Saturday, November 09, 2019


US 2019.
    PC: Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Films / Joint Effort. P: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff.
    D: Todd Phillips. SC: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver. Based on characters by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson at DC Comics.
    DP: Lawrence Sher – source format: ARRIRAW 3.4K, 4.5K, 5.1K – digital intermediate 4K – released on 35 mm, 70 mm, D-Cinema.
    AD: Laura Ballinger. Set dec: Kris Moran. Cost: Mark Bridges. Makeup: Nicki Ledermann. Hair: Kay Georgiou. M: Hildur Guðnadóttir. S: Alan Robert Murray. ED: Jeff Groth. Casting: Shayna Markowitz. Soundtrack credits include:
– "Temptation Rag" (Henry Lodge, 1909), perf. Claude Bolling.
– "Slap That Bass" (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) from Shall We Dance (1937) with Fred Astaire
– "Smile" (Charles Chaplin, John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons) from Modern Times (1936), lyrics 1954, perf. Jimmy Durante 1965.
– "That's Life" (Dean Kay, Kelly Gordon, 1963) perf. Frank Sinatra 1966.
– "Rock 'n' Roll (Part 2)" (Gary Glitter, Mike Leander) perf. Gary Glitter 1972.
– "White Room" (Jack Bruce, Pete Brown) perf. Cream 1968.
– "Send In the Clowns" (Stephen Sondheim 1973 for A Little Night Music based on Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night) perf. Frank Sinatra 1973.
    C: Joaquin Phoenix (Arthur Fleck), Robert De Niro (Murray Franklin), Zazie Beetz (Sophie Dumond), Frances Conroy (Penny Fleck), Brett Cullen (Thomas Wayne), Douglas Hodge (Alfred Pennyworth), Dante Pereira-Olson (Bruce Wayne), Glenn Fleshler (Randall the clown), Leigh Gill (Gary the clown), Bill Camp (detective, Gotham City Police Department), Shea Whigham (detective, Gotham City Police Department), Marc Mahon (Gene Ufland, producer on Franklin's show), Josh Pais (Hoyt Vaughn, Arthur's agent), Brian Tyree Henry (a clerk at Arkham State Hospital), Ben Warheit (Wall Street banker murdered by Arthur on the subway platform).
    Loc: New York City, New Jersey.
    122 min
    Festival premiere: 31 Aug 2019 Venice Film Festival.
    US premiere: 28 Sep 2019.
    Finnish premiere: 4 Oct 2019, released by SF Studios, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Timo Porri / Janne Staffans.
    DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 2, Helsinki, 9 Nov 2019.

Synopsis (Venice 2019): "Joker centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night... but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study."

Director’s Statement (Venice 2019): "I was always intrigued by the complexity of Joker and felt his origin would be worth exploring since nobody had really attempted that before. In fact, part of his lore was that he didn’t have a definitive origin, so Scott Silver and I sat down to write a version of how he may have come to be. We included certain elements from the canon and set it in a broken-down Gotham City sometime in the late 1970s-early 1980s, partly because that harkens back to an era of some of the great character studies in film that I’ve always loved. We wrote it with Joaquin Phoenix in mind, because he’s always so transformative in his work and he never goes half-way. Our hope was to create a character that you really feel for, even root for, up until the point that you just can’t anymore." (Todd Phillips)

AA: The joker and the clown have been popular in the cinema since the early days. Recently I was thinking about Ingmar Bergman and his clown obsession from Gycklarnas afton (1953, literally: The Night of the Clowns) till In the Presence of a Clown (1997). His fascination had been fuelled by the writer Hjalmar Bergman (no relation, author of the novel Jac the Clown) who was obsessed with the theme of humiliation, as was Victor Sjöström, who had often worked together with Hjalmar Bergman before becoming the director of the first film produced by MGM, He Who Gets Slapped (1924), starring Lon Chaney as the clown. The figure of the clown was even more important for Bergman's friend Federico Fellini; the circus concept was the key to his Weltanschauung. Fellini also quipped that "Today's clowns do not make anybody laugh. Rather they make you cry".

The heyday of the cinema's clown / circus / variety obsession was in the 1920s, culminating in Germany's first sound film The Blue Angel (1930) in which a mighty teacher played by Emil Jannings is reduced to a clown in the cinema's most harrowing account of humiliation. There was an exodus of Weimar talent to Hollywood, and at Universal studios Paul Leni directed a film adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring another Weimar genius, Conrad Veidt, as Gwynplaine.

The permanent grimace carved on Gwynplaine's face was the inspiration for Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson in creating the Joker in the debut issue of Batman for DC Comics in 1940. The Joker character has returned to moving images in several incarnations, and somehow the original Weimar, Hjalmar Bergman, Victor Sjöström, Lon Chaney and Conrad Veidt affinities have remained alive whether consciously or not (probably not).

