Sunday, September 29, 2019

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool



Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019)
Biopic / Music
Theme: Feel the Beat
Country: United Kingdom, USA
Director: Stanley Nelson
Production: Stanley Nelson, Nicole London / Firelight Films, Inc.
Duration: 115 min
Rating: 7
    Language: English, French
    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: Eagle Rock Entertainment
    Print source: Eagle Rock Entertainment
    Cinematography: Henry Adebonojo, Herve Cohen, Eric Coleman
    Editing: Lewis Erskine, Yusuf Kapadia, Natasha Mottola
    Sound: Benny Mouthon
Collaboration: Yle, U.S. Embassy, British Embassy Helsinki
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Viewed from a Vimeo link at home.
Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 29 Sep 2019.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool production notes quoted by HIFF: "Miles Davis: Horn player, bandleader, innovator. Elegant, intellectual, vain. Callous, conflicted, controversial. Magnificent, mercurial. Genius. The very embodiment of cool. The man with a sound so beautiful it could break your heart."

"The central theme of Miles Davis’s life was his restless determination to break boundaries and live life on his own terms. It made him a star – it also made him incredibly difficult to live with, for the people who loved him most. Again and again, in music and in life, Miles broke with convention – and when he thought his work came to represent a new convention, he changed it again. Miles’s bold disregard for tradition, his clarity of vision, his relentless drive, and constant thirst for new experiences made him an inspiring collaborator to fellow musicians and a cultural icon to generations of listeners. It made him an innovator in music – from bebop to “cool jazz,” modern quintets, orchestral music, jazz fusion, rock ‘n’ roll, and even hip-hop."

"Featuring never-before-seen archival footage, studio outtakes, and rare photos, ​Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool​ tells the story of a truly singular talent and unpacks the man behind the horn." Production notes quoted by HIFF.

AA: Miles Davis was a giant of 20th century music, classically trained at what became the Juilliard School but soon inventing original forms of music, and when cool jazz went out of favour in the 1960s, he reinvented himself to even greater popularity in fusion jazz.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool is an authorized film biography, made with the participation of the family and including interviews of his significant others ranging from Juliette Gréco who met Miles in Paris in the 1940s (92 years old as I write this) to Frances Taylor, Betty Davis, Marguerite Cantú and Jo Gelbard who was with Miles at his deathbed. (Cicely Tyson does not appear in an interview in the film). The interviews are very frank as is the habit in the current approach of authorized biographies of great and edgy artists. This film confronts Miles Davis's domestic violence and brutal behaviour with women.

The film is so sound-driven that one could just listen to it and turn the visuals off. Although cropped and overlaid with speech, it's a great soundtrack, obviously edited with tender and loving care, starting from the Billy Eckstine years, the early recordings that were later edited by Gil Evans as Birth of the Cool. With Gil Evans Miles Davis had his greatest friendship, based on mutual respect, and lasting a lifetime. Having seeing the film one should listen to the complete tracks from the soundtrack album on Spotify or elsewhere. The soundtrack album is not complete, omitting tracks heard in the film such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing "Hot House" or Juliette Gréco singing "Sous le ciel de Paris".

In 1949 Miles Davis went to Paris. "I loved the way I was treated." Juliette Gréco was his first romance, and Davis was met as an equal by Picasso and Sartre. Davis was depressed to come back to the U.S., "back to the bullshit". "I started to drift". Davis became a heroin addict. From the bottom he rose to play ballads, not afraid to be vulnerable, not afraid to tackle romantic standards, sounding pure, elegant and tasty.

In 1956 a cancerous growth was operated on his larynx, and he ignored doctors' orders about avoiding to talk. Thus Miles Davis got the rasp that never healed. A new quintet started to record with Rudy Van Gelder. In two days Davis got rid of his obligations to Prestige, and in two marathon sessions he recorded Workin', Relaxin', Steamin' and Cookin'.

Frances Taylor was the love of his life, a great ballerina who was cast in the original West Side Story but because of Miles Davis's mad and violent jealousy had to withdraw. Frances Taylor had to be reduced to his housewife. At the same time Davis put her on a pedestal in the album cover of Someday My Prince Will Come.

Kind of Blue made Miles Davis a popular mainstream star, a definition of being hip and cool. And angry and sophisticated. But in 1959 in front of the Birdland nightclub three police officers brutally assaulted him when he refused to move from the sidewalk where he was smoking. "No level of accomplishment protects you from the racial hostility". The incident "changed my whole life and whole attitude again, made me feel bitter and cynical again when I was starting to feel good about the things that had changed in this country." This kind of thing "stays with you for the rest of your life".

Frances Taylor inspired Davis to flamenco. He connected to his innate sense of duende and recorded Sketches of Spain. In 1969 Betty Mabry, soon Betty Davis, introducted Miles to the contemporary pop scene, which led to his opening to fusion jazz. Bitches Brew sold faster than any other jazz album in history. Jo Gelbard inspired David to painting and visual art. Usually Davis never looked back, but in the final years Quincy Jones invited him to recreate his cool jazz persona one last time.

Formally the film is a conventional television biopic. It is not a cinematic counterpart to avantgarde jazz. But it is very rewarding for a jazz amateur such as me, and I understand that for the connoisseur there are rare film clips and new revelations in the candid interviews. Especially grateful we should be for the passionate interview with Frances Taylor who died last year.

There is no soundtrack listing in the film's final credits. I have copied the incomplete Spotify listing in a separate blog entry.

Richard Brody in his scathing review in The New Yorker (29 Aug 2019) highlights the following colleagues interviewed:
"the saxophonist Jimmy Heath (with whom he recorded in 1953), 
the drummer Jimmy Cobb (who worked with Davis from 1958 to 1962),
and the three surviving members of Davis’s great mid-sixties quintet (the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, the pianist Herbie Hancock, and the bassist Ron Carter), and 

Davis’s longtime collaborator the arranger and composer Gil Evans. 
We also hear the reflections of such scholars as Farah Jasmine Griffin, Tammy L. Kernodle, Stanley Crouch, and Jack Chambers; 
the recollections of longtime friends of Davis, such as Cortez McCoy and Sandra McCoy, 
Davis’s childhood friend Lee Ann Bonner; and 
the reminiscences of the concert organizer George Wein, among those of many other participants."

Let's add Archie Shepp and Carlos Santana. And Miles's daughter Cheryl Davis and son Erin Davis.

Writing about Olen suomalainen I was reminiscing how Quentin Tarantino has deplored the inevitable and predictable "rise and fall" scenario in biopics of famous stars. This Miles Davis documentary solves this problem elegantly. The fall is undeniable, the dark side is not ignored, yet we have an experience of transcendence, a triumph of the spirit and a legacy that is durable and growing.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool 2019 movie playlist on Spotify



Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool 2019 movie playlist (Spotify)
Songs heard in the new Miles Davis documentary film by Stanley Nelson, in theaters now.
Legacy Records / 48 songs / 369 min = 6 hours 9 minutes

