Saturday, October 31, 2020

Saint Maud


Rose Glass: Saint Maud (2019) with Morfydd Clark as Maud.

Saint Maud / Saint Maud.
    GB © 2019 Saint Maud Limited / The British Film Institute / Channel Four Television Corporation. PC: Escape Plan Productions / Film4 / BFI Film Fund. P: Andrea Cornwell.
    D+SC: Rose Glass. Cin: Ben Fordesman – colour – 2.39:1. PD: Paulina Rzeszowska. AD: Isobel Dunhill. Set dec: Anna Mould. Cost: Tina Kalivas. Makeup & hair supervisor: Alex King. Prosthetics: Robb Crafer, Kristyan Mallett. SFX: Scott MacIntyre. VFX: Danielle Dunster. M: Adam Janota Bzowski. S: Paul Davies. ED: Mark Towns. Casting: Kharmel Cochrane.
    Song: "That's an Irish Lullaby (Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral)" comp. J. R. Shannon, Engl. lyr. J. R. Shannon, French lyr. André Hornez, sung by Bing Crosby. From: Going My Way (D: Leo McCarey, 1944).
    C: Morfydd Clark (Maud / Katie), Jennifer Ehle (Amanda Kohl), Lily Knight (Joy), Lily Frazer (Carol), Turlough Convery (Christian), Rosie Sansom (Ester), Marcus Hutton (Richard), Carl Prekopp (Homeless Pat), Noa Bodner (Hilary).
    Also credited: Nancy (the peppered cockroach). A splinter unit. William Blake.
    Languages: English, Welsh.
    Loc: Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
    84 min
    Festival premiere: 8 Sep 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.
    GB premiere: 9 Oct 2020.
    Finnish premiere: 23 Oct 2020 – released by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Valtteri Tavast / Frej Grönholm.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 31 Oct 2020.

IMDb synopsis: "Follows a pious nurse who becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient."

AA: Saint Maud is an assured debut film by Rose Glass. It belongs to the new wave of horror film, bringing fresh inspiration to a genre that had until recently been suffering from repetition and a tired recourse to sadism.

Immediately I'm struck by a fine sense of the mise-en-scène and cinematic storytelling, as well as a powerful soundscape, all contributing to a compelling dream mode.

Maud, a private palliative care nurse, is assigned to care for Amanda, a renowned choreographer, now terminally ill with stage four lymphoma. Amanda is passionately enjoying the pleasures of life, to the bewilderment of Maud who has recently experienced a religious conversion.

A disturbing incident has taken place at the hospital where Maud used to work. Remarks by her colleague lead us to understand that Maud was not to blame, but the guilt has become so overwhelming that Maud has converted to Catholicism and even changed her name.

Amanda at first empathizes with Maud's religious fervour and offers her a volume of William Blake's visions as a present. But when Maud starts to save Amanda from what she perceives as her life of sin and tries to estrange a female escort from visiting Amanda, she is promptly dismissed.

Maud experiences a searing conflict between the spirit and the flesh, and it is a fight to the finish. She succumbs to sin, redeems herself via burning her clothes of evil and tormenting her body, including wearing a fakir's nail shoes.

She shares a moment of reconciliation and tenderness with Amanda, but Maud is unable to handle Amanda's confession that she had faked her religious ecstasy.

"You are the loneliest girl I've ever seen", states Amanda.

Saint Maud is not really a drama of religious delusion. It is more a tragedy of solitude and alienation. A deranged interpretation of religion is only an outlet for Maud's extreme marginalization.

There is tragic grandeur in Rose Glass's vision, a cosmic scope in her views of swirling clouds, the immense moon, the sky and the sea. Saint Maud is more than a pathological case study. It is a nightmare vision of contemporary life in which we are all in danger of being stranded into isolated bubbles.

I was reminded of Roman Polanski's psychological horror films (Repulsion, The Tenant), and William Friedkin's The Exorcist, but not in the sense of imitation. Rose Glass creates a personal blend of poetry, tragedy and horror equal to the best artists' work in the genre.


Salinui chueok / Memories of Murder (2017 remastered version)

Bong Joon Ho: 살인의 추억 / Salinui chueok / Memories of Murder (KR 2003) with Kim Sang-kyung (Seo Tae-yoon, the city cop) and Song Kang-ho (Park Doo-man, the country cop).

살인의 추억 / Memories of Murder (Finnish release title) / Memories of Murder (Swedish release title).
    KR 2003. PC: CJ Entertainment / Sidus Pictures. P: Cha Seung-jae.
    D: Bong Joon-ho. SC: Bong Joon-ho, Shim Sung-bo – based on the play 날 보러 와요 / Nal boleo wayo / Come to See Me! (1996) by Kim Kwang-rim. Cin: Kim Hyung-koo – negative: 35 mm – colour – 1,85:1. PD: Ryu Seong-hie. Cost: Kim Yu-sun. M: Taro Iwashiro. S: Lee Seung-yeop. ED: Kim Sun-min.
    CAST as edited in Wikipedia:
    Song Kang-ho – Park Doo-man, the detective in charge of solving the murders
    Kim Sang-kyung – Seo Tae-yoon, a younger but also much more experienced detective from Seoul who volunteers to help Park
    Kim Roi-ha – Cho Yong-koo, Park's partner who beats suspects, and is popular among women
    Song Jae-ho – Sergeant Shin Dong-chul, the detectives' superior
    Byun Hee-bong – Sergeant Koo Hee-bong, another superior working on the case
    Go Seo-hee – Officer Kwon Kwi-ok, a female police officer who works with the other detectives to solve the case
    Park No-shik – Baek Kwang-ho, an intellectually disabled man and one of the suspects
    Park Hae-il – Park Hyeon-gyu, a factory worker and another suspect of the case
    Jeon Mi-seon – Kwok Seol-yung, Park Doo-man's girlfriend
    Yeom Hye-ran – So-hyeon's mother
    131 min
    Release date: 2 May 2003.
    Festival premiere: 16 May 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 23 Oct 2020, released by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Heli Kasem / Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 2, Helsinki, 31 Oct 2020.

