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


P.S. 3 Dec 2019. Today I was thinking about Selma Lagerlöf's Jerusalem and Conrad Veidt's interpretation as Hellgum in Gustaf Molander's Ingmarsarvet / The Ingmar Inheritance (SE 1925). In Bille August's 1996 remake Hellgum was played by Sven-Bertil Taube.

Hellgum (Conrad Veidt) engages the villagers of Nås to join the Hellgumians and promises them a better life in Jerusalem in Ingmarsarvet (The Ingmar Inheritance, SE 1925).

Arttu Manninen (HIFF)

“Kukaan ei tuu sua koskaan rakastamaan niin kuin mä”, karismaattinen lahkonjohtaja Maria Åkerblom (Pihla Viitala) sanoo seuraajalleen heikolla hetkellä. Onnistunut manipulaatio vaatii juuri sopivassa suhteessa keppiä ja porkkanaa, eikä Åkerblomilta puutu kumpaakaan. Ennustukset Jerusalemista ja sitä seuraavasta lopullisesta paratiisista saavat väen suunniltaan. Kuten kulttijohtajat Åkerblomin aikana ja tämän jälkeen ovat huomanneet, rikkinäisiä sieluja on helppo hallita.

Zaida Bergrothin tositapahtumiin pohjautuva aikalaiskuvaus on kylmäävä hyppy 1920-luvun Helsinkiin, joka ei ole suruton kaupunki. Marian uskollisin ja luotetuin seuraaja Salome (Satu-Tuuli Karhu) on orpo, joka tapaa katujen kasvatti Malinin (Saga Sarkola). Marian ollessa poissa Malin sulautuu seuraajien joukkoon, ja nuorten lahkolaisten suhde syvenee. Painostava uhka lipuu ystävien ylle myrskypilven lailla. Marian ylitsevuotava rakkaus ei ole enää hallinnassa, vaan paratiisin lämpö alkaa muuttua tukahduttavaksi trooppiseksi yöksi.

Marian paratiisi on vangitseva profetia, joka pureutuu kiinni kuin karhunrauta lihaan. Terävät hampaansa paljastaa myös Timo Kaukolammen ja Tuomo Purasen (K-X-P, Op:l Bastards) musiikki, joka jyskyttää aavemaisesti hylätyn messiaan yllä. Vuoden kotimaisiin huippuihin kuuluva elokuva hiipii uniin.

Arttu Manninen (HIFF)

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