the feeling of an idle, pleasurable summer. Chavela bursts into the middle of the monologue with a verse from La noche de mi amor (The Night of My Love), exultant, infinite in its clamor. I want the joy of a ship returning, a thousand bells of glory pealing, to celebrate the night of my love.


It was a surprise and a discovery to work with Asier Etxeandía and Leonardo Sbaraglia. I can only show my admiration for their performances as two characters who are so important that the film wouldn’t stand up without them. But the axis on which the story revolves is Antonio Banderas in his performance as the suffering, isolated Salvador Mallo. I think that this is Antonio’s best work since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Pain and Glory is, in my opinion, his rebirth as an actor and the start of a new era. I hope that no one misunderstands me. Antonio is still one of the actors who is best at listening to and looking at his companions in a shot, but on this occasion the fire in his eyes comes from deeper. All of us who witnessed his performance, day by day, were moved. He has chosen, with me by the hand, the opposite attitude to that which characterizes his most important work, because the spirit of the character is the opposite to the bravura of the characters he has played to date.

Profound, subtle, with a very varied gallery of minute gestures, he has pulled off a very difficult character, full of risks.

Penélope Cruz is the mother, when the character is young in the ‘60s. When she is elderly, as I have already mentioned, she is played by Julieta Serrano.

From we started working together I’ve always seen Penélope as the paradigm of the Spanish mother in her film version. In Pain and Glory the mother she plays is different, for example, from the mother in Volver. Both are of rural origin and have an infinite capacity for struggling and surviving, but the times in which they live are very different. In Volver she was a contemporary mother and in Pain and Glory she is a post-war mother. Badly dressed, with a worse hairstyle, it is perhaps inevitable to think again of Sophia Loren, the mother of all mothers. But in Pain and Glory, as well as struggling to survive each day, like all the women of her generation, there is a quiet bitterness, something like humiliation, which Penélope resolves with delicacy and without gesticulations. I know that kind of woman, I grew up with them. Although we have stripped her of all glamour, Penélope’s beauty emerges, if possible, even more strongly.

Thank you from here to Raúl Arévalo, who plays Penélope Cruz’s husband, a cameo appearance that he defends as if he were the protagonist. And to Nora Navas, Susi Sánchez and Cecilia Roth, perfect in their roles as assistant, the village’s pious woman and an actress. The film has the good fortune to have been the baptism of two actors for whom I predict a brilliant future. They make their debut in Pain and Glory. I mean Asier Flores – who plays Salvador as a child - and young César Vicente.

Having a nine year old child actor is a blessing, and watching the spontaneity, depth and purity of César Vicente is a privilege. They both ooze truth and the camera adores them. Discovering the birth of two actors and being the first to witness their blossoming is one of the great rewards of being a film director.


Once again I have relied on José Luis Alcaine as director of photography. José Luis is the DP to whom I have remained most faithful, I have made more than half my films with him. Perhaps because of that we don’t talk much before doing the camera tests. In any case, I offer him beforehand in the sets the range of colors that I want to predominate in each film. The fact is we have the same criterion without having to talk much about it.

For Pain and Glory I gave him two indications, the chiaroscuros, to mark not only the night but the darkness in which the protagonist lives, and the depth of focus. I wanted the the backgrounds to have the maximum focus possible. Antonio Banderas’ character lives in isolation and, if the elements that surround him and the backgrounds appear in focus, the sensation of solitude is greater.

In addition to the occasional chiaroscuros, although the character is going through a very dark period, the objects that surround him are full of color, he is surrounded by beauty and art. This shows that before suffering this crisis, the character has been successful in his work (this is my only comment on the Glory in the title), that he is a character with eclectic tastes, formed in the years of the post-modern Madrid.

Alcaine has always been inspired by painting in illuminating his films. We coincide in the references to Velázquez, Rembrandt, Edward Hopper... In Pain and Glory he also makes reference to Bacon’s light and to his solitary men. I’m delighted with this latest collaboration.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Secrets & Lies

Roxanne's 21th birthday party. Elizabeth Berrington (Jane), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Hortense), Brenda Blethyn (Cynthia), Timothy Spall (Maurice), Phyllis Logan (Monica), Claire Rushbrook (Roxanne), and Lee Ross (Paul). Please do click to enlarge the photo.

Secrets and Lies / Salaisuuksia ja valheita / Hemligheter & lögner.
    GB / FR 1996. © 1995. PC: CiBy 2000 / Thin Man Films / Channel 4 Films. P: Simon Channing-Williams. D+SC: Mike Leigh. DP (Metrocolor): Dick Pope. PD: Alison Chitty (PD). AD: Eve Stewart. Cost: Maria Price. M: Andrew Dickson. S: George Richards. ED: Jon Gregory.
    C: Timothy Spall (Maurice, brother of Cynthia), Phyllis Logan (Monica, wife of Maurice), Brenda Blethyn (Cynthia, mother of Hortense and Roxanne), Claire Rushbrook (Roxanne), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Hortense), Lee Ross (Paul, Roxanne's boyfriend), Elizabeth Berrington (Jane, Maurice's assistant). 140 min
    Song during the main title sequence: "How Great Thou Art" ("O store Gud" – comp. Swedish trad. – lyr. Carl Boberg [Mönsterås, Sweden], 1885) – English lyr. E. Gustav Johnson (1925), Stuart K. Hine (1949).
    GB premiere: 24 May 1996.
    Helsinki premiere: 11 Oct 1996, released by Warner Bros. Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Matti Rosvall / Anna-Lisa Holmqvist.
    A special screening for guests invited by Mr. Pekka Rehumäki (johtaja / toiminnallinen osasto / jumalanpalvelus ja yhteiskunta / Kirkkohallitus).
    Vintage 35 mm print presented by The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 29 Aug 2019.