AA: At last I saw in its entirety Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder. I sampled it ten years ago in our tribute to Korean cinema at Cinema Orion. I then paid attention to Bong's strange sense of humour in the true crime saga covering Korea's most notorious serial killer mystery.

I'm impressed by Bong's masterful sense of suspense in the storytelling and the sovereign approach in the mise-en-scène. There is an exciting balance between raw naturalism and formal control.

Like in David Fincher's Zodiac (2007), made after Bong's film and perhaps inspired by it, the killer had not been caught when the film was made. The Korean killer was finally identified last year based on DNA tests; he was found already serving a life sentence.

Memories of Murder makes me think about the serial killer obsession in contemporary fiction. In cinema, it started with Méliès (Barbe-Bleue, 1901). In horror film it has been with us always (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). Even Chaplin played a serial killer (Monsieur Verdoux). Hitchcock started early (The Lodger), as did Lang (M). A new urgency emerged in Hitchcock's Psycho and Powell's Peeping Tom, both in 1960: in both, a bland and awkward boy (in Finnish the term would be peräkamarin poika) is the killer. In horror, the slasher subgenre flourished. A new wave of serial killer cinema started with Lynch's Twin Peaks, Demme's The Silence of the Lambs and Fincher's Seven. In Nordic Noir the serial killer obsession has become a tired cliché long ago. It has nothing to do with true crime.

But Memories of Murder definitely is a true crime story. The murders the detectives are trying to solve are awful, but almost as awful are the procedures of the police. The killer smartly covers his tracks by committing his deeds on rainy nights. But almost all remaining clues are messed up by inept cops. They resort to bullying suspects, torturing them and rigging evidence. Innocent bystanders are brutally beaten by clueless cops. Hunches are usually misleading but sometimes lead to discoveries. "The Sad Letter" is a haunting clue heard in a night radio program where a rare song request always coincides with a murder on a rainy night.

The tension between the leading detectives is based on the dichotomy of the awkward country cop vs. the slick city cop (we may be reminded of Twin Peaks). Contrary to genre expectations, both prove inept. The country cop boasts a shaman eye, ostensibly never failing to see through the facade of the suspect. In the final shot he gives us, the audience, the camera look. Bong was confident that the killer, if still alive, would be seen.

In Finland during the current self-searching Me Too years one of the most thought-provoking phenomena has been Anna Paavilainen's Play Rape project (2016), preceding Alyssa Milano's 2017 tweet by a year. Issues raised included: Are female roles submissive by default? Are rape victims in fiction reduced to objects of pornographic entertainment? Is the fate of the female actor repeatedly to play the victim of sexual violence?

Is there even in Memories of Murder an unconscious and unintentional streak of vicarious sadistic pleasure? I am not able to tell, but regardless of Me Too and Play Rape I have felt a need to take a distance from serial killer fiction. I prefer Fritz Lang's approach in M: he shows nothing, and helps understand everything. In the opening sequence Lang focuses on the agony of the mother who loses her daughter. Such a focus is mostly missing in serial killer entertainment.

I'm not a connoisseur of Bong Joon Ho, and I'm still on my way to get acquainted with his work, having only sampled Barking Dogs Never Bite and watched Parasite. Bong has a unique vision and a sense of humour. I still have not managed to tap into his inner core, or I have failed to connect with it. But I'll keep my shaman eyes open.

When I sampled Memories of Murder ten years ago, on display was an impressive 35 mm print from the Korean Film Archive. Now in this digitally mastered 2017 re-release edition the visual quality is not first rate. The look of shabbiness is intentional, to be sure, but it was more subtly conveyed in the photochemical original. Here it seems just gray on gray.


The Personal History of David Copperfield


Armando Iannucci: The Personal History of David Copperfield (GB/US 2019) with Hugh Laurie (Mr. Dick), Ben Whishaw (Uriah Heep), Dev Patel (David Copperfield), Peter Capaldi (Mr. Micawber) and Tilda Swinton (Betsey Trotwood).

