Thursday, September 24, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 18 "La Chasse" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1994)


Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 21/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 16–20
Stephen Kovacevich, 1994 (Nos. 16–18) and 1999 (Nos. 19–20)

Opus 31 Nr. 3: Klaviersonate Nr. 18 in Es-Dur „La Chasse“ (1802)
    Erster Satz: Allegro
    Zweiter Satz: Scherzo. Allegretto vivace
    Dritter Satz: Menuetto. Moderato e grazioso.
    Vierter Satz: Presto con fuoco

AA: The piano is a string instrument, a keyboard instrument and a percussion instrument, and during Beethoven's lifetime it was evolving from the fortepiano (Hammerklavier) to the pianoforte. Beethoven's early works were written for the fortepiano and his late works for the pianoforte that was in progress of being developed towards the modern grand concert piano.

Probably compositions such as those by Haydn and Beethoven in the first decade of the 19th century inspired, encouraged and accelerated the development at piano factories such as Broadwood.

Beethoven's piano sonata Opus 31 Number 3 in E-flat major seems to celebrate the piano evolution itself and the piano's expanding expressive capabilities. Beethoven "plays the piano" in all senses: there is an extraordinary Spielfreude, joy of playing. It's a virtuoso piece in melody, harmony and rhythm. It's witty, spicy, inventive and surprising.

After the disturbing undercurrents of Piano Sonata No. 17 "The Tempest", this sonata is different in its tender and humoristic jocularity. It is a love letter in four movements. Perhaps a love letter to the piano. In his Guardian Lecture, András Schiff emphasizes the cantabile quality of the first movement and sings along: "Liebst Du mich?" ("Do you love me?"). An answer is not coming.

This sonata is Beethoven's last in four movements, and there is no slow movement, but instead both a scherzo and a menuetto in the middle. The menuetto is the profound movement, the one that inspired Saint-Saëns to compose a set of variations. It's also the movement in which a deep Beethovenian humanity is at its most compelling. Dark currents under the merry flow.

The last movement, Presto con fuoco, is the one that inspired Frenchmen to call this sonata "La Chasse" ("The Hunt", or, why not: "The Chase"), a title not approved by Beethoven, but it has stuck, and I find it apt. This hunt or chase is also playful. The focus is not on killing prey but the joy of the chase. One can imagine horses riding and hounds leaping merrily to and fro in the woods. In literature, I think about the hunting party in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace that is essential in Natasha Rostova's Bildungsroman.

There has been a month's break in my blogging about Beethoven because there was so much to blog about Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. I did not want to proceed in my listening programme before blogging, and as a result I have listened to this sonata for a month almost daily, in many interpretations, and all seem good.

But most of all I have been listening to Stephen Kovacevich who seems particularly inspired in the three sonatas of Opus 31. I never tired of listening to him.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Jenseits des Sichtbaren – Hilma af Klint / Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint


Halina Dyrschka: Jenseits des Sichtbaren – Hilma af Klint / Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint (2019).

Halina Dyrschka: Jenseits des Sichtbaren – Hilma af Klint / Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint (2019). Reenactment of the artist channeling spiritual visions with gouache on paper.

Hilma af Klint: Självporträtt, n.d. From: Oh Nena com.

Hilma af Klint – ilmeisen tuolla puolen / Bortom det synliga – filmen om Hilma af Klint.
    DE/SE/CH/GB 2019 © 2018 Ambrosia Film. Year of release: 2019. P: Eva Illmer, Halina Dyrschka. EX: Alex Dewart.
    D+SC: Halina Dyrschka. Cin: Alicja Pahl, Luana Knipfer – HD – colour – 16:9 – release: DCP. Colour grading: Natalie Maximova. Kamera-Bühne: Florian Al Salk. AD: Susanne Dieringer. M: Damian Scholl. S: Niklas Kammertöns, Clemens Nürnberger. ED: Antje Lass, Mario Orias, Halina Dyrschka.
    Featuring: Johan af Klint (The Hilma af Klint Foundation), Julia Voss, Ulla af Klint, Josiah McEhleny, Iris Müller-Westermann, Valeria Napoleone, Ernst Peter Fischer.
    Sprecher: Petra van de Voort.
    Loc: Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Estonia, Switzerland, Austria.
    Languages: Swedish, German, English.
    94 min
    Festival premiere: 27 Jan 2019 Göteborg Film Festival
    Swedish premiere: 4 Oct 2019
    German premiere: 5 March 2020
    Verleih: DE and World Sales: mindjazz pictures, SE: Folkets Bio, US: Zeitgeist Films.
    Finnish premiere: 14 Aug 2020, distributor: Oy Cinema Mondo Ltd, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Joanna Erkkilä
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 4, Helsinki, 19 Sep 2020.

Filmportal: "Dokumentarfilm über die schwedische Künstlerin Hilma af Klint, die – wie sich erst in den 1980er Jahren herausstellte – schon 1906 abstrakte Gemälde schuf und somit den bis dahin angenommenen Begründern der Abstrakten Kunst (z.B. Kandinsky, Mondrian und Malewitsch) zuvorkam. Im Laufe ihrer unbekannten Karriere malte Hilma af Klingt rund 1.200 Bilder. In ihrem Testament verfügte sie jedoch, dass diese frühestens 20 Jahre nach ihrem Tod veröffentlicht werden dürften. Der Dokumentarfilm spürt dem Leben und Wirken der Künstlerin nach und beleuchtet, warum sie so lange verkannt blieb." (Filmportal)

Ambrosia Film: Die Entdeckung der Abstraktion: "Die Kunstwelt macht eine sensationelle Entdeckung – nur 100 Jahre zu spät. 1906 malte Hilma af Klint ihr erstes abstraktes Bild, lange vor Kandinsky, Mondrian oder Malewitsch. Wie kann es sein, daß eine Frau Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts die abstrakte Malerei begründet und niemand nimmt Notiz?"

"Heute begeistert die Künstlerin Millionen mit ihrem schrankenlosen Denken, das in einem überwältigenden Werk gipfelt und damit die Geschichte verändert. Die filmische Annäherung an eine Pionierin, deren sinnliches Oeuvre nicht nur künstlerisch fasziniert, zeigt zudem eine lebenslange Sinnsuche, die das Leben jenseits des Sichtbaren erfassen will. Die außergewöhnliche Gedankenwelt der Hilma af Klint reicht über Biologie, Astronomie, Theosophie bis hin zur Relativitätstheorie und spannt so einen faszinierender Kosmos aus einzigartigen Bildern und Aufzeichnungen bis hin zu unserem ureigensten Empfinden.
" (Ambrosia Film)

AA: I like in Halina Dyrschka's film Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint the courage to think big.

Even literally the legacy is big. Many of af Klint's artworks are over three meters long and wide (see the illustrations above). The legacy is big also in terms of tally: 1200 paintings and 26 000 manuscript pages (meticulously written, not far from calligraphy). On the cinema screen we can experience the size, and in montage sequences we can grasp the multitude of variations.

As an artist, Hilma af Klint led a double life. She was a perfect professional painter and illustrator in the established trends of her day. But she had also a secret life as an abstract painter, not following trends but creating them. Halina Dyrschka crystallizes them in montages of connections between Hilma af Klint and Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, et al. In each case, af Klint was the predecessor, but she could have no influence, because her works were never exhibited in galleries or auctions. To those connections I would add surrealism (automatic writing) and abstract expressionism (certain paintings of af Klint have affinities with Mark Rothko).

Like other abstract painters, af Klint was seriously involved in the spiritualist movements of the day, and most of all she was committed to theosophy, the only spiritual movement that accepted women as equals including the possibility of becoming a priestess.

Into af Klint's official achievements belonged beautiful academic series of illustrations of Swedish flowers. The organic form is also a fertile background to af Klint's abstractions. Mussels, snails, flowers, mushrooms, trees and animals seem to have inspired them, as well as phenomena of the inorganic nature, such as streams shining in the sun. In her academic illustrations I am reminded of the von Wright brothers, "the Audubon of Finland", hardly an inspiration. Instead, af Klint is known to have been an admirer of Leonardo da Vinci.

Halina Dyrschka thinks big also in terms of science, evoking the scientific revolutions in the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, concerning cell biology, electricity, electromagnetism, radioactivity, atomic theory and quantum physics – all connected by the insight that the defining structures are invisible. Seen that way, Hilma af Klint's art can be understood, besides theosophic epiphanies, as poetic visions of unseen dimensions of the natural world.

Dyrschka invites us to af Klint's homes and favourite trysts including Konstakademin, Blanch's Café, Adelsö, Gierda and Ösby. We know little of her private life and relationships. She was a single woman born into an aristocratic family. She supported herself with the official part of her art. Her private life was private.

Af Klint belonged to a circle of spiritualists called "The Five", and she wanted to establish a Theosophic temple in Sweden, displaying her art, but Rudolf Steiner discouraged her, also as an artist. However, Steiner photographed her works and showed them to Kandinsky before he launched his own line of abstract art. This is a subject for further research. Perhaps even an art historical detective story.