I had the honour to introduce a special screening for guests invited by Mr. Pekka Rehumäki on the occasion of his retirement. For years Pekka Rehumäki has belonged to the core audience of the Finnish Film Archive, and although we moved to a new cinema, Kino Regina, in January, he insisted on having the party at Cinema Orion.

I have loved Secrets & Lies since I first saw it during its first run in the autumn 1996. I reviewed its November 2009 Finnish dvd release by Atlantic Film, and I included it into my 110th anniversary of the cinema MMM Film Guide of 2005 in my selection of 1100 key films of film history.

Today's viewing confirmed for me that Secrets & Lies is Mike Leigh's masterpiece. It keeps growing and resonating. This screening was special of course because it took place among the board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Certainly the film has profound religious relevance from the first sequence, the funeral of Hortense's mother, guests joining in "How Great Thou Art".

The film is about the hazards of genealogy and the miraculous paths of search. The closest family is the worst and the dearest, but the mission is always to find the path to love.

As always with Leigh, the film is character-driven, and the performances are powerful in this ensemble piece. The secrets and the lies are revealed in the birthday party thrown by Cynthia's brother Maurice to celebrate the 21th birthday of Cynthia's daughter Roxanne. Revelations are detonated like time bombs, in a way that could destroy family ties forever. Instead they grow stronger.

Mike Leigh's mastery of ensemble playing in the long birthday party segment equals Jean Renoir in La Règle du jeu.

Leigh is also a master of the long take for instance in the 7 minute shot in which Cynthia realizes that she is Hortense's mother. For Leigh, the long take is not a philosophical exercise in duration but a way to record the authenticity of the revelation in full detail.

This time I enjoyed even more than before the wonderful sequences of Maurice (Timothy Spall) at his work as a photographer. There are dozens of observations showing the full scale of life from the viewpoint of a photographer. In our mobile age everyone pretends to be a photographer, but taking snapshots and having a professional photographer take a portrait are two different things.

It's about the difference between "to look" and "to see". Maurice is a seer. Secrets & Lies is one of the best movies about photography, worthy of an essay from that angle. It is also about the presentation of self in everyday life, to quote Erving Goffman.

There was less of Hortense's work as an optometrist than I remembered, but the connection between Maurice and Hortense is meaningful, and there is a moment of insight when Hortense states that the eye is the window to the soul, and you can learn to know a person via the eye.

The good juicy photochemical print has seen some service but it still conveys nobly Dick Pope's art of cinematography, especially relevant in a tale about seeing beyond the exterior.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Lac aux dames / Lake of Ladies / Ladies Lake (1987 restoration by La Cinémathèque française)

Lac aux dames. Puck (Simone Simon) has rescued Eric (Jean-Pierre Aumont) to her Île de Cygne. Eric has tried to swim across the lake defying fog, wind and dangerous currents. A sequence reminiscent of Frank Borzage's The River.

Erotiikkaa / Ne naiset! Ne naiset! / Erotik.
    FR 1934. PC: SOPRA [Société Parisienne de Production] (Paris). P: Dominique Drouin. D: Marc Allégret. SC: Marc Allégret et Jean-Georges Auriol, d'après le roman Hell in Frauensee. Ein heiterer Roman von Liebe und Hunger (1927) de Vicki Baum. [In Finnish: Uimaopettaja Urban Hell, transl. Unto Koskela, Helsinki: Otava, 1931.] Dialogues and lyrics: Colette. Cin: Jules Kruger. AD: Lazare Meerson, Alexandre Trauner. Cost: Marcel Rovhas. M: Georges Auric. M dir: Roger Desormière. S: Hermann Storr. ED: Denise Batcheff, Yvonne Martin (as Yvonne Beaugé). Ass D: Yves Allégret, Colette. Direction artistique: Philippe de Rothschild.
    C: Jean-Pierre Aumont (Eric Heller), Rosine Dérean (Danny / Danièle Lyssenhop), Simone Simon (Puck Dobbersberg), Sokoloff (Baron de Dobbersberg), Michel Simon (Oscar Lyssenhop), Illa Meery (Anika), Odette Joyeux (Carla Lyssenhop, Danièle's sister), Maroulk (Vefi), Maurice Rémy (Comte Stereny), Asselin (Brindel), Roman Bouquet (l'aubergiste / innkeeper), Eugène Dumas (Matz).
    M selections include: – Johann Strauss (Vater): "Radetzky-Marsch" (1848), Op. 228.
    Helsinki premiere: 24.4.1935, Empire, released by Suomi-Filmi Oy – film control: 18861 – K16 – 2250 m / 82 min – Bologna 2017: 95 min – IMDb, Wikipedia: 106 min
    Previous film adaptation: Die drei Frauen von Urban Hell (DE 1928).
    Restored in 1987 by La Cinémathèque française. 35 mm print from La Cinémathèque française.
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (Colette et le cinéma), e-subtitles by Lena Talvio., 27 Aug 2019.

