Saturday, November 30, 2019

Marriage Story

Adam Driver (Charlie), Scarlett Johansson (Nicole), Azhy Robertson (their son Henry).

Marriage Story / Marriage Story.
    US ©  2019 Netflix. PC: Heyday Films, Netflix. P: Noah Baumbach, David Heyman.
    D+SC: Noah Baumbach. Cin: Robbie Ryan – negative: 35 mm – master: digital intermediate 4K – release: 35 mm, D-Cinema. PD: Jade Healy. AD: Andrew Hull, Joshua Petersen. Set dec: Lizzie Boyle, Nicki Ritchie, Adam Willis. Cost: Mark Bridges. Makeup: Deborah La Mia Denaver. Hair: Barbara Olvera. M: Randy Newman.  Songs: Stephen Sondheim, from Company (1970):
– "You Could Drive a Person Crazy", perf. Julie Hagerty, Scarlett Johansson, Merritt Weaver.
– "Being Alive" perf. Adam Driver.
S: Christopher Scarabosio. ED: Jennifer Lame. Casting: Douglas Aibel, Helena Holmes, Francine Maisler. Cast from Wikipedia:
    Scarlett Johansson as Nicole Barber
    Adam Driver as Charlie Barber
    Laura Dern as Nora Fanshaw
    Alan Alda as Bert Spitz
    Ray Liotta as Jay Marotta
    Azhy Robertson as Henry Barber
    Julie Hagerty as Sandra
    Merritt Wever as Cassie
    Mark O'Brien as Carter
    Matthew Shear as Terry
    Brooke Bloom as Mary Ann
    Kyle Bornheimer as Ted
    Mickey Sumner as Beth
    Wallace Shawn as Frank
    Martha Kelly as The Evaluator
Loc: New York City, Los Angeles.
Festival premiere: 29 Aug 2019 Venice Film Festival.
US premiere (limited): 6 Nov 2019.
Netflix release: 6 Dec 2019.
    Finnish premiere (limited): 29 Nov 2019, released by Scanbox with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Meri Myrskysaari / Bengt-Ove Andersson (tbc, the credits flashed by too fast).
    DCP viewed at Kino Engel 2, Helsinki, 30 Nov 2019

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is an excellent family drama with complex performances, witty and humoristic dialogue, and a sense of troubling deep currents.

Marriage Story belongs to a tradition in American cinema that can be tracked back to Vitagraph and Biograph and masters like Griffith, Stahl and Borzage. Around the year 1980 this kind of subject blossomed with Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton) and other intelligent films about relationships and families by Robert Redford, James L. Brooks and Woody Allen.

This autumn Marriage Story seems like a perfect alternative to the much discussed Marvel movies. I love those movies, but too much of the good thing is not always wonderful.

To a Nordic viewer divorce dramas evoke a tradition of our own by Ibsen, Strindberg, Canth, Jotuni and Bergman. They still startle us with a key observation: there is nothing sadder than a marriage inferno.

Much is universal in Marriage Story, but the story is also typically American. It is a New York vs. Los Angeles story.

Everything seems set for an amicable split between Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), the main issue being the custody of their beloved son Henry (Azhy Robertson). Their session with a marriage counselor starts well, but Nicole is not comfortable with the setup.

Having moved to Los Angeles she employs a divorce lawyer – against the original agreement. Nicole picks one of the best, a celebrity lawyer called Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern). Charlie now has to engage a lawyer, too. Nicole has first visited twelve other top lawyers thereby rendering them ineligible for her husband. Charlie finally picks a conciliatory one called Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), so nice and well-meaning that Charlie is likely to be crushed. Charlie then selects a law shark as fearsome as Nora Fanshaw, Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), and the trial turns into a mutual character assassination. Both spouses lose and lawyers win. There is a brutal showdown in Charlie's bare L.A. apartment. On their own Nicole and Charlie finally reach a conciliatory understanding, but it has been reached at a high cost.

"Where there is law there is injustice", wrote Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace *, and one of the themes of Marriage Story is the distortion and manipulation of reality by lawyers. Western philosophy (Plato / Socrates) started as a critique of sophism and rhetorics. Socrates questioned schools of rhetorics where teachers promised to teach you how to win arguments even when you knew nothing about the subject.

For the divorce lawyers knowledge is rough material to be twisted and turned at will, and promises to act in good faith are not meant to be kept. The only focus is money.

There are deeper layers beyond the main plot current. Although the confidential statements of Nicole and Charlie are abused, leaving them psychologically bruised, a fundamental dignity and respect survives.

At the bottom is inequality. In the US the structural issue of inequality between men and women is so deeply rooted that for an European it is sometimes impossible to read relations between sexes in America.

The marriage drama of Nicole and Charlie is not black and white, but Charlie has to wake up to realize that he has not been treating Nicole as an equal partner. To correct the gender imbalance Nicole wants to make the radical change of taking a divorce and moving from East Coast to West Coast.

Marriage Story still carries echoes of A Doll's House.


In Baumbach's direction, the performances are outstanding and the dramatic charge is powerful. Baumbach introduces intriguing imagery.

A prominent image is the mask. There is a recurrent Halloween mask theme. This is a story among professionals in performing arts, and performers of course wear masks. In Nicole's pilot audition she tries on various masks, perhaps tracking helmets.

Another memorable image is the wound. The clueless divorce evaluator (Martha Kelly) gets a demonstration of Charlie's knife trick, but it misses. Charlie wounds himself badly and leaves blood tracks. (Nicole in turn has been rehearsed by Nora to a spotless performance for the evaluator).


Stephen Sondheim songs are prominent. "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" is sung by Nicole's family as a trio. Charlie sings "Being Alive" as a solo. This is a Stephen Sondheim autumn in the cinema. In Joker, "Bring In the Clowns" is prominent on the soundtrack in an interpretation by Frank Sinatra.


Shot on 35 mm, the digital transfer conveys the warm hues of Robbie Ryan's cinematography.


* "Где суд, там и неправда". (Platon Karatayev, War and Peace IV, Chapter 12). More literally this might mean: "Where there is a court, there is untruth".

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Johannes Linnankoski 150

Featured on the poster: the memorial statue of Johannes Linnankoski (Kalervo Kallio, 1944, Porvoo City Park). Lars Hanson (Olof) and Greta Almroth (Annikki, the Forest Nymph) in the film The Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919, D: Mauritz Stiller).

The Linnankoski 150 Medals were given on 27 October 2019 to the Linnankoski family (Jouni Linnankoski, Juhani Linnankoski and Ilkka Linnankoski), to the author Pajtim Statovci (alumnus of the Linnankoski School) and to Marjo Miettinen (top executive in the technology industry, trendsetter in sustainable production).