Milestones / Milestones / 5:42
Paraphernalia / Miles in the Sky / 12:36
Donna Lee / Charlie Parker / The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes / 2:34
Dewey Square / Charlie Parker / The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes / 3:06
Boplicity / Birth of the Cool / 3:01
Moon Dreams / Birth of the Cool / 3:20
Move / Birth of the Cool / 2:34
Rifftide / Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Tadd Dameron Quintet / In Paris Festival International de Jazz May, 1949 / 4:34
White / AURA / 6:03
'Round Midnight / 'Round About Midnight / 5:55
It Never Entered My Mind - Remastered / Miles Davis (Vol. 2) / 4:03
Stella By Starlight / Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) / 4:44
If I Were A Bell / Miles Davis Quintet / The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions / 8:20
You're My Everything - Original Version With False Start / Miles Davis Quintet / Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet / 5:17
Tune-Up / Miles Davis Quartet / Blue Haze / 3:53
When Lights Are Low / Miles Davis Quartet / Blue Haze / 3:25
Chez le photographe du motel - BOF "Ascenseur pour l'échafaud" / Ascenseur pour l'échafaud / 3:50
Générique - BOF "Ascenseur pour l'échafaud" / Ascenseur pour l'échafaud / 2:48
Au bar du Petit Bac - BOF "Ascenseur pour l'échafaud" / Ascenseur pour l'échafaud / 2:52
So What - Studio Sequence 1 / Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) / 1:43
So What / Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) / 9:22
On Green Dolphin Street / Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) / 9:49
Concierto de Aranjuez: Adagio / Sketches of Spain / 16:21
Agitation / E.S.P. / 7:45
Blue in Green / Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) / 5:37
New Rhumba / Miles Ahead / 4:36
Saeta / Sketches of Spain / 5:35
The Pan Piper / Sketches of Spain / 3:56
Someday My Prince Will Come / Someday My Prince Will Come / 9:02
Walkin' / All That Jazz, Vol. 44: Miles Davis, Vol. 3 - Cool Boplicity in Hackensack (Remastered 2015) / 13:26
Freedom Jazz Dance - Session Reel / Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 / 23:13
Footprints - Session Reel / Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 / 5:47
If I'm in Luck I Might Get Picked Up / Betty Davis / Betty Davis / 5:00
Stuff / Miles in the Sky / 16:58
Spanish Key / Bitches Brew (Legacy Edition) / 17:32
Bitches Brew / Bitches Brew / 26:59
Pharaoh's Dance / Bitches Brew / 20:04
Black Satin / On the Corner / 5:14
Turnaroundphrase - Live at the Europe Newport Jazz Festival, Berlin, Germany - November 1973 / Miles Davis at Newport: 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4 / 10:57
Back Seat Betty / The Man With the Horn / 11:14
Time After Time / You're Under Arrest / 3:38
Concert on the Runway / Miles Davis, Michel Legrand / Dingo - Selections from the Motion Picture Soundtrack / 4:13
Tutu / Tutu / 5:15
Perfect Way / Tutu / 4:35
Jean Pierre / We Want Miles / 10:42
Blues for Pablo / Miles Ahead / 3:28
Flamenco Sketches / Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) / 9:26
Directions I / Directions / 6:46

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Great Green Wall



The Great Green Wall. Inna Modja. "I thought I really knew Africa. During this journey I realized I know nothing".

The Great Green Wall. Niger is the crossroads on the way to Europe. 60 million Africans are expected to leave in the next future. Young men leave Africa through Sahel and Sahara.


The Great Green Wall (2019)
Feel-good / Nature / Music
Theme: Saving the World
Country: United Kingdom
Director: Jared P. Scott
Screenplay: Jared P. Scott
Starring: Inna Modja
Production: Sarah MacDonald, Jared P. Scott, Nick North, Charly W. Feldman / Make Waves
Duration: 90 min
Rating: 7
    Language: English, French
    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: WaZabi Films
    Print source: WaZabi Films
    Cinematography: Tim Cragg
    Editing: Pilar Rico
    Music: Charlie Mole, Inna Modja
    Sound: Adam Prescod
Collaboration: British Embassy Helsinki
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Viewed at Kino Regina, Helsinki, 28 Sep 2019.

The Great Green Wall production notes quoted by HIFF: "The creator of City of God and The Constant Gardener, Oscar Nominee Fernando Meirelles is the executive producer in the project: “I first came to hear about the Great Green Wall when directing the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, which had a segment about forests. I was amazed by the scale of the project. The Great Green Wall is an environmental and social project: support for it is very important. This is a hopeful documentary about a positive initiative.”"

"A Buena Vista Social Club meets Years of Living Dangerously, as renowned Malian singer Inna Modja takes us on a music-driven journey of hope, hardship, and perseverance across Africa’s ambitious Great Green Wall. Modja documents the efforts to build the great green wall of forests throughout the African continent: can the expansion of Sahara be stopped?"

"A riveting rhythmic story of optimism, solidarity, and resolve chronicling the zeitgeist of this unique moment and revealing the soul of a new generation seeking to control their own destiny."
Production notes quoted by HIFF

Wikipedia: "The Great Green Wall, or Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel (French: Grande Muraille Verte pour le Sahara et le Sahel), is Africa's flagship initiative to combat the effects of climatic change and desertification. Led by the African Union, the initiative aims to transform the lives of millions of people by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa.

"Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Chad thereafter created the Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW)."

AA: An engrossing epic documentary on the Great Green Wall project to stop the Sahara desert from expanding towards the south.

At the same time, it is a wonderful music film hosted by Inna Modja, a popular singer, activist and a fighter for women's rights.

The Great Green Wall is also a road movie taking us from West Africa to the east coast, from Mali to Ethiopia, through the Sahel region (the region south of the Sahara).

Everywhere Inna Modja meets singers, they make music together and record an album to combat desertification. One might call The Great Green Wall the movie a contemporary rain dance. They sing about poverty, they sing about courage.

Mission statement: "we must reinvent the future". The present is threatened by drought and migration. A great vision is needed to change the course of the development, to start a revitalization of the ecosystem.

During the long journey we witness desolation. We visit the lands with the highest birth rate on the planet. Inna Modja herself is from a family with seven children. We visit a birth clinic in Niger, the crossroads on the way to Europe via Algeria and Libya. 60 million people are expected to leave in the near future. We visit migrants' hideouts. We hear about smugglers who take people's money. Women are raped and tortured. Men are left in danger. It's a tale of epic fraud. It's also a heartbreaking story of Boko Haram, manipulating children to become soldiers and suicide bombers.

Towards the end of the film we visit Ethiopia, famous for its horrendous famine of the 1980s. But today, there is another story to tell. Reclaiming the desert has started. Large green areas are being created by hard work and human effort. This sequence reminds me of Wim Wenders's Sebastião Salgado movie The Salt of the Earth (2014) in which the Salgado family is restoring rain forest on the family estate.

The grand vision of The Great Green Wall has been recorded in epic long shots and majestic camera movements. The Ethiopian achievement has been covered in inspirational drone shots.

The music is appealing and versatile. On its way is an "album to capture the spirit of the African dream. We will not see it fulfilled, but we sow the seeds in our lifetime."

Friday, September 27, 2019

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu / Portrait of a Lady on Fire


Portrait de la jeune fille en feu. Adèle Haenel. Please click to enlarge the photo.

Nuoren naisen muotokuva / Stående av en dam i brand.
FR 2019
Festival Hits / LGBTQ+ / Herstories / Love / Sex / About Art
Theme: Gala Films
Country: France
Director: Céline Sciamma
Screenplay: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant
Production: Bénédicte Couvreur / Lilies Films
Duration: 120 min
Rating: 12
Please note that there are no English dialogue nor English subtitles in the screening!
    Language: French
    Subtitles: Swedish, Finnish
    Distribution: Cinemanse
    Print source: Cinemanse
    Cinematography: Claire Mathon
    Editing: Julien Lacheray
Collaboration: Institut Français
Screener link viewed at home.
    4K DCP –1,85:1
– Antonio Vivaldi: Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione / Le quattro stagioni / Concerto n. 2 in sol minore, "L'estate", RV 315 (1723).
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF): Love & Anarchy.
Gala Screening: Bio Rex, 27 Sep 2019

Unifrance synopsis: "Brittany, 1770. Marianne, a painter, is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young woman who has just left the convent. Héloïse is a reluctant bride to be and Marianne must paint her without her knowing. She observes her by day, to paint her secretly."