Program note by Émilie Cauquy (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2017): Colette:
    "On the other shore, I sing… I wait, the waves rock my dream, my boat… What will they bring me, night and morning? Out there are kindled fires and feasts… Here, in the dark, breaking the green waves, my oar streams with droplets of moon. On the other shore, the fires and feasts and the blonde girl have taken him. The lake, the mirror of our faces with mouths joined, reflects me alone, mouth that sings, eyes that stream with tears? No, no, with droplets of moon… "
    – Puck’s song in Lac aux dames (lyrics by Colette), in Colette at the Movies: Criticism and Screenplay, edited by Alain and Odette Virmaux, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York 1980

Émilie Cauquy. "At first Colette gave her the air of a Pekinese dog, then Jean Renoir transformed her into a cat, and finally Jacques Tourneur found the panther in her. To those who marveled at her therianthropy, the actress, invited to San Sebastián in 1988, loved to reply: “There are two types of women, those who end up as cows, and those who end up as goats. I would rather be one of the goats”. In Lac aux dames, Simone Simon is Puck, a shrewd and wild, fairy-tale and firmly modern spirit as in Shakespeare. To complete this portrait picture, Jean-Pierre Aumont said that, “Simone seems to have come into the world to play the part of Colette’s pure and wicked ingénues. She knew how to convey sincerity to the camera and at the same time a mischievousness which swept away all the theatrical conventions of actresses at the time”. Puck was the creature destined to bring Simone Simon to the attention of Fox, and to the attention of Marcel Duchamp, who was inspired by her for his Rrose Sélavy. One of Puck’s first lines goes like this: “I’m not a good girl”. Overt frankness shaped by Colette from top to bottom, this mysterious exoticism, this bohemian poetry make Simone Simon the true star of the film."

"Colette was chosen by Philippe de Rothschild (Théâtre Pigalle, 1929-1932), who was intent on producing a light film, for the most part en plein air, based on a bestseller. The novel by Vicki Baum (whose literary structure deserves attention: one shouldn’t forget that it was Dorothy Arzner who adapted Baum, a strong and eccentric character), re-worked by Colette, Marc Allégret and André Gide, made a stratospheric film, a transgender sensation. The main male (or presumed to be) character, Jean-Pierre Aumont, twenty-three years old, a young brilliant leading man with completely golden naked chest (it is said that Johnny Weissmuller was even considered for the role), is a doll to be enjoyed, admired, desired, dressed, looked after, saved, married, in essence unable to exist without the women around him. “Of course he loves me, but he doesn’t know how to tell me, he’s a swimming instructor, you understand?”. Lac aux dames, or the Fred Peloux in Chéri turned upside down by the Vinca in Green Wheat.
" Émilie Cauquy (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2017).

AA: Vicki Baum was a German writer involved with the currents of die Neue Sachlichkeit and Querschnittfilm, a modernist in literature and the theatre with an instinct for popular entertainment thanks to which she became an international bestselling writer. David Bordwell has written illuminating lines on the most famous adaptation of her work, Grand Hotel, analyzing it as a breakthrough in Hollywood for a new kind of narrative.

Lac aux dames, based on a 1927 novel by Vicki Baum published in English as Martin's Summer, is more conventional, yet with certain affinities with Grand Hotel: it also takes place at a big hotel, and there is an aspect of the Querschnittfilm, the Querschnitt blade being Eric Heller himself, the swimming instructor, the male protagonist and sex object who keeps meeting more women than he can handle.

Jean-Pierre Aumont receives star billing but the whole film is well cast. A special revelation is Simone Simon in her international breakthrough, an unforgettable apparition worthy of comparison with Louise Brooks in Die Büchse von Pandora and Jean Seberg in Lilith.

Lac aux dames may seem to belong to the Don Juan tradition of fiction. It is true that women throw themselves at Eric Heller and he does not always succeed in fending them off. He is an engineer, an inventor and a sportsman, but he is completely broke (the novel was written in 1927 in Germany). In the novel it is stressed that the weather is almost always bad, and Eric cannot earn anything. He cannot visit balls because he has nothing to wear. He is weakened by hunger; he has no credit left at the restaurant (but he is always welcome to the innkeeper's daughter's room upstairs). When his arm is wounded from a rusty nail and he contracts blood poisoning he does not visit a doctor, presumably because he cannot afford to.

The film as directed by Marc Allégret and photographed by Jules Kruger is marvellously sensual and erotic. Especially the scenes between Jean-Pierre Aumont and Simone Simon are deservedly anthology pieces. Illa Meery's scenes, considered daring at the time and savoured by Lo Duca in L'Érotisme au cinéma I-III, are included in the print on display. Allégret and Kruger relish the visual possibilities of the water element. Eric resists the advances of the underage Puck but finally succumbs to them (in what is in today's parlance statutory rape). The hot scene takes place in a granary ("it is good to lie in the oats", says Puck); the setting strikes a chord in a Nordic viewer.

Fundamentally Eric is depressed by the superficial and frivolous attentions of the ladies of the leisure class, but in three of the affairs there is an element of gravity, and Puck is transformed by the physical act of love ("I'm not a child anymore"; "when you touched me my sap began to flow"). When Eric rejects her she gets desperate, and everybody is alarmed, fearing that Puck has drowned herself in the lake. Eric jumps into the lake, too, in a suicidal moment, but he is fished back to safety with a net.

The protagonists are far from conventional. In Puck, like in Lilith and Lulu (Die Büchse der Pandora), madness and passion are inseparable. In Jean-Pierre Aumont there is a magnetic bisexual charge, his oiled, athletic body a luminous sight resembling male stars of Fox Film Corporation like Charles Farrell and George O'Brien. In Puck and Eric, death drive comes close to the surface.