metoo#olavi . Johannes Linnankoski – romantikko ja tulisielu (a play)
D+SC: Tuovi Putkonen. M compositions and arrangements: Marko Putkonen. AD: Anne Ratia. Cost: Soila Tikkanen. Makeup: Sanna Saarnio. Stagecraft: Joonatan Hietanen. Poster and handbill: Valtteri Flinck.
    C: Keijo Liski (Patrus, a freelance actor / Wihtori Peltonen / Johannes Linnankoski)
Sirja Pohjanheimo-Vikla (Elviira, an artist / Tuomenkukka [Bird Cherry Blossom] / Ester)
Mirja Oksanen (Marjukka, chairperson of the drama team and director / Cain)
Minna Valtasalo (Heta, clothing seller / Olavi / distiller)
Soila Tikkanen (Riitta, youth worker / the mistress of Anttila / Metsänneito [Forest Nymph])
Eija Forsell (Pirkko, a policewoman / the mistress of Heikkilä / Lucifer)
Satu Mahkonen (Lilian, a librarian / dancer / Mother / Tumma tyttö [Dark Maid])
Mia Lehtola (Tiina, real estate agent / singer / Werner Söderström / nurse)
Ilkka Kinosmaa (Reiska the janitor / Father)
– "Mitä nuo tähdet merkitsee" (lyr. Johannes Linnankoski: Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta) comp. Marko Putkonen
– "Vähäväkisten huokaus" (lyr. Johannes Linnankoski) comp. Marko Putkonen
– "Arvon mekin ansaitsemme" (lyr. Jaakko Juteini, comp. trad.)
– "Lukutanssi" comp. Marko Putkonen
– "Suksimiesten laulu" (lyr. Suonio) comp. Karl Collan
– "Vuorelaisen laulu – melodraama" (lyr. Johannes Linnankoski: Ikuinen taistelu) comp. Marko Putkonen
– "Tukkipojan laulu" (lyr. Johannes Linnankoski: Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta) comp. Marko Putkonen
– "Mäeltä leviää silmäin eteen... " (lyr. Tuovi Putkonen) comp. Marko Putkonen
    Porvoon Teatteri, Vänrikinkatu 4, Porvoo. 2 hours with intermission.
    Visited: premiere 27 Nov 2019.

Linnankoski 150 Celebration.
Linnankosken lukion auditorio, Porvoo, 27 Oct 2019.
– Opening speech: Erkki Toivanen, chairman of the Linnankoski Society.
– Drama performance: Kulkijan pysähdys [A Wanderer's Stopover]. Linnankosken lukion draamaryhmä / Linnankoski School Drama Team. D+SC+AD: Leila Kiviluoma. Based on The Song of the Scarlet Flower by Johannes Linnankoski. M comp+arr: Anu Tikka-Blomqvist. C: Rasmus Kalliomaa (Olavi), Kaarina Olin (Annikki), Sara Järvinen (Gaselli), Emmi Kohonen (Kyllikki of Moisio), Emmi Kohonen (Mother), Erin Kupari (Dark Maid), Mila Hentunen (Miss Echo), Mila Hentunen (Matilda). Dancers: Sara Järvinen, Pihla Pajuniemi. Vocals: Leevi Salonen. Violin: Sonja Nissi. Piano: Emilia Rekonen. Lights: Niila Hulsi. S: Joonatan Hietanen. 30 min
– "Nuoruus" (excerpt from a poem by Johannes Linnankoski) recited by Helena Linttinen.
– "Toinen", lyr+comp. gymnasist Emmi Kohonen. Voc: Emmi Kohonen, violin: Sonja Nissi, piano: Anu Tikka-Blomqvist. Winner of a Linnankoski anniversary year award.
– Keth Strömdahl and Erkki Toivanen: the anniversary year in Askola and Porvoo.
– Music performance: artist Juho Pitkänen, a Linnankosken lukio alumnus.
– Announcing the recipients of the Linnankoski medals (Erkki Toivanen, Marja-Leena Talvitie) to:
    * The Linnankoski family (Jouni Linnankoski, Juhani Linnankoski and Ilkka Linnankoski),
    * the author Pajtim Statovci (alumnus of the Linnankoski School) and
    * Marjo Miettinen (top executive in the technology industry, trendsetter in sustainable production).
– Choir performance: Porvoon Mieslaulajat, director cantus Pekka Itkonen
    * "Kansiin kestäviin" (Linnankoski 150 song, lyr.+comp. Linnankosken lukio alumnus Satu Seikku)
    * "Suomis sång" (lyr. Emil von Quanten, comp. Fredrik Pacius)
    * "Finlandia" (lyr. V. A. Koskenniemi, comp. Jean Sibelius)

Helmi Setälä: Johannes Linnankoski. Ääriviivoja. (a book)
Helmi Setälä aka Helmi Krohn.
36 p. Ylioppilaiden Keskusteluseuran julkaisuja n:o 8.
Otava: Helsinki, 1911

Johannes Linnankoski (1869–1913) was a major Finnish cultural figure in the great wave of Finland's national awakening that started in the 1870s and led to the declaration of independence in 1917. During Linnankoski's lifetime Finland was an autonomous duchy in the Russian Empire. Johannes was a prolific writer, also a publisher of popular book series together with his wife Ester Linnankoski, a talented translator and editor. Their work can be compared in some ways with Leo Tolstoy's achievements in bringing culture and education to the people.

Filmwise the highlight of the anniversary has been the new digital edition of Mauritz Stiller's The Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919) complete with the original score by Armas Järnefelt. In Helsinki there was an Epiphany Film Concert The Song of the Scarlet Flower on 6 January, and the sonorized DCP was launched to an international cinephilic audience at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna on 25 June.

Special attention to Linnankoski has been paid in his hometowns Askola and Porvoo. The Linnankoski legacy is alive in many ways. Uusimaa, the newspaper in which he was the first editor-in-chief, still appears daily. The secondary school he founded, a coed school, now exists as a gymnasium carrying his name, Linnankosken lukio.

Of Linnankoski's novels, poems, plays and short stories the novel The Song of the Scarlet Flower (1905), Finland's first international best-selling novel, is still in print, besides Finland for instance in France and Russia where new editions keep appearing. The latest edition in Russia is from the year 2018 at Vostochnaya Kniga. In France where there have been over 50 editions, the latest publisher being Carroussel in 1999 with a new translation by Raymond Torfs.


I have been moved by the Linnankoski celebrations in Porvoo this autumn. The two drama performances have been written and directed by women and feature predominantly women, in metoo#olavi even in the role of Olavi.

I liked the drama performance Kulkijan pysähdys [A Wanderer's Stopover] directed by Leila Kiviluoma and performed by the Linnankoski School drama team: a series of 30 minutes of vignettes from The Song of the Scarlet Flower. Linnankoski's original dialogues are still effective, and the age of the young performers is right. This is never the case in the five film adaptations and the dozens of professional theatre dramatizations. The sense of the forest was conveyed by a sound – the call of the boreal owl (helmipöllö). Eloquent. The very simplicity was engaging. The presence of the performers and the vivid dialogue by Linnankoski told all that was neeed. In this interpretation, it was a moral tale, fresh and faithful to the author.

Today I saw the premiere of the irreverent play metoo#olavi by Tuovi Putkonen at the Porvoo Theatre. It features several new attractive songs composed by Marko Putkonen. The production is an explosion of ideas covering the life and work of Johannes and Ester Linnankoski with associations brimming to this day and age as the title announces. The production is too rich and overwhelming to discuss in full, so I'll cut to the chase.

The Me Too question: is Olavi in The Song of the Scarlet Flower an abuser and a harasser? The woman's position was weak in 1905. Writers in Finland, in Nordic countries and elsewhere discussed it powerfully: Ibsen in The Doll's House, Tolstoy in Resurrection and Minna Canth in Anna-Liisa. They wanted change. I find Johannes Linnankoski belonging to this great wave also in his practical work of equal education possibilities for all. The Song of the Scarlet Flower is a tale of Olavi's growth into manhood which means accepting Kyllikki as an equal partner. Growth is a never ending process.

What was the reception of Linnankoski in his own time? There are many reviews that document this and also one book, the only Linnankoski monograph written by a woman – by Helmi Setälä (1871–1967), known since 1913 as Helmi Krohn. She was the sister of the writer Aino Kallas (born Aino Krohn). Her Linnankoski book is just an essay, but it is dense and rewarding.