David Copperfieldin elämä ja teot / David Copperfields äventyr och iakttagelser.
    GB/US 2019. PC: FilmNation Enterteinment and Film4 present in association with Wishmore Entertainment. P: Armando Iannucci, Kevin Loader.
    D: Armando Iannucci. SC: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci – based on the novel The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) (1850) by Charles Dickens – Finnish translations: 1879 (Waldemar Churberg), 1924 (J. A. Hollo), 1971 (Heidi Järvenpää).
    DP: Zac Nicholson. PD: Cristina Casali. Cost: Suzie Harman, Robert Worley. Makeup & hair: Karen Hartley-Thomas. M: Christopher Willis. ED: Mick Audsley, Peter Lambert. Casting: Sarah Crowe.
    Cast listing as edited in Wikipedia:
    Dev Patel as David Copperfield
        Jairaj Varsani as young David Copperfield
    Aneurin Barnard as James Steerforth
    Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber
    Morfydd Clark as Dora Spenlow / Clara Copperfield
    Daisy May Cooper as Peggotty
    Rosalind Eleazar as Agnes Wickfield
    Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick
    Tilda Swinton as Betsey Trotwood
    Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep
    Paul Whitehouse as Mr. Peggotty
    Benedict Wong as Mr. Wickfield
    Nikki Amuka-Bird as Mrs. Steerforth
    Darren Boyd as Edward Murdstone
    Gwendoline Christie as Jane Murdstone
    Matthew Cottle as Mr Spenlow
    Bronagh Gallagher as Mrs Micawber
    Anthony Welsh as Ham Peggotty
    Aimee Kelly as Emily
    Anna Maxwell Martin as Mrs. Strong
    Victor McGuire as Creakle
    Peter Singh as Tungay
    Ruby Bentall as Janet
    Divian Ladwa as Dr. Chillip
    Rosaleen Linehan as Mrs. Gummidge
    Sophie McShera as Mrs. Crupp
116 min
Festival premiere: 5 Sep 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.
British premiere: 24 Jan 2020.
US premiere: 28 Aug 2020.
Finnish premiere: 18 Sep 2020 – released by Finnkino with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, Helsinki, 31 Oct 2020.

Synopsis from Wikipedia: "The life of David Copperfield is chronicled from his birth to now. David has an idyllic life and is taken to visit the family of his nanny Peggoty (Daisy May Cooper) in their boat house in Yarmouth. When he returns, his young and widowed mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) has married the sinister and cruel Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd), who beats the boy. The abused David Copperfield (Dev Patel) is sent to work in Murdstone's factory where he lodges with Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family, who are pursued by their creditors. After being told of his mother's death and funeral, David escapes from his life of drudgery and finds his wealthy aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and her lodger, the eccentric Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). After troubling problems with Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard) and Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw), Betsey Trotwood finances David's ambition to become a gentleman and author."

AA: I have been recently returning to David Copperfield for several reasons. Last year I edited a book on childhood in the cinema and was intrigued by the theme of the "discovery of childhood" in the modern sense by Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Émile) and 19th century novelists, Charles Dickens most prominently among them.

For the first time there was a whole major trend of fiction with children as protagonists, and David Copperfield's famous opening line is a perfect motto: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show”.

There is a double vision in Dickens's novel. It is a first person narrative in which the "I" is by turns a child and a grown-up writer completing his first novel. We see everything both with the eyes of the child and the author.

Armando Iannucci in his film adaptation includes the storyteller's presence in the tale told. David Copperfield has been a popular subject for films and television series for 110 years, and some of the results have been excellent, my favourites being the 1922 version by A. W. Sandberg and the 1935 adaptation directed by George Cukor (produced by David O. Selznick, adapted by Hugh Walpole and including an unforgettable interpretation by W. C. Fields as Micawber).

Iannucci determinedly distances himself from familiar adaptations and creates something completely different. From Dickens's huge novel he selects aspects that have been downplayed: fantasy, imagination and comedy, so much that his movie sometimes resembles a Tim Burton interpretation of Lewis Carroll.

Perhaps inspired by the "colour blind" Hamilton, Iannucci casts Indian and African-British talents in leading roles instead of the usual palefaces. The Hamilton trend is an interesting ripost to the blackface tradition of Othello et al.

Iannucci's film looks and feels different, but there is one previous adaptation that had a somewhat similar whimsical approach: the very first one, David Copperfield (1911) produced by Thanhouser Company, directed by George O'Nicholls and starring a girl, Flora Foster, as David.

The cast is wonderful in Iannucci's extravaganza, but I feel that Dickens's story is eccentric enough without added spices. To my taste, Dickens's mix of reality and imagination is being slanted a bit too much towards fantasy by Iannucci. A similar fairy-tale trend in adapting classics was also applied by Joe Wright to Anna Karenina and Baz Luhrmann to The Great Gatsby.

The story is classic melodrama with its saga of gross injustice and the reversal of fortune. The melodrama gives a magnificent framework for Dickens and Iannucci to discuss themes of social relevance including child labour, prostitution and emigration.

The resolution that may look like fantasy wish-fulfillment is actually auto-fiction. David Copperfield is the writer's own fictionalized autobiography.

The second reason why I have been reflecting on David Copperfield lately is the fact that it was a / the favourite novel of Leo Tolstoy, and I have written this year an essay on Tolstoy and the cinema, to be published next year in a collection of essays on the Russian master.