HIFF: Isabel Stevens (Sight & Sound): "Watching Céline Sciamma’s haunting and downright revolutionary fourth feature makes me think about all the phoney period dramas I’ve sat through. Prestige heritage cinema is so often packaged for women, but rarely does it bother with the nitty gritty of their lives beyond who the characters will marry."

"Men are banished to the background in this thoughtful and tender 18th-century set romance between a painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), and her unwilling subject Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). They appear at the start, dropping Marianne off on a windswept beach by Heloise’s isolated Brittany family home, and they reappear at the end as the film and characters rejoin wider society. In between we witness a quivering love affair, and get a glimpse at what for women freedom circa 1770 might look like."

"“Take time to look at me,” says Marianne, modelling for her class of female students at the start of the film. It equally works as a provocation to us. Take time to look at these characters properly, Sciamma is saying. By the end of the film her order takes on extra resonance as the short-lived love affair inevitably ends, and memories and paintings are all that are left."

"After such a restrained study of love and the power of looking comes the devastating ambush of the film’s ending – but, entirely appropriately, it’s one that simultaneously revels in the rhapsody of art." Isabel Stevens, Sight & Sound

AA: It's a film about painting a portrait of a woman destined to be married who does not look forward to get married.

She refuses to pose, so the painter has to become her maid and observe her while keeping her real mission secret.

But when the mission is inevitably exposed, the portrait does not satisfy its subject, and the painter has to start all over again. And she is not the first to attempt this portrait. Meanwhile, the painter and the model fall in love.

There are four women in the main roles of this film set on an isolated island in Brittany in the 1770s. Adèle Haenel is Héloïse, the reluctant model. Noémie Merlant is the painter. Valeria Golino is the countess, the mistress of the château. Luana Bajrami is Sophie, the real maid. They are all prisoners of the patriarchal society before the revolution.

Célina Sciamma reminds us that there was a surge in the presence of women in art at the time. There were some hundred prominent women painters in this period, artists such as Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Artemisia Gentileschi and Angelica Kauffman. Their circumstances were hard, they were discriminated, and they still are.

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is itself a work with a strong visual concept. Shot on location in Brittany, in a real château, the period look is authentic with a fine taste in costume design.

There is a powerful feeling of natural light, a complex mise-en-scène, and an intricate plan-séquence composition.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: INTERVIEW WITH CÉLINE SCIAMMA AND DATA FROM THE UNIFRANCE PRESSBOOK:

For Sama




من أجل سما
2019
Biopic / Suspense / Society
Theme: Fearless Minds
Country: United Kingdom, USA
Director: Waad al-Kateab / Waad al-Khateab / Waad Alkateab, Edward Watts
Production: Waad al-Kateab / Channel 4 News, ITN Productions
Duration: 100 min
Rating: 16
    Language: Arabic
    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: Autlook Filmsales
    Print source: Autlook Filmsales
    Cinematography: Waad al-Kateab
    Editing: Chloe Lambourne, Simon McMahon
    Music: Nainita Desai
Collaboration: U.S. Embassy in Finland, British Embassy Helsinki.
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 27 Sep 2019.

Among the many activists who have documented the civil war in Syria, the story of 26-year-old Waad al-Kateab is perhaps one of the most remarkable.

Jordan Mintzer quoted by HIFF: "A mere student when the conflict began to sweep through Aleppo in 2012, al-Kateab would, four years later, become one of the last survivors to leave the city. By that time, she was married to a heroic doctor and was the mother of a young girl, with another child on the way. And she was already renowned, especially in the U.K., for her harrowing video reportages – originally published on her Inside Aleppo website – of a city besieged by constant bombings and artillery fire, with the victims counting in the tens of thousands."

"In For Sama, al-Kateab and co-director Edward Watts have fashioned a feature-length letter to the activist’s first daughter. … The film offers up a rare firsthand account of war from a strictly female perspective, focusing on how conflict affects families, and, especially, the hundreds of innocent victims that are children."

"(A)fter watching the arresting images that al-Kateab captures, and the courageous actions of Hamza and his team, it becomes clear that what they did, they also did for Sama — a little girl born into war whose miraculous survival is yet another act of resistance."
Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter quoted by HIFF

AA: The audience was in tears watching For Sama, the first person documentary about the massacre in Aleppo inflicted by President Bashar al-Assad on his own people with the brutal help of Vladimir Putin's air force.

For Sama is a video diary kept by the director, journalist Waad al-Khateab, for five years in Aleppo, a city that was ancient already when its name first appeared in the classic texts of antiquity. It was made for her daughter Sama.

It's a war film like no other. The structure is not linear. We start with an address to Sama, al-Khateab's daughter. In flashbacks we return to the ancien régime: al-Assad's country drowning in injustice and corruption. Revolution begins, and the battle of Aleppo starts in 2012. The people who remain in the revolutionary part of the city have decided to live in dignity or die.

Al-Khateab keeps reporting and documenting everything with her handheld camera. Airstrikes, bombshells, bodybags, mass graves. The regime tortures handcuffed civilians and executes them. Soon there are no schools or medical services left. Everything must be rebuilt.

Doctor Hamza is abandoned by his former wife, faced by her ultimatum: "revolution or marriage". He stays in Aleppo and gets married with Waad al-Khateab who soon expects their baby, Sama.

One of the most important features in For Sama is that it is a record of the fighting spirit of the free citizens of Aleppo. They are in great spirits, full of joy and optimism, playing with their children, cultivating their gardens, learning ancient songs. "Songs louder than bombs". There is a wonderful wedding party of Doctor Hamza and Waad al-Khateab. "An attempt at normal life is an act against the regime".

The childbirth sequence is thrilling, moving and shocking. "The new life is fragile, as fragile as the freedom of Aleppo". Sama becomes the daughter of the whole hospital. The most terrifying sequence is of a dangerously wounded mother who is nine months pregnant. We fear the worst, but both mother and baby are saved and resuscitated in an agonizing sequence.

Al-Khateab's footage is usually handheld. There are also surveillance camera views. And awesome drone shots over ruined Aleppo. Panoramic shots also give us an epic view: there are 180° pans and even a 360° pan. Because of these startling shots I'm reminded of Miasto nieujarzmione (1949), the first film adaptation of the testimony of "The Robinson of Warsaw", Wladyslaw Szpilman. Roman Polanski's The Pianist is more famous, but the unforgettable distinction of the original film is its harrowing authentic location footage of the ruins of Warsaw.

The people fight until the end, even burning tyres for zero visibility for Putin's bombers. Until the resistance is crushed. Our family starts for the exile on a perilous journey through the regime's control posts. Even a new baby is on its way. They will never recover from the trauma. To quote the commentary: "it's a long road full of danger and fear, but freedom awaits us in the end".

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Marian paratiisi / Maria's Paradise (gala in the presence of Zaida Bergroth and cast)


Maria's Paradise with Pihla Viitala as Maria Åkerblom.

Maria's Paradise with Saga Sarkola (Malin) and Satu Tuuli Karhu (Salome).