Helmi Krohn covers Linnankoski's moral quest lucidly. She sees beauty in Olavi's Bildungsroman. Olavi is a force of nature. With every season he discovers a new girl who evokes in him a new feeling. His life is one single beautiful dream. He wants nobody harm, he betrays no one on purpose. Some of the girls are like aspects of a single experience which is love. His restless blood Olavi has inherited from his father. From his mother he has inherited his depth of character, his fidelity, his self-control and his unselfishness. These tendencies clash until the latter wins.

The mother's blessing is awakened by Kyllikki. With Kyllikki Olavi does not expect to share happiness but suffering and toil. Kyllikki is tough but absolute. When Olavi accuses Kyllikki of having had a lover, Kyllikki calmly turns the accusation back on him. Krohn compares Olavi with Selma Lagerlöf's Gösta Berling. Krohn has reservations about the final chapter and the two most audacious ones, "Two People" and "Bottoms Up". But she sums up that this is a "miraculous book, full of the secret enchantment that nature exudes in the spring", a song of the flower that can blossom in the heart of everyone.

The Porvoo interpretations give Linnankoski a twist and a shake. He is not a dead monument. By questioning Linnankoski they prove that he is still alive.


The spirit lives on also in new, original authors who seek different paths. The Linnankoski 150 medal was given to an alumnus of the Linnankoski School, Pajtim Statovci. On the day of the premiere of metoo#olavi we learned that Pajtim Statovci had received the prestigious Finlandia Prize for the best novel of the year. He is also a finalist of The National Booker Award in the US, and his work has recently been covered in The New York Times, The Guardian and The New Yorker.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Irishman

I Heard You Paint Houses [title in the opening credits, repeated in the end credits]
[The title appears in a Godardian way in verse:]
I Heard / You / Paint Houses.
The Irishman [title in the end credits].
The Irishman / The Irishman [Finnish / Swedish titles].

US © 2019 Netflix. PC: TriBeCa Productions / Sikelia Productions / Winkler Films. Distributed by: Netflix. International distribution: STX Entertainment. P: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Gastón Pavlovich, Randall Emmett, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gerald Chamales, Irwin Winkler.
    D: Martin Scorsese. SC: Steven Zaillian – based on I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa (2004) by Charles Brandt. Cin: Rodrigo Prieto – 1,85:1 – 35 mm – Redcode RAW – source formats: ARRIRAW 3,4 K, Redcode RAW 8K, Super 35 – digital intermediate 4K – released: D-Cinema. PD: Bob Shaw. AD: Laura Ballinger. Set dec: Regina Graves. Cost: Christopher Peterson, Sandy Powell. Makeup: Nicki Ledermann. Hair: Sean Flanigan. Prosthetic makeup coordinator: Lindsay Gelfand. Prosthetic Renaissance lab supervisor: Anthony Canonica. SFX: Taylor Schulte. VFX: Pablo Helman – Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) using Medusa Facial Capture – additional: SSVFX, Vitality. Executive M producer: Robbie Robertson. M supervisor: Randall Poster. S: Philip Stockton. ED: Thelma Schoonmaker.  Casting: Ellen Lewis.
    Loc: New York, New Jersey, Miami (117 different locations). Filming dates: 29 Aug 2017 – 5 March 2018. 209 min
    Festival premiere: 27 Sep 2019 New York Film Festival.
US premiere: 1 Nov 2019.
Digital streaming on Netflix: 27 Nov 2019.
Finnish premiere: 22 Nov 2019 – released by Scanbox with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (the credits flashed past too fast to read).
DCP viewed at Bio Rex, 23 Nov 2019.

Cast as edited in Wikipedia (most characters are historical and have Wikipedia links)
    Robert De Niro as Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran
    Al Pacino as James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa
    Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino
    Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino
    Bobby Cannavale as Felix "Skinny Razor" DiTullio
    Thomas Rogari as Tommy "The Shyster" Rogaro
    Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran
        Lucy Gallina as Peggy (age 7)
    Stephen Graham as Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano
    Stephanie Kurtzuba as Irene Sheeran
    Jesse Plemons as Chuckie O'Brien
    Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno
    Kathrine Narducci as Carrie Bufalino
    Welker White as Josephine Hoffa
    Domenick Lombardozzi as Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno
    Sebastian Maniscalco as Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo
    Steven Van Zandt as Jerry Vale
    Paul Ben-Victor as Jake Gottlieb
    Jeremy Luke as Thomas Andretta
    Aleksa Palladino as Mary Sheeran
    India Ennenga as Dolores Sheeran
    J. C. MacKenzie as Jimmy Neal
    Paul Herman as "The Other" Whispers
    Bo Dietl as Joseph Glimco
    Gary Basaraba as Frank Fitzsimmons
    Jim Norton as Don Rickles
    Larry Romano as Philip Testa
    Jake Hoffman as Allen Dorfman
    Patrick Gallo as Anthony Giacalone
    Barry Primus as Ewing King
    Jack Huston as Robert Kennedy
    Kevin O'Rourke as John McCullough
    Garry Pastore as Albert Anastasia
    Jennifer Mudge as Maryanne Sheeran
        Tess Price as Maryanne (age 8)
    Steve Witting as William E. Miller
    Stephen Mailer as F. Emmett Fitzpatrick
    John Rue as John L. McClellan
    Craig DiFrancia as Carmine Persico
    Craig Vincent as Ed Partin
    Frank Messina as Johnny Parcesepe
    Gino Cafarelli as Frank Rizzo
    Al Linea as Sam Giancana
    Joseph Riccobene as Jimmy Fratianno
    Ken Wulf Clark as James P. Hoffa
    Tommy McInnis as Marvin Elkin
    Jeff Moore as Frank Church
    John Polce as Joseph Colombo

The Irishman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (from Wikipedia) a selection from the film
No.    Title    Artist(s)    Length
1.    "In the Still of the Night"    The Five Satins    3:05
2.    "Tuxedo Junction"    Glenn Miller and His Orchestra    3:26
3.    "I Hear You Knockin'"    Smiley Lewis    2:45
4.    "The Fat Man"    Fats Domino    2:36
5.    "El Negro Zumbón" (from the motion picture Anna)    Flo Sandon's    2:29
6.    "Le Grisbi"    (Jean Wiener), harmonica perf. Jean Wetzel    3:26
7.    "Delicado"    Percy Faith and His Orchestra    2:53
8.    "Have I Sinned"    Donnie Elbert    2:59
9.    "Theme for the Irishman"    Robbie Robertson    4:36
10.    "Song of the Barefoot Contessa"    Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra    2:39
11.    "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)"    Marty Robbins (feat. Ray Conniff)    2:31
12.    "Canadian Sunset" (Single Version)    Eddie Heywood & Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra    2:55
13.    "Honky Tonk, Pt. 1"    Bill Doggett    3:05
14.    "Melancholy Serenade"    Jackie Gleason    3:15
15.    "Qué Rico el Mambo"    Pérez Prado    3:58
16.    "Cry"    Johnnie Ray & The Four Lads    3:04
17.    "Sleep Walk"    Santo & Johnny    2:27
18.    "The Time Is Now"    The Golddiggers    2:03
19.    "Al di là"    Jerry Vale & The Latin Casino All Stars    3:18
20.    "Pretend You Don't See Her"    The Latin Casino All Stars    2:42
Total length:    60:13

Official synopsis (Netflix): "Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci star in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hustler and hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th Century. Spanning decades, the film chronicles one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and offers a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries and connections to mainstream politics."