The auto-fiction aspect of David Copperfield made it such a favourite of Tolstoy's that he imitated it in his breakthrough work Childhood (1852). Dickens revealed for Tolstoy the power of the novel as a vehicle for double reflection. Later on, during the awakening of his social conscience, Tolstoy again found in Dickens a soulmate (and one of the few writers whom he did not banish in his tractate What Is Art?).


Friday, October 30, 2020

Being a Human Person / Om att vara människa

Fred Scott: Being a Human Person / Om att vara människa (GB/SE 2020), a documentary portrait of Roy Andersson, on the making of Om det oändliga / About Endlessness (2019).

Fred Scott: Being a Human Person / Om att vara människa (GB/SE 2020). Roy Andersson visits the room of the Pinturas negras / The Black Paintings at Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2018. The pictures were originally painted as murals in Goya's Quinta del Sordo house. Later the murals were hacked off the walls and attached to canvas. Photo: Cinema Mondo.

Francisco Goya (1746–1828): El aquelarre o El gran Cabrón / Reunión de brujas / Escena sabática / Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat). 1823. Part of the "Black Paintings" series, the painting depicts a coven of witches. Óleo sobre revoco, trasladado a lienzo / Oil on plaster wall, transferred to canvas. 140.5 x 435.7 cm. In the process of hanging this copy on canvas, the painting was cropped. Museo del Prado. Madrid. From: Wikimedia Commons. Please click to open on the largest screen.

Jacques Callot : La Pendaison / The Hanging, gravure n° 11 in Les misères et les malheurs de la guerre. 1633. Eaux-forte / etching. 8.3 cm × 18 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Wikipedia: "The series, published in 1633, is Callot's best-known work and has been called the first 'anti-war statement' in European art. It can be considered as an early prototypical French comic strip, within the text comics genre, since the illustrations are accompanied by a descriptive text beneath the images". Strange fruit. From: Wikimedia Commons. Please click to open on the largest screen.

Roy Andersson: ihmisenä olemisesta.
    GB/SE © 2020 Human Person Ltd. PC: Archer's Mark. P: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Jo-Jo Ellison.
    D: Fred Scott. Cin: Fred Scott, Christopher Sabogal – original format: digital: RED 6K 9 – 16:9. Colourist: Vic Parker. PD: Anna Rhodes. Miniature designer: Anders Hellström. M: Roger Goula, Lindsay Wright. S: Paul Darling. ED: Michael Aaglund.
    A documentary on the making of Om det oändliga / About Endlessness (2019). Featuring: Roy Andersson in newly filmed footage, vintage flashbacks and childhood home movies. Plus cast and crew in the making of.
    Soundtrack selections include:
– Henrik Skram: "Bellini del A Vo1", with clarinet (theme tune)
– Benny Andersson: "Kärlekens tid", perf. Benny Andersson & Helen Sjöholm (BAO!).
– Benny Andersson: "Sång från andra våningen"
– Benny Andersson: "Du levande"
– Eastern Orthodox Easter Liturgy: "Аллилуиа, Се Жених грядет" / "Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom", perf. St. Petersburg Chamber Choir, Nikolai Korniev / on the record "Russian Easter" (1997)
Bengt Henrik Alstermarck: "Lilla vakre Anna" / "Lilla vackra Anna" (1862), perf. Alf Prøysen (Norman Record, Norske slagere kapitel 1 – 1955)
    Languages: Swedish and English
    92 min
    British premiere: 16 Oct 2020.
    Finnish premiere: 30 Oct 2020, distributor: Cinema Mondo, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Sophia Beckman.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 4, Helsinki 30 Oct 2020.

AA: Fred Scott's Being a Human Person is a "making of" about the movie About Endlessness and a documentary portrait of its director Roy Andersson.

Both phenomena are booming. The "making of" has grown into a huge trend during the home video era. Documentary portraits of film-makers are enjoying a mature phase of acknowledging "warts and all" but with a firm focus on achievement instead of sensation.

In both aspects Being a Human Person excels. As usual, About Endlessness was a multi-year project, realized in Roy Andersson's home studio, and Fred Scott and his team documented the whole process: building and demolishing the sets for each vignette, creating miniatures, and paying attention to recurrent details such as sockets and radiator pipes. Everything is meticulously storyboarded, and the trompe-l'œil images are impeccably crafted.

The film's commentary and press kit emphasize the uniqueness of Andersson's home studio mode of production. That is not completely accurate. Already the cinema's first conscious artist of fiction film, Georges Méliès, built a private studio. His famous establishment in Montreuil, built in 1897, was the first film studio in France. Roy Andersson's aesthetics has even many points in common with the early cinema approach of Méliès. Of later colleagues let's remember the Coppola family's Zoetrope studio, founded in 1969 and still going strong.

Roy Andersson is an aficionado of the arts of painting, graphic arts and photography, and in his mode of production there are also affinities with the artisanal bottega tradition of great painters such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Tintoretto... and even Andy Warhol's The Factory.

For those who are fascinated by Roy Andersson's love of art, the high point of the movie is his visit to Madrid: after Cine Doré his main destination is Museo del Prado and the room dedicated to Goya's Pinturas negras / Black Paintings (see photos above).

Although Andersson has not experienced war personally, a profound sense of guilt and shame haunts him because of what happened in World War II. He quotes Martin Buber that what happened was a crime against the human order. Andersson finds soul brothers in Jacques Callot (see above) and Francisco Goya, creators of the earliest classic anti-war images.