Maria’s Paradise (2019)
Biopic / Suspense / Herstories / Religion
Theme: Gala Films
Country: Finland
Director: Zaida Bergroth
Screenplay: Anna Viitala, Jan Forsström
Starring: Pihla Viitala, Satu Tuuli Karhu, Saga Sarkola
Production: Kaisla Viitala, Daniel Kuitunen / Elokuvayhtiö Komeetta Oy
Duration: 111 min
Rating: 12
    Language: Finnish
    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: Nordisk Film
    Print source: Nordisk Film
    Cinematography: Hena Blomberg
    Editing: Samu Heikkilä
    Music: Timo Kaukolampi, Tuomo Puranen
    Sound: Micke Nyström
    Production design: Jaagup Roomet
Collaboration: Yle
    Soundtrack selections include:
– "Suojelusenkeli" [Guardian Angel], lyr. Immi Hellén 1884, P. J. Hannikainen 1898.
– Claude Debussy: "Rêverie" (1890).
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Gala hosted by Anna Möttölä, in the presence of Zaida Bergroth, Pihla Viitala, Satu Tuuli Karhu, Saga Sarkola and Timo Kaukolampi.
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 26 Sep 2019.

Production notes quoted by HIFF: "Finland, 1920’s. The charismatic preacher Maria Åkerblom (Pihla Viitala, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, 2013) leads her devout followers to Helsinki, among them is the adoring teenager Salome. When Salome befriends local street girl Malin, her world views are challenged and she is torn between the promise of newfound freedom and Maria’s dangerous all-consuming love."

"During a pivotal summer, Salome is faced with standing up against Maria, the woman who had saved her." Production notes

AA: Maria's Paradise is a period drama from the 1920s about the cult around a sleeping preacher, a trance preacher, a revivalist leader, the charismatic Maria Åkerblom (1898–1981) famous for her electrifying premonitions. "Åkerblomianism" was a cult with apocalyptic dimensions. Its members did not even shy away from violence and murder, not unlike in the Charles Manson phenomenon topical in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.

After the civil war of 1918 there were thousands of orphans and marginalized people in Finland. Maria Åkerblom attracted hundreds, both children and grown-ups. She had been born into extreme poverty and had had to earn her living since age five. She had had hardly any education. In 1917 she fell gravely ill and experienced a religious awakening after which she started preaching in trance. Churches got so crowded that all did not fit in.

The movement was based on a message directly from God via Åkerblom. In an official visitation the movement was condemned, but hundreds of members sold property to fund it. The leaders of the movement were convicted to jail sentences for incitement to murder, but many remained loyal. Later in life Åkerblom was a successful businesswoman and kennel keeper. Åkerblomianism survived the death of its leader in the 1980s.

This is strong material, stronger than in some other recent Finnish films that have dealt with the power of the word and mass manipulation including Ihmisen osa and The Hypnotist. From international cinema we are reminded of The Master and Elmer Gantry.

An interesting reference point is also The Miracle Woman (1931), directed by Frank Capra, written by Jo Swerling (based on a play by John Meehan and Robert Riskin) and starring Barbara Stanwyck as a charismatic preacher whose tabernacle is run by conmen. The character was inspired by Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944), a contemporary of Maria Åkerblom. McPherson was a key personality in the rise of modern Charismatic Christianity and the establishment of the megachurch movement, also referred to in Paul Schrader's First Reformed.

Such issues are relevant in the tragedy of Maria's Paradise, anchored in history. The story is brought to life via two young girls: Salome who becomes Maria's assistant, and Malin, a streetwalker rescued by Salome after being brutalized by a violent customer.

Pihla Viitala incarnates Maria Åkerblom with startling psychological scope ranging from tenderness to violence. Satu Tuuli Karhu carries the even more leading role of Salome whose growing-up story the movie effectively is: rescued as an orphan after the civil war she has been caught under the spell of Maria, her protector and mother figure. Saga Sarkola is wonderful as the streetwise Malin who has had to grow up too soon having been abandoned as a child.

Among other things, Maria's Paradise is a tender and subtle love triangle story of Maria, Salome and Malin.

The weak link of the film is the revivalist experience. We live now in a society so deeply secularized that it has become impossible for us to live the part of a miracle preacher, a charismatic evangelist, and an overwhelming religious ecstasy. Our voices, our singing, our entire being is light years away from that. The performances of the cast are faultless. Only conviction is missing. (That is the case in other fictional films as well. For reference of the real thing, there are documentaries on Billy Graham and Niilo Yli-Vainio.)

The film is both timeless and topical about false prophets who "come to us in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves", to quote the Sermon on the Mount. It is illuminating even for ISIS and Boko Haram psychology topical in this festival's other key films For Sama and The Great Green Wall.

"Nobody will ever love you like I have done".

...

The film was shot in Estonia. The language of Maria Åkerblom and her community was Swedish, but the film is in Finnish.

Maan korvessa kulkevi lapsosen tie.
Hänt’ ihana enkeli kotihin vie.
Niin pitkä on matka, ei kotia näy,
vaan ihana enkeli vierellä käy

- Immi Hellén: "Suojelusenkeli" (1884) comp. P. J. Hannikainen 1898

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Yksittäistapaus / One-Off Incident


Yksittaistapaus: Pikku juttu. Hilla (Krista Kosonen), Kristian (Eero Ritala). Kuva: Alli Haapasalo.

One-Off Incident
Herstories / Society
Theme: Gala Films, Cut to the Chase – L&A Shorts
Country: Sweden, Finland
Duration: 143 min
Rating: 12
Language / subtitles: English
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Collaboration: Yle

Gala screening hosted by Anna Möttölä and Vera Kotila
In the presence of Elli Toivoniemi, Kirsikka Saari,
Sonya Lindfors, Alli Haapasalo, Tine Alavi, Miia Tervo, Anna Paavilainen, Raisa Omaheimo, Inari Niemi, Ulla Heikkilä, Saara Sharma and Reetta Aalto.
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 25 Sep 2019.

HIFF: "Teenage girls take their shirts off at their own party but get an audience. Emmi says no but does it really mean no? Sonja is tired of her body being a problem to others. Why has nearly every woman such experiences? One-Off Incident short films are part of a film sensation made by fifteen filmmakers, artists, researchers and social activists collectively. The films reveal the hidden way power is exercised on women in both private life and in society. The films are fiction but the stories come from the writers’ own real-life observations."

Yksittaistapaus: Pysakki.

1. Pysäkki / A Stop
A young girl tries to make it to school wearing high heels.
Director: Elli Toivoniemi
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 7 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi, Sanna Kultanen
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Elli Toivoniemi
Cinematography: Päivi Kettunen F.S.C.
Editing: Anniina Kauttonen
Production design: Laura Haapakangas
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Roosa Marttiini
Starring: Pinja Sanaksenaho, Veikko Aalste, Joel Hirvonen
AA: A sharp vignette in the bus: a schoolgirl bullied by two stupid boys. Nobody helps her. Nobody defends her.

Yksittaistapaus: Pikku juttu. Hilla (Krista Kosonen), Kristian (Eero Ritala). Kuva: Alli Haapasalo.

2. Pikku juttu / No Big Deal.
A couple’s romantic evening changes when a strange man gropes the woman.
Director: Alli Haapasalo
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 12 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi, Sanna Kultanen
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Alli Haapasalo
Cinematography: Jarmo Kiuru
Editing: Katja Pällijeff
Production design: Laura Haapakangas
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Roosa Marttiini
Starring: Krista Kosonen, Eero Ritala
AA: At a romantic dinner in Lisbon, a local macho gropes Hilla, and her husband is at loss at how to react. More than this evening is ruined.

Yksittäistapaus: Buduaar. Jani (Joonas Snellman), Emmi (Suvi Rantanen). Kuva: Tuffi Films.