Af Klint's abstract art was meant to exist outside the marketplace. It was a spiritual saga and a history of a soul. Hilma af Klint had no interest in fame and recognition. Her name is even missing from the family grave. There are no memorials in Sweden to one of the country's greatest artists.


Susan Tallman in her essay "Painting the Beyond" in The New York Review of Books (4 April 2019) questions Hilma af Klint's status as the pioneer of abstract art. Af Klint did not see herself as a creator but a mediator. "Bilderna målades genom mig med stor kraft": "The images were painted through me with great force". But I would argue that a similar sense connects many great artists since classical Antiquity to this day.

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story, of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end” (Homer: The Odyssey).

Meditation and worship has always been inseparable from major trends of art. "Soli Deo Gloria" was the motto of J. S. Bach. "Primitive artworks" in Western museums are neither primitive nor meant as art. They are sacred objects repurposed by colonialism, as exposed by Alain Resnais and Chris Marker in Les Statues meurent aussi.

Tallman catalogues traditions of abstraction in art including diagrams, prints, mandalas, yin and yang symbols and I Ching hexagrams. Her list could be vastly expanded to the dawn of art and mankind. Visual art was born in the dual inspiration of the realistic and the formative, the animistic and the geometric and the profane and the sacred. That is documented on the walls of the oldest cave paintings.

Even they were hardly thought as art, they had not the function of art. They mean art for us, but we don't know what they signified at the time. Only one thing is certain: they were not meant to be seen but only to exist, like Hilma af Klint's abstract art that was created to established a connection beyond the visible.

Developments towards abstraction were everywhere in 19th century art, for instance in certain paintings by J. W. M. Turner. As soon as photography became widespread, painting was liberated from its calling to accurate reproduction. Even abstract cinema emerged within a few years from the revelations of Malevich and Kandinsky.

All this does not diminish Hilma af Klint's achievement, on the contrary. She was the first artist to build a consistent, huge oeuvre in abstract painting, exploring many of its possibilities.

Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), the great Swedish painter, was almost an exact contemporary of Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946), the most highly regarded Finnish painter. The international esteem of both has peaked in recent years, and both have now also been honoured by distinguished films (the latter by Helene, 2020, by Antti J. Jokinen).

My own relationship with Hilma af Klint keeps evolving slowly. I happened to visit (repeatedly, I think) the very first Hilma af Klint solo exhibition in the world, "Hilma af Klint's Secret Images", at Nordiskt Konstcentrum on the Suomenlinna sea fortress island, in 1988, but I was not aware of the full meaning of what I saw. (I was a regular Suomenlinna visitor at the time. It was my favourite place for walks, and while waiting for the ferry I frequented the Nordiskt Konstcentrum.) A bigger revelation was the "Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction" exhibition that I caught at Kunsthalle Helsinki during the Helsinki Festival in 2014. The eponymous wonderful catalogue by Moderna Museet I have cherished ever since. Halina Dyrschka's movie adds indispensably to the Hilma af Klint experience. With hindsight, I am not sure whether the Hilma af Klint hangings at the Nordiskt Konstcentrum and Kunsthalle Helsinki were ideal. I seem to be getting a stronger experience from the combination of the movie and the book.

Hilma af Klint: Serie Parsifal, Grupp II, nr 69, 1916 Akvarell och blyerts på papper 26,8 × 24,8 cm HAK279 © Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Metsäjätti / Forest Giant


Ville Jankeri: Metsäjätti (2020). Hannes Suominen (Janne), Anu Sinisalo (Katariina), Jussi Vatanen (Pasi).

FI © 2020 Solar Films Inc. Oy. P: Rimbo Salomaa, Jukka Helle, Markus Selin.
    D: Ville Jankeri. SC: Ville Jankeri, Timo Turunen – based on the novel (2011) by Miika Nousiainen. DP: Aarne Tapola. Drone cinematography: BongoBongo, Skymotion Pictures. PD: Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen. Cost: Tiina Kaukanen. Makeup: Kaisa Pätilä. VFX: Tuomo Hintikka. M: Marko Nyberg. S: Janne JAnkeri. ED: Harri Ylönen.
    C: Jussi Vatanen (Pasi), Sara Soulié (Linda), Hannes Suominen (Janne), Anu Sinisalo (Katariina), Jari Virman (Antti), Rami Rusinen (Jonne), Tommi Korpela (factory director Virtasalmi), Iikka Forss (chief shop steward Kuisma), Anna-Riikka Rajanen (Tiina), Tomi Alatalo (Mauno), Matti Laine (Janne's father), Marjo Lahti (Janne's mother), Jarkko Pajunen (Raninen), Jalmari Honka (Pasi at 15), Samuli Hokkanen (Vesa), Jeremy Leskinen (Jonne at 15), Kuura Rossi (Pasi at 11), Eemeli Hölttä (Janne at 11), Reeta Vestman (Vesa's mother Sirpa), Jaana Saarinen (mayor), Matti Onnismaa (Järvinen), Philip Zandén (the new CEO), Aku Sipola (real estate agent), Terhi Suorlahti (consultant Sarita), Seppo Paajanen (Pellikka), Mikko Kaukolampi (Matti), Bruno Cacciatore (doctor), Tara Terno (Sofia). Voiceover: Santeri Kinnunen.
    Metallica Hämeenlinna 2019 concert at Kantola Event Park, 16 July 2019: James Hetfield (voc, gtr), Lars Ulrich (dr), Kirk Hammett (solo gtr), Robert Trujillo (bs). "For Whom The Bell Tolls" (Cliff Burton, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich). There was an audience of 55 000 at the concert.
    Theme song (during the final credits): "Meidän murusia" (comp. Lauri Tähkä, lyr. Timo Kiiskinen), perf. Tommi Läntinen.
    88 min
    Swedish subtitles: Frej Grönholm. English subtitles: Aretta Vähälä.
    Premiere: 11 Sep 2020 (120 venues), distributed by Nordisk Film.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 11 Sep 2020 (Finnish subtitles for the hard-of-hearing).
    The title is a name of a fictional forest industry company.

AA: Everything is perfect in the life of Pasi (Jussi Vatanen). He has a great job as a business development manager at a huge forest industry company. A promotion is forthcoming. Pasi has a wonderful and beautiful wife, Linda (Sara Soulié), who is expecting a baby. They are about to move to the tallest building in Finland, the Majakka Tornitalo / "The Lighthouse".

There is a test before the promotion. Pasi must visit a plywood factory at the (fictional) municipality of Törmälä and fire a lot of people. The factory is very profitable but not enough for the company. The humiliation of the test lies in the fact that Törmälä is Pasi's home village. He must fire people whom he has known since childhood.

That is just for starters. After Pasi has dutifully executed the layoffs, he proceeds to put into action an initiative of the factory stalwarts to develop a railway to make the logistics more profitable. The Left Alliance appears as "the No Party" that opposes all initiatives favourable to business. With the Social Democrats compromise is possible, and they win the election. On the same day, the company announces that the factory will be closed. The company has been trimmed down to become more valuable in a transnational merger.

The most memorable chapter in the movie is Pasi's media training. Communication agencies may seem a phenomenon of our times, but they are reminiscent of the schools of rhetorics and sophists in Classical Greece (against whom Socrates taught, because they had no commitment to truth, only winning the argument).

Having been thoroughly prepped in media training, Pasi is interviewed at the press conference where the closing of the factory is announced. The company bosses are aghast when they watch the tv news. Against the instructions, Pasi tells the truth that the factory has been very profitable, but owners want even bigger profits.

Next day, summoned to the board meeting, Pasi expects to be fired. Instead, he is offered a very big promotion. But he resigns with an offensive farewell hand sign.

I have not read the novel, but the film is reportedly faithful to it, with some changes. As different from the novel, Pasi's immediate superior is a woman, Katariina (Anu Sinisalo). This film seems to imply that women in power can be as terrible as men.

The other major change is the ending: the movie, in contrast to the novel, has a happy ending. Pasi buys the factory and continues production. This ending has been criticized, but I like it like it is. First of all, I am a Kracauerian: I prefer open endings in films, "the final image should show an open road or a window with a view to the sky".

Happy ending is the second best alternative. You don't have to believe in it. Nothing is more devastating than a certain kind of melodrama happy ending. But there is no irony in Metsäjätti's happy ending. We are living in a pandemic year, and terrible things happen. At the same time, everybody knows that change is imminent. Crisis is a new possibility.

Metsäjätti is an entertainment film, and I feel good that it gives a message of hope. Forest industry is an industry of the past but also an industry of the future because there are hundreds of untapped possibilities in biochemical industries based on wood.

Critics have noticed that Metsäjätti has a story "ripped from today's headlines" although the novel is nine years old. When the film came to the premiere the closing of the Kaipola factory by the forest giant UPM was in the headlines, in circumstances similar with the movie.

There is more to the background. The Milton Friedman – Margaret Thatcher gospel of monetarism that became fashionable in the 1970s (both Friedman and Thatcher were personal friends of Augusto Pinochet) is being questioned by an increasing number of adherents of capitalism. The prestigious Business Roundtable decided last year to withdraw from shareholder primacy. The world is changing, and the change does not obey conventional party lines. To me, the ending of Metsäjätti the movie reflects that.