Gradually we move deeper into Andersson's private family history. His colleagues find his movies "extremely autobiographical". Like his father, Andersson has a drinking problem. During production, he commits to rehabilitation but can endure it only for three weeks. Yet he comes back a changed man, drinking less but constantly irritated. Drinking has become a part of his creative process.

During the movie, Fred Scott, Roy Andersson and his team philosophize about the maestro's mission, his credo.

His strength is his sensitivity. His movies are about vulnerability and self-confidence, about people who are a little lost, people who have not been very successful in life, finding themselves in situations that take place in a zone between ridiculousness and dignity. "Art is there to defend the human being".

"There is no escape in work, no escape in yourself". Ars longa, vita brevis.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 25 "Sonatine" / "Kuckuck" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1999)


Carl Friedrich Lessing (1803–1880) : Tausendjährige Eiche / The Thousand-Year-Old Oak. 1837. Öl auf Leinwand. 123 x 165,7 cm. Sammlung: Städel. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt am Main. Provenienz: Erworben 1865 als Schenkung der Erben von Friedrich John. Herkunft: Projekt Kunstgeschichte, Uni München. Please click on the image to enlarge it.

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 22/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 21–25
Stephen Kovacevich, 1992 (Nos. 21, 24) and 1999 (Nos. 22, 23, 25)

Opus 79: Klaviersonate Nr. 25 in G-Dur "Sonatine" / "Kuckuck" (1809)
    Erster Satz: Presto alla tedesca, G-Dur, 3/4 Takt, 201 Takte
    Zweiter Satz: Andante, g-Moll, 9/8 Takt, 34 Takte
    Dritter Satz: Vivace, G-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 117 Takte

AA: The 25th piano sonata is one of Beethoven's comic numbers. It's the second of the carefree sonatas composed between Appassionata and Les Adieux. It is all about fun and joy.

It is immediately obvious why this sonata has been called "the Cuckoo Sonata". Beethoven had already amused himself with the cuckoo sound in his humoristic 16th Piano Sonata, and the cuckoo motif also appears in the Pastoral Symphony. In the sonatas I cannot help being reminded even of J. E. Jonasson's "Gökvalsen" ("The Cuckoo Waltz", 1918).

The presto alla tedesca attribute refers to German dances, and the sonata can be seen belonging to a lineage of German dances from Mozart to Schubert. I imagine a distant echo from Mozart's Dreizehn deutsche Tänze, K. 605, No. 1 (1791) that opens Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu (1939), its unbridled joy attaining a tinge of tender irony in the context. Russians hear in this sonata also an affinity with Russian dances.

My favourite passage among the sunny pair of sonatas 24 and 25 is the Andante in Number 25. It is like a song, "romanza senza parole" (Hans von Bülow), and it could easily be arranged as one, a Beethovenian one preceding the romantic songs of Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn. This is one of the passages in which we hear the happy heartbeat of the composer. Andante tranquillo, sereno, calmo. For András Schiff it's a gondoliera, conveying the poetry of canaletto paintings, with two lovers singing in harmony.

The third movement is made of flimsy material. The Menuetto of the 11th Piano Sonata was like a dance of dragonflies. This one is similar, like the flight of a hummingbird or a butterfly. Joie de vivre. Pure joy of movement. Finally disappearing into sunlight.

This sonata has resonated in my mind for almost three weeks. I kept re-listening to it because I had no time to "blog it away", but I never tired of it. Next to the Andante the most memorable feature for me is the richly resounding sonority immediately after the cuckoo introduction.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 24 "À Therese" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1992)

Carl Friedrich Lessing (1803–1880) : Bewaldete Landschaft bei der Abenddämmerung / A Wooded Landscape at Sunset. Oil on canvas. 38 x 74 cm. Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

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 22/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 21–25
Stephen Kovacevich, 1992 (Nos. 21, 24) and 1999 (Nos. 22, 23, 25)

Opus 78: Klaviersonate Nr. 24 "À Therese" in Fis-Dur (1809)
Erster Satz: Adagio cantabile, 2/4 Takt; Allegro ma non troppo, 4/4 Takt, Fis-Dur, 106 Takte
Zweiter Satz: Allegro vivace, Fis-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 183 Takte
    Der Gräfin Therese von Brunsvik gewidmet.

AA: After the devastating Appassionata Beethoven took a four year pause before publishing his next piano sonatas: two presumably "small" ones (Nrs. 24 and 25) followed by Les Adieux during the same year 1809.

Beethoven was not exactly idle in the meantime. He published his Violin Concerto, the three Rasumowsky quartets, three symphonies (among them the Fate and the Pastoral), the Trio Op. 70, his last piano concertos (4 and 5) and the Coriolanus overture, among others.

The sonatas 24 and 25 are not at all like the "Leichte Sonaten" that were published after the three experimental sonatas 16–18 of Opus 31 and before Waldstein. Those "Leichte Sonaten" could be seen as "prequels" to Beethoven's entire sonata project.

The sonatas 24 and 25 are a big step forward, into a new direction, a new dimension even. Appassionata was a grandiose epic tragedy. Sonata Number 24 is a graceful, elegant piece of lyrical poetry.