3. Buduaar / Boudoir
Does ”no” actually mean no?
Director: Reetta Aalto
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 16 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi, Sanna Kultanen
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Reetta Aalto
Cinematography: Kerttu Hakkarainen
Editing: Ville Hakonen
Production design: Laura Haapakangas
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Roosa Marttiini
Starring: Suvi Blick, Joonas Snellman
    AA: Among teenagers / young adults: the over-persistent Jani cajoles himself into Emmi's bedroom, and never stops pushing the limits, until he offends her.

Yksittaistapaus: Play Rape. Ulla (Sofia Jalagin), Sinja (Emilia Sinisalo), Emppu (Julia Lappalainen). Kuva: Johanna. Onnismaa.

4. Play Rape
A young actress, passionate about her profession, gets ready for a rape scene.
Director: Anna Paavilainen
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 19 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Anna Paavilainen
Cinematography: Päivi Kettunen F.S.C.
Editing: Anna Berg
Production design: Laura Haapakangas, Tytti Tiri
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Roosa Marttiini
Starring: Julia Lappalainen, Jussi Sorjanen, Elina Knihtilä, Kati Outinen, Tommi Eronen
    AA: Preparing a tragedy at the National Theatre they are venturing into the danger zone, the unknown, of rape and violence. There is no uncertainty about the horror of what is being put on display. But whose viewpoint is the one that matters?

Yksittaistapaus: Tyttobileet. Sissi (Elsa Marjanen), Nana (Alisa Roytta), Eveliina (Anna Kare), Ellen (Yasmin Najjar). Kuva: Johanna Onnismaa.

5. Tyttöbileet / Girl Thing
Teenage girls take their shirts off at a party together but they attract an audience.
Director: Inari Niemi
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 13 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi, Sanna Kultanen
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Inari Niemi
Cinematography: Päivi Kettunen F.S.C.
Editing: Anna Berg
Production design: Laura Haapakangas
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Roosa Marttiini
Starring: Yasmin Najjar, Elsa Marjanen, Alisa Röyttä, Anna Kare, Elias Salonen, Lauri Karo
    AA: Teenage girls explore their girlhood during a birthday party, and expose themselves to male comments from both their agemates and their parents' generation.

Yksittaistapaus: Läski. Sonja (Jenny Lehtinen). Kuva: Tuffi Films.

6. Läski / Fat
Sonja is tired of her body being a problem for others.
Director: Kirsikka Saari
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 9 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi, Sanna Kultanen
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Kirsikka Saari, Raisa Omaheimo
Cinematography: Päivi Kettunen F.S.C.
Editing: Ville Hakonen
Production design: Laura Haapakangas
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Kaisu Hölttä
Starring: Jenny Lehtinen, Sonja Kuittinen, Eero Saarinen, Joonas Heikkinen, Juho Milonoff
AA: There are no sizes in clothes that Sonja wants. A Tinder date is a disaster. At the swimming hall she runs out of patience.

Yksittaistapaus: Juhlatunnelma. Katja (Seidi Haarla). Kuva: Johanna Onnismaa.

7. Juhlatunnelma / Festive Spirit
The festive spirit of an office party is ruined when a woman accidentally reveals that their colleague had harassed her at the previous office party.
Director: Jenni Toivoniemi
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 15 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Jenni Toivoniemi, Kirsikka Saari
Cinematography: Jarmo Kiuru
Editing: Tuuli Alanärä
Production design: Sanna-Mari Pirkola
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Kaisu Hölttä
Starring: Pirjo Lonka, Jarkko Pajunen, Teemu Aromaa, Seidi Haarla, Minna Suuronen, Niina Hosiasluoma, Abdulrazaq Al-Jewari, Waanie Nonglak, Ella Lahdemäki, Samuli Niittymäki
AA. Without intending to, Katja slips the confession of having been seriously harassed by a midlevel boss at a previous office party. The reactions are complex when everybody tries to come to terms with the uncomfortable truth. In the end Katja is the one who loses everything.

Yksittaistapaus: Ei mitaan hataa. Kari (Tommi Korpela), Aleksi (Johannes Holopainen), Jukka (Chike Ohanwe). Kuva: Tuffi Films.

8. Ei mitään hätää / It’s All Right
A raped women meets the authorities.
Director: Miia Tervo
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 17 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Miia Tervo, Jenni Toivoniemi
Cinematography: Päivi Kettunen F.S.C.
Editing: Antti Reikko
Production design: Katariina Kapi
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Kaisu Hölttä
Starring: Johannes Holopainen, Lotta Kaihua, Ria Kataja, Tommi Korpela, Leo Honkonen, Chike Ohanwe, Ona Kamu, Martti Tervo
AA: Aleksi, a first-timer gets to handle a rape case in court. For lawyers it's a conveyor belt case. Against all odds, Aleksi wins, but the veterans predict the verdict will be watered down in the court of appeal. Extreme humiliation keeps growing with the victim. An excellent tragic and satiric study.

Yksittäistapaus: Unelmaduuni. Sanna (Meri Nenonen), Istaahil (Sophia Wekesa). Kuva: Aleksi Taivalantti.

9. Unelmaduuni / Dream Job
An environmental specialist goes to a job interview but the interviewer is more interested in what’s going on with the Muslim minority.
Director: Tine Alavi
Country: Finland, Sweden
Year: 2019
Duration: 13 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi, Farima Karimi, Siri Hjorton Wagner,
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Maryan Abdulkarim
Cinematography: Shazi Özdemir
Editing: Katja Pällijeff
Production design: Katariina Kapi
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Kaisu Hölttä
Starring: Sophia Wekesa, Meri Nenonen, Santeri Helinheimo-Mäntylä, Deogracias Masoni
AA: Skin colour seems to be the only thing that matters in a job interview. A deeply moving and psychologically convincing drama.


10. Shake!
Shame related to the body grows and finally falls off on the dance floor.
Director: Sonya Lindfors, Aino Suni
Country: Finland
Year: 2019
Duration: 8 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Sonya Lindfors, Aino Suni
Cinematography: Kerttu Hakkarainen
Editing: Jussi Sandhu
Production design: Sanna-Mari Pirkola
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Kaisu Hölttä
Starring: Tuuli Heinonen, Wanda Dubiel
AA: A musical number about overcoming prejudice and expectations of conventional beauty standards by the means of dance.

Yksittaistapaus: Let Her Speak. Mari (Iida-Maria Heinonen). Kuva: Johanna Onnismaa.

11. Let Her Speak
A merited female scientist is at an international conference and realises that a male moderator is explaining her own theory back at her, until a remark from the audience wakes both speakers and listeners.
Director: Ulla Heikkilä
Country: Finland, Sweden
Year: 2019
Duration: 14 min
Producer: Elli Toivoniemi, Farima Karimi, Siri Hjorton Wagner
Production: Tuffi Films
Screenplay: Ulla Heikkilä, Saara Särmä
Cinematography: Shazi Özdemir
Editing: Tuuli Alanärä
Production design: Ulla Heikkilä, Maria Sekirkina
Pukusuunnittelu: Roosa Marttiini
Sound: Lotta Mäki
Maskeeraus: Kaisu Hölttä
Starring: Iida-Maria Heinonen, Pyry Nikkilä, Juha Kukkonen, Robert Enckell, Per Graffman, Cecilia Nilsson, Eero Milonoff
AA: An academic community silences the voice of women. Men are privileged, women are interrupted and belittled.

AA: A pioneering movie project. A powerful collection of short films on the theme of the invisible subordination of women. The focus is clear and open. These are films à these, but also more than that. The approach is many-sided, subtle, and psychologically convincing. A promising start, and remarkable already.

Exhibition


Exhibition with Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick.