The film director is Ville Jankeri, who impressed me with his debut feature film Pussikaljaelokuva. He managed to make an intriguing, engaging, rolling film from an unfilmable novel. It was a Finnish I vitelloni. It was not story-driven, it was character-driven, and Jankeri is a talented director of actors.

Metsäjätti is story-driven, the story is engrossing, it has been popular both as a novel and in the theatre, and it concerns everybody in Finland. But the movie is not electrifying, it lacks adrenaline. Jankeri is a master of the laid back, but in this movie we should feel a dramatic punch.

Jussi Vatanen gives a performance in extremely laconic mode. He has a poker face, but we can feel the pain inside. In the beginning, he is facing a great future of happiness and success, but we feel an absence.

I was thinking about Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in The Irishman. During the long ride from Philadelphia to the airport Sheeran realizes that he is expected to assassinate Jimmy Hoffa, whose closest ally, bodyguard and right hand man he is. During that ride Sheeran dies inside, and he never finds himself again. In the finale he leaves the door open, but nobody is coming, not even hitmen.

I'm also thinking about Vatanen's recent performances. Napapiirin sankarit 3 : Quest: in search for himself. Result: he fails. The latest adaptation of The Unknown Soldier: the most coveted role of the Finnish screen, Koskela; his interpretation the best that I have seen. Vatanen conveys the inferno of the final summer of 1944 at Kannas with laconic dignity. Koskela would know how to maximize the effort to thwart and contain the offensive of the overwhelming Red Army, but the insane orders of our own clueless and panicked commanders are impossible to process. Koskela sacrifices himself for his country and fellow soldiers.

Pasi fails to engage his devoted wife Linda into his existential quandary, but perhaps the happy ending spells well for happiness at home, too. That's how the arch of the drama is written, but the final turn is not overwhelmingly compelling, because conviction is missing from Jankeri and Vatanen.

A performance of quiet strength is given by Tommi Korpela. Miska Rantanen, the critic of Helsingin Sanomat, writes that Korpela "would be impressive even as a traffic sign, but also the role of the factory director trapped between the rock and the hard place he conveys with perfection".

Metsäjätti is a good and rewarding film, but a bit more dramatic panache would be welcome.

Saturday, September 05, 2020



Virpi Suutari: Aalto (2020). Aino Aalto, Alvar Aalto.

FI © 2020 Euphoria Film Oy. P: Timo Vierimaa. EX: Virpi Suutari, Martti Suosalo.
    D: Virpi Suutari. SC: Virpi Suutari, Jussi Rautaniemi. Cin: Heikki Färm, Jani Kumpulainen – 4K Prores Quicktime – 1:2,39 – released on DCP. Aerial footage: KopterCam Oy. M: Sanna Salmenkallio. S: Olli Huhtanen – 5.1-Mix Ebur128. Foley: Toni Ilo. ED: Jussi Rautaniemi. Archival assistant: Teresa Sadik-Ogli.
– Alvar Aalto
– Aino Aalto
– Elissa Aalto
– David N. Fixler, Architect, lecturer, Harvard University, Cambridge.
– Juhani Pallasmaa, Architect, professor of architecture.
– Nina Stritzler-Levine, Gallery Director/ Director Curatorial Affairs Bard Graduate Center.
– Antonello Alici, Architect, Ph. D., architectural historian.
– Harry Charrington, Professor of Architecture, University of Westminster, London.
– Peter Reed, Senior Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
– Harmon Goldstone, Architect.
– Gail Fenske, Professor of Architecture, Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island.
– Renja Suominen-Kokkonen, Adjunct Professor, Universities of Helsinki and Turku.
– Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, Professor of Architecture, University of Yale.
– Mark Lee Architect, Professor of architecture, Harvard University.
– Severi Parko, Professor.
– Esa Laaksonen, Architect.
– Johanna Alanen, Aaltos' daughter.
– Heikki Alanen, Aaltos' grandchild.
– Henrik Aalto, Aaltos' grandchild.
– Kristian Gullichsen, Architect.
– Tommi Lindh, CEO Aalto Foundation.
– Aarno Ruusuvuori, Architect.
– Mariska Harbonn, Guide Maison Carré.
– Federico Marconi, Architect.
– Sofia Singler, Architect, architectural historian.
– Vezio Nava, Architect.
– Mariangela Malpassi, Resident of Riola.
– Ben af Schultén, Designer.
– Marja Paatela-Pöyry, Architect.
– Veli Paatela, Architect.
– Christine Schildt, Personal friend.
– Göran Schildt, Author, personal friend.
– Carola Giedion-Welcker, Art historian, personal friend.
– Karl Fleig, Architect.
– Alfred Roth, Architect.
– Lorenz Moser, Architect.
– Martti Suosalo (Alvar Aalto)
– Pirkko Hämäläinen (Aino Aalto)
    BACKGROUND INTERVIEWS: Toshiko Mori (Architect), Glenn Murcutt (Architect). Dozens of hours of interview tapes made by Göran Schildt for his Alvar Aalto biography.
    Loc: Finland, USA, Italy, France, Australia, Germany, Russia. Aalto architecture is visited in Helsinki, Imatra, Jyväskylä, Rovaniemi, Seinäjoki and Säynätsalo plus the Venice Pavillion, the Vyborg Library and Cambridge, Massachusetts (MIT).
    Filmed in seven languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Russian, Italian, Swedish.
    103 min
    Translations: Saga Vera Oy (Maarit Tulkki, Glyn Welden Banks, Janne Kauppila), Gabriele Schrey-Vasara, Jacqueline Virkamäki, Tiina Madisson, Stefano De Luca.
    Premiere: 4 Sep 2020, distributor: StoryHill, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila / Nina Ekholm.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 11, Helsinki, 5 Sep 2020.

Production notes: “Architecture was life for the Aaltos. It was the essence of who they were."
    "Why settle for the ordinary when you can create paradise?" (Alvar Aalto).
    "The scale is always with the people, and they're every bit as much a part of nature as pine trees and birches. We have all the technical skills, but humanizing them is a very difficult task" (Alvar Aalto).
    "Virpi Suutari‘s documentary Aalto is a story about brave global citizens and trailblazers, creative entrepreneurship and passion for architecture and design
." (Production notes)

AA: There are hundreds of books and periodicals dedicated to Aalto. One could build a library of them.

But film is the ideal way to convey Aalto. Cityscapes, buildings, public spaces, private spaces and design objects: a mobile camera has privileged access to all dimensions and the play of light captured in time. And most importantly: recording people living in those spaces and moving around in them.

I have seen many Aalto films, all good, but Virpi Suutari's movie is the first that is on the Aalto wavelength / aaltopituus. Based on solid international research, the approach is full of wit, humour, love and a sense of play.

Among films about architecture, Suutari's film ranks with the best, comparable with Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future (2016) co-produced, shot by and starring Eric Saarinen, Eero's son. A point of comparison is also Sydney Pollack's Sketches of Frank Gehry (2006), that includes a beautiful Aalto montage: Gehry tells that Aalto was his greatest inspiration during his student years.

Suutari's film is more beautiful and poetic than the Saarinen and Gehry documentaries. The poetry is not extraneous. It is inspired by the Aalto spirit itself. Alvar Aalto was a very big film buff, an international cinephile, a personal friend of the avant-gardists of the 1920s and the 1930s. I can sense his cinephilic smile during the movie.


The definitive Alvar Aalto biography is the authorized one by his lifelong friend Göran Schildt, in three volumes: Det vita bordet / Alvar Aalto: The Early Years (1982), Moderna tider / Alvar Aalto: The Decisive Years (1985) and Den mänskliga faktorn / Alvar Aalto: The Mature Years (1990). It is one of the best Finnish books of all times.

Schildt's biography has, however, a major flaw and bias that is reflected also in the titles of the volumes. They are about Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), and it is true that the Aalto and Artek creations were often promoted and marketed in Alvar Aalto's name only. That was against the wishes of Alvar Aalto, who always insisted that he worked as an equal partner with his wife Aino Aalto (1894–1949). After Aino's death Alvar married Elissa Aalto (1922–1994), another strong, talented and important architect.

The key reassessment in Virpi Suutari's movie is the focus on Aino Aalto and the collaborative nature of the artist couple Alvar and Aino Aalto. In this respect I feel the spirits of both Aino and Alvar Aalto smiling during the movie.

Also about the unconventional private life of Aino and Alvar we learn in this film aspects that have never been discussed before. Perhaps they were ahead of their time, perhaps they were just a bit more open about things that have existed always.