The dedication to Therese von Brunsvik seems to be, according to biographical sources, no mere formal gesture of respect and gratitude. Romain Rolland, who had read Therese von Brunsvik's diary, called her "a great dreamer", a very talented person, "the woman who was able to appreciate his music the most deeply". She was also a brilliant dancer, the queen of salons and balls.

Sonata Number 24 is rarely played in concerts. It has never been a popular favourite, and also specialists have tended to dismiss it. But it was one of Beethoven's own biggest favourites next to Appassionata and Hammerklavier.

It belongs to Beethoven's bright and cheerful pieces. There is a feeling of mature tenderness, expressed in full sonorities that seem to emanate from within. In the second movement, allegro vivace, András Schiff recognizes a comical, anti-heroic paraphrase of "Rule Britannia", a theme that Beethoven would later incorporate in Wellington's Victory.

Although the duration is only ten minutes, there is a rich variety of moods, including mysterious murmurs of the forest, sweet oblivions and soul harmonies. The sparkling, mock-heroic second movement proceeds in a mood of jovial brevity. Anton Rubinstein found in it amazing laconicism while Franz Liszt stated that "this frugality is very lavish, indeed".

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Magnus Enckell 150 (an exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum)

Magnus Enckell: Självporträtt / Self-Portrait (1918). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen. The year is the one of Finland's Civil War.

Magnus Enckell. Exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, 23 Oct until 14 Feb 2021. Tampere Art Museum, 13 March until 23 May 2021.
    Curators: Marja Sakari (the director of the Ateneum), Riitta Ojanperä (the director of collections management at the Finnish National Gallery), Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff (the chief curator of exhibitions at the Ateneum).
    I visited the press event of the exhibition on 21 October 2020. The curators introduced it.

Magnus Enckell. Editor: Hanne Selkokari. Photo editor: Lene Wahlsten. With contributions by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Jukka Cadogan, Timo Huusko, Harri Kalha, Marja Lahelma, Riitta Ojanperä, Anna-Maria Pennonen, Marja Sakari, Hanna-Reetta Schreck, Hanne Selkokari, Riikka Stewen, Juha-Heikki Tihinen and Anu Utriainen.
    Graphic design and layout: Maria Appelberg, Station MIR.
    Ateneum Publications Vol. 141.
    Three editions: Finnish, Swedish and English.
    244 pages.
    Printing: Grano Oy, Helsinki.
    ISBN 978-952-737118-3
    Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020.

AA: Magnus Enckell (1870–1925) is a beloved hero of the Golden Age of Finnish art, a period of cultural awakening in music, art, architecture, poetry and literature that started around 1870 and flourished until Finland's declaration of independence in 1917. When Albert Edelfelt died in 1905, his protégé Enckell inherited his position as an unofficial grand ambassador of the Finnish art scene.

Key paintings by Enckell are on permanent display at Ateneum and Amos Rex, and his monumental works can be seen for instance in the National Library and the Tampere Cathedral. Recently a wealth of his paintings were represented in an exhibition dedicated to his friend, the great patron of the arts Sigurd Frosterus. His "rainbow period" was prominently on view in another recent exhibition called Colour Liberated. (There is a fine Enckell gallery in Wikipedia. Click on the first image, set it to full screen, connect to a big monitor with an HDMI cable, and use the arrow cursor for a home exhibition. The quality of the reproductions is quite good.)

Never during my lifetime, and perhaps never at all has there been such a comprehensive exhibition as the one that opens at Ateneum this week. (PS. 23 Oct 2020: the art critic Harri Mäcklin confirms in Helsingin Sanomat that this is the biggest ever Magnus Enckell exhibition). Enckell got a flying start to his career as an artist as a teenager, when he found a mentor in Albert Edelfelt in the city of Porvoo.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Christ and Mary Magdalene, a Finnish Legend. 1890. Oil on canvas. 216 cm x 152 cm. Ateneum. Magnus Enckell stood model for Christ.

Enckell was well connected. Among his early friends was Yrjö Hirn, the great cultural historian. Soon he learned to know Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of Ballets Russes. Later on a key contact was Sigurd Frosterus, architect and philosopher of the arts. Enckell valued his female colleagues on equal terms, artists including Ellen Thesleff and Beda Stjernschantz. He painted numerous portraits of women, emphasizing their spirit and intellect.

Initially Enckell became known as a realist. Soon he embraced symbolism, but without rejecting realism. He was influenced by Oscar Wilde, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Arnold Böcklin. Mythologies of the antiquity inspired him, as well as the Nietzschean dialectics of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. In his symbolist period, Enckell rejected colour.

Magnus Enckell: Gosse med dödsskalle / Boy with Skull (1893). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis.

A profound meditative current was also evident in sober realistic representations such as The Concert (1898), a favourite of Diaghilev's. Enckell loved to play the piano, and his favourite composer was Beethoven. I happen to be celebrating Beethoven's 250th anniversary by listening to his complete works. During the exhibition visit my inner soundtrack was the Andante of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major, Op. 79.

In the same year Enckell participated in the launching of Diaghilev's Mir Iskusstva / The World of Art movement in the Exhibition of Russian and Finnish Artists in the Stieglitz Museum of Applied Arts in Saint-Petersburg.