Exhibition (2013)
Love / About Art
Theme: What’s Up, UK?
Country: United Kingdom
Director: Joanna Hogg
Screenplay: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston
Production: Gayle Griffiths / Wild Horses Film Company, BFI British Film Institute, BBC Films, Rooks Nest Entertainment
Duration: 104 min
Rating: 16
    Language: English
    Subtitles: N/A
    Distribution: Visit Films
    Print source: Visit Films
    Cinematography: Ed Rutherford
    Editing: Helle Le Fevre
    Sound: Jovan Ajder
    Production design: Stéphane Collonge
Collaboration: British Embassy Finland
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Viewed at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 25 Sep 2019

Robbie Collin quoted by HIFF: "The new Joanna Hogg film is a tinder-dry meditation on the uneasy commingling of our public and private selves: just the ticket for Sunday afternoon if the kids have already seen Spider-Man."

"Hogg’s films are so fearlessly intelligent, and are built with such steel-enforced formal precision, that you feel as if you should check twice to see if she’s really British, although she grew up in a village near Tunbridge Wells, was mentored by Derek Jarman in her twenties, and directed episodes of Casualty and EastEnders before her debut feature, Unrelated, was released in 2007, which pretty much settles it 50 times over."

"Exhibition is her third feature – her last, Archipelago, was released in 2010, to near-blanket critical acclaim – and it establishes her as our preeminent pryer into the affairs of the English haute-bourgeoisie. The film is set almost entirely in a Modernist des-res in west London, where its married owners are reluctantly preparing to move out."

"Tom Hiddleston, who made his film debut in Unrelated and starred in Archipelago, has a fun cameo as their gloopy estate agent.
" Robbie Collin, The Telegraph (quoted by HIFF)

AA: Exhibition is the name of this film, and it refers to a forthcoming solo exhibition by D (Viv Albertine), the female protagonist. The exhibition will be a mixture of performance and drawing.

The main storyline is about the moving out of the couple from their beloved house. The husband is also known only by an initial, H. He is played by Liam Gillick.

They are determined to sell, but only very reluctantly. The house itself is a major character. Joanna Hogg covers it in long takes and long shots with her personal and unique mise-en-scène.

D and H have not only rooms of their own but floors of their own. They do not see each other all the time but they hear each other, and they frequently communicate via intercom.

Much is seen in reflections. Beyond the superficial plot more profound currents are only hinted at. Joanna Hogg's approach is elliptic and distanced.

But Exhibition is a story of a love marriage. D and H have found a balance of intimacy and distance. Sex is alive. D enjoys nudity, fetishes and autosex besides the regular repertory.

The elegance of the visuals has an affinity with Antonioni, but this is not a story of alienation. The austerity of the visuals is compensated with an emphasis of the sound world.

Exhibition is an original and memorable visual poem.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch



Anthropocene. Furnaces in the world's largest heavy metal smelter in Norilsk.

Anthropocene. Aerial shot of lithium evaporation ponds in Atacama desert, Chile.

Anthropocene. A Carrara marble quarry.
Anthropocene. Dandora landfill in Kenya, East Africa's largest garbage dump.

Anthropocene. A Berezniki potash mine.

Anthropocene. Burning 10.000 ivory tusks in Kenya.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018)
Nature / Society
Theme: Saving the World
Country: Canada
Director: Edward Burtynsky, Nicholas De Pencier, Jennifer Baichwal
Screenplay: Jennifer Baichwal
Production: Nicholas De Pencier / Mercury Films
Duration: 87 min
Rating: 7
    Language: English, Italian, Cantonese, German, Russian
+ Kikuju, Suahili, Yoruba
    Subtitles: partly English
    Distribution: NonStop Entertainment
    Print source: NonStop Entertainment
    Cinematography: Nicholas De Pencier
    Editing: Roland Schlimme
Collaboration: Greenpeace
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Introduced by Juuso Jalkanen (Greenpeace).
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 23 Sep 2019

Jennie Kermode (quoted by HIFF): "Welcome to Anthropocene. Beyond the Holocene, this is an age in which the condition of the biosphere is heavily influenced by human actions. Jennifer Baichwal’s film sets out to explore it, to make us cognisant of the scale of our own endeavours and to show us how our efforts, our technology, our ambition might also drive us to find solutions."

"In one scene, we see the Atacama desert transformed into a alien landscape by pools of lithium being harvested from beneath its surface. In another, a mountain of burning ivory reflects the industrial scale of elephant slaughter driven by the demand for ivory."

"Inside a workshop, an artisan carves hundreds of tiny, praying figures into the side of a tusk. It is, he explains, mammoth ivory. Climate change is causing glaciers to melt. Within them lie the graves of the Pleistocene giants. Their tusks are bigger, provide better material, and are far easier to obtain. He can satisfy his customers without the need to kill."

"To reach a better future, we have first to imagine it. Anthropocene elucidates our monstrous deeds in a way that is observational rather than condemnatory. It invites us to recognise the magnitude of what we have done and, thereby, to understand what we can do if we take action, if we choose a different fate."
Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

Wikipedia: "The Anthropocene Project is a multidisciplinary body of work from collaborators Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal. Combining art, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and scientific research, the project investigates human influence on the state, dynamic and future of the Earth. Anthropocene means a new era of geological time where human activity is the driving force behind environmental and geological change." (Wikipedia)

AA: The Helsinki International Film Festival observed the day of the UN Climate Action Summit with a screening of a remarkable film called Anthropocene: The Human Epoch.

It is the third documentary film created by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, following Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013) which I now look forward to seeing as well.

The film supports the claim that the geological epoch has changed on the geologic time scale (GTS). In 2000 Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer proposed the term Anthropocene because of the fundamental changes brought about by human activity. The proposal has not been approved or adopted by the scientific community.

The scope of the film is global and colossal. We visit the worlds' largest heavy metal smelter in Norilsk, the most polluted city in Russia. We witness the industrial scale of marble mining in Carrara. We see Dantesque landscapes of death at lithium evaporation ponds in Atacama desert. In a chapter called Terraforming we see changed landscapes in Germany where villages are razed to make way for coalmines. The biggest excavators are in use. In Canada primordial forests are felled in clearcutting. Forest machines keep getting bigger and better. In a chapter titled Technofossils we visit a monumental landfill in Kenya, frequented by scavengers including humans and marabou storks. The chapter Anthroturbation takes us to the biggest tunnel in the world, the Gotthard base tunnel in Switzerland. In the chapter Boundary Limits we visit the eerie Berezniki potash mine in Russia. In China sea levels are controlled by huge seawalls in Shengli and Gudong. At Batu Bolong Coral Reef in Komodo, Indonesia, coral reefs are endangered. Human activity is also causing the sixth major extinction of species.

Repeatedly against the marvels of the natural world we observe increasingly monstrous machines. This is a horror film, and the monsters are us. But this film is not nihilistic, cynical or pessimistic. A recurrent feature is a joyous presence of people celebrating: on Norilsk Day, at the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos, at the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, at the grand ivory burning event in Kenya. These sequences might have been staged in a darkly ironic way, but I feel that they express a life-affirming potential that we now need more than ever.

Visually the film is extraordinary, photographed by Edward Burtynsky. The film has autonomous value as a work of art, but the art is inseparable from the mission. There is a careful balance of the grandeur of nature and the desolation of its destruction. The visual experience is about nature vs. urbanization, the natural vs. the mechanical.

Very often the view is from a high angle, including an extreme high angle, often in aerial shots. We get the big picture. Things are put into perspective.