The plot of the novel has been changed in many ways. An interesting detail: Eric Heller has invented safety film (which became the film industry standard in the 1950s). The novel ends with the news that Eric's invention has been patented and that he will become a rich man. In the novel unlike in the film adaptation it is Puck who reunites with Eric at the hospital bed.

The film has been beautifully shot on location in Austria in the state of Salzburg at the Wolfgangsee, named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I'm reminded of Douglas Sirk's Interlude whose Finnish title is The Lovers of Salzburg although it takes place in Bavaria; but there is a visit to the Mozart House in Salzburg. A suicide attempt at the lake is a key connection between the two films.

The dialogues by Colette are sharp and witty, her lyrics to Puck's songs full of poetry.

Sources give three different durations for this film. On display was a print whose duration today was 94 minutes, restored by La Cinémathèque française, giving a satisfying impression of Jules Kruger's cinematography, with some passages perhaps retrieved from difficult and duped sources, even 16 mm.


Monday, August 26, 2019

Tuntematon sotilas / Unknown Soldier (2017) (the long version)

MAKING OF Tuntematon sotilas. Retreat – hell. Karjula (Janne Virtanen) disciplines Koskela (Jussi Vatanen). The production team at work. Photo: Tommi Hynynen © Elokuvaosakeyhtiö Suomi 2017.

FI 2017. PC: Elokuvaosakeyhtiö Suomi 2017. D: Aku Louhimies. For cast and credits see my blog note of 12 October 2017: Tuntematon sotilas (2017).
    Viewed: the long version released on television, web services and home formats.
Part 1  Komea on alku / [A Glorious Start]
Part 2  Petroskoi, Petroskoi
Part 3  Hänen upseeriensa malja / [A Toast for His Officers]
Part 4  Tavallisen suruton poika / [Happy Go Lucky]
Part 5  Hyväntahtoinen aurinko / [A Benevolent Sun]
    Each part ca 55 min, total duration 270 min = 4½ hours
    Dvd – SF Studios
    Viewed at home, Helsinki, 26 Aug 2019


Theatrical version (2017): 180 min = 3 hours
Five part television version (2018): 270 min = 4½ hours

Previously I had only seen the gala premiere of the theatrical version. Now for the first time I saw the long television version, one third longer. I need to see both versions again to make up my mind on their respective value. Väinö Linna's novel The Unknown Soldier (1954) is so rich that there is certainly a point in editing a television mini-series version in an age of high profile television series and binge watching.


I wrote about my reaction to the theatrical version two years ago. To sum up:
– There is no more gore and splatter than in Mollberg's version.
– Louhimies's version is more character-driven than Mollberg's.
– The cinematography is digital for the first time in The Unknown Soldier.
– A handheld / Steadicam look is not obvious unlike in Mollberg.
– Thanks to the digital, the look is neither studio-lit like in Laine nor obscure like in Mollberg.
– There are intensive rapid shots of close combat and even underwater shots.
– Unlike in Mollberg the colour is drained. A steely blue gray hue is dominant.
– The performances are different and original.
– Jussi Vatanen as Koskela is deeply moving, perhaps the most deeply moving of all Koskelas on film.
– Also Aku Hirviniemi as Hietanen rises to the occasion and might be the best screen Hietanen.
– Eero Aho as Rokka is a surprising casting coup, certainly effective. He is a great actor. He does not have the innate Karelian gut feeling, but he overcomes the obstacle successfully.
– Joonas Saartamo as Lahtinen changes the character. He is no longer a figure of fun but a tragic incarnation of the contradictions of the age.
– This film adaptation is the first in which the makers had no access to Linna personally.
– But it is also the first that had access to the original Sotaromaani version, the uncut manuscript published in 2000. The summer attack of the Red Army in 1944 is conveyed more powerfully, and the desperate situation of Koskela and Kariluoto rises to full tragic grandeur for the first time. Coverage of this is the essential new distinction of the film adaptation of Louhimies.
– Like Laine but unlike Mollberg, Louhimies accesses vintage newsreel footage for period context. Laine used it in a way that was inseparable from staged scenes – it was seamless. Louhimies uses the footage diegetically: men see newsreels in cinemas at home and in the front. It is a rewarding documentation in many ways.


– Animated maps help make sense of the action.
– There is a bit more spark, parody and humour than in Mollberg. ("New amazing pages to the Finnish war history").
– Action sequences are assured, well staged and directed such as the crossing of the river and the storming afterwards.
– The occupation of Petroskoi has full epic scope in Louhimies.
– The character of Rahikainen as scavenger and pimp is fully revealed in Louhimies.
– There is often a fast edit but the camera is steady.
– Pantheism is at its strongest in Louhimies, with Malick affinities. These are korpisoturi warriors = wild forest warriors after all. They are at one with the forest, the river, the swamp. As are Russians, no doubt.
– The colour is so drained that the image is often quasi monochrome.
– The performers do not sing, not even Paula Vesala, a trained singer. They do not sing from the heart, with their full being, like everybody did back then. They hum.
– About private life and home life I remember Samuel Fuller's advice: in a war film, don't show it.
– Lahtinen does have more space in Louhimies.
– On Mannerheim's birthday it occurred to me that both the officers and the soldiers offend him with songs: the officers with "Horst Wessel" (Mannerheim found Nazis disgusting) and the soldiers with "The March of the Red Guard" (Mannerheim was the commander of the White Guard). This is of course true in all film adaptations.
– The character of Mäkilä feels somewhat crushed both in Mollberg and Louhimies.
– The scene with Lammio and Honkajoki is included, but it is lacking in intensity.
– The fall of Hietanen is powerful.
– The firestorm of the summer of 1944 is terrifying.
– The bravery of Kariluoto and Koskela is unforgettable. Kariluoto obeys the commands, Koskela defies them. Both face the consequences. In Louhimies, there is an aspect of suicide in both.
– The fate of Ukkola is most moving in Louhimies.
– Kotilainen, Karjula and Viirilä personify the desperation of the final stage. In Louhimies, Karjula dies, unlike in Mollberg.
– The final river crossing with Rokka rescuing Susi gets full symbolical value in Louhimies. "Kaveria ei jätetä". "Never abandon your buddy".