AA: The Irishman is a masterpiece, a gangster film and an epic tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. It is a grand tale about betrayal.

Like The Godfather trilogy it portrays a shadow history of America. For Francis Ford Coppola the reference point was big business. Martin Scorsese deals with trade unions.

The Irishman also reminds us that bribe and corruption on the highest level did not start with the current President. The Kennedy family is seen connected with the mob who expect the ouster of Castro. JFK's rival Richard Nixon is funded by Hoffa. In an interesting scene Frank Sheeran registers E. Howard Hunt ("big ears") on tv in the Watergate trial and remembers him from the Bay of Pigs mission in which Frank worked as a driver. When everybody else has the flag in halfmast to honour the memory of JFK, Hoffa raises his flag to the top.

Robert Warshow called a famous essay of his "The Gangster as Tragic Hero". A film like The Irishman is, indeed, a tragedy, but its gangsters are no tragic heroes. They are anti-heroes. We do not register any grandeur within their reach that could be let down by a fatal flaw in their characters. The grandeur and the tragic destiny rest with their families, the trade union movement, the society, and the America of the 1960s.

The gangsters are monsters. In a bold experimental approach Scorsese rejuvenates his protagonists by several decades via digital de-aging (Medusa Facial Capture by ILM). It is a state of the art achievement, but the characters look denatured. They belong to the "uncanny valley" that has been discussed in digital animation. We accept real human beings in fiction, and we accept frankly stylized cartoon figures, but impeccably photorealistic animation feels uncanny.

Scorsese uses the uncanny valley as a means of expression – portraying his gangsters as dehumanized to begin with. The uncanny feeling stems from our uncertainty of whether we are seeing something real or unreal – dead or alive. I was reminded of Dick Tracy, The Polar Express, Sin City and The Adventures of Tintin. The mobster monsters belong with zombies and mummies – the living dead.


The duration of The Irishman is exceptionally long at 209 minutes, but there are no longueurs. The montage by Thelma Schoonmaker is dynamic and versatile.

The structure is based on a triple parallel montage on three time dimensions. The framing story is the present of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) living in his memories in a nursing home. Interspersed is a long fatal interstate drive of Frank and Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) travelling together with their smoking wives (the gangsters having stopped smoking after Castro). Officially they are on their way to a family wedding; really they make a journey to one of America's most notorious assassinations. Flashbacks fill out the story. There are also flashforward freeze frames: future fates of characters are condensed in premature epitaph captions. There are also special montage sequences, generic to gangster films since the 1930s, but Scorsese and Schoonmaker put their personal stamp into them (gun montages, politics montages...).

Important information is offered on multiple levels, and the degree of compression is high. The private and the public merge for instance in highly moving scenes and reactions to the Kennedy assassination. (Of which we later hear an oblique comment: "If they can wipe out a President, they can wipe out a president of a union").

It is no news that Scorsese and Schoonmaker master density. A novelty is a more pronounced sense of durée in a film that seemingly slows down towards the end while losing nothing in intensity. On the contrary, moments of contemplation make action stand out more. There is more time to let tensions grow and implications sink in. In Scorsese's previous crime films there has sometimes been a sense of relentless hectic, a nonstop barrage of action or rapid montage, all movement and no reflection. There is a French touch in Scorsese's subtle evolution – a touch of the Becker / Sautet / Melville school. I am particularly thinking about Classe tous risques (1960). *


Like many of Scorsese's films The Irishman is a history of violence. With a diffence this time: there is no sadism, no gratuitous violence. I have been puzzled by this feature which dates Scorsese's films. With sadism you can have an impact, but it has a repulsive after-effect. Strangely, this feature has also been present in Scorsese's religious films such as The Last Temptation of Christ and Silence.

I don't remember about the presence of religion in Scorsese's previous gangster films, but in The Irishman it's meaningful. We witness no religious conversion or awakening, but we are in the territory. Just the other day I was reading Eira Mollberg's memoirs of her father Rauni Mollberg (another daughter looking at a monster father). Her prayer is familiar from The Phantom Carriage and also relevant to The Irishman: "God, let my soul ripen before it is harvested".

The Irishman tracks Frank's violent history back to Anzio, his WWII experiences, callously executing German prisoners of war. This gets him started as a hitman, brutalized and dehumanized by violence.

While there is no sadism, there are moments of glorifying violence like in the execution of Crazy Joe where blood jets are covered in slow motion.


Scorsese is a master of the compilation soundtrack, working here with Robbie Robertson and Randall Poster. Two key themes stand out: "In the Still of the Night" (a foundation song of doo-wop, written by Fred Parris in 1956, performed by his Five Satins). It contributes a romantic dimension otherwise missing from the narrative. It is also a perfect time machine.

The other one is the harmonica theme written by Jean Wiener for Jacques Becker's Touchez pas a grisbi (1954) released in Germany as Wenn es Nacht wird in Paris. In Germany the tune was turned into a popular song (launched by Caterina Valente) retaining the film's German name. In translation it became a pop hit and evergreen in Finland with the title "Kun yö saapuu Pariisiin", sung by no less than Olavi Virta, without the chilly impact of the original. In Wiener's melody there is an affinity with the "Love Theme from The Godfather" although the sound is different. Robert Robertson's "Theme from The Irishman" is a set of variations of Jean Wiener's tune.

Often Scorsese's soundtrack selections are so overwhelming that I lose focus on the story. This time this happened with two back-to-back songs ("I Hear You Knocking", "The Fat Man") written by Dave Bartholomew who died last June. They are also a Gegenbild, contributing a joy of life otherwise absent from the tale.

I was also moved to hear in JFK's funeral broadcast music the hymn "O God of Loveliness". The tune is the one of "Beautiful Savior" and "Fairest Lord Jesus", also known as "Crusader's Hymn". It comes from Germany, there known as the Evangelical tune to "Schönster Herr Jesu", first printed in 1842 by August Hoffmann von Fallersleben [he who wrote "Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles"] in the collection Schlesische Volkslieder. It became one of the most popular hymns in Nordic countries: "Dejlig er jorden" ["Beautiful Is the Earth"] / "Pilgrimssang" (1850) in Denmark, "Härlig är jorden" (1884) in Sweden and "Maa on niin kaunis" (1887, 1903) in Finnish. Yesterday I sang this hymn in Swedish at Jerker Eriksson's funeral. It is also a beloved Christmas song in Nordic countries.


The performances are great.

Robert De Niro is Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran. His is a story of success by any means necessary, but on the fatal journey to Detroit, when it dawns on him what is expected of him, we witness him innerly crushed in a way from which he never recovers. He is reduced to an empty shell. Coppola's trilogy culminated in Al Pacino's Francis-Baconesque scream of agony in The Godfather Part III. The key image of The Irishman is De Niro's face twisted into a silent pain on his way to the hit. The film ends with Frank asking to "leave the door open a little bit". He has adopted this habit from Jimmy Hoffa. There is a sharp cut to black.

As the critic Veli-Pekka Lehtonen states in Helsingin Sanomat, the door is open, but nobody is coming.

The complex character of Frank Sheeran is De Niro's tour de force. The callous hitman is a warm union organizer. Retaliating a perceived slight to his daughter he is short-tempered, but dealing with mob / union tensions he is the soul of diplomacy for instance in the Don Rickles sequence (Rickles's ethnic slurs about Italians offend Crazy Joe). The mob / union relationships are based on a code of personal loyalty, but the climax of the saga is about a betrayal of friendship. Frank's family ties are distant, but he even sleeps in the same room with Hoffa. The homosocial charge is powerful. Women are supporting characters in a man's world.

Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino is his evil genius, his Mephisto, a mastermind who has it all covered, a friend who is also his worst enemy.

Al Pacino as James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa plays the part in a completely different way than Jack Nicholson in Danny DeVito's Hoffa (1992) written by David Mamet. Nicholson portrayed Hoffa as a fearsome, threatening brute. Al Pacino's interpretation is original. He is excellent in Hoffa's public performances and believable as a rousing union leader ("Unity!", "Solidarity!"), loved by the Teamster membership at large. He is both a warm and passionate union man and a hardened Machiavellian, no stranger to coercion, ruthlessly insisting that the Teamsters are "my union". For a Number Two man "you don't want somebody smart". He also maintains that "wise guys don't lead the union" and "nobody threatens Hoffa". "It is what it is", says Frank. "I know what they don't know I know" replies Hoffa. Indeed, after the Hoffa hit everybody in the conspiracy is fatally hurt, landing in jail.

Like in The Godfather trilogy, family matters, especially for the Italians, and Russell Bufalino urges Frank to stay close to the family just like Don Corleone used to say. But in the war Frank has become so brutalized that even his own family fears him. The barometer is Frank's daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin) who senses evil in Russell Bufalino but loves Jimmy Hoffa. After the execution Peggy never talks with her father again.

The film was shot by Rodrigo Prieto with long Steadicam tracking shots typical for Scorsese, using different colour solutions for various periods (from full saturation to bleak visuals), shooting on 35 mm. Primarily designed for Netflix streaming, the digital cinema presentation of The Irishman looks great on the big screen of Bio Rex. The sense of space of this troubling epic comes into its own in the cinema.


* P. S. 9 Dec 2019. In Touchez pas au grisbi it was intriguing to see gangsters in pajamas brushing their teeth. Pajamas appear also in The Irishman.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Eira Mollberg: Molle, isäni [a memoir of Rauni Mollberg, the author's father]

Eira Mollberg : Molle, isäni [Molle, My Father].
ISBN 978-951-1-22953-7
Hard cover, 240 p, illustrated
Helsinki : Otava, 2008.

I have been aware of Eira Mollberg's powerful works about her father, Rauni Mollberg (1929–2007), but have not dared to read them before. For years I had been hearing about Rauni Mollberg from his inner circle, among them the production designer Ensio Suominen (1934–2003), with whom we collaborated in a retrospective in 1993, so I had an idea about what might be in store. Eira Mollberg, director and author, was born in Kuopio in 1957.

Eira Mollberg's book is about a psychopath as a father, and delving into Rauni Mollberg's background and family drama the project is to understand, not to justify behaviour. Rauni Mollberg was a human catastrophe who destroyed lives near him. He was mad and he drove those around him mad. I'm not able to give a resume about Rauni's destructive behaviour, but this book is worth reading for anyone who wants to know how a terrible person can poison others' lives. "Poisoning" was a keyword for Rauni Mollberg who should have looked at the mirror.

The book is also rewarding and insightful about Rauni Mollberg as an artist, his aesthetics of "the unpolished board", a follower of Wilho Ilmari's lesson at the theatre school in the 1940s: "always start from the human being", his early career as an actor including as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1950, and asides such as "the best movies I see in my own bedroom" (his dreams being so vivid that cinema films paled in comparison).

We follow his enthusiastic years in the cultural scene of Kuopio in the 1950s including his zest  directing children's theatre. He was great with children as actors but could not handle children of his own, states Eira. The 1960s were full of promise directing television drama, culminating with acclaimed adaptations of Toivo Pekkanen's novels Lapsuuteni [My Childhood] and Tehtaan varjossa [In the Shadow of the Factory].

Ousted from TV1, forced move to Tampere, the Finnish Broadcasting Company's Yle TV 2, was a humiliation leading to Rauni's demonic behavior. It coincided with prenup conditions enforced in his marriage contract, his son's psychosis and his wife's nervous breakdown. In Rauni's paranoid view everybody conspired against him.

Soon Mollberg directed his first cinema film, The Earth Is a Sinful Song (1973), a passionate ballad based on a novel by Timo K. Mukka, shot in Lapland, completely original. It was a big commercial hit and a success in international art distribution. Aika hyvä ihmiseksi (1977), was a rich ensemble piece based on works by the writer Aapeli from Kuopio. Unusually for him Mollberg's cast consisted of experienced professional actors and also unusually for him had a strong, active and positive female protagonist, Katariina. Milka (1980), also based on Mukka, was different again: a sensitive lyrical film poem shot with fantastic, painterly visual force in all four seasons of Lapland.

The Unknown Soldier (1985) was a daring effort: Mollberg intentionally directed his epic war film in contrast to the previous adaptation of Väinö Linna's novel made 30 years earlier. His vision: a story of naive, juvenile brats drawn into hell. Rauni Mollberg demanded a shaky, rough, handheld look from the cinematographer Esa Vuorinen. Eira Mollberg emphasizes that "innocence tarnished" was always a major theme for Rauni, most powerfully here. The result was a huge success during a decade in which Finnish film production was in doldrums.

Eira Mollberg writes that Rauni could not handle success. He changed to a monster, greedy and suspicious, seeing only evil, reflected in his remaining theatrical films Ystävät, toverit (1990) and Paratiisin lapset (1994).

Rauni Mollberg's films are stained by misogyny. His view of women was bestial and animalistic. Unlike Edvin Laine he introduced lotta Kotilainen to his The Unknown Soldier but invented a scene in which she washes Lammio's back at the sauna. Mollberg's troubled vision of women reminds me of a Finnish painter, Tyko Sallinen. I agree with Tuula Karjalainen who finds that Sallinen's portraits of women are self-portraits. They are self-portraits from the inside, of his anima: shocking revelations of his repressed sexuality and inability to come to terms with his life force.

Rauni Mollberg was a walking contradiction. He was always able to recite from a wide repertory of the most beautiful poetry, including Eino Leino's "Hymyilevä Apollo" ["The Smiling Apollo"], one of the most life-affirming works in the Finnish canon. He accepted Dostoevsky's dictum "beauty saves the world". In his final years he was moved by religion and the prayer: "God, let my soul ripen before it is harvested".

Of Mollberg's career as an artist we have a biography, Jorma Savikko's Pitkä ajo [The Long Run]. Also Eira Mollberg does justice to her father as an artist. Besides, she paints a shattering portrait of him as a deeply failed human being.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse / The Lighthouse.
    US © 2019 A24. PC: A24 / New Regency / RT Features. P: Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy, Robert Eggers, Lourenço Sant' Anna, Youree Henley.
    D: Robert Eggers. SC: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers. Cin: Jarin Blaschke – b&w – 1,19:1 – negative: 35 mm. PD: Craig Lathrop. M: Mark Korven. S: Damian Volpe – mono. ED: Louise Ford.
    C: Willem Dafoe (Thomas Wake), Robert Pattinson (Ephraim Winslow / Thomas Howard), Valeriia Karaman (mermaid).
    Loc: Leif Ericson Park in Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia, Canada.
    110 min
    Festival premiere: 19 May 2019 Cannes Film Festival: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs.
    US premiere: 18 Oct 2019.
    Finnish premiere: 15 Nov 2019 – 4K DCP released by Finnkino – Finnish / Swedish subtitles Topi Oksanen / Sophia Beckman.
    Viewed at 2K at Tennispalatsi 9, Helsinki, 16 Nov 2019.