The phenomenon of artist couples was important in Finnish art in general. Riitta Konttinen has written about it in the influential books Artist Couples (1991) and Modernist Couples (2011). The Aaltos' contemporaries included Anna and Werner Holmberg, Antoinette and Ville Vallgren, Hilma and Victor Westerholm, Elin and Raffaello Gambogi, Venny Soldan and Juhani Aho, Eva and Louis Sparre, Hilda Flodin and Juho Rissanen, Eva Bremer and Eemu Myntti, Meri Genetz and Carl Wargh, Lyyli and Yrjö Ollila, Ragni and Alwar Cawén, Eva and Marcus Collin, Signe and Viktor Jansson, and Greta and Sulho Sipilä. The Finnish world of cinema and performing arts is also full of artist couples. (This film has been made by one, Virpi Suutari and Martti Suosalo, one of the country's most beloved actors).

I have just seen in Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato a retrospective of early Russian women film-makers. Many of them were launched on their careers in artist couples, and then got on their own wings. Julia Solntseva is only the most famous of them.


Aalto is a key name in 20th century Modernism, often perceived as severe and forbidding, something against which it was necessary to react in the 1960 ("From Bauhaus to Our House"). The Aaltos were Modernists totally committed to its ideals and utopias, building a world of tomorrow full of light and beauty, accessible to all, inspired to create places of democracy, culture and learning (universities and libraries), and reconstructing Finland after the devastation of wars.

But the special approach of the Aalto Modernism was its natural quality, expressed already in the very name "Aalto", which means "wave". The wave form was a signature of the Aalto design in buildings and vases. There was an affection and delight in organic forms in general. The curvy, feminine forms have a sensual, pleasurable and even erotic dimension. The mature, human touch emerged from Aino Aalto.

Virpi Suutari's emphasis on Aino Aalto is not only one of crediting but also about the very Weltanschauung of the Aalto design. It is a testimony of a profound and fruitful love affair.


The emphasis on light is a key affinity between the Aalto architecture and the cinema. Finland is a country with a short summer and a long winter. In Lapland in mid-winter there is no sun at all during kaamos months. My favourite Aalto spaces include The Electric House by the Kamppi metro station; the address also of the Filmihullu dvd store; the atrium is covered by a glass roof through which the sunlight fills the building. Another favourite is The Book House on the Esplanade, housing the Academic Bookstore, also with a prominent atrium with a glass ceiling and a huge sun window – and Café Aalto, my favourite café.  The light of knowledge. Enlightenment. Houses on Earth filled with the light of Heaven. Houses like this are, like the cinema, about the poetry of light.


The original score by Sanna Salmenkallio is imaginative and alluring. The cinematography of Heikki Färm, Jani Kumpulainen, Tuomo Hutri, Marita Hällförs and Jani Häkli is visual art of the highest quality. I am a big fan of drone cinematography, and in movies about architecture, such as the Eero Saarinen film mentioned above, it proves extremely rewarding. In aerial shots we can experience the familiar buildings like never before.

Göran Schildt needed three volumes for his Alvar Aalto biography. I hope Virpi Suutari will create a whole series of films about Aalto.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Anna Eriksson: M – The Rituals of a Lonely Bitch (an exhibition at Rauma Art Museum)


Anna Eriksson: M – The Rituals of a Lonely Bitch (an exhibition at Rauma Art Museum, 2020). Photo: Cursum Perficio Ihode Management Oy.

Anna Eriksson: M – The Rituals of a Lonely Bitch
A video art exhibition.
Rauma Art Museum, Kuninkaankatu 37, 26100 Rauma
September 5 – November 22, 2020
Curators: Matti Pyykkö and Heta Kaisto.
    Visited: vernissage, opening speech: Taina Myllyharju (Tampere Art Museum), 4 Sep 2020.

Anna Eriksson : M : Untitled Films Stills 2014–2019 .
Editors: Anna Eriksson, Matti Pyykkö, Pietari Kaakkomäki. Graphic design: Pietari Kaakkomäki. Texts: Giona A. Nazzaro, Beatrice Fiorentino, Olaf Möller, Juho Typpö, Jussi Parviainen, Tytti Rantanen, Heta Kaisto.
Helsinki : Parvs, 2020. Printed in Latvia : Livonia Print.

M – a Film by Anna Eriksson (2018).
Ihode Cursum Perficio Production, 2020.

Rauma Art Museum: "Artist Anna Eriksson (born in 1977, Rauma) drew attention with her first film M in 2018. The film was nominated at the Venice Film Festival, after which it has won awards in Europe and the United States. Eriksson was responsible for the direction, script and the sound design of the film. She also played the provocative leading role herself."

"M is the protagonist of the film, but also a reflection of Eriksson’s subconsciousness and a challenge that has helped her to slough off her skin. M is a character that hovers between reality and fiction, a tedious bitch that Eriksson channels with visual experimentations, autosuggestion, performance and the iconography of popular culture."

"“M – The Rituals of a Lonely Bitch” is Anna Eriksson’s first exhibition. It continues Eriksson’s artistic work around the themes of sexuality and death and presents Eriksson’s creative process as personal, raw and bare. The movie inspired by Marilyn Monroe has already faded to the background. This is about the woman called M, and her grotesque, self-ironic and tragic world."

"The exhibition consists of five new video artworks and a photograph installation. The other curator of the exhibition is Matti Pyykkö, who works as Eriksson’s cameraman."

"The exhibition contains intense picture and sound material. It is not recommended for sensitive viewers or underage people without adult supervision.
" (Rauma Art Museum)

The Rauma Art Museum is located in the wooden old town of Rauma, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to changing contemporary art exhibitions and the art collections of the City of Rauma.

AA: Anna Eriksson, one of Finland's most beloved singers, caused a stir two years ago by releasing a feature-length experimental film: M – a Film by Anna Eriksson (2018), which had been six years in the making. The high profile film was an independent production, made outside regular film financing structures and theatrical distribution practices. Its festival premiere took place at the Venice International Film Critics' Week at Venice International Film Festival in 2018.

Movie-making is not unusual with pop stars. Madonna, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga are also film-makers. But Eriksson embarked on something different: a ruthless and agonizing journey about the suffering of the flesh. The film, based on compelling inner necessity, has affinities with some of the most daring lineages in experimental and feminist cinema.

When I saw the film, I felt connections with the legacy of female avantgardists including Yoko Ono, Toni Basil, Valie Export and Wiener Aktionismus, the young Chantal Akerman and the young Penelope Spheeris, not to speak about youthful works of Finnish female film-makers from the art world.

The essayists of the exhibition book evoke further soulmates: Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, Hannah Wilke and Friederike Pezold (mentioned by Olaf Möller), and Barbara Hammer, Carolee Schneeman and Cecelia Condit (quoted by Tytti Rantanen).

The film, the book, and the video art exposition are all different interpretations of the same persona. The exposition is the most powerful and disturbing of them. Fundamentally, all are about Eros and Thanatos, the life force and the death drive. 

In the exhibition, the atavistic forces are extremely charged. Anna Eriksson converts her body to a battleground of the elements. She stages yet another passion play and rosy crucifixion. Watching the videos, I'm hot and bothered. The images are frankly sexual or extremely violent, beyond splatter.

These kinds of extreme images seem to communicate via the manifest surface, but in fact, the true impact takes place in the latent layers of the mind. The images bypass consciousness and reach the unconscious via shortcuts, blending with dreams and nightmares. We are in realms beyond rational analysis, perceivable only via signs, emblems and art.

Disturbing as the videos are, the exhibition is a well balanced complex and the hanging, the lighting and the soundscape are immaculate, honed in every detail. 


This year 2020 is the 125th anniversary of the cinema and psychoanalysis, both launched in the same year 1895. Psychoanalysis has always been discredited, and I expect it to keep being discredited for the next 125 years. Nevertheless, its focus on Eros and Thanatos has been taken for granted in world culture, especially in the cinema, and also for instance in advertising.

The world "subliminal" is often misunderstood to mean "hidden images" such as flash frames that we fail to register consciously. In reality, the images are not hidden, they are hiding in plain sight. The subliminal impact occurs in the most obvious images, like when a beautiful man / woman advertises a product. We laugh at such blatant persuasion, but in the supermarket we find ourselves selecting the very product.

One of the most startling discoveries of early psychoanalysis was the importance of incest in psychical disturbances – real incest or incest fantasy. Psychoanalysis was ahead of its time with this emphasis. It was the first school of thought that paid serious attention to child sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, artists were discovering the theme. In Frank Wedekind's plays Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box, Lulu is a victim of child sexual abuse. The plays gained recognition also in the opera adaptation of Alban Berg and several film adaptations, including ones starring Erna Morena and Asta Nielsen.

The most durable film adaptation turned out to be G. W. Pabst's Pandora's Box, made in 1929 but truly discovered only at La Cinémathèque française in the 1940s, starring Louise Brooks as Lulu, one of the most enigmatic and alluring erotic presences of the 20th century.

Not only Lulu but also Louise Brooks herself were victims of child sexual abuse, and such was also the background of the character played by Brooks in her previous masterpiece, Beggars of Life, directed by William A. Wellman.

Let's observe that the previous films called M, by Fritz Lang (1931) and Joseph Losey (1951), are crime dramas around child sexual abuse.

The Marilyn Monroe saga was the original inspiration for Anna Eriksson's M project. Monroe was the first star to discuss child sexual abuse in public, and this emphasis was presumably the reason why she became a lifelong devotee of psychoanalysis.