Magnus Enckell: Koncert / The Concert. 1898. 90 × 76 cm. Oil on canvas. Ateneum / Hoving Collection.

Around the turn of the century Enckell was waking up to the beauty and colour of life, switching from a fin de siècle mood into a Belle Époque attitude. Seaside views brought literally a breath of fresh air into his art. At the same time his classical, symbolist and spiritual visions found new, sunny, airy and life-affirming expressions in The Golden Age painting in what is now known as the National Library, and the radiant Resurrection (1907) at what is now called the Tampere Cathedral.

Magnus Enckell: Guldåldern / The Golden Age. 1904. K. H. Renlunds Museum, Karleby. Oil on canvas. 93 x 205 cm. Photo: K. H. Renlunds Museum.

Enckell became active as a curator of international exhibitions. In 1904, together with A. W. Finch, he organized an exhibition of Franco-Belgian art in Helsinki, and in 1908, he curated the Salon d'Automne in Paris, displaying contemporary Finnish art. In 1912 he was a co-founder of the influential Septem group whose works were exhibited together with the French guest visitors Pierre Bonnard and Charles Guérin.

Influenced by neo-impressionists and pointillists, Enckell experienced an explosion of colourism. In contrast to his austere and monochromatic works of the 1890s, he now created in the colours of the rainbow. Enckell was present in the premiere of Sergei Diaghilev's 1912 Ballets Russes production of Claude Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun, and it inspired him to paint his version of the theme.

Magnus Enckell: Faun / The Awakening Faun. 1914. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Collection Hoving. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen.

Magnus Enckell was both a figure of the establishment and a stranger. Until the declaration of independence Finnish national romanticism was not narrow-minded but actively seeking international connections and friendships. Enckell was a man of the world, at home everywhere where art flourished.

Nobody could miss a queer look in many of Enckell's paintings, especially in those that celebrated nude virility. There was an ambience of "a love that does not dare to speak its name", to quote Lord Alfred Douglas.

The name of homosexual love was never spoken at the time, but in recent decades there has been no such inhibition. There is a continuity from Magnus Enckell to Tom of Finland, but only in a narrow current of a bigger landscape.

In a way we need to say no more than that since childhood (his father being a docent of Greek) Magnus Enckell was profoundly influenced by the classics of antiquity, including Ovid's Metamorphoses and Plato's Symposium. Or that among his biggest idols were Leonardo and Michelangelo, remembering their sexual orientation.

Enckell's world is pansexual, a celebration of male virility and female spirituality. While it is not wrong to call certain works by Enckell erotic, I find it confined, unless Eros is understood in the spirit of the Greek classics.*

Enckell was not a political artist, but something happened in 1918, the year of our Civil War, that shocked and disturbed him to create a series of "Chaos Pictures". I am grateful to Marja Sakari's essay about Enckell's "late style" in the exhibition catalogue, drawing attention to the series of paintings with titles such as "Chaos undated", "Chaos ca 1917", "Chaos 1919" and "Year of the Rebellion" (1918). These scary paintings are like nothing else that Enckell had produced. There are no press photos of these images.

In January I visited the three Pinakotheken in Munich, and the collections at the Neue Pinakothek cover pretty much the same trajectory as the oeuvre of Magnus Enckell. The Chaos Pictures belong together with startling views such as Lovis Corinth's The Red Christ. Something had been broken. Beyond repair.

But Enckell kept reinventing his art in works such as the radiant "modern Ganymedes" vision The Wings (1923), a passionately blazing Purgatory (1923), as well as a charmingly Bonnardian domestic view called The Artist's Study in Kilo (1920).

Magnus Enckell: Kaos / Chaos. 1919. Oil on paper. 77 x 56. Turku Art Museum. Photo: Kari Lehtinen.

Magnus Enckell: Vingarna / The Wings. 1923. Oil on canvas. 100 x 83,5 cm. Turku Art Museum. Mobile phone photo at the exhibition.

Magnus Enckell's career coincided pretty exactly with the first four decades of the cinema. Symbolism was important also in the cinema: in Italy and Russia, and in the early American films of Maurice Tourneur. Colouristic neo-impressionism for obvious reasons did not have a place in the cinema of the time. Febo Mari's Fauno and Cenere might convey some of the same artistic moods as Enckell the symbolist, as well as Nino Oxilia's Rapsodia satanica and certain films by F. W. Murnau.

Then there is the figure of Mauritz Stiller, ahead of his time in the same way as Enckell. He also created a work called The Wings. That one was a film (Vingarne, 1916) based on the novel Michael by Herman Bang, the first feature film to portray love between men. Enckell died in 1925 in Stockholm, from where Stiller had just moved to Hollywood with Garbo. Perhaps Stiller and Enckell had been aware of each other before 1905 when Stiller was a young actor on Finland's Swedish-speaking stages.

The Ateneum exhibition has been curated intelligently and with loving care, including displays of drafts on digital screens. The lighting and hanging is beautiful, and works that need protection from light are displayed in appealing ways. Key themes are presented in a multitude of versions and connections. Of monumental works we get to see preparatory works of independent artistic value. A recurrent concept is the double portrait: we see Enckell's portrait of a fellow artist, and the fellow artist's portrait of him. This exhibition is a rich and rewarding journey, and also the exhibition catalogue is worth reading from cover to cover.