Alan Napier's Joker interpretation in the spoof Batman television series of the 1960s was trivial, but in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman reboot Jack Nicholson created a memorably deranged interpretation, with bizarre touches such as carving grimaces to masterpieces at the Gotham Museum of Art. His was one of the cinema's most unforgettable monsters, but in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) Heath Ledger topped him in an even more shocking performance.

Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger's monster interpretations may be impossible to top, and Todd Phillips has opened a completely different route, based on social and psychological realism. Also he and his brilliant star Joaquin Phoenix go all the way but this time without flamboyant excess or turbocharged action spectacle.

Like in the films of Burton and Nolan, the nightmare mode is compelling, and also in this way the Weimar affinity is alive. Joker, although vaguely set in the early 1980s, is a dream reflection of major topical turbulences: the reverberations of 2008, the new Gilded Age, the downfall of social security, child neglect and abuse, budget cuts in mental health services, medicalization, laxity in gun regulation, Occupy Wall Street, and mass demonstrations of young people around the world, often wearing masks.

The disturbing figure of the clown resonates in a perverted way with the cast of contemporary world leaders including Silvio Berlusconi, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, all of whom became famous as clownish television personalities. Not forgetting that there are further world leaders who remind us of villains in Batman and Bond movies.

P.S. I cannot explain why I'm thinking about it, but one of my favourite clown interpretations in the cinema is by Ivan Mosjoukine in La Maison du mystère VII: Les Caprices du destin (1923).

Birger Carlstedt: Le Chat Doré (exhibition)

Birger Carlstedt: Mélodie orientale, 1954, putrido on hardboard, 60 x 49. Carlstedt-arkivet / Amos Rex. Photo: Stella Ojala.

Birger Carlstedt: sketch for Le Chat Doré, 1929. Photo: Stella Ojala. Please do click on the images to enlarge them!

Birger Carlstedt: Le Chat Doré
Birger Carlstedt: Den Gyllene katten
Birger Carlstedt: Kultainen kissa
Amos Rex, Helsinki, 11 Oct 2019 – 12 Jan 2020
Curators: Synnöve Malmström, Tuomas Laulainen.
In charge of the project: Teijamari Jyrkkiö (utställningschef), Kai Kartio (museichef).
Exhibition architect: Taina Väisänen.
Photographer: Stella Ojala.

Books to the exhibition:
– Birger Carlstedt: Modernismens utmaningar (in Swedish)
– Birger Carlstedt: Modernismin haaste (in Finnish)
Writers: Susanna Aaltonen, Rauno Endén, Liisa Kasvio, Tuomas Laulainen, Marie-Sofie Lundström, Synnöve Malmström.
Hard cover, 216 pages, 155 images.
Amos Rex skriftserie nr 5.
ISBN 978-952-7226-39-1
Helsinki: Parvs Publishing / Amos Rex, 2019

Official introduction: "Amos Rex presents Birger Carlstedt (1907–1975) in an extensive exhibition that encompasses the artist’s entire career, all the way from his abstract experiments of the 1920s to the Concretist period beginning in the 1950s. The exhibition includes a reconstruction of the legendary café Le Chat Doré, “The Golden Cat”."

"Birger Carlstedt was a pioneer in abstract art and a multitalented dandy who worked with fields such as interior design, design and staging, in addition to painting. He followed and participated in the discussion around art during his time, dared to experiment outside the mainstream and familiarised himself with new artistic movements during his many travels."

"The exhibition is based on Amos Rex’s collections, which the museum has inherited from Birger Carlstedt and his spouse, concert pianist France Ellegaard

AA: Amos Rex, which opened last year in the heart of Helsinki, delves for the first time deep into the core of its own holdings with a large exhibition of Birger Carlstedt, a pioneering Finnish modernist who donated his legacy to the museum. This is the most extensive Carlstedt exhibition so far. On the occasion also the first comprehensive Carlstedt monograph is published.

The exhibition is a visual journey through six decades. The ample exhibition space is dynamically put to use in an odyssey through many stages of creation. The word "odyssey" is apt. Since childhood Carlstedt was well-travelled. He was multi-lingual, and French was his main language next to his native Swedish and Finnish.

From early on, Carlstedt's work was exhibited in Paris, an endless source of inspiration and influences for him. He was also exhibited in Stockholm before his real breakthrough in Finland. When it finally came, he stood in the front rank of abstract painters together with his younger friends Lars-Gunnar Nordström ("Nubben"), Sam Vanni and Ernst Mether-Borgström.