In Theogony and Work and Days, Hesiod tells how Hephaestus forged the first woman, Pandora, following the instructions of Zeus who wanted to punish mankind after Prometheus had stolen the fire from heaven. When Pandora opens her box, she unleashes all the evils on humanity.

But in the works of Frank Wedekind, Alban Berg, G. W. Pabst, Louise Brooks and Anna Eriksson, ruthless men have broken Pandora's box while she was a little child, bringing calamity to us all. Over the greatest beauty and charm falls the shadow of disgrace and death.

The "disco bus" delegation from Helsinki visiting Anna Eriksson's vernissage at Rauma, 4 Sep 2020. Kirsi, Pia, Katariina, Teijo, Timo Kaukolampi (sitting left), Jarkko Ojanen, Pietari Kaakkomäki, Mikko Rasila, Miko Kivinen, Marianna Uutinen, Antti Vassinen (back row, fourth from left), Sonata Hauta-aho (first row, fourth from right), Anna Eriksson (center), Stefan Bremer (second from right), Jussi Parviainen (third from left), Antti Alanen, bus driver (first from right). Photo: Matti Pyykkö.

Monday, August 31, 2020

After the Festival: Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 25–31 August 2020


Film concert Sylvester (1924) at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, 29 Aug 2020. Photo: Lorenzo Burlando, Margherita Caprilli.

When the news was announced that Il Cinema Ritrovato is going to take place in real life and not only online, friends asked me if I'm going, and I replied: "I must go, but I hope they will cancel".

The catalogue was released online three weeks ahead. I spent two days reading, connecting my computer to a big tv screen with an HDMI cable. Normally, the paradox of the catalogue is that there is no time to read it until afterwards.

Everybody warned me not to go, but having read the catalogue I had no choice.

I returned from my forest retreat for a week to a Helsinki that was neglecting safe distances, face masks and hand hygiene. It was the opposite in Bologna where I felt relaxed all the time. If I'm not relaxed I cannot focus, but at Il Cinema Ritrovato I felt safe.

Everything was different. Numbered tickets had to be booked in advance. It was not permitted to change seats. It was still sweltering hot (around 32 degrees Centigrade or more) in the end of August. Wearing face masks from morning till night, also during screenings, did not make it easier.

I can watch movies without glasses, but for an accurate assessment of the visual finesses I wear glasses, and the combination of a face mask and glasses can be paradoxical because glasses tend to get foggy. I learned to manage all that. Safety first.

When I returned to unsafe Helsinki, I took the corona test at the airport and got the negative diagnosis (no virus) the day after. More than usually I had stayed in a bubble. Wearing that mask reduces the desire to meet people and engage in conversations. Such live exchanges are essential to the festival experience.

But I'm happy and grateful that they did not cancel the festival. Seeing the films in actual projections and visiting the events in person cannot be compensated by online access.

There were more venues than ever, and the catalogue was bulging with films of which only a small selection it was possible to see. As usual, I skipped the well-known and focused on films that can be hard to see on screen. I wanted to follow the retrospective of Gösta Werner, the great cineaste who I had the great pleasure to know personally, and considered indulging in the Henry Fonda retrospective, with some of my greatest favourite films, starting with Young Mr. Lincoln, but something's got to give.

The Frank Tuttle / Stuart Heisler double retrospective was a novel and illuminating concept, of two directors both richly deserving further study. Frank Tuttle's background in Paramount's elegant comedies and musicals provided a special background to films that are essential in the genesis of film noir. This Gun for Hire launched the hitman anti-hero of the screen in a way that resonates to this day, and catapulted Alan Ladd as a star.

Stuart Heisler was for decades a top editor in Hollywood before his career as a director started. Many films of his are topical for today's Black Lives Matter movement, including The Negro Soldier and Storm Warning. Heisler had also an original and passionate approach to women's films, such as Smash-Up (launching Susan Hayward as a grand melodrama diva) and The Star (metacinema with Bette Davis).

Ladies Should Listen (1934).
The Glass Key (1935).
This Gun for Hire (1942).
Hostages (1943).
Suspense (1946).
Hell on Frisco Bay (1956).

Among the Living (1941) .
The Negro Soldier (1944) .
Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) .
Storm Warning (1951) .
The Star (US 1952).

The Annales approach has been distinctive and indispensable in Bologna. The Cento anni fà series started in 2003 with "The First Great Year of the Cinema: 1903", and that series still continues. In 2015, a parallel Annales series started with Anno Zero, of the first films released in 1895. This year the series went on with a changed title, "Century of Cinema: 1900", but for my own memory organization, I still call the series also "Anno Cinque". In the beginning, the Annales series were global and representative, but soon they turned Eurocentric and quite selective even at that. They are indispensable all the same. This year's highlights included a Méliès magic show: a delightful attempt to recreate the full Méliès experience. I saw the complete Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre show when it was reconstructed eight years ago in Pordenone, but this year's Bologna selection was exquisite; a smaller sample does more justice to individual films, all extraordinary records of the greatest performers of the age. Unique and outstanding was the Giancarlo Stucky collection made on the first cinema format specifically designed for home movie use: Gaumont-Demenÿ's Chrono de Poche.

1900 ANNO CINQUE (Century of Cinema: 1900 / Il secolo del cinema: 1900)
Lumière: Cinématographe Géant at the 1900 Paris Exposition .
Lumière: Indocina occupata .
Méliès .
Gaumont: Sieurin's French Collection (in Stockholm) .
Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre .
Nice Moves – British Film in 1900 .
Gaumont Chrono de Poche: Giancarlo Stucky .

Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström continued their epic project of programming Japanese cinema for heritage festivals. Yuzo Kawashima was revealed as the "missing link" between traditional and modern Japanese cinema, active from the mid-1940s until the early 1960s. I liked best his films conveying a strong community spirit (Tonkatsu taisho, Ai no onimotsu), but another prominent theme of his is the dissolution of that spirit in a new age of anomie. Kawashima was most highly regarded as a director of broad comedy (Bakumatsu taiyoden), which I need to revisit to learn to relate to.

Tonkatsu taisho / Our Chief, Our Doctor (1952).
Ai no onimotsu / Burden of Love (1955).
Ginza 24 chou / Tales of Ginza (1955) .
Suzaki paradaisu: aka shingo / Suzaki Paradise: Red Light District (1956) .
Bakumatsu taiyoden / The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (1957) .

Just when we thought that we already know Soviet cinema, Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz introduce to us many Soviet women directors in a rich collection of films that have been difficult or impossible to see. All talented and worthy in a "Women Make Film" age of rediscoveries. We saw the first film adaptation of Anton Chekhov's beloved dog tale Kashtanka (by Olga Preobrazhenskaya), highly personal and visually compelling films by Aleksandra Khokhlova, bold and engrossing Georgian visions by Nutsa Gogoberidze (the Ur-mother of a prominent film family in three generations), defiant and surprising works by Margarita Barskaya, a persecuted director who committed suicide during the Great Terror, a heroic Bildungsroman about the revolutionary generation by Vera Stroeva (simultaneously perhaps a Troyan Horse with a double-coded message), and Nadezhda Kosheverova's evergreen Cinderella, one of the most popular Russian films of all times.

Olga Preobrazhenskaya: Kashtanka (1926)
Aleksandra Khokhlova: Delo s zastyozhkami / An Affair of the Clasps (1929)
Aleksandra Khokhlova: Sasha (1930)
Nutsa Gogoberidze: Buba (1930)
Nutsa Gogoberidze: Uzhmuri (1934)
Margarita Barskaya: Rvanye bashmaki / Torn Boots (1933).
Margarita Barskaya: Otets i syn (1936) / Father and Son (1936)
Vera Stroeva: Pokolenie pobeditelei / A Generation of Victors (1936).
Nadezhda Kosheverova: Zolushka (1947) / Cinderella (1947).

Among the single highlights in the classics series a special discovery was Mohammed Reza Aslani's Chess of the Wind, a refined and poetic Iranian detective story, a true revelation of a film believed lost and never properly launched. Pietro Germi's Seduced and Abandoned, starring an already formidable young Stefania Sandrelli, remains a startling satire of patriarchy. Two Weimar classics from the golden year 1924 were seen in restorations. Paul Leni's Waxworks is his masterpiece. Lupu Pick's Sylvester is a work of purely visual poetry, and a new exquisite restoration does justice to it. Klaus Pringsheim's original score, one of the best original scores of the silent period, was heard at Piazza Maggiore for the first time in 96 years. My greatest favourite at the festival was Hiroshi Inagaki's The Rickshaw Man. It was cut in two instances of censorship by 20 minutes, and the cuts are still believed lost, but even in this unintentionally elliptic form the movie radiates timeless wisdom and mystery.

Mohammed Reza Aslani: Shatranj-e baad / Chess of the Wind (1976).

Hiroshi Inagaki: Muhomatsu no issho (1943) / The Rickshaw Man (1943) .

Pietro Germi: Sedotta e abbandonata / Seduced and Abandoned (1964).