The film-makers revive an early cinema device: the phantom ride. We speed through the teeming Lagos on a motorcycle. And we take a TGV through the Gotthard Base Tunnel, an experience worthy of the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Films like Anthropocene: The Human Epoch bring a new dimension to a term of classical aesthetics, the sublime, which was central before Modernism and which has been marginalized or ignored since. The classical sublime means "awesome, overwhelming, transcending the limits", including experiences such as thunderstorms, earthquakes, wars, love, birth, death, God, space, eternity and infinity. As an aesthetical experience Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is about the destruction of the sublime in the nature. (Example: magnificent Sumatran tigers yawning at the London Zoo. The species is critically endangered).

The cinematography is impressive and grandiose. It flaunts its digital character. Nature footage looks denatured, sometimes pointedly so, including in the Batu Bolong Coral Reef sequence.

Searching Eva (in the presence of Pia Hellenthal)



Searching Eva (2019)
LGBTQ+ / Herstories / Love / Sex
Theme: Lifestyle
Country: Germany
Director: Pia Hellenthal
Screenplay: Pia Hellenthal, Giorgia Malatrasi
Production: Martin Roelly, Erik Winker / CORSO Film
Duration: 84 min
Rating: 18
    Language: English [bits in Italian, German]
    Subtitles: partly English
    Distribution: Syndicado Film Sales
    Print source: Syndicado Film Sales
    Cinematography: Janis Mazuch
    Editing: Yana Höhnerbach
Collaboration: Goethe Institut
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
In the presence of Pia Hellenthal hosted by Marjo Pipinen.
Viewed at Kinopalatsi 5, Helsinki, 23 Sep 2019

Production notes (quoted by HIFF): "When in 1996 the lyricist of The Grateful Dead announced that Cyberspace will bring “a civilization of the Mind“, F. was four years old. A few years later she declared privacy as an outdated concept, renamed herself Eva and published her first diary entry online. Quickly Eva became an Internet star, allowing the world to watch her grow up. Today Eva is in her early twenties, fluctuating between her offline life, where she recently defined herself an anarchist vagabond and a feminist sex worker and her online persona, iconified as an archetype of authenticity."

"Searching Eva is the tale of a young woman growing up in the age of the internet, turning the search for oneself into a public spectacle, challenging you on what a woman “should be”."

"Searching Eva floats between artificial staging and documentary observation, combining Eva’s blog – which leads as a voice over through her online published introspection – with everyday scenes, always followed by her online fans." Production notes (quoted by HIFF)

AA: Searching Eva is a cyberspace odyssey.

To repeat from the production notes from above of Pia Hellenthal's thought-provoking film: "Today Eva is in her early twenties, fluctuating between her offline life, where she recently defined herself an anarchist vagabond and a feminist sex worker and her online persona, iconified as an archetype of authenticity."

"Searching Eva is the tale of a young woman growing up in the age of the internet, turning the search for oneself into a public spectacle, challenging you on what a woman “should be”."

Searching Eva is a provocative contribution to some of the most puzzling questions of our age. What does identity mean in the age of the internet and the social media? It is easy to get lost in cyberspace. But it might also be possible to find oneself there, or at least keys to the equation of existence in the world today.

Although the film is German and Eva is Italian, the language spoken is English, the anonymous, impersonal, flavourless variation that is our lingua franca today, itself defying definitions of identity.

Towards the end I was thinking about the identity quest and the problematization of sex and gender in Weimar cinema, also because Eva sports a wig that reminds me a little of Louise Brooks in Die Büchse der Pandora and Tagebuch einer Verlorenen. She defied definitions as does Eva.

Towards the end options include: write a suicide note, go to the beach, and start a revolution. I guess Eva is going to pick the third alternative.

...

In the Q&A (in English) Pia Hellenthal told us that the film was for a long time in the making. "It was started in 2014 and finished in February 2019. Eva was happy about the film. You cannot place her in a box. I learned a lot from Eva, from her way of looking what a woman is. Who I am. It was a liberating thought, a big thing I learned from her, about illness brought by work, religion and body in the capitalistic society. During the filming, I developed a better understanding of the male gaze. The sex scenes were filmed with Eva's actual boyfriend, and the sugar daddy was played by an actor. The drug scenes took place while we were hanging around." (The quotes are not verbatim).

...

On the soundtrack: "I Started A Joke" (Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb, 1968) perf. by Low.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Souvenir


The Souvenir with Tom Burke as Anthony and Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Le Souvenir (1778). "According to the 1792 sale catalogue, the girl is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s heroine Julie whom he wrote about in his novel of the same name [Julie, ou, La nouvelle Héloïse], although its original title was Lettres de deux amants (habitants d’une petite ville au pied des Alpes) (“Letters from two lovers living in a small town at the foot of the Alps”)." jonathan5485 on his My Daily Art Display website. Please do click on the image to enlarge it.

The Souvenir (2018)
Herstories / Familial Love / About Art
Theme: What’s Up, UK?
Country: United Kingdom, USA
Director: Joanna Hogg
Screenplay: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Honor Swinton Byrne
Production: Luke Schiller, Joanna Hogg / The Souvenir Film Ltd
Duration: 119 min
Rating: 16
    Language: English
    Subtitles: none
    Distribution: Protagonist Pictures
    Print source: Protagonist Pictures
    Cinematography: David Raedeker
    Editing: Helle Le Fevre
Collaboration: British Embassy Helsinki
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 22 Sep 2019

Peter Bradshaw (quoted by HIFF): "A gem of a film, shot with powdery perfection, Joanna Hogg’s multilayered memoir of self discovery, artistic dreams, class privilege and the pains of first love solidifies her place at the forefront of new British cinema. A top notch cast is lead by Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke and Tilda Swinton."

"The Souvenir is refrigerated and mysterious: uncompromising, uningratiating: an artefact in the highest auteur register, but a film that creeps up on you – from behind. There’s a challenging absence of obvious readability, particularly with regard to the vital issue of tone. In some ways, it’s like a psychological drama without the drama or an ironic satire without the irony – or not much irony anyway. (Perhaps the nearest thing to playfulness is the deadpan announcement over the closing credits that The Souvenir II is on its way — the way they used to trail the upcoming James Bond.)"

"As with other Hogg films, there is an austere, unemphasised plainness. Closeups are rare. Hogg conducts her dramatic business in a sort of indoor available light, with characters often quite simply going into semi-darkness if they walk away from windows: a look Hogg has contrived in her other films, no matter what cinematographer she is working with. Most distinctively, it is a film about the upper classes, but not in the Downton Abbey style: it is about the upper classes as they actually are, in the dull day-to-day, a social realist movie about posh people. It’s as if Hogg has found a contemporary English response to the rhetoric of Antonioni or Visconti." Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (quoted by HIFF)

AA: This is my first encounter with the work of Joanna Hogg, beautifully discussed by Jana Prikryl in her essay "Why Not Film What Happened?" in The New York Review of Books, the 26 September 2019 issue, covering all her theatrical feature films Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010), Exhibition (2013) and The Souvenir (2019).

First impressions: The Souvenir is a sensitive evocation of first love, completely different from Pedro Almodóvar's Dolor y gloria with which it shares the theme and the fact that both films are works of autofiction with a film-maker as the protagonist.

Like Éric Rohmer, Joanna Hogg loves scenes of intimate conversation in which the characters reveal themselves discussing everyday topics. The approach is anti-dramatic, although matters of life and death are at stake.

Like Yasujiro Ozu, Hogg prefers the long shot and seldom uses close-up. People are revealed in their milieux, often at home. The observations of the milieux are accurate and telling.

But Hogg has a style and and approach of her own. In this film the visual look is very much based on cinéma vérité and available light. The image may become blurred at times and the sound reduced to a mumble. Often a main activity is seen in reflections only.