Major rooms in the exhibition include: Early Modernism, The Circus, The Idyll at the Villa, The Journey to North Africa 1938, Surrealism and Magic Realism, The Rupture, From Morning Till Evening: the Mural at Kauttua, Form and Colour, and Music.

The heart of the exhibition is a built space, a reconstruction of the functionalist Le Café Doré (established in 1929 at Unioninkatu 22 in Helsinki, during the Prohibition), the first functionalist interior in Finland. It is delightful in its imaginative colour world.

Birger was influenced by his first wife, Jacquette af Forselles, his fellow student at the art school. She travelled to Germany in 1926, stayed apparently with the Bauhaus, and weaved rugs with Margaret Dambeck and Liesel Henneberg. The artist couple was inspired by Bauhaus and De Stijl. Jacquette died already in 1933.

The Café Doré reconstruction is a real functioning café, open during the museum hours. Like the manifestos of the modernist Torchbearers movement, it was an avantgardistic lighthouse in a gloomy and regressive Finland. Carlstedt worked also as an art director for theatres and as an interior designer for official and private spaces.

The Russian Cabinet of Café Doré has been reconstructed as augmented reality, accessible via mobile applications.

Carlstedt possessed a powerful abstract (and cubist) impulse already in the 1920s, and also Giorgio de Chirico's pittura metafisica impressed him, but a crushing and reactionary reaction in our pre-WWII atmosphere was overwhelming. Even Carlstedt's surrealist touches, including three stylized vulvas, were rejected.

Carlstedt reverted mainly to figurative art, often with a passionate expressionist accent. Carlstedt let himself be inspired by the sunlit nature at his villa, the full-figured curves of the nude female form (his second wife Inga posing as the model), the glowing colours of Africa, the circus world, and the possibilities of the still life.

Carlstedt's still lives were celebrations of the bright colours of fruit and flowers. All his life he was a colourist, and in some African visions and still lives the abstract and metaphysical impulse was close. A surrealist inspiration kept emerging in works such as Nightmare (1945) which seemed to reflect the horrors of WWII and the nuclear threat.

Carlstedt received huge commissions, most importantly, the giant From Morning till Evening (1949, 2,5 x 12,5 meters) for the A. Ahlström factory. In cinematic terms, the format is double CinemaScope. A projected image of the fresco in life size is on display, as are intriguing sketches in which we can observe the evolution of the imagery.

After the completion of the figurative mural a magnificent takeoff took place. At last Carlstedt moved irrevokably towards abstraction, to the nonfigurative, and found his true self in a series of works that he called concretist – referring to concrete elements of the painting such as colour, form and space. He had already been inspired by concretism in Paris in the 1920s, but there had been no response in Finland to such an initiative either.

Carlstedt was increasingly inspired by music having married the pianist France Ellegaard in 1949. Carlstedt carefully built and cultivated something that he called his "colour piano" (it is also on display at the exhibition) and created paintings based on dynamic geometric forms. A sense of movement and suspense was always present.

These rooms (Form and Colour, and Music) are the highlights of the exhibition. The most impressive paintings include Mélodie orientale (1954), Transparences lumineuses (1954) and Suite musicale: Serenata (1955–1972). The joy of colour is engaging, the play with forms is stimulating, and the hanging has been executed in perfect taste, doing justice to Carlstedt's sense of art direction.

In the Music section of the exhibition we can see and hear a video of France Ellegaard playing the piano while examining some of Birger's finest abstractions.

In many works Carlstedt used a paint solution called putrido, a mix of oil paint and tempera. Evidently he had no long term experience in mixing putrido, and durability issues are emerging in his paintings as colour surfaces are turning brittle. The conservator team at Amos Rex must have been busy in preparing this impressive exhibition.

The book to the exhibition is the first major study focusing on Birger Carlstedt's entire career. It is very rewarding to read. As for the illustrations, Carlstedt was very particular in his colour decisions. Unfortunately the colours of the illustrations do not do justice to Carlstedt. They are too bland and too pale. For better reproductions in books it is good to turn to Pinx, Ars, Modernin kahdet kasvot and Valon rakentajat for comparison.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Sorry We Missed You

Kiitos tilauksestasi / Sorry We Missed You [Swedish title].
    GB / FR / BE © 2019 Sixteen Swmy Limited, Why Not Productions, Les Films Du Fleuve, British Broadcasting Corporation, France 2 Cinema And The British Film Institute. P: Rebecca O'Brien.
    D: Ken Loach. SC: Paul Laverty. DP: Robbie Ryan – negative: 16 mm – Super 16 – colour – 1,85:1 – release: D-Cinema. PD: Fergus Clegg. AD: Julie Ann Horan. Cost: Jo Slater. Makeup: Anita Brolly.
S: Kevin Brazier. M: George Fenton. ED: Jonathan Morris. Casting: Kathleen Crawford.
    C: Kris Hitchen (Ricky Turner), Debbie Honeywood (Abbie Turner), Rhys Stone (Seb Turner), Katie Proctor (Lisa Jane Turner), Ross Brewster (Maloney).
    Loc: Newcastle upon Tyne.
    101 min
    Festival premiere: 16 May 2019 Cannes Film Festival
    French premiere: 23 Oct 2019
    British premiere: 1 Nov 2019
    Finnish premiere: 8 Nov 2019 – released by Finnkino – Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Nina Ekholm.
    DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 8 Nov 2019.   