Paul Leni: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett / Waxworks (1924).
Film concert: Lupu Pick: Sylvester (1924), with the original score by Klaus Pringsheim.

My immediate reactions on the last evening of the Festival: 31 August 2020 .

Il Cinema Ritrovato selections about which I have also blogged recently:
Esfir Shub: К.Ш.Э. Комсомол – шеф электрификации / K.S.E. Komsomol – Leader of Electrification (1932).
Marco Ferreri: La donna scimmia / The Ape Woman (1964).

On the last evening: Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 25–31 August 2020


The poster boy and the poster girl: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg filming À bout de souffle / Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960).

The silent films of Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2020 were screened at the Bologna Opera House, the legendary Teatro Comunale di Bologna, built in 1763 and designed by the architect Antonio Galli Bibiena. The musicians have never been happier. The acoustics was perfect, and the Steinway Concert Grand Piano was top of the game.

Il Cinema Ritrovato made a strong statement by realizing a full scale festival in the pandemic year 2020. Against all odds, and during a period when other high profile festivals, including Telluride and Pordenone, were cancelled.

It was a much needed statement. My previous film festival visit was to Tampere, 4-8 March, five and a half months ago. Meanwhile I have been watching films online and even had my first online film festival experience: Midnight Sun Film Festival 2020.

All this has been great, but it's not the same. We need the living simultaneous connection. There is a unique electricity in the cinema experience. Big films need the big space. Intimate films need the charged intimacy. Suspense is more thrilling when felt together. Comedy is funnier when there are escalating, successive waves of laughter. Even silliness is funnier when shared. Audiences with children are the greatest elixir.

Bologna 2020 was like arriving at an oasis after a half-year wandering in the wilderness. Thank you directors Gian Luca Farinelli, Cecilia Cenciarelli, Ehsan Khoshbakht and Mariann Lewinsky. Thank you festival coordinator Guy Borlée and all of the dedicated staff. 

We obeyed safe distances and hand hygiene, and in our masks we were like a cast of characters from a Louis Feuillade serial.

We are terrified by the recent news from Hollywood where careers of the most experienced professionals, our beloved colleagues, are on the line. For the current studio heads, streaming is king. But the cinema experience is indispensable.

My three highlights of Il Cinema Ritrovato Anno 2020:

Storm Warning (Stuart Heisler, 1951). One of the greatest political thrillers of all times. Theme: the Ku Klux Klan. In a casting coup, Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan play the heroes who defy mob rule.

Sylvester / New Year's Eve (Lupu Pick, 1924). The well-known Weimar classic was reborn in the film concert on Piazza Maggiore. The 2020 Deutsche Kinemathek restoration is based on the brilliant Komiya Collection nitrate print, and the subtle théâtre intime experience is greatly enhanced by the visual refinement. For the first time since the premiere the original music by Klaus Pringsheim was heard, played by the orchestra of Teatro Comunale, conducted by Timothy Brock. It is one of the greatest original silent film scores.

The Rickshaw Man / Muhomatsu no issho (Hiroshi Inagaki, 1943). This engrossing masterpiece of Japanese cinema was shown in a brand new 2020 restoration in the Venice Classics strand of the festival. I have been wanting to see this movie since Nagisa Oshima praised it in his Century of the Cinema tribute to the history of Japanese cinema in 1995. Seeing the film at last, it greatly exceeded my expectations.

Bakumatsu taiyoden / The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate

Yuzo Kawashima: 幕末太陽傳 / Bakumatsu taiyoden / The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (JP 1957).

Yuzo Kawashima: 幕末太陽傳 / Bakumatsu taiyoden / The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (JP 1957).

Yuzo Kawashima: 幕末太陽傳 / Bakumatsu taiyoden / The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (JP 1957).

幕末太陽傳 / A Sun-Tribe Myth from the Bakumatsu Era / The Sun Legend of the End of the Tokugawa Era / Sun Legend of the Shogunate's Last Days / Chronique du soleil à la fin de l'ère Edo.
JP 1957. Director: Yuzo Kawashima.
    Scen.: Keiichi Tanaka, Yuzo Kawashima, Shohei Imamura. F.: Kurataro Takamura. M.: Tadashi Nakamura. Scgf.: Kazuhiko Chiba, Kimihiko Nakamura. Mus.: Toshiro Mayuzumi. Ass. regia: Shohei Imamura.
    Int.: Frankie Sakai (Inokori Saheiji), Sachiko Hidari (Osome), Yoko Minamida (Koharu), Yujiro Ishihara (Shinsaku Takasugi), Izumi Ashikawa (Ohisa), Toshiyuki Ichimura (Mokubei), Nobuo Kaneko (Denbei), Hisano Yamaoka (Otatsu, moglie di Denbei), Yasukiyo Umeno (Tokusaburo, figlio di Otatsu), Masao Oda (Zenpachi).
    Prod.: Nikkatsu. DCP. 110 min. Bn.
    Unreleased in Finland.
    Bologna: Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020: Yuzo Kawashima: The Missing Link
    DCP from Nikkatsu. A digital restoration was conducted in 2012 to the Nikkatsu Centenary.
    Japanese version with English subtitles on DCP by Dean Shimauchi and e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, 31 Aug 2020

Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020): "Widely regarded as Kawashima’s signature work, this witty, relaxed and irreverent film unfolds in the mid-19th century in and around a brothel in the pleasure quarter of Yukaku in Shinagawa, now a district of Tokyo, then the first of the numerous post towns along the Tokaido highway stretching westwards toward Kyoto. Protagonist Saheiji, played by Kawashima’s regular collaborator, comedian Frankie Sakai, proves unable to pay the bill, and is obliged to pay off his debt to the brothel by working there. Inspired by the tradition of comic storytelling, or rakugo, Kawashima integrates characters from its classic repertoire with elements of the turbulent history of the so-called bakumatsu period, as the Shogunate which had governed Japan for more than 250 years stood on the verge of collapse. As critic Frederick Veith writes, Kawashima was “always attentive to the complex mediation and negotiation of social forces in a society in the midst of change”, and “often visualised this in the ebb and flow and constantly shifting, subtle reorientation of bodies as they move through space… In Bakumatsu taiyoden the focal point of this is the large central corridor of the Sagami-ya [brothel], through which he conducts traffic as if he were filming a busy street, full of economic activity”. Indeed, this period film is also arguably a comment on the postwar Japan in which it was made – the era of economic growth and transformation – as the opening shots of Shinagawa’s modern red light district (then on the verge of closure after a change in Japanese law) suggests. The “Kinema Junpo” reviewer, one may suppose, was reflecting on this contemporary context in his cryptic comment that the film, although a jidaigeki, “reeked of butter” (ie, evoked the West), and when he identified the young samurai revolutionaries as après-guerre figures. He praised the way in which Kawashima depicted the eroticism of the pleasure district with humour, commented that the character of Saheiji as played by Sakai reminded him of Figaro, and noted that the film was, “as always, very well made”. Kawashima himself, interviewed in “Kinema Junpo”, observed that “depicting serious characters in a serious way is always difficult, and therefore I am afraid that my characters always become rather careless, or at least almost certainly scatterbrained. It is not that I am looking for an easy way out, but I kind of feel like I want to leave [myself] an escape route”. Commenting on the film’s fusion of fact and fiction through the characters of Inokori Saheiji and Shinsaku Takasugi (a fictional character and a historical figure respectively), he said: “It goes without saying that they have different personalities. However, to my mind, they both lived life with vigour, and I think that they fit together. Five or six years ago I thought of this combination, and this is the result. These two characters were not easy to tie down, and pushed me to the breaking point. That is to say, the energy that these two characters have, perhaps best called vital force, was stronger than I had expected, and overpowered my own meagre strength”. Shohei Imamura, just about to embark on his own directorial career, cowrote the screenplay; the film is, as he wrote, “essential to an understanding of Kawashima”." Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020)

IMDb synopsis: "In the last days of the Shogunate, a resourceful grifter seeks to outwit competing prostitutes, rebellious samurai and other inhabitants of a brothel in order to survive the hardened times."

Nikkatsu synopsis: "Set in the last few years of the Shogun's rule, this period / ensemble movie depicts the lives of the young and the restless at a whorehouse. The protagonist is Saheiji, a resourceful, witty free spirit. It's 1862, six years before the Shogun turned his political power over to the Emperor. Penniless Saheiji splashes out at a famous Shinagawa whorehouse. He's forced to stay on at the whorehouse to repay his debt. At first Saheiji is regarded as an unwelcome guest who never leaves but it turns out he is not just a poor grifter. None of the whorehouse's guests, hosts, servants and attending ladies are innocent but they are pragmatic schemers. Saheiji soon endears himself to them all and solves many whorehouse disputes with his wit. But it is slowly revealed that the seemingly perfect Saheiji is suffering from tuberculosis and his future is uncertain..."

AA: I saw for the first time Bakumatsu taiyoden. For the curators Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström, it's Yuzo Kawashima's signature work. It gets repeatedly voted among the best Japanese films of all times.