Comparing the three film adaptations it is striking how different they are.

Not only technically (one is in black and white, the second in colour, and the third in digital and scope).

The biggest difference is in their record of how much we have changed.

It is a matter of something more than acting.

Our way of being has changed.

Tuntematon sotilas / The Unknown Soldier (1985) (2017 digital restoration) (long version)

Tuntematon sotilas (1985). Kari Väänänen as Lammio.

Tuntematon sotilas (1985). The punishment of the trio. Lehto (Pauli Poranen), Rahikainen (Mika Mäkelä) and Määttä (Ossi-Ensio Korvuo) guarded by Hietanen (Pirkka-Pekka Petelius).

Okänd soldat.
    FI 1985. PC: Arctic-Filmi. P+D: Rauni Mollberg.
For cast and credits see my blog note on Tuntematon sotilas (1985) viewed on 11 April 2005.
    2017 restoration credits:
– Yleisradio 2017.
– HD mastered.
– Digitization from the 35 mm original negative: Esko Viitala.
– Restoration and definition of colour: Ilari Paavonen.
– In collaboration with Esa Vuorinen.
– Sound restoration: Ari Lyytikänen.
    Dvd – VLMedia 2017 – 1,77:1 [original: 1,66:1] – 218 min
    Viewed at home, Helsinki, 26 Aug 2019


There are two versions of the film.
Theatrical version (1985): 199 min
Long television version (1987): 218 min

I saw this long television version when it was telecast in 1987. The theatrical version I saw on 35 mm in the presence of the director Rauni Mollberg at the tribute to him at the Festival of Finnish Cinema in Turku in 2005. I have also reviewed the theatrical version's dvd release by Finnkino in 2007. It included a valuable bonus documentary.

When I saw the long version in its original telecast I felt immediately that the duration was right. I guess the shorter duration of the theatrical version was due to practical reasons of fitting more screenings in a cinema evening and avoiding a break in the screening.

The viewing of this new release confirms my conviction that the longer duration is right.


Rauni Mollberg's adaptation of the novel is distinguished by a bold and experimental approach to the cinematography by Esa Vuorinen: long takes, handheld tracking shots, and available light in contrast to the classical studio lighting used in Edvin Laine's 1955 adaptation even in exteriors. Visually, Mollberg's concept is a journey into darkness.

In the 2017 digital restoration the definition of light and colour is fundamentally altered. Darkness is eliminated or diminished, and everything is clearly visible like in Laine's film. We can now make more sense of the performances because we see facial expressions much better; the 1985 / 1987 experience was more about an ensemble. This restoration is more about individuals. To sum up: the visual concept of the digital restoration does not do justice to the original; instead, it is a new visual interpretation.

The juicy photochemical bite of the original colour has been retained in the digitization. The colour world is completely different in its warmth and glow from the 2017 digitally photographed adaptation directed by Aku Louhimies and shot by Mika Orasmaa.


In my MMM Elokuvaopas ([MMM Film Guide] 2005) I summed up Mollberg's interpretation in comparison with Laine. [Present qualifications of mine in square brackets.]
– Still in collaboration with Väinö Linna [1920–1992].
– A wild vision about war.
– Without a drama approach [with an epic approach].
– Without humour [humour is not central].
– Visual concept: obscurity [an intentional approach: a journey into darkness].
– Handheld.
– Characters are less pronounced as individuals.
– Extreme characters are included: Karjula, Viirilä, lotta Kotilainen. [Asumaniemi removed].
– The chaos of the retreat is more pronounced.


Edvin Laine's film was based on a dramatic, theatrical approach. (But Laine's best films, while seemingly old-fashioned, share affinities with the epic theatre.)

In conscious and intentional contrast, Mollberg shuns the theatrical, the dramatical and the dynamical. Instead, he creates a magnificent visionary epic, an ensemble view of the hell of war.

Laine's film is character-driven, and he has an extraordinary talent in the vignette, creating unforgettable characters instantly and efficiently.

Mollberg's film is image-driven, visionary, poetic, even hallucinatory. Broad outlines are more important than sharply distinguished individuals. Mollberg may even presume that everybody knows the characters already, Linna and Laine having introduced them.

Mollberg makes a point of avoiding a determined progress of the narrative. There is a fumbling, groping, rambling attitude in the cinematography and the diction.

There is an aspect of impressionism, as if the viewpoint were that of a recruit coming to terms for the first time with the shocking reality of war. The film attempts to identify with the very breathing of the unknown soldier. We hear the breathing and the panting.

The film has also a dimension of naturalism, but not as heavily as might have been expected from Mollberg. There is a nude sauna sequence with Lammio and Kotilainen. Korpela's gross insult on Kotilainen is also included.

The dialogue is often mumbling, with affinities with certain practices of Actors Studio and even mumblecore. The whispering quality of the dialogue brings also to mind Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace. It seemed that Bondarchuk wanted to avoid a bombastic impression by letting his characters whisper.