IMDb synopsis: "Hoping that self-employment through gig economy can solve their financial woes, a hard-up UK delivery driver and his wife struggling to raise a family end up trapped in the vicious circle of this modern-day form of labour exploitation."

Wikipedia synopsis: "Ricky and his family have been fighting an uphill struggle against debt since the 2008 financial crash. An opportunity to wrestle back some independence appears with a shiny new van and the chance to run a franchise as a self employed delivery driver. It's hard work, and his wife's job as a carer is no easier. The family unit is strong but when both are pulled in different directions everything comes to breaking point."

AA: Ken Loach is at his best in Sorry We Missed You. He has lost nothing of his touch and punch during 55 years, having started in television and being launched onto a screen career with Poor Cow, Kes and Family Life.

Sorry We Missed You is an essential film about the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. In a bigger picture it is also about what has happened to society after the neoliberalistic turn of the 1980s, launched by Augusto Pinochet, theorized by Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan, and promoted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Since Carla's Song Loach's regular screenwriter has been Paul Laverty. Sorry We Missed You is their 15th collaboration.

It's not a film à these. It is a family story based on simple observations and structured on parallel montage. Both parents are heroes of the gig economy, the father Ricky as a driver and the mother Abbie as a carer. The son Seb has teenage growing pains and an epic case of maladjustment at school. The daughter Lisa Jane is often home alone because the parents' workdays are longer than around the clock. She watches David Attenborough's nature shows.

The narrative is crisp, starting in medias res and proceeding via action. This movie is a special kind of thriller: both parents are risking the survival of their family in gig jobs. As their success is based on their keeping airtight schedules, every obstacle becomes a suspense element: a traffic jam, a vicious dog, an elevator out of order.

This is just for starters. Even worse is to fall asleep behind the wheel, being summoned to the police station because Seb has been caught stealing, or being robbed and manhandled. All risks and costs are on the responsibility of the worker who has no lunch break, no medical service nor holiday. Because of the assault and robbery Ricky lands in thousands in debt to the company. The drivers carry large plastic bottles because there is no time to visit the toilet. Abbie has nightmares about drowning into the quicksand.

In Finland a former prime minister, Mr. Esko Aho, coined the expression "kännykkäisä" ("cellphone dad"). In this story it is particularly Abbie who turns into a "cellphone mom". When the parents come home late Lisa Jane has to wake them up when they fall asleep in front of the tv.

Sorry We Missed You is a tale about the supremacy of the digital tools. In Ricky's job the magic gadget is a personal scanner which registers everything about package routes. For Seb it is his smartphone. Ricky makes the fatal error of taking it from Seb when he does not seem to listen his parents who want to save him from getting a police record.

Abbie is angry at Ricky: "It's his life". I think it was Roman Polanski in Carnage, based on the play by Yasmine Reza, who made the point first in the cinema: "My whole life was in there" stated Alan (Christopher Waltz) when his wife Nancy (Kate Winslet) drowned his smartphone in a tulip vase.

Sorry We Missed You is a cross-section movie about contemporary society. Ricky and Abbie are constantly on the move, Ricky delivering packages and Abbie caring for the old and the disabled. She is good at it, but the merciless pace allows little room for humanity. We get revealing vignettes of old ones neglected by their children who only look forward to their parents' death. When Ricky is badly beaten we get a gruesome peek at the human condition at the emergency hospital.

These views evoke classics of neorealism such as Ladri di biciclette: a single scene can convey epic insights into society. We are also reminded of De Sica in the account of the relationship between father and son, inflamed in circumstances of social distress.

The Turner family falls into crisis. Ricky hits Seb due to a misunderstanding. Seb leaves home and Ricky realizes for the first time that Seb, keen on graffiti and parkour, has artistic talent and there is "a lot I don't know about him".

Ultimately Sorry We Missed You is a love story about family solidarity. When the Turners for once have an opportunity to share a dinner, Abbie gets an emergency call to visit one of the old ladies she is looking after (the carer on duty having failed). The whole family boards the van with her. When Ricky, terribly bruised and being able to see with one eye only, is nevertheless going to drive to work, everybody tries to prevent him, particularly Seb.