Hogg prefers the long take, and at the same time her structure is fragmentary and elliptic. Thus we receive generous chunks of time followed by abrupt cuts to completely changed circumstances. A personal feature of Hogg's mise-en-scène is the use of divided space: not split screen but rooms divided by doorways or other partitions so that we can observe simultaneous activities in different parts of a dwelling.

Films enter into dialogue in a film festival: yesterday I saw Werk ohne Autor, and like in that film Hogg offers a tender and affectionate view of an art school, her own film school, where she, like Gerhard Richter by Joseph Beuys, is encouraged to be personal, be herself. Julie would like to burst out of the bubble and create works of social realism, but she ends up filming the reality she knows best, of upper and middle class life.

The film references are not at all overbearing but often funny and surprising like boyfriend Anthony's passion for Powell and Pressburger and Anthony and Julie's reference to "the Wall of Jericho" in It Happened One Night.

The Souvenir is a tale of mad love. There is a saying in Finland: "Miksi naiset rakastuvat renttuihin?" ("Why do women fall for tramps?"), and that is the story here, as well. (The same goes for men: Why do men fall for tramps? Look no further than The Blue Angel). One could hear audible sighs of disappointment from the female audience when Julie overlooks yet again an instance of gross transgression by Anthony.

Anthony gives the impression that he is a special officer of the Foreign Office. In fact he is a heroin addict. Nevertheless, the love is true and profound between him and Julie. This is not a case of harassment, or relevant of Me Too. Anthony is deferential and careful. Julie is more active in breaking the Wall of Jericho.

At the start of her career Hogg directed music videos for Alison Moyet among others. Music is important in The Souvenir, and there are passages that resemble the lyrical brand of music videos. Besides pop music that was contemporary in 1982 we hear music from Béla Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle (A kékszakállú herceg vára, 1911), a favourite of Anthony's. Plus Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" (1939), a favourite of both Julie and her mother. There is something in Joanna Hogg's approach that seems to aspire to the condition of the musical. There is even a discussion among film students that there has never been a good British musical. (They don't seem to appreciate Jessie Matthews or Absolute Beginners.)

The performances are moving and convincing. Honor Swinton Byrne carries the film in her debut performance as Julie. Her mother is played by Honor's real mother Tilda Swinton (who had acted for Hogg already before Swinton became famous). She returns in a finely observed study of the British upper class. Tom Burke is perfect as the volatile Anthony, the heroin addict posing as diplomat.

The Souvenir is a visual poem. The film was shot on 16 mm photochemical film by David Raedeker, and a sense of the grain has been retained in the digital transfer. In various contexts Hogg displays an affection for the analogue (photographs on film, the typewriter).

The title of the film refers to a painting by the Rococo master Fragonard, made ten years before the Revolution (see image above).

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Werk ohne Autor / Never Look Away


Werk ohne Autor / Never Look Away. The artist finds himself at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf by facing his personal trauma as a part of the German tragedy. Please click to enlarge the photo.

2019
Biopic / About Art / Society
Theme: Artists…
Country: Italy, Germany
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenplay: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Sebastian Koch, Tom Schilling
Production: Jan Mojto, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Quirin Berg / Wiedemann & Berg Filmproduktion, Pergamon Film
Duration: 189 min
Rating: 16
    Language: German
    Subtitles: English
    Distribution: SF Film Finland
    Print source: Sony Pictures Classics
    Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel
    Editing: Patricia Rommel
Collaboration
Goethe Institut
Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Helsinki
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy
Viewed at Kino Engel 2, Helsinki, 21 Sep 2019.

Camillo De Marco (quoted by HIFF): "True art survives totalitarianism and never lets itself be tamed by conformism, as long as the artist maintains their freedom of perspective. This is the underlying message of Never Look Away by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who returns to the big screen eight years after the disappointing The Tourist and 12 years after his extraordinary exploit The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film."

"Never Look Away does engage its audience, despite having a three hour eight-minute-long runtime (spare a thought for the operators who will have to schedule it…) and being a bit too simplistic, explanatory and didactic. It’s clear that von Donnersmarck intended this film to be watched by a young audience, to whom he can pass on his interpretation of a fundamental moment in recent history. The important thing is to “never to look away.”" Camillo De Marco, Cineuropa.org (quoted by HIFF)

AA: I had read Michael Hofmann's scathing review "Art for Film's Sake" about Werk ohne Autor in The New York Review of Books (21 March 2019).

I was also aware Gerhard Richter's comment about the film that it "abuses and grossly distorts my biography". For seekers of truth and for a treasure trove of Richter's art his homepage is rewarding. From this viewpoint Werk ohne Autor fails to understand Gerhard Richter and modern art in general.

Yes: Werk ohne Autor is a mainstream entertainment film. As Richter stated about the trailer, it's "reisserisch" (like a thriller). It's linear, it's polished, it's conventional, it's superficial in many ways. The actors are beautiful film stars and glamour models. The narrative is exciting like a 19th century serial.

Yet I'm very impressed by the film. I like the direct way it confronts big issues. I like the way it states the obvious which is not obvious after all.

The film starts movingly in an Entartete Kunst (Degraded Art) exhibition in Nazi Germany. After the war we attend an art class where a well-meaning professor lambasts modern art in East Germany: it's all about "me, me, me". When Kurt and Ellie leave for West Germany, in the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf the professor (modelled after Joseph Beuys) requires complete freedom and independence.

Yes, it's obvious, it's direct. And it's relevant, and it's puzzling. This is highly dramatized, simplified and stylized. There is a satirical touch of the caricature in all three circumstances, but it's not banal or irrelevant.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck brings a blockbuster approach to German history, but it's never trivial history.

Kurt and Ellie live in three different Germanies, and so does Ellie's father, SS-Obersturmbannführer Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch) who survives in East Germany as an acclaimed professor of gynecology. When his Nazi past is about to be exposed, he escapes to West Germany, where he again rises to the top of the establishment. But he has to retire when new revelations threaten him again.

In a memorable sequence the Joseph Beuys-like professor visits Kurt's studio and fails to discover Kurt in his paintings. Kurt himself knows this. He is a brilliant technician with nothing to say. Having heard Beuys's harrowing personal story he is inspired to face his own past for the first time in his art.

The sequence of Kurt's first solo exhibition is brilliant. The audience and the critics are clueless, and Kurt answers their questions by agreeing basically with anything they have to say. He even agrees with the assumption that his images are based on "photos without an author".

It is, indeed, irrelevant for the viewer to know that the images are traumatically personal. Kurt has made photorealistic copies of photographs and blurred them with a signature sfumato brush.

Time and again, Donnersmarck shows how we completely misunderstand and misinterpret art. As in Kurt's installation, the artists may be happy to let us to do so.

In the Internet Movie Database there is a gallery of 104 photos of Werk ohne Autor. It's a wonderful resource for further contemplation of a rewarding film.

What stays in mind: the sorrowful look in Kurt's eyes as a child and a grown-up man. The sense of loss.

P.S. 24 Sep 2019. The movie keeps growing in my mind. I like the (for foreigners) offbeat observations from German history, such as the 1952 reunification proposal and the fact that until August 1961 it was relatively easy to move from the East to West Germany. – The account of the Nazi mass murder project here focuses on euthanasia (with 300.000 victims). – In Kurt's family there is a vicious circle of harassment, while Professor Seeband is a survivor in all circumstances. – Kurt's trajectory: from socialist realism to capitalist realism. I had not made this connection before seeing the film. Capitalist realism was the West German counterpart to Andy Warhol and pop art in America.