The soundscape is superior to Laine. Visibility often obscured, fearsome sound gains in impact.

There are fine action sequences: the crossing of the river, the attack into the Russian trenches, the occupation of Petroskoi, the retreat over the river with Rokka rescuing Susi. Stunning epic views include the huge caravan of evaquees.

Unlike in Laine's film there is no documentary footage.

The greatest difference between Laine and Mollberg is in Mollberg's emphasis on the brutal summer offensive of the Red Army in the summer 1944, its massive attack in Karelia. The Finnish army has been half-slumbering in trench warfare for two years, but now it's a horrible wakeup time. Most of the men we have followed die. It's not enough that the enemy is overwhelming. Our own officers are clueless and give destructive orders. Whether they are followed or not, there is no way to survive, but the soldiers fight to the finish. Mollberg catches the frenzy of the retreat unflinchingly.

When Laine made his film it was at a distance of only ten years from the war. The trauma of the shocking summer 1944 was unhealed and it was not a good idea to dwell on it.

30 years later it was different, and it was essential to focus on the summer of 1944.

Laine's film has been criticized for using too old actors, but the point was that these actors were war veterans themselves or at least people who had experienced the war.

With Mollberg the personally lived connection was barely possible. Paavo Liski, born in 1939, had childhood memories of the wartime, but almost all other actors had been born after the war. Mollberg employed much younger actors than Linna, which made the film more realistic in that sense.

The general impact is a tribute to people who suffered and risked their lives for their country. But the very feeling, the very being is removed from way of life back then. These people are fundamentally different from the wartime generations.

The people have changed.


NB 20 Sep 2019. Notes from a telephone conversation with the DP Esa Vuorinen. The camera was handheld but there was no Steadicam. The sound was 100%. Molle did not theorize. He had a fury to act. There was no analysis. It was hard to understand how a certain solution was arrived at. The method: the long take. A pursuit of the thing in itself (tosiolevainen / Das Ding an sich). The method was like in a documentary. Molle never saw the rushes. He did not want to return to the past. He watched it only once under bad projection circumstances. The first cut was over five hours. No close-ups. The request was three hours. The five hour version does not survive. 13 years abroad. Olli Soinio agreed that the five hour version was very good. The digital restoration: no compensation was offered. I was asked to have a look when it was all finished. I did not participate in the definition of colour. This is the last time I'll be involved. The framings are fucked up. The film looks completely different. It looks like a janitor has conducted the job with his eyes focused on Instagram. The only goal has been to meet standard tv norms.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - turning a new page

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino with his alter ego Julia Butters. * See remark below.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino's love letter to Hollywood. It is about the end of Old Hollywood on the eve of New Hollywood.

It also channels Tarantino's concern for the current turbulence of the film industry: the end of the era dominated by film and the new era of digital cinema, mobile cinema and streamed cinema.

Tarantino has always been a maverick, a swimmer against the tide, politically incorrect.

My attitude to the sadism of his revenge fantasies is that everything that is extreme is in danger of becoming dated. Sadism can be effective once, but it soon starts to feel tired.

I think Tarantino is better than that and Once Upon a Time would have been better without sadism.

I confess that after Django Unchained I suffered from Tarantino fatigue and did not feel the need to see The Hateful Eight.

Django Unchained felt tired partly also because it was the first Tarantino film that had not been edited by Sally Menke. Once Upon a Time is the second Tarantino film edited by Fred Raskin, and there is again a good sense of timing in the editing. Tarantino has a solid sense of cinema time and space, and he is not afraid of duration.

Tarantino is also honing his personal approach to inserts, montages and flashbacks to perfection. The basic temporal structure is linear, based on two major time blocks, but they are interspersed with memory flashes and fun montages irrelevant to the narrative, for instance in a hommage to Hollywood neon signs.

Tarantino's sense of humour is more mature and sophisticated than before. Besides the incorrigible pop art approach there is a more refined stage of self-awareness, sense of transience and mortality.

Tarantino has had stronger female characters before, played by Uma Thurman and Pam Grier, among others. Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate is a dream woman observed from a distance. Although she is the female lead she remains a stranger. But she is the carrier of the future, expecting a baby.

Truth is stranger than fiction. In 1969 Roman Polanski was the talk of the town after Rosemary's Baby, a trendsetting film whose impact continues in today's new wave horror cinema. In it, Rosemary is expecting a baby by the Devil. In real life, Sharon Tate lost her life and her baby to devil worshippers.

In the finest sequence of Once Upon a Time Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets his eight-year-old costar Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters). It represents something new in a Tarantino film, a humoristic variation of the A Star Is Born theme: the alcoholic has-been meeting the promise of the future. Perhaps we are meant to be reminded of Jodie Foster. The Rick Dalton / Sharon Tate parallel is the film's obvious A Star Is Born connection, but Rick's meeting with Trudi is even more charged.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood might be a memorable farewell film for Tarantino. I hope it is the start of a new period instead.

* P.S. Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters) reminds us of Jodie Foster, who was born 19 November 1962, was 7 years old at the time of the Manson murders, had a role in Gunsmoke at the time, and also appeared in Bonanza and Daniel Boone among many other series. It is certainly intentional that the names Trudi Fraser and Jodie Foster are similar. But she also reminds us of the fact that Quentin Tarantino, born 27 March 1963, was 6 years old at the time. From this viewpoint Trudi Fraser is Tarantino's alter ego. – P.S. 4 Sep 2019: even Greta Thunberg has been evoked.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - the incoherent text

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) at Musso & Frank Grill.