IMDb: "Shot on 35 mm black and white Double-X 5222 film, all while augmenting the Panavision Millennium XL2 camera with vintage Baltar lenses from as early as 1918 to as late as 1938. This makes the aspect ratio approximately 1.19:1, which is practically square. To enhance the image and make it resemble early photography, a custom cyan filter made by Schneider Filters emulated the look and feel of orthochromatic film from the late 19th century."
    "Because it was shot on Double-X stock black and white, it requires much more light to get exposure, so they had to use about 15 to 20 times more light on set to actually see something on film. The crew put flickering 500 to 800 watt halogen bulbs in period-correct kerosene lamps that were only a few feet away from the actor's faces, resulting in the set being blindingly bright, so the actors could barely see eachother. Because of this, the crew would often wear sunglasses."
    "Eggers' preparation for The Lighthouse began with the creation of a look book, detailing and distilling the film's aesthetics through works of literature, music, historical documentation, including photographs of New England mariner life in the 1890s. Also paintings by Andrew Wyeth, an early 20th century realist who painted the land and people of rural Pennsylvania and Maine, and symbolist painters like Arnold Boecklin, Jean Delville, among others, whose allegorical and mythical subjects inspired some of the fantastical imagery in the film."
    "The design of the mermaid's genitals is based on shark labias. The mermaid labia was constructed entirely out of silicone."
    "According to Robert Eggers, the film was meant to include "a very juvenile shot of a lighthouse moving like an erect penis and a match-cut to an actual erect penis" (belonging to Pattinson), but it got cut after the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival."
    "Robert Eggers on the film's music: "I was looking for an aleatoric score with nods to ancient Greek music. I wanted to de-emphasize strings, and instead focus on glass and instruments you can blow into, including horns and pipes. It needed to sound like the sea. But I realized that we needed elements that would also harken back to an old movie score, so there's a nod to Bernard Herrmann." "
    "Composer Mark Korven centered the films score on brass instruments with some orchestral production including friction rubs, an effect achieved by dragging a wooden mallet with a rubber ball on its end across various surfaces, including wood and glass. Other instruments present in the score include a glass harmonica, designed to replicate the sound of music made by wine glasses and wet fingers, and a waterphone, or ocean harp, a stainless steel bowl with bronze rods around the rim that gives off a vibrant, ethereal sound when used with a friction mallet."
    "According to Robert Eggers, the two lead characters represent figures in Greek mythology: Wake represents Proteus, an old prophetic sea-god, who was called the "Old Man of the Sea". Winslow represents Prometheus, a Titan and trickster figure, who defies the gods (Wake's character) by stealing fire (represented by the light of the lighthouse)."
    "The final shot of seagulls swarming over Winslow's body and pecking at his insides as he lies helplessly on the rocks resembles that of the Greek mythological tale of "Prometheus": The Greek Gods took away the fire from humans as punishment for disobeying them. Then, the Titan Prometheus stole the fire back to give the valuable gift to mankind. The Gods were outraged by Prometheus' theft of fire, and so they punished Prometheus by chaining him helplessly to a rock, where each day an eagle was sent to eat Prometheus' liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day, forever.
" (IMDb)

Synopsis: "From Robert Eggers, the visionary filmmaker behind the modern horror masterpiece The Witch, comes this hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s."
Director Robert Eggers: Robert Eggers is a Brooklyn-based writer and director. Eggers got his professional start directing and designing experimental and classical theatre in New York City. The Witch, his feature film debut as writer and director, won the Directing Award in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered to critical acclaim. It garnered two Independent Spirit Awards wins, for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay."
Press release:
"Robert Pattinson shines in sublime maritime nightmare"
/// The Guardian
"un film d’horreur d’une radicalité folle"
/// Les Inrocks.
"a starkly-compelling Expressionist drama"
/// Screen Daily
"Robert Pattinson brilliert im majestätischen Psychotrip"
/// MoviePilot
"Robert Pattinson y Willem Dafoe viajan a la locura con “The Lighthouse”"
/// La Vanguardia
"The Lighthouse Might Be Even Trippier Than The Witch"
/// Vulture
"aussi fascinant que réussi
" /// Konbini

AA: This remarkable film inspires me to associate about lighthouses and the cinema. My favourite lighthouse is in the Suomenlinna sea fortress in Helsinki. Its lighthouse is also a church. The double symbolism of the light that saves: could there be a more beautiful and powerful image in the cinema?

The greatest lighthouse film is undoubtedly Jean Grémillon's Gardiens de phare (1929). No good prints survive in Europe, but fortunately there is a wonderful vintage print in the Komiya Collection in Japan. Gardiens de phare is essential Grémillon – he loved the sea. It's also essential Grand Guignol, like Robert Eggers's The Lighthouse.

A similar ambience with an expressionistic approach thrills us in William Wyler's A House Divided (1931) which is not a lighthouse film but like Gardiens de phare an oceanic drama based on a violent clash between father and son, Walter Huston playing the father in all-out monster mode in the spirit of the horror films of the production company Universal.

In coast pirate films lighthouses are manipulated to cause shipwrecks. In Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn instead of a lighthouse the manipulation takes place via coastal beacons. Siegfried Lenz's novel Das Feuerschiff (1960) belongs to the territory, filmed by Jerzy Skolimowski as The Lightship (1985). Also in this thriller there is a father / son clash.

Let's also remember Captain January: the 1924 film adaptation starring Baby Peggy (GCM 2004) and the 1936 version with Shirley Temple. As well as many others including Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010). The Statue of Liberty (La Liberté éclairant le monde) was originally designed as a lighthouse. It soon lost its practical function but became one of the most powerful symbols in the world.

In Nordic countries there are films like Georg af Klercker's Fyrvaktarens dotter / The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter (1918) (GCM 1986) and Teuvo Tulio's The Cross of Love (1946) in which the lighthouse keeper's daughter (Regina Linnanheimo) runs away with a shipwrecked businessman. There is also Asko Tolonen's Kesän maku / The Taste of Summer (1975) set on the southernmost island (and lighthouse) of Finland. Are there lighthouses in Ingmar Bergman's Fårö films and Tarkovsky's Sacrifice? I don't remember, but I think at least we hear foghorns. Let's end the digressions with the first internationally popular comedy duo of the cinema, the Danes Fyrtårnet och Bivognen / Fy & Bi / literally "the Lighthouse and the Sidecar".


The Lighthouse is a horror film and a nightmare film. The director-screenwriter Robert Eggers belongs to the talents of the new wave American horror film together with Ari Aster (Hereditary) and David Lowery (A Ghost Story). They are reinventing the genre.

The art and the craft are assured. The visual composition by the cinematographer Jarin Blasche is robust. It is based on the unusual Movietone (early sound) aspect ratio, launched by Fox Film Corporation for Sunrise in 1927. It became the industry standard for a while after Warner Bros. discontinued its Vitaphone sound-on-disc practice and before the Academy aspect ratio became the standard in 1932. Shot on 35 mm film, the black and white photography of The Lighthouse is intensive. Much of the film takes place in darkness. It is an eloquent darkness.

"You Want It Darker" was the title of Leonard Cohen's last album. The Lighthouse is the blackest film I know.

Mark Korven's innovative score is integrated with an ominous maritime sound design by Damian Volpe.

Shot on location in Nova Scotia, the sense of the place is compelling and the architecture of the lighthouse is stark, thanks to the art director Craig Lathrop. The mechanism and the structure of the lighthouse is dynamically displayed from the boiler room to the Fresnel lens.