In the final credits the film-makers extends their thanks to the drivers and carers who shared their stories under the condition of anonymity.

The movie has been shot on photochemical Super 16 mm, and in the digital transfer the warm breath and the sense of grain in the image has been sustained.

Sorry We Missed You (pressbook)

Sorry We Missed You. Kris Hitchen (Ricky Turner), Katie Proctor (Lisa Jane Turner), Debbie Honeywood (Abbie Turner), Rhys Stone (Seb Turner). Photo: Finnkino.

Sixteen Films, Why Not Productions and Les Films du Fleuve present
Directed by Ken Loach
Screenplay by Paul Laverty
100 min – United Kingdom, France, Belgium – 2019 – 1.85 – 5.1


Ricky, Abby and their two children live in Newcastle. They are a strong family who care for each other. Ricky has skipped from one labouring job to another while Abby, who loves her work, cares for old people. Despite working longer and harder they realise they will never have independence or their own home. It’s now or never; the app revolution offers Ricky a golden opportunity. He and Abby make a bet. She sells her car so Ricky can buy a shiny new van and become a freelance driver, with his own business at last. The modern world impinges on these four souls in the privacy of their kitchen; the future beckons.


Lucas Cranach: Renaissance Beauties (exhibition)

Lucas Cranach d. Ä. | the Elder: Portrait of a Young Woman (Princess Emilia of Saxony?), before 1537, oil on beech wood. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. © SMK Photo | Jakob Skou-Hansen.

Lucas Cranach d. Ä.: Justitia / Gerechtigkeit als nackte Frau mit Schwert und Waage. 1537. Oil on panel. 72 x 49,6. Fridart Stichting, Amsterdam. In the exhibition: a copy of the same size held at Ostrobothnian Museum, Vaasa.

Lucas Cranach d. Ä.: Lucretia. 1530. Oil on beech wood. 38 x 24,5. Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Kansallisgalleria, Hannu Aaltonen. The photo is too bland and pale.

Lucas Cranach d. Ä. | the Elder (Kronach 1472–1553 Weimar). The Ecstasy of St Mary Magdalene. 1506, woodcut. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. © SMK Photo | Jakob Skou-Hansen.

Lucas Cranach: Renaissance Beauties.
26 Sep 2019 – 5 Jan 2020.
Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki.
Curators: Claudia de Brün, Kirsi Eskelinen.

– Hallwylska museet, Stockholm
– Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg
– National Gallery in Prague Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
– Ostrobothnian Museum, Vaasa
– Polo museale del Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trieste
– Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
– Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
– Staatliche Schlösser, Gärten und Kunstsammlungen Mecklenburg‐Vorpommern
– Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
– Jeppe Lahtinen, private collection
– Finnish National Gallery: Ateneum Art Museum and Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Exhibition publication:
Lucas Cranach – Renessanssin kaunottaret / Renaissance Beauties.
Editors: Kirsi Eskelinen and Claudia de Brün.
ISBN: 978−952−7067−85−7.
Hardcover, bilingual in Finnish / English, amply illustrated, including a complete illustrated exhibition catalogue, 144 p.
Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja.
Printing: Livonia Print.
Helsinki: Sinebrychoffin taidemuseo, 2019.
Official presentation:
    "In the articles in this publication, international and Finnish experts write about Cranach’s female portraits and nude beauties reflecting their own time and the beauty ideals of the Italian Renaissance.
– Dr. Hanne Kolind Poulsen’s article “Cranach’s Beauties – Ideals or Identities?” looks at one of the research questions that remain open: to what degree do the portraits actually portray real individuals?
– Dr. Elke Anna Werner’s article “Cranach’s Nudes — Sensuality and Moral Exhortation” presents the sources and development of Cranach’s nude themes. Cranach’s earliest nudes were graphic prints.
– Dr. Annamari Vänskä considers Cranach’s beauties from the standpoint of contemporary culture and fashion research in her article “Lucas Cranach Ltd: Female nudes in the service of the market”.
– Curator Claudia de Brün and conservator, Dr. Ari Tanhuanpää have written about works from the Sinebrychoff Art Museum collection."

AA: The German master Lucas Cranach der Ältere (1472–1553) was one of the most prolific and successful Renaissance painters. His productivity was enhanced by his status as court painter in Wittenberg where he established his own workshop, pharmacy (guaranteeing access to paint ingredients) and printing press (still a recent invention). The Cranach signature was a winged dragon. After his death the son Lucas Cranach der Jüngere took over.