In his book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan Robin Wood analyzed some of the greatest films of the period, such as Taxi Driver and Deer Hunter, as "incoherent texts". To him their greatness was based on their incoherence.

Quentin Tarantino's meta-cinematic, pop art approach represents a concept of film experience that is completely different from 1970s Hollywood. He broke the narrative, introduced the eternal now and took meta-fiction into a new orbit.

Despite its title, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is a film based on reality in many ways. The sense of the place is authentic, real locations are used with flair, movie lore is accurate. Many aspects of the film industry are displayed in loving and humoristic detail. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is one of the great films about film-making.

Watching it I was thinking about John Ford's unfulfilled plan to make a Hollywood film. He was not impressed by stars and glamour. He wanted to tell about the Hollywood professionals behind the screen whom he loved and whom the general audience does not know. It would have been totally different from Tarantino, yet there might have been common ground, as well.

Tarantino's protagonists have been anti-heroes before, but now in a new way he puts forth the loser. The difference is in psychological nuance and honesty. In the Rick Dalton story we are able to enjoy the poplore dimension of his career curve.

Marvin Schwarzs: So Rick, who's gonna beat the shit out of you next week? Mannix? The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.? How about Batman and Robin? [pantomimes the fight choreography] Ping! Pow! Choom! Zoom! Down goes you, down goes your career as a leading man.

More substantially, Leonardo DiCaprio conveys the humiliation and the alcoholism of his character, as well as his inner dignity. It is a truly moving performance. I have always admired DiCaprio but have been somewhat unimpressed with his tough-guy posturing. This performance again represents DiCaprio at his best.

The "incoherent text" in Once Upon a Time is the story of Cliff Booth. He is the most central character, sympathetic, genial, and our identification figure in a way comparable with Taxi Driver. Cliff, indeed, is Rick Dalton's driver.

And like Travis Bickle, Cliff is a war veteran. He is not obviously deranged like Travis Bickle, but his hidden sadistic streak is revealed in acts of violence. He always overdoes violence, and instead of justice there is an excess of violence in his action.

Cliff is, indeed, like his pit bull Brandy. Pit bulls are nice and social dogs but also fearsome fighters. Cliff is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character. As Mr. Hyde he is a beast and a monster.

Also Brad Pitt creates a psychologically impressive performance. We see his scarred torso and can deduce that his psyche has been scarred as well on his Green Beret missions. Although Cliff seems calm and sympathetic there is something unfulfilled in him. Brad Pitt gives us a memorable portrait of his arrested development and unfulfilled potential.

Disturbingly, Tarantino invites us to identify with the sadistic killer. Are we looking at our own mirror image, identifying with glee with the killer, enjoying vicariously a violent spectacle?

Once Upon a Time is a buddy movie, a subgenre also analyzed by Robin Wood who saw in the 1970s stories of violence an undercurrent of repressed homosexual urges. Be that how it may, Once Upon a Time belongs to the Howard Hawks tradition of buddy movies, which started with A Girl in Every Port and whose most fulfilled expression is Rio Bravo, also dealing with alcoholism, the fate of the loser and the key theme of mutual respect.

"When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell."

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood – the Me Too revolution

Quentin Tarantino: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (US 2019). Margaret Qualley (Pussycat, a Manson Family "maenad") and Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth). Please do click to enlarge the photo!

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino's first film not associated with Harvey Weinstein who was dismissed from his company and expelled from the Motion Picture Academy after sexual abuse allegiations by 80 women.

The ”Me Too” phrase had been launched by Tarana Burke in 2006, but the movement started from Alyssa Milano's tweet on 15 October 2017. Global outrage was fired by the Weinstein exposure, but I believe that deeper in the background lay Donald J. Trump, having crossed a line in disgraceful behaviour.

The Me Too revolution is a world historical change. There has never been anything like it. So far we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Tarantino has defended the women abused by Weinstein and apologized for not taking a stronger stand.


Regarding Me Too, Tarantino's new film takes place on inflammatory terrain, fire hazard grounds as dangerous as the Amazon rain forest. Marilyn Monroe called Hollywood ”a big meat counter”. Early on we visit a Hollywood party at the Playboy Mansion. The female protagonist is Sharon Tate Polanski.

The counter-culture's degradation after the hippie period is represented by Charles Manson's harem of young women at the Spahn Ranch, called ”maenads” by J. Hoberman in The New York Review of Books. Maenads were priestesses of Dionysus, also known as bacchantes.

In this film key truths are heard from unexpected sources. Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), one of the Manson maenads, gets a lift from Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and proceeds to seduce him, but Cliff resists.

Pussycat: Want me to suck your cock while driving?
Cliff Booth: How old are you?
Pussycat: What?
Cliff Booth: How old are you?
Pussycat: Wow, man. First time anybody asked that in a long time.
Cliff Booth: What's the answer?
Pussycat: Okay, we gonna play kiddie games? Eighteen. Feel better?
Cliff Booth: You got some I.D., you know, like, a driver's license or something?
Pussycat: Are you joking?
Cliff Booth: No, I'm not. I need to see something official that verifies that you're eighteen, which you don't have because you're not
. ”

Cliff is an ex-convict, he has served sentences in prison, and he has murdered his wife. He is dangerous but he will not commit statutory rape.

In a flashback we see the circumstances in which Billie Booth (Rebecca Gayheart) was quarreling with Cliff prior to her murder in their boat. Presumably the cause of death was declared as drowning as in the case of Natalie Wood.

