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.

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