I saw five Kawashima films in Bologna's retrospective, and Bakumatsu taiyoden was the only one that left me indifferent, no doubt because of my lacking understanding of its cultural codes and verbal jokes based on a slang that can be difficult even for native speakers.

It's a comedy and a farce, and I found Kawashima's sense of humour appealing in all the other films, not here. It's not only about the grotesque tone. In the earlier films I appreciated a life-affirming ambience, a self-evident conviction that adversities are to be overcome.

Here the obsession to ridicule seems to me forced and overdone. This is no laughter with tears. It's a hollow laughter with a sense of darkness and pessimism that the laughter tries in vain to hide.

I fail to connect with the shallow characters and find the lowbrow shenanigans tiresome. I miss the engrossing sense of community in Kawashima's earlier films.

Perhaps it's the brothel milieu, a life based on mutual exploitation, an instrumental approach to human relationships. Only a Max Ophuls can create a bordello film with a sense of generosity (La Maison Tellier in Le Plaisir). Kenji Mizoguchi introduces a passionate empathy to his tragic tales in the Red Light District. In Kawashima's vision I find only futility and triviality.

Donald Richie compares Bakumatsu taiyoden with Humanity and Paper Balloons, which I liked, and I see the connection between the protagonists, but I find the approaches of Yuzo Kawashima and Sadao Yamanaka incompatible.

I need to revisit both and learn to understand the Japanese sense of frivolity, the rakugo spirit of the Japanese comedy of manners. Perhaps there is an affinity with commedia all'italiana, the kind of comedy that does not make us laugh.

The narrative approach: a multi-character study, a cross-section film, a Grand Hotel set in a Shinagawa whorehouse in 1862. "People come, people go. Nothing ever happens".

Kashtanka (1926)


Olga Preobrazhenskaya: Каштанка / Kashtanka (SU 1926).

Olga Preobrazhenskaya: Каштанка / Kashtanka (SU 1926). The carpenter Luka Aleksandrovich (Antonin Pankryshev), his son Fedyushka (Yura Zimin) and their dog Kashtanka.

 Каштанка / Fedus pes.
    SU 1926. Director: Olga Preobraženskaja. 76 min
    Sog.: from the eponymous short tale (1887) by Anton Pavlovič Čechov. Translated into Finnish as "Kashtanka" by Matti Lehmonen in Valittuja kertomuksia ja novelleja 1 (1945, Smia). Scen.: Jurij Bolotov, Ol’ga Preobraženskaja. Ass. regia: Ivan Pravov, N. Zubova. F.: Grigorij Giber. Scgf.: Dmitrij Kolupaev.
    Int.: Nikolaj Panov (clown Georges), Evgenija Chovanskaja (affittacamere), Antonin Pankryšev (Luka), Naum Rogožin (Mazamet, suonatore d’organetto), Leonid Jurenev (Chiodo, vagabondo), Jura Zimin (Fedjuška), Elena Tjapkina (Nastas’ja, lavandaia), Michail Žarov, B. Snegirev (Agafon), Gulja Koroleva. Il cane Jackie.
    Prod.: Sovkino. 35 mm. Bn.
    Bologna: Il Cinema Ritrovato: Early Women Directors in the Soviet Union
    Print from: Národní filmový archiv (print made in 1995)
    Czech intertitles
    E-subtitles in English and Italian by Violetta Zardadi.
    Digital piano: John Sweeney.
    Introduce Mariann Lewinsky.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, 31 Aug 2020
Kashtanka is the name of a dog. "Kashtan" means "chestnut".

"Anton Chekhov's story was first published in Novoye Vremya's No. 4248, 25 December (old style) 1887 issue, originally under the title "In Learned Society" (В учёном обществе; V uchyonom obschestve). Revised by the author, divided into seven chapters and under the new title it came out as a separate edition in Saint Petersburg in 1892 and enjoyed six re-issues in 1893–1899. Chekhov included it into Volume 4 of his Collected Works published by Adolf Marks in 1899–1901. In 1903 the story came out illustrated by Dmitry Kardovsky and in such form continued to be re-issued well into the end of the 20th century." (Wikipedia)

Mariann Lewinsky (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020): “Kashtanka by Olga Preobrazhenskaya, print 1995, a film of winter, of night and snow, of children and animals, a film about loss, a masterpiece”, read my viewing notes from 2012. My Prague colleagues had it screened for me because they knew I was interested in colour in silent cinema, and they knew a tinted Soviet silent film to be a rare item. I had never heard the name of the director. My encounter with her work was enhanced by the shock of discovering that a major director who had reached international audiences with Baby ryazanskie and Tikhiy Don (The Quiet Don) around 1930 could disappear without a trace from official film history. In 2013, Il Cinema Ritrovato dedicated a retrospective to her." Mariann Lewinsky (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020)

Natalya Nusinova (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020): "In the original story by Chekhov, Kashtanka is a little dog that gets lost following the trail of his drunken owner. In the film he is stolen, sold, tossed out into the street and saved by a clown. The boy Fedyushka gets lost looking for the dog and ends up a prisoner of the sinister Mazamet who compels him to rove from house to house to make money, while Fedyushka’s father wanders through the streets in search of his lost child. The film was approved by the censors in 1926 and received the authorisation for international distribution the following year. Before the Czech print was discovered in 2012, Kashtanka had been considered lost in Russia, following the decision by the Central Committee of film censorship to ban the film in 1932 (“the underclass is portrayed as evil, lacking in class consciousness and social awareness”)." Natalya Nusinova (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020)

AA: In Anton Chekhov's oeuvre, Kashtanka was published during an extremely important and productive year, 1887, just before his great turning-point, the long story The Steppe. Olga Preobrazhenskaya's Kashtanka was the first of six film adaptations of Chekhov's beloved story.

For several generations the film was missing, believed lost. Then a Czech print was preserved from apparently the sole surviving source, battered, in low definition and low contrast and with a lot of "rain", but still conveying an idea of the original film.

Anton Chekhov's story has been completely changed, but a core idea remains: the ordeals of a little dog in the hands of several owners. In the movie the dog's tale is mirrored by a parallel adventure of the little boy Fedyushka who loves it more than anything else.

There are memorable aspects in the movie. The desolate winter, with snow, wind and a freezing cold. Luka Aleksandrovich's infinite sorrow when his son Fedyushka goes missing (kidnapped by underworld figures). Nikolai Panov's magisterial performance as the Clown Georges. Electrifying long shots of the circus by Grigori Giber.

The story belongs to a distinguished lineage about a child's love to a pet animal. From Bologna we remember William A. Wellman's Good-bye, My Lady. Olga Preobrazhenskaja conveys this central theme with sincere emotion, eliciting fine performances both from Yura Zimin as Fedyuschka and the dog Jackie as Kashtanka.

On the other hand, the tale belongs to another great tradition: an animal's adventure with different owners as a mirror of humanity. Several models have been quoted as Chekhov's real-life inspirations. I suspect that he might have also been inspired by Leo Tolstoy's masterful horse saga Kholstomer (1886), published the year before. In the cinema, a parallel masterpiece is Robert Bresson's Balthazar. The concept remains fruitful for fresh and original interpretations such as Anca Damian's animation Marona's Fantastic Tale (2019). And looking for an even wider context, one may even think about the novel The Golden Ass by Apuleius (late 2nd century BC), where a human protagonist, metamorphosed into an ass, has to endure all its ordeals.

Dmitri Kardovsky (1866–1943): Kashtanka, Fedyushka and his father, the carpenter Luka Aleksandrovich, an illustration to Anton Chekhov's Kashtanka. Charcoal and India ink. «Каштанка» А. П. Чехова. Илл. Д. Н. Кардовского. Уголь, тушь, 1903.

Muhomatsu no issho / The Rickshaw Man (1943) (world premiere of the 2020 digital restoration by Kadokawa Corporation and The Film Foundation)


Hiroshi Inagaki: 無法松の一生 / Muhomatsu no issho / The Rickshaw Man (JP 1943) starring Keiko Sonoi (Mother), Hiroyuki Nagato (Toshio bambino) and Tsumasaburo Bando (Matsugoro the Rickshaw Man).

Hiroshi Inagaki: 無法松の一生 / Muhomatsu no issho / The Rickshaw Man (JP 1943) starring Tsumasaburo Bando as Matsugoro.

Hiroshi Inagaki: 無法松の一生 / Muhomatsu no issho / The Rickshaw Man (JP 1943) starring Tsumasaburo Bando as Matsugoro who still knows the secret of Gion daiko drumming of Kokura. My screenshot from Taiko Source.

Hiroshi Inagaki: 無法松の一生 / Muhomatsu no issho / The Rickshaw Man (JP 1943) starring Hiroyuki Nagato (Toshio bambino), Tsumasaburo Bando (Matsugoro the Rickshaw Man) and Keiko Sonoi (Mother).