Tarantino's account is startling and disturbing because he reveals the potential of sexual violence behind a pretty boy exterior.


Everybody who has read memoirs and biographies from studio era Hollywood knows how it was back then. The sixties were a decade of feminism, sexual revolution, and free love. The world changed. I for one have been surprised by the Me Too revelations, that nothing had changed after all in terms of sexual harassment. Although Tarantino does not discuss any of this explicitly, I was constantly aware of the tensions while watching Once Upon a Time.


Relevant to these tensions is that both male protagonists are macho losers. They represent male ideals of a bygone era. Cliff has become a loner after killing his wife. His best friend, besides Rick, is his pit bull Brandy. In the finale, Rick has married an Italian film star, but his looks tell everything about their relationship. Perhaps the Laurel and Hardy poster on the studio wall in the Bruce Lee sequence is meaningful.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - a history of violence

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, Mike Moh as Bruce Lee.

Like several of Quentin Tarantino's films, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is a revenge saga.

Tarantino's films are not revenge tragedies because the avengers themselves do not perish, nor is there an epiphany about the futility of violence. In the cinema, revenge tragedy was a major approach in the Westerns typical for the 1950s. For instance in the golden year 1939 there were no revenge tragedies among its many great Westerns unless we count Jesse James as one.

Once Upon a Time belongs to a special Tarantino category: revenge fantasy. Three times he has taken an authentic historical situation and reversed the ending. Before Once Upon a Time this had happened with antebellum slavery (Django Unchained) and occupied France (Inglourious Basterds).

Without roots in history is Kill Bill, a saga of a symbolic castration of toxic patriarchy. Blacks, Jews and women each in turn get to wreak sadistic revenge. Which to me signals that to Tarantino they are no better than their tormentors.

Once Upon a Time with its cynical and brutal approach is both a part of America's history of violence and a meditation on it. Some of the most memorable reactions in the film come from unexpected sources. The Manson Family women comment that they have been influenced by the obsession of violence on American tv.

The Manson Family are the heavies, but there is an even more fearsome killer in the saga: Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt. He is a war veteran, a former Green Beret (an elite soldier of the US Army Special Forces). The wars in question are not identified. They might include the Korean War (a cinephile can imagine Brad Pitt in Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet and Fixed Bayonets!) and perhaps clandestine operations in Vietnam before the official U.S. involvement (as dramatized by Fuller in China Gate).

Cliff is calm and collected in his Green Beret character entering the Spahn Ranch and facing the assault of the Manson Family.

But he also seems to relish violence. In a vicious scene with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) Cliff seems to be processing anti-Asiatic venom. Cliff's gratuitous cruelty in contrast to Bruce Lee's self-discipline distances us from Cliff, adding a piece to his puzzle which also includes accounts of his having served time in jail for violent crime, and most gravely, murdering his wife.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - Out of Time

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth), Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton) and Al Pacino (Marvin Schwarzs) prepare a deal at Musso & Frank Grill. Please click on the images to enlarge them.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. On location with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. DP: Robert Richardson.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Luke Perry as Wayne Maunder playing Scott Lancer, Nicholas Hammond as director Sam Wanamaker, Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy playing Johnny Madrid Lancer.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Julia Butters as Trudi Fraser.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood / Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.
    US/GB/CN © 2019 Visiona Romantica, Inc. D+SC: Quentin Tarantino. Original negative: 35 mm, 16 mm and 8 mm. 161 min
    Full credits: see Internet Movie Database.
    Released by Columbia Pictures, a Sony Company.
    US premiere 26 July 2019.
    Finnish premiere 16 Aug 2019, released by SF Studios with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Timo Porri / Saliven Gustavson.
    4K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi ISENSE, Helsinki, 23 Aug 2019.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is a new kind of a Tarantino film. It is the portrait of a loser, a has-been. It has general relevance as a picture of a world we knew vanishing abruptly from around us. An experience we are all too familiar with.

"Out of Time" by The Rolling Stones is one of the most poignant selections on the soundtrack of Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, set in the year 1969, fifty years ago.

Quentin Tarantino tells the story of a has-been, alcoholic actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his personal stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) facing the final days of old Hollywood.

New Hollywood is represented by Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate, expecting a baby. A promise of the future is also the child actor Trudi Fraser.

The Hollywood studio system had been in the doldrums throughout the decade, but television was booming, European film industry was in great health at Cinecittà for instance, and Hong Kong saw the growth of the third largest film industry in the world. All this is reflected in Tarantino's movie.

Big changes went on in Hollywood. The Production Code Administration (PCA) was abolished in 1968. A new youth culture and counterculture arrived, including a new kind of popular music. The Vietnam War, increasingly perceived as bad, reverberated deeply: it shook the image of the Good American.

In the popular culture of the 1960s, a new kind of protagonist became dominant. The anti-hero and the good-bad man had been present in the cinema since the beginning.

But in the 1960s there was a new edge to the anti-hero. James Bond and Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name were brutal and callous characters, cardboard figures without a pretense of psychological nuance and complexity.

There was a meta approach, a pop approach in films with such protagonists. They were beyond plausibility, realism and authenticity. They were beyond parody because they were about metamorphosing clichés. In a new way they were about themselves.

Which did not prevent them to be about the human condition, too. Popular cinema painted a ridiculous caricature of the world during the Cold War.

Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are "all left out", "obsolete" and "out of touch without a doubt" with this fundamental change in popular culture, to quote the lyrics of "Out of Time".

A pop art approach is a source of Tarantino's sensibility, and in this movie he covers the seismic change when a new approach took over.