We are among the elements: the ocean, the rocks, the wind and the fog. Nothing could be more concrete, and The Lighthouse is a naturalistic film in many ways, but it has also powerful dream sequences and hallucinations in which we enter the mythical dimension. A mermaid is a vividly sexual presence. She is no Little Mermaid. We learn about the myth that dead sailors can turn to seagulls. That myth has also been mentioned in discussions about The Birds, another relevant association.

The claustrophobia is efficiently conveyed. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson give Oscar-worthy performances as a veteran seaman and a young lumberjack turned sailor. They eat lobsters, drink alcohol and dream of mermaids. Reality and fantasy are blurred. There is a breaking point for the younger man when he has had enough of bullying. Madness leads to violence in the isolated inferno.

During the opening sequences I was thinking about Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse). In Robert Eggers's account of the hard physical toil the physical is on the verge of turning metaphysical. The art and the craft are outstanding. The Lighthouse is a virtuoso achievement, but is it more than that? Time will tell.

Friday, November 15, 2019


    FI © 2019 Solar Films Inc. Oy. P: Markus Selin, Jukka Helle.
    D: Tiina Lymi. SC: Anna Viitala, Tiina Lymi – based on the novel (2012) by Eve Hietamies. DP: Konsta Sohlberg F.S.C. AD: Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen. Cost: Tiina Kaukanen. Makeup: Kata Launonen. M: Juri Seppä. S: Pekka Karjalainen. ED: Joona Louhivuori F.C.E.
    C: Petteri Summanen (Antti Pasanen), Marja Salo (Enni Korhonen), Olavi von Bagh (Paavo), Ellen Herler (Terttu), Ria Kataja (Pia), Juha Muje (Antero), Marja Packalén (Anita), Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä (Janne), Marjaana Maijala (Anna Reponen), Niko Saarela (Ilkka Reponen), Kimmo Taavila (Peippo), Kaisa Hela (Pasanen's boss), Olli Rahkonen (Ossi), Mari Hynynen (tarhatäti), Jorma Tommila (tarhasetä), Sanna-Kaisa Palo (Terttu's grandmother), Chike Ohanwe (nurse), Sari Siikander (infotyöntekijä), Pirjo Lonka (woman at the bar). Tanssikeskus Footlight / Julianna Luhtala.
    Loc: Finland (Helsinki: Roihuvuori, Vantaa: Tammisto) and Spain.
    Premiere: 15 Nov 2019 – released by Oy Nordisk Film Ab – Swedish subtitles (n.c.) – 98 min.
    DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 15 Nov 2019.

Tarhapäivä [Nursery Day] is a sequel to the popular comedy Yösyöttö / Man and a Baby (literally: [Night Feed], 2017), both based on novels in a trilogy by Eve Hietamies about a busy career father who has to take care of his baby son alone after his mother falls victim to a chronic post-natal depression. It is a serious theme full of possibilities of humoristic observations about contemporary life.

Tiina Lymi is at the helm of the sequel in which the excellent cast and crew mostly remain the same. Petteri Summanen in the leading role is a master of the dead pan and the blank stare.

In the first film Antti, the protagonist, met a single mother, Enni who shared his predicament. She was with a girl baby, Terttu, of the same age as Antti's son Paavo. They remain good friends without a romantic interest. In Tarhapäivä Enni lands in a nearly fatal traffic accident and Antti gets the responsibility of both Paavo and Terttu. Again he has to learn everything from scratch because girls are different, and every child is different.

Because of Enni's accident Tarhapäivä is a more serious film than Yösyöttö. In Yösyöttö Enni was a strong, active and initiative-taking female protagonist, as a master karateka in some ways stronger than Antti, but in Tarhapäivä she is mostly reduced to lying unconscious in the hospital, and her presence is mostly conveyed via flashbacks from a Spanish beach holiday.

A key comic concept in Yösyöttö was Antti's penchant for fabrications and the postponed truth. His situation was so painful, humiliating and ridiculous that he tried to conceal it with lies, but because he was getting increasingly exhausted, he was also too tired to remember his excuses accurately. The theme returns in Tarhapäivä. Time and again we hear Antti's version and simultaneously see how it really is in a montage sequence. Most seriously, Antti does not tell Terttu the truth about Enni to protect the child.

Most I like in Tarhapäivä the gravity in the account of the troubled children. Both suffer, and issues emerge: violent behaviour at the nursery and stealing at the supermarket. Tarhapäivä is an interesting, rich and rewarding movie, but it lacks the panache of Yösyöttö, the cinematography is less ambitious, and instead of sparkling time lapse passages we have languid flashbacks from the beach.

Yösyöttö had a warm and vibrant quality in the digital cinematography. Also Tarhapäivä has a lovely and pleasant visual look.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Through My Travels I Found Myself: Helene Schjerfbeck (exhibition)

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girl from Barösund (1885–1890). Oil on canvas. 58 x 65. Private collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen. Please click on the images to enlarge them.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Mother and child (1886). Oil on canvas. 72,5 x 92. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Montgomery Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Dance Shoes (1882). Oil on canvas. 58 x 65. Private collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen.

Helene Schjerfbeck: The Door (1884). Oil on canvas. 40,5 x 32,5. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait with Red Spot, 1944. Oil on canvas, 45 x 37. Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation. A IV 3744. The red spot is brighter in the original. Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi.

Through My Travels I Found Myself – Helene Schjerfbeck.
Maailmalta löysin itseni.
Resorna ledde till mig själv
    The exhibition started at Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20.7.–27.10.2019.
Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, 15.11.2019–26.1.2020.
Curated by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, chief curator at the Ateneum
with freelance curator Jeremy Lewison
and curators Sarah Lea and Désirée de Chair from the Royal Academy.
Exhibition architect: Maara Kinnermä.

Book to the exhibition:
Helene Schjerfbeck.
Foreword: Christopher Le Brun, Marja Sakari.
Essays: Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Jeremy Lewison, Désirée de Chair.
Catalogue: Jeremy Lewison.
– Paris, Pont-Aven and St Ives
– Moments of Silence
– The Modern Look
– Still-Life
– Self-Portraits.
In English, hard cover, 165 pages, 67 catalogue reproductions, 68 other illustrations, etc.
ISBN 978-1-912520-03-09
London: Royal Academy of the Arts, 2019.

Official introduction by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff: "All in all Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) spent some six years in France during her career. She studied in Paris and spent shorter periods in Brittany, where she created her first boldly reductive works such as The Door (1884). This period provided her with inspiration throughout the rest of her life. Schjerfbeck also twice visited St Ives in Cornwall and participated in exhibitions in England in 1889 and 1890. Although this was a short period, it had a major impact on her career. One of Schjerfbeck's most paintings, The Convalescent (1888), was created in St Ives."

"This exhibition exploress the trajectory of a talented art student on her journey to becoming one of the most formidable artists in the history of Finnish art. It focuses above all on her travels in the late 1800s to Paris and to Pont-Aven in northern France, Fiesole in Italy and St Ives in Great Britain. The exhibition highlights the importance of travel and place for Schjerfbeck's paintings, as well as practice - and, more specifically, how they later affected her work in Finland."

"The main thematic areas in the exhibition are landscapes, still lifes and important people in the artist's life. The innermost core of Schjerfbeck's work is an extraordinary series of self-portraits in which the artist examines the process of ageing, from youth to old age and death. The show features a selection of Schjerfbeck's self-portraits from 1884 to 1945, presented in chronological order. Altogether the exhibition includes over 130 paintings, drawings and sketchbooks, which demonstrate Schjerfbeck's independent and powerful artistic contribution as a pioneer of modern art."

