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.



"Aalto is a documentary film journey into the life and work of one of the greatest modern architects, Alvar Aalto. The film shares for the first time the intimate love story of Alvar and his architect wife, Aino Aalto."

"It takes the viewer on a cinematic tour to their creative processes and iconic buildings all over the world. We visit their most beautiful buildings in Finland, a library in Russia, a student
dormitory at MIT, an art collector ́s private house near Paris – and many other unique places."

"We learn about the colourful history of modernism and meet along the way the Rockefellers, Le Corbusier, and László Moholy-Nagy."

"Great tragedy struck Alvar with Aino's premature death. He eventually got married again to another architect, Elissa Aalto, and had one his most significant professional periods in the 1950s."
"This charming documentary organically combines entertainment and knowledge, contemporary film material and rare unforeseen footage. We hear the protagonists talking intimately in their love letters and see Alvar's heartbreaking drawings of his wife on her deathbed. The film is based on profound research and narrated by the eyewitnesses and top researchers from all over the world.


"A film about the Aaltos lingered in my mind for years. When I was a child, Alvar Aalto’s library building that was completed in my home town of Rovaniemi in 1965 became an afternoon refuge for me. In the 1970s after my schooldays, I often trudged to the library in the snowfall and the freezing weather. I was drawn there by the books but also by the environment that seemed exciting to me. I can still recall the feeling of grabbing the curved brass door handle on the front door and moving towards the warm, inviting space. I remember how fun it was to run my fingers along the wall made out of ribbed ceramic tiles. And Aalto’s leather chairs and brass lamps felt luxurious. I felt rich, even though I came from a modest home. The library belonged democratically to everyone, even me."

"Already then, I subconsciously realised I was in touch with a special kind of unpretentious beauty. And you could say that Aalto was an architect of sensuality and emotions, even an erotic architect, whose buildings are not just looked at but also touched; and they touch you with their human-sized scale."

"After detaching himself from pure functionalism and developing his more unrestricted, organic style, Aalto managed to create his most humane buildings such as Villa Mairea, a private home where he took
the experience of a forest and brought it in the middle of the living room. He had a sort of “forest wisdom” that was not romantic pipe dreaming but rational understanding of the coexistence of nature and humans."

"I wanted to make a film about the Aaltos because being in touch with Aalto’s spaces as a child moulded my idea about what is aesthetically harmonious and good architecture. I also realised that no one had previously made a comprehensive film about the Aaltos."

"I started to fantasize about a film that would have beauty but also broken humanity, playfulness, and a charm. I wanted to get to know Alvar Aalto as a person and the characteristics of his architect wives Aino and Elissa Aalto. I wanted to know how they worked and what they achieved. How they loved and created together. How they established the Aalto grammar and the Artek furniture store that became an iconic success story."

"The Aalto family let me read Aalto’s correspondence, which, along with dozens of interviewees, helped me get to know the personal side of the Aaltos."

"The film has several narrators because Alvar Aalto’s life work is so rich and multifaceted that for each aspect of his life, I needed to find different experts and research data that supported it. All the interpretations and claims spoken by individuals in the film can be verified by several different sources."
"The research interview tapes recorded by Göran Schildt for Aalto’s biography provided rare eyewitness testimonies from those who actually knew the Aaltos personally and were there when everything took place. In addition to the correspondence, the Aalto family let us use some rarely seen family photos of the Aaltos’ trips to America, for example, and a few Alvar’s drawings that hadn’t been seen in public before, including drawings of Aino on her deathbed."

"The Aaltos were remarkably international, which is why seven different languages are spoken in the film and it was shot in seven different countries. When doing the background research, we had to search through archives from all over the world: in addition to Finnish archives, we used archives of people and institutions such as the Rockefellers, MIT, the UN, British Pathé, and Moholy-Nagy."

"Exceptionally, the editor Jussi Rautaniemi is credited as the second screenwriter in Aalto. The nature of documentary films is such that the final atmosphere of the film is often created on the editing table. In Aalto, the abundance of video and audio material also required a special dedication to the dramaturgical structure from the editor. When we are talking about historical characters and lifeless buildings, it was a huge challenge to make the film vibrant and alive."

"The sound designer Olli Huhtanen and I worked hard in order to make the story of the Aaltos dynamic and touching. And sound design ended up playing an exceptionally large role in this film. The composer Sanna Salmenkallio’s music and improvisations with a few of the most renowned Finnish jazz musicians acted as a base for the sound designer to weave a modernist and organic tapestry of sound. The soundscape of this film was created in an atmosphere of playfulness, which is so natural to Aalto’s philosophy. Raw sound material for the film was produced by means such as playing an Aalto Vase with a bow and striking together building materials such as brick, marble and copper."

"Alvar and Aino’s letters were read aloud by the Finnish top actors Martti Suosalo and Pirkko Hämäläinen."

"They both were amazed by the pioneering spirit conveyed by the letters already since the 1920s, not just in architecture but also in personal relations: the equal and respectful collegial relationship, the free sexuality, and the networking with other famous international artists."

”The letters convey an image of Alvar Aalto who is playful, charming, and loving but who also feels guilty about overshadowing Aino, despite her talents. All the way until the end, Alvar fantasized about returning to a mutual creative space with Aino, similar to the one they had been in during the early days of their careers when they developed the fundamental Aalto language”, Martti Suosalo says

Virpi Suutari


"AALTO  on  dokumenttielokuva  modernismin  mestareista  arkkitehti Alvar ja Aino Aallosta sekä heidän teoksistaan ympäri maailmaa. Se kuljettaa katsojan kiehtovalle matkalle Aaltojen rakkaustarinaan ja heidän ajatteluunsa ikonisten teosten taustalla."

"Aaltojen henkilökohtainen elämä kietoutuu orgaanisesti arkkitehtuuriin ja työhön, ja Aino Aallon merkitys Alvarin tasa-arvoisena kollegana nousee ansaitusti esiin."

"AALTO kertoo inhimillisen puolen aikaansa edellä olleista luovista taiteilijoista ja yrittäjistä, Alvarista, Ainosta ja Elissasta, jonka kanssa Aalto meni naimisiin 1952 Ainon kuoleman jälkeen."

"Elokuvassa on runsaasti ennennäkemätöntä ja -kuulematonta arkistomateriaalia, kuten  Aaltojen  rakkauskirjeitä sekä Göran Schildtin Aallon elämänkertaa varten nauhoittamia taustahaastatteluja. Elokuva perustuu laajaan taustatyöhön ja nykypäivässä kuvattuun materiaaliin. Sitä varten on haastateltu Aaltojen läheisiä ja kansainvälisiä huippututkijoita eri puolilla maailmaa."

"Elokuvassa vieraillaan monissa Suomen Aalto-kohteissa Helsingissä, Imatralla, Jyväskylässä, Rovaniemellä, Seinäjoella ja Säynätsalossa sekä Venetsian Paviljongissa, Viipurin kirjastossa ja Cambridgessa. Matkalla kohdataan myös Rockefellerit, Le Corbusier sekä monia muita legendaarisia kulttuurihahmoja.

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