Cranach's output may number some 5000 artworks of which some 1000 can be currently located. He was a serial artist who created (or produced) dozens of variations of his favourite subjects such as the Crucifixion, the Fall (Adam and Eve), Judith and Holofernes, Maria Magdalena, the Judgement of Paris, Dido, Lucretia, Venus and Cupid the honey thief, Diana and Actaeon, Justitia, the water nymph, and ill-matched lovers (an old lecher kissing a young woman who has a firm grip on his purse). Thanks to the internet it is now easy to study these series in extenso and observe how different the paintings are even when the subject remains the same.

Cranach was also in great demand as a portrait painter. During his lifetime, Reformation started in  Wittenberg. Cranach was a family friend of Martin Luther, also close to Philipp Melanchton, and he painted definitive portraits of both. Cranach had the courage of his convictions and went to jail when tables turned in religious wars.

Mostly Cranach's portraits were for courts and families of princes, aristocrats and merchants. His early studies and sketches are full of life and fury. The final versions are stately and ossified.

Sinebrychoff Art Museum is a jewel among Helsinki's museums, perfect for intimate and compact exhibitions such Lucas Cranach's Renaissance Beauties. Of Cranach's oeuvre it is a tiny selection of a selection of a selection. The beauties on display are mostly nude.

Picturing the nude is not alien to religious art, but striking in Cranach's work is an open and life-affirming sensuality in both religious and secular subjects.

One of the mysteries of these paintings is that although the portraits are nude and anonymous, they wear unique jewels, ornaments and accessories by which they may have been identifiable to contemporaries.

Another mystery is that the faces and bodies are not realistic and personal but highly formalized. Often they look the same, even when there are several women in the same painting. In Italy Mannerism was already on the rise, but this is not Mannerism, nor was Cranach a Mannerist. On the contrary, he looked back to medieval and Gothic traditions.

Not because he lacked talent and knowhow. In his portraits and landscapes he could achieve perfect Renaissance mastery. But some of his anti-illusionistic paintings with a Gothic / medieval approach or accent are among his most intriguing and original for instance in deer-hunting, Garden of Eden, Paradise and Fountain of Youth scenes and allegories of Law and Grace.

Cranach was also perfectly capable of painting a harmonious and lifelike Renaissance nude, but in this selection the emphasis is on the twisted and the strange. Faces and body parts are disparate while the technique in the brushstroke is immaculate.

Élie Faure in his "lyrical poem" Histoire de l'Art was fascinated by the bizarre dimension in Cranach's nudes – the very dimension highlighted in Sinebrychoff's exhibition:

"Il n'a pas, certes, le sens du ridicule. C'est souvent le meilleur moyen d'avouer sa vraie nature. Il peint des femmes nues qui ont gardé leur chapeau, des femmes fort gauches, avec des jambes malgres, et cagneuses, et de grands pieds, et de gros genoux. Seulement, leurs visages sont d'un charme extrème, tout ronds, souriants, un peu malicieux, avec de belles tresses blondes. Il les a surprises presque toutes à l'heure de la nubilité, elles ont un petit ventre ferme, une ondulation pure du buste et de la hanche, des seins naissants, un air de corolle hésitante à s'ouvrir. Sa sensualité candide promène son imagination en des jardins tout frémissants de fleurs éparses, où des nudités mythologiques mal bâties et délicieuses affirment que le réformateur et ses amis ne sauraient être rendus responsables des préoccupations malsaines qui caractérisèrent l'action des sectes protestantes à la suite de Calvin et ses puritains anglais. De pesants reîtres teutons ont beau s'y trouver près d'elles, leur fraîcheur triomphe, et comme tout s'enveloppe d'un espace blond que les rouges cendrés envahissent d'une vapeur transparente, on n'a pas le courage de lui reprocher sa maladresse. Ce rustre vous livre une âme exquise, dont quatre-vingts ans de la vie agissante n'épuisèrent pas l'innocence." (Histoire de l'Art, 1921, L'Allemagne et la Réforme, 5: Artistes et réformateurs)

Faure celebrates the triumphant freshness, the enticing habit of covering (and thereby enhancing) nude charms with transparent silk veils, and a candid sensuality that ran counter to Calvin's English puritans.

Powerful forces among the Reformation were advocates of the image ban, in a further argument against Catholicism and its temptations to image-worship. Reformation leaders including Zwingli and Calvin renounced visual representation, leading to Bildersturm, but Luther took a conciliatory stand and saw in sacred images a beneficial way of promoting faith. Cranach was Luther's closest advocate in this.

The curators Kirsi Eskelinen and Claudia de Brün and the experts, Hanne Kolind Poulsen, Elke Anna Werner and Annamari Vänskä offer interesting insights into Cranach's beauties.