無法松の一生 / Wheels of Fate / L'Homme au pousse-pousse
    JP 1943. Director: Hiroshi Inagaki. 78 min
    Sog.: dal romanzo Tomishima Matsugoro den (1939) di Shunsaku Iwashita. Scen.: Mansaku Itami. F.: Kazuo Miyagawa. M.: Shigeo Nishida. Mus.: Goro Nishi.
    Int. Tsumasaburo Bando (Matsugoro, detto ‘Matsu’), Yasushi Nagata (capitano Kotaro Yoshioka), Keiko Sonoi (la moglie di Yoshioka), Kamon Kawamura (Toshio), Hiroyuki Nagato (Toshio bambino), Ryûnosuke Tsukigata, Kyôji Sugi.
    Prod.: Daiei Film. DCP. Bn.
    The original version was 99 min. 20 minutes of censorship cuts are believed lost.
    Bologna: Il Cinema Ritrovato: Venezia Classici – The Film Foundation 30
    DCP from Kadokawa Pictures
    Original in Japanese with Italian subtitles by Antonella Viardo on the DCP and e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti Londra.
    Restored by Kadokawa Corporation and The Film Foundation at Cineric in New York and Lisbon, with the cooperation of The Kyoto Film Archive. Special thanks to Masahiro Miyajima and Martin Scorsese for their consultation
    Introduce Andrea Meneghelli.
    Viewed at Teatro Auditorium Manzoni, 31 Aug 2020.

Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma: les films, Laffont, Paris 1992, quoted at Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2020: "A film portrait: the flashbacks and present-day sequences, located on the same plane, reveal the different aspects of the character of Matsugoro, The Rebel, an almost legendary figure for the Japanese lower classes. Matsugoro embodies, in his modest condition, some eternal features of the national character: oversensitive pride, courage, devotion, adherence to tradition, respect for the moral code of the time, to the point of sacrifice. Beyond its few experiments (such as the linking sequences and the unfolding of time marked by the visual leitmotif of the ever-spinning rickshaw wheel), the film’s worth is in its spontaneity, its freshness, its bonhomie. In its modesty too, as it understates any character’s dismay, even despair."

"Fifteen years later, Inagaki would shoot an extremely faithful remake of his own film, but in Cinemascope and colour: a more explanatory, more diluted, more outdated work, less touching and less convincing. It was the cuts made by the very strict censorship of the time, Max Tessier recalls (in Images du cinéma japonais, Veyrier, 1981) that pushed Inagaki to undertake the remake. However, everything had been said in the original, allusive and endearing in its form. In the 1958 version, Toshiro Mifune’s overly plodding and overly picturesque interpretation prevents the figure of Matsugoro from ‘coming across’ as well as in the first version. A third adaptation of Iwashita’s novel was made in 1965 by Kenji Misumi.
" Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma: les films, Laffont, Paris 1992, quoted at Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2020

AA: The world premiere of the 2020 restoration of The Rickshaw Man (1943) was screened in the Venice Classics strand of the festival.

I have been looking forward to this film ever since Nagisa Oshima praised it in his Century of the Cinema tribute to the history of Japanese cinema in 1995. In his montage, the excerpt was followed by the most heart-breaking superimposition in Oshima's oeuvre – the Hiroshima mushroom – and a close-up of Keiko Sonoi, the female star of the film, killed from exposure to the atomic bomb in Hiroshima – the only moment in an Oshima film that makes me cry.

In a parallel case, seeing The Rickshaw Man was for me both the greatest highlight of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020 and the only film that made me cry, but this had nothing to do with Oshima's Hiroshima association, which I had forgotten.

There is a secret and a mystery buried in this movie, perhaps not even conscious to the director Hiroshi Inagaki or his cast and crew, but they have sensed and nurtured it. There is a unique and compelling emotional charge in The Rickshaw Man.

That charge I sensed already in Oshima's excerpt, and in his interpretation, the movie embodied a spirit of ancient, original Japanese humanity, a counter-image to the contemporary reality of militarism, coercion and class society. The Rickshaw Man is also a story of unrequited love transcending class boundaries. Even with anticipations like this, the movie greatly exceeded my expectations.

The action takes place in the city of Kokura (today merged with four other cities into Kitakyushu) on the island of Kyushu in Southern Japan, near the Tsushima Strait and the Korea Strait. Kokura lies between Hiroshima (to the Northeast) and Nagasaki (to the Southwest). The historical city is known for Kokura Castle and Miyamoto Musashi, a philosopher and swordsman well-known in the cinema from films by Daisuke Ito, Kenji Mizoguchi, Hiroshi Inagaki, Tomu Uchida and others.

The year is 1905, that of the Russo-Japanese War. Kotaro, the father of the Yoshioka family, is a captain of the army. When he dies during a military exercise in a rainy season, Matsugoro, a rickshaw man, becomes a surrogate father to his son Toshio, now raised by Mrs. Yoshioka as a widowed mother.

Matsugaro is a notorious brawler, drunkard and troublemaker. The hulk can devour 16 bowls of Udoi noodles. He manages to get into quarrel with the Wakamatsu police kendo teacher. On a rare visit to the theatre, he arrives with a portable stove and cooks garlic, to the consternation of the theatre audience. But he is a superb rickshaw man.

One day, he helps the crying boy Toshio, who has injured himself while playing on stilts, and wins the trust of the Yoshioka family. After Kotaro's death, Matsugoro becomes a reliable surrogate father who teaches Toshio to be brave and face adversity. He escorts Mrs. Yoshioka and Toshio to Sunday festivities, and, at their incitation, spontaneously enters a sprint race which he wins. While helping raise Toshio, Matsugoro himself grows up.

When Toshio lands into fights with other boys, Matsugoro teaches him self-defense skills. Years go by, and Toshio now fails to recognize the humble rickshaw man. But on Kokura Gion Daiko Day, Toshio is accompanied by his teacher from Goko. He wants to hear authentic Gion Daiko drums, and they visit the festival street where a magnificent double-sided nagado-daiko drum is installed on a float.

As the official drummers are clueless about authentic drumming, Matsugoro volunteers to demonstrate. To the amazement of the festival public, he gives a powerful and playful performance of three classic drumming styles, 流れ打ち、勇み駒、暴れ打ち (nagare-uchi, isami koma, abare-uchi). Old-timers who still recognize them have not heard them in years. This scene has became a model of new waves of drummers to the present day. Partly it was, however, an invention by Denji Tanaka for this movie. The drumming we hear is not by Tsumasaburo Bando, who only pantomimes it.

In scenes deleted by the censor, Matsugoro confesses his secret affection to Mrs. Yoshioka. Having failed, he reverts to sake and dies in the snow. Among his estate, a hefty bankbook is found for Mrs. Yoshiko and Toshio, with all his gifts from the family untouched.

The film was shot by Kazuo Miyagawa who during this period was Hiroshi Inagaki's trusted cinematographer. He proceeded in the 1950s to masterpieces by others, including Rashomon, Ugetsu, Ukigusa and Tokyo Olympics. Here he was also in charge of the elaborate on-camera visual effects, enchanting superimpositions achieved by multiple exposures using a method called Kanjin-cho. While the film in general follows an approach of vivid realism, the visual effects introduce a stream of consciousness, a window to dreams, memories, and poetic impressions of the stormy sea. A recurrent visual motif, like a rhyme, is the fast movement of the rickshaw wheels.

After WWII, scenes relevant to the Japanese Empire were removed: a lantern procession to celebrate the Russo-Japanese war, and scenes where Toshio and his schoolmates sing military songs like "Blood of the Amur River"「アムール川の流血や」.

The blunt censorship cuts contribute to an approach of ellipsis. The film at times proceeds in jump cuts, but the impact is not jarring; it's electrifying. The most moving ellipses are the deaths of Kotaro Yoshioka and Matsugoro the rickshaw man.

Although this is a film about a son and his two father figures, the female perspective is central. The mother appreciates Matsugoro for his positive and life-affirming masculinity. In his spirit of cheerful bravery she finds a good model for Toshio.

Matsugoro himself has no good childhood memories. With Toshio he can experience a happy childhood and become a father figure like he never had. His own father was a miserable drunkard, a fate Matsugoro now has a reason to avoid. Flying kites and balloons and observing flocks of birds are among the memorable visual motifs. Simply and eloquently, they convey a yearning to the beyond.

Tsumasaburo Bando gives a great performance in the title role. I have never seen a film of his before, although he has 162 acting credits in the Internet Movie Database. Affectionately called Bantsuma, he was one of Japan's greatest stars from the 1920s till the 1940s, and from 1925 till 1937 he had his own production company, the first Japanese star to achieve that. He was a master of the swordfighting period film genre of jidai-geki. For Bando the role in The Rickshaw Man was exceptional. He had to be persuaded to it by his trusted director Hiroshi Inagaki who had directed his first sound movie.

The rickshaw man is a humble character, performing a heavy chore usually carried out by an animal. But the interpretation of Hiroshi Inagaki and Tsumasaburo Bando is a display of extraordinary humanity and a privileged access to something sacred and timeless. This revelation may have an affinity with Bantsuma's unconventional approach to the samurai tradition in films starting with Orochi (1925).

Kokura Gion daiko statue at south exit of Kokura station. 5 January 2005. Photo © Ian Ruxton (Historian) at English Wikipedia.