"In recent years, Schjerfbeck's art has featured in many exhibitions in Europe and Japan. The show at the Royal Academy of Arts was the first of its art in Britain. This exhibition is a collaborative effort by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Ateneum." (Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff)

The structure of the exhibition:
– Gallery 31: – Family – Art Studies – Paris
– Gallery 30: – Brittany – St Ives – Italy
– Gallery 29: – Hyvinkää
– Gallery 28: – The Modern World – Still Life
– Gallery 27: – Self-Portraits

AA: Helene Schjerfbeck has been revered in Nordic countries for over a century, and since the last 12 years she has been prominently recognized internationally – in Hamburg, Paris and The Hague in 2007, in Frankfurt in 2014, in Japan in 2016, and this year in London where she had been exhibited for the first time already in the 1880s. A major Schjerfbeck exhibition was planned in the U.S. in 1939 but the Second World War interrupted the project.

As for Helsinki, Helene Schjerfbeck 150 was the biggest exhibition ever with some 300 works on display in 2012 at Ateneum. A magnificent, definitive catalogue raisonné (also in English) was edited by Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse, the curator of the exhibition. This year's exhibition is a co-production with Royal Academy of Arts. It has been intelligently curated by Anna-Maria Bonsdorff with Jeremy Lewison, Sarah Lea and Désirée de Chair, combining a fresh foreign look with our native expertise. (Schjerfbeck's work is on permanent display at Ateneum and other museums in Finland).

During her Wanderjahre in 1880–1894 Schjerfbeck's main stronghold was Paris, but she also worked in Brittany, Cornwall and Tuscany and visited St Petersburg to work at the Hermitage and Vienna to copy masterpieces at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. She gained experiences and influences for a lifetime.

She started as a master of 19th century realism, but early on (see the image above of The Door, 1884, painted at the Chapel of Trémalo in Pont-Aven, Finistère, Brittany) she had a penchant for a stark reduction of the expression. Because the response was not encouraging, she kept this preference underdeveloped for a long time.

There is a strangely withdrawn atmosphere in Schjerfbeck's family portraits, a hidden sorrow and a sense of mystery. Helene's mother's portraits have been understandably compared with Whistler, but Schjerfbeck's mood is different and startling. The mother rejects her daughter who becomes her caregiver.

During the years of wandering there is a breath of fresh air into Schjerfbeck's art. She finds ideal and inspiring conditions for work in Brittany and Cornwall and becomes a member of supportive communities. In love she is disappointed and walks a lonely lane as a single woman artist. Women were discriminated, but there were prominent artist couples in Finland. Riitta Konttinen has put women painters of the period in context in several exhibitions and books, for instance in the exhibition Helene Schjerfbeck and Sisters in Art in Retretti in 2010.

Having returned to Helsinki, Schjerfbeck worked as a teacher at the Finnish Art Society until 1902 when she moved to the little town of Hyvinkää to care for her mother. The "Moments of Silence" theme is dedicated to this period with powerful works such as Silence (1907) and Maria (1909). The composition is stark, the brushstrokes are refined, and there is a special luminosity in the paintings. On the other hand, Jeremy Lewison writes: "The models appear withdrawn, suffering from ennui and the hardships of dreary, industrial work. They are the epitome of the modern, working-class woman, their blankness a condition of the age".

Schjerfbeck was aware of the many new trends and isms of modern art but did not follow any of them. She pursued her own path. In The Skier (1909) she painted her interpretation of the theme of the clown / Pierrot that had inspired Seurat, Cézanne and Picasso, as Lewison reminds us. A girl's protective ski lotion and the red glow on her cheeks make her look like a clown. The influence of the clown image stays with Schjerfbeck. The greatest hit film of this autumn is Joker (2019) written and directed by Todd Phillips. The coexistence of laughter and desolation is also relevant in Schjerfbeck, as is the coexistence of life and death in the painted, mask-like visage.

Modern life and also modern fashion interested Schjerfbeck, and she even took motifs directly from fashion magazines. The paintings in this section may look less fascinating when examined from a distance. The impression changes completely when they are studied more closely. Their liveliness and uniqueness is in their vibrant brushstroke. The generic subjects of the paintings are merely  excuses for painterly journeys of discovery. A similar thing happens with still lifes. In paintings such as Red Apples (1915) Schjerfbeck is at her most coloristic. The pictures are figurative but border on the abstract.

Self-portraits are the heart of any Helene Schjerfbeck exbition. As Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff stated in her introduction, there may be no other artist who has such a long continuity in self-portraits – 65 years, from 1880 until 1945. In this exhibition we see a selection of 16 self-portraits collected in Gallery 27.

Jeremy Lewison in his essay recalls self-portraits by Rembrandt, Titian, Goya, Delacroix, van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Kollwitz, Redon, Carrière, Corinth, Bonnard and Munch, whom Schjerfbeck may have known and of whom Munch and Bonnard were contemporaries. He also reminds us of Alice Neel, Maria Lassnig, Stanley Spencer and Lucian Freud.

The French art historian Laurent Fiévet has had the intuition that Alfred Hitchcock must have been inspired by Helene Schjerfbeck's self-portraits while directing Psycho and The Birds. The architect Juhani Pallasmaa is able to document how and where the acquaintance took place. It is up to him to publish his findings in writing, but he already told the story in our Film and Psyche 12: The Look symposium last spring.

The shock impact of Schjerbeck's last self-portraits from 1944–1945 is similar with the one caused by Mummy Bates in Psycho, the eyeless corpses of the farmers in the Birds, as well as the paralyzing fear of death experienced by Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) in the same film.

The connection is not trivial. Psycho and The Birds were made at the intersection between traditional and modern American cinema. Alfred Hitchcock broke a tacit agreement between the viewer and the film-maker: he shattered (to speak with Erik H. Eriksson) the basic trust of the viewer in the classical identification system of Hollywood entertainment.

Helene Schjerfbeck in her self-portraits traversed the mirror like Jean Cocteau in his Orphic trilogy, paying visits to the land of death. And she went through the looking glass like Alice in Lewis Carroll's fairy-tale. Schjerfbeck reached beyond identity and life itself.

Schjerfbeck painted her late self-portraits during the years when the Allied armies liberated Auschwitz and other concentration camps. I agree with Jeremy Lewison that Schjerfbeck's self-portraits are relevant as reflections of the Holocaust. Lewison also suggests that Schjerfbeck may have inspired the Slovenian Holocaust survivor Anton Zoran Mušič in his series We Are Not the Last; Mušič would have seen her self-portraits at the Venice Biennale in 1956. As for Hitchcock, he was an advisor in Holocaust film documentation, and already Robin Wood in the first serious English-language monograph on Hitchcock detected a Holocaust undercurrent in Psycho.

In the beginning Schjerfbeck was a traditionalist, but her late self-portraits anticipate undercurrents in the work of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.

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. He also co-wrote Rossellini's Francisco, giullare di Dio (Francis, God's Jester, 1950). 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.


Revisited: Wednesday November 20th at 6 pm
Pianist: Satu Elijärvi

Claude Debussy (1862–1918): Suite bergamasque (1905)
– Prélude
– Menuet
– Clair de lune
– Passepied

Franz Liszt (1811–1886):
– Nuages gris/ harmaat pilvet (1881)
– Le mal du pays/ koti-ikävä (1855)
– Liebestraum/ lemmenunelma no. 3, As-duuri (1850)

Piano artist Satu Elijärvi is currently pursuing her doctorate in the DocMus Doctoral School at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. At the center of Elijärvi’s research and doctoral concerts is a review of the 19th century, and especially of Franz Liszt’s piano music performance practices.