They are often active, frank and courageous. Eve looks at us while Adam looks at her. Judith executes Holofernes. Madonna and child. Mary Magdalene, the woman closest to Jesus next to Madonna. Salome. Bathseba. Delilah. St. Dorothea. Dido, the Queen of Carthage, betrayed by Aeneas, the future founder of Rome. Lucretia, whose tragedy led to the establishment of the Republic of Rome. Diana caught bathing nude by Actaeon whom Diana transforms into a deer in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Justitia, the goddess of justice.

Nudity in Cranach's work is direct and without shame. Beauties seldom cover their charms. They seem happy and at ease with their nudity. They seem aristocratic, judging by the jewels. (Might in Cranach's Fountain of Youth paradises be a connection to a much later Freikörperkultur?)

It is consistent with the life-affirming glorification of the woman that the vulva is often uncovered and even highlighted as in the portait of Justitia. The source of life, the throne of female power, the fountain of happiness.

The expressions are composed, the look is sharp and clear. These portraits are not meant just for the male gaze. There is also an element of female self-idealization. For today's viewer they may have a bisexual attraction and also a dimension of asexual, paradiasic beauty. They are expressions of a timeless life-force and a desillusioned look at the human condition. Certainly Cranach would have agreed with Rodin: "Dans l'art, il n'y a pas d'immoralité. L'art est toujours sacré."

I remain puzzled by the unevenness in Cranach's giant output. There are perfectly balanced and harmonious paintings – and bizarre ones with twisted limbs and oversize heads. They look as if they might stem from different artists at the same Werkstatt.

Photo in the catalogue, painting not in the exhibition: Lucas Cranach d. Ä.: Judith with the Head of Holofernes. n.c. 1530. Oil on lime wood. 88,2 x 58,3. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien.

Photo in the catalogue, painting not in the exhibition: Lucas Cranach d. Ä.: Portrait of a Young Woman, 1526, oil on wood, 88,5 x 58,5. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Koirat eivät käytä housuja / Dogs Don't Wear Pants

Dogs Don't Wear Pants [also the Swedish title].
    FI/LV 2019 © Helsinki-filmi Oy. PC: Helsinki-filmi Oy / Tasse Film. P: Aleksi Bardy, Helen Vinogradov. D: J–P Valkeapää. SC: J–P Valkeapää, Juhana Lumme – original story: Juhana Lumme. DP: Pietari Peltola – colour – 2,35:1. PD: Kaisa Mäkinen. Cost: Sari Suominen. Makeup: Beata Rjabovska. VFX: Jari Hakala, Sampo Siren. M: Michal Nejtek. S: Micke Nyström. ED: Mervi Junkkonen. BDSM experts: Valtiatar Villi-Ira, Jared Flame Herbohn. Tattoo and piercing expert: Gunta Vlasenko. Songs include:
– Christian Petzold: Menuet G-dur (1725) *
– "Then He Kissed Me" (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector, 1963). [Version: "Then I Kissed Her"].
– ”Adagio per flauto: Archi e organo” (attributed to Albinoni, comp. Remo Giazotto, 1958).
    C: Pekka Strang (Juha), Krista Kosonen (Mona), Ilona Huhta (Elli), Jani Volanen (a doctor, Juha's co-worker), Oona Airola (Satu), Iiris Anttila (piercer), Ester Geislerová (wife), Ellen Karppo (Elli at 4), Samuel Shipway (Elli's boyfriend).
    Filmed in Latvia. Language: Finnish. Finnish rating: 16. 105 min
    Festival premiere: 21 May 2019, Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, Festival de Cannes.
    Finnish premiere: 1 Nov 2019, distributed by SF Studios, with Swedish subtitles by Frej Grönholm.
    DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 1 Nov 2019.

Sado-masochism is rare in Finnish cinema. The most prominent representative so far has been Veikko Aaltonen's Tuhlaajapoika (The Prodigal Son, 1992). Because Leea Klemola is in its female leading role, associations run to Auli Mantila's Neitoperho (The Collector, 1997) in which she starred. It is not about S/M but one could easily imagine Leea Klemola as a fearsome Lady Domina. Jouni Hokkanen has made the stylish documentaries Kinbaku – Art of Bondage (2009) and Body of God (2013, about piercing). Let's not forget Teuvo Tulio's Sensuela (1973) in which Laila (Marianne Mardi) during her éducation sentimentale becomes a performer in an international touring S/M show.  In Teemu Nikki's Armomurhaaja / Euthanizer (2017) there is a strangling motif in the love affair. Regarding tooth-pulling we can remember Erkki Karu's When Dad Has Toothache (1922).

J-P Valkeapää's Dogs Don't Wear Pants is a stylish and compelling saga set in the world of sado-masochism. In the end credits I register a long list of participants at Club Caviar. Of Barbet Schroeder's Maîtresse (1976) it is told that habitués of S/M studios queued to be included, and I would not be surprised if something similar would have happened with Dogs Don't Wear Pants. The BDSM experts used by the production team include a genuine maîtresse, Valtiatar Villi-Ira, a reigning figure on the scene.

The movie proceeds in dream mode, a twilight zone between dream and being awake. Juha (Pekka Strang) is often in bed, underwater or in an altered state of consciousness which is the goal of his S/M explorations. The cast of characters is reduced to a minimum. The ambience is predominantly dark, either indoors or in nighttime exteriors. The Lady Domina of this tale is Mona (Krista Kosonen), and there is a fairy-tale element in Juha's landing accidentally into her den. Juha has actually only come to escort his daughter Elli (Ilona Huhta), who insists on tongue piercing.

No explanation is given to Juha's S/M addiction, but the film starts with a tragic prelude in which Juha's wife drowns in the lake of the family's summer dacha. Accident or suicide? We'll never know. Juha's mental balance is shattered, and he finds solace in the slave / dog / submissive / masochistic role of the S/M performance. In the state of suffocation he hallucinates about being underwater back at the lake, revisiting his wife's last moments alive, trying to release her from a fishnet.

His is an obsessive case of Wiederholungszwang. At first he just receives enormous pleasure from the return to the underwater scene. But increasingly he seems to be caught in the the death drive itself. Juha has had a near death experience and an early taste of how easy it would be just to give up and let go, be free of the pain and suffering... of the loss of his beloved wife... and life itself. This is where Mona refuses to participate.

Meanwhile, Juha has been a terrible single father, morbidly stuck to the memory of his dead wife like the protagonists of Edgar Allan Poe. Fortunately Elli is now a teenager with a healthy disrespect towards the excuses of her father. She is transferring her feelings and finding a new emotional object in her first boyfriend.

Juha reluctantly essays a regular heterosexual relationship – with his daughter's music teacher Satu (Oona Airola). Elli apparently would prefer her father to team with Satu. But even in bed with Satu Juha is only aroused by his wife's favourite perfume and sensations derived from his S/M pain trip. Juha is so incomprehensible for Satu that she cracks up into laughter. In an odd twist to their erotic encounter, Satu insists in playing "Adagio" (the famous one attributed to Albinoni, actually composed by Giazotto in 1958), the popular funeral tune, because she finds it very sexy.

Krista Kosonen is again the consummate professional in the female leading role, and she covers perfectly the double life of Mona who is a physiotherapist in her main occupation and a dominatrix as a sideline. She is great in every detail, but there is a slight hint that she does not feel at home on the dark side. Good for her.

Mona in this movie is an incarnation of death, and her make-up is a death mask. It has affinities with the mask-like make-up of kabuki. It brings to mind the ghost princesses in Japanese horror / fantasy films like Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) in Ugetsu monogatari. It also evokes Death (Bengt Ekerot) in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. And why not even Fritz Lang's Death (Bernhard Goetzke) in Der müde Tod.

Pekka Strang is at his best in the mysterious role of Juha. He is a secret to himself. He seems to carry a multiple guilt: a guilt in case his wife committed suicide, a guilt of his not being able to rescue her, and a guilt of neglecting his daughter. He is nearly losing everything: the love of his daughter, his respected position as a surgeon at the hospital – and even his instinct of self preservation.

He may be suffering from survivor guilt, also known as concentration camp syndrome. To quote Wikipedia: "They are described as having a pattern of characteristic symptoms including anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and nightmares, physical complaints and mood swings with loss of drive. Commonly such survivors feel guilty that they have survived the trauma and others – such as their family, friends, and colleagues – did not."

A talented production team turns Valkeapää's vision into compelling screen reality. The movie boasts stark scope compositions of the cinematographer Pietari Peltola and expressive sets by Kaisa Mäkinen. Costumes designed by Sari Suominen reflect the double lives of the characters, and the makeups of Beata Rjabovska dramatize both the official and the S/M worlds. The evocative score is by Michal Nejtek, the oneiric sound world by Micke Nyström, and the complex montage by Mervi Junkkonen.


* Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach: [4]–[5] Menuet G-dur, Menuet g-Moll (BWV Anh. 114, 115). Die bekanntesten Stücke aus dem Notenbüchlein, die in unzähligen Instrumentalschulen und Heften mit Anfängerliteratur für praktisch jedes Instrument verbreitet sind; üblicherweise unter dem Namen Johann Sebastian Bachs. 1979 wies Hans-Joachim Schulze darauf hin, dass die beiden Stücke als Menuet 1 und Menuet 2 einer Cembalo-Suite von Christian Petzold entstammen. [Credited as: J. S. Bach: Minuet in G, BWV Suppl. 114].