Magnus Enckell's oeuvre evolved at the heart of world art. After the declaration of independence in 1917, Finland paradoxically became more insulated, and artistic reputations such as Magnus Enckell's suffered, because they had not enough room to grow in international artistic exchange. It would be interesting to learn about today's art historians' assessments / reassessments of him based on this exhibition. Sadly, the corona lockdown makes it difficult.

* Enckell was sympathetic to Henri Bergson's idea of "élan vital" in L'Évolution créatrice. It was a topical interpretation of the concept of the life force, with affinities with Hesiod, Zeno, Parmenides and Plato. Eros as the God of Love is not incompatible with the core idea of love in Christianity. For both Freud and Plato, Eros is central. After WWI, Eros and Thanatos were the twin forces in the thought of Sabina Spielrein, Freud (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur), Marcuse (Eros and Civilization), Brown (Life Against Death) and Ricoeur (Freud and Philosophy). All contributed to a liberation from repression. An unchained life force can be felt as the primus motor in Enckell's art in a never-ending search for greater harmony and balance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

Mauritz Stiller: Vingarne / The Wings (1916). From: The Movie Database. The famous sculptor Claude Zoret (Egil Eide) creates a sculpture about Ganymedes called "The Wings". The model is his protégé Eugene Mikael (Lars Hanson). It's a meta-film: the famous sculpture by Carl Milles (1910, 1914, 1916) gives the director Mauritz Stiller a film idea, and we see the finished film in the premiere. The "fiction" intertwines with the "reality" of the framing story.

Magnus Enckell: Guldåldern / The Golden Age. 1904. Lunette painting in the reading room of the National Library, Helsinki. This postcard presents the picture in lush colours in sharp contrast to the pale ones of the actual painting.

Friday, October 16, 2020

On the Rocks

Sofia Coppola: On the Rocks (2020). Father (Bill Murray) and daughter (Rashida Jones).

US © 2020 SC International Corp. P: Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley. EX: Roman Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Fred Roos. Co-P: Caroline Jaczko.
    D+SC: Sofia Coppola. Cin: Philippe Le Sourd – negative: 35 mm – colour – 1,85:1 – master format: 4K digital intermediate – theatrical release: D-Cinema. PD: Anne Ross. AD: Jennifer Dehghan. Set dec: Amy Beth Silver. Cost: Stacey Battat. Makeup: Evelyne Noraz. Hair: April Schuller. SFX: Benjy Harris. VFX: Dan Bornstein (Powerhouse VFX). M: Phoenix. S: Richard Beggs, Roy Waldspurger. ED: Sarah Flack. Casting: Courtney Bright, Nicole Daniels, Allison Hall.
    C: Bill Murray (Felix), Rashida Jones (Laura), Marlon Wayans (Dean).
    With: Jessica Henwick (Fiona), Jenny Slate (Vanessa), Barbara Bain (Gran).
    Soundtrack listing includes: Franz Schubert: Impromptu Op. 90 No. 3 (D. 899/3) in Ges-Dur, perf. Alfred Brendel.
    Festival premiere: 22 Sep 2020 New York Film Festival.
    US premiere (limited): 2 Oct 2020.
    Finnish premiere (limited): 9 Oct 2020, distributed by Storyhill with Finnish subtitles only by Jari Vikström.
    Digital streaming premiere (Apple TV+): 23 Oct 2020.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 16 Oct 2020.
AA: I have loved Sofia Coppola's films since I saw The Virgin Suicides (1999), a haunting masterpiece of "the class of 1999". It displayed rare insight in the mystery of life, the agony of being young, repression in general and an urgently topical pain that was also being expressed in school killings. 1999 was the year of the Columbine High School massacre.

Coppola's reputation kept growing in original studies of alienation such as Lost in Translation (2003) and Somewhere (2010).

For me, On the Rocks is the second peak of the director. The Virgin Suicides was a tragedy of youth. On the Rocks is a mature drama. The Virgin Suicides enchanted me with a mesmerizing spell. On the Rocks convinces me with a sonority of experience.

I usually take a lot of notes while watching films. Tonight I sat in the first row of Kino Engel 1 and was so moved by the intensity that I failed to take notes.

Laura (Rashida Jones) is a soon 40 years old mother of two little children. She is a writer with a lucrative contract, but, working at home, she has a hard time concentrating. She is having a bad case of a writer's block.

Meanwhile, her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is enjoying great success as a businessman. Increasingly, he is staying out late and travelling abroad, usually with his trusted colleague Fiona (Jessica Henwick).

Laura is not the jealous type, but she is getting suspicious, and the suspicions are instigated by her incorrigible father Felix (Bill Murray), who at 70 is still living an eternal youth as a freewheeling bon vivant playboy.

Laura views her own perceptions with a healthy dose of scepticism. "What if we find out that Dean is just busy and I'm in a rut"?

On the Rocks proceeds as a tragicomical detective story about jealousy and suspicion. There is a perfectly logical explanation to all suspicious clues, and the jealousy turns out to be groundless.

During the adventure it becomes clear that traditional gender roles are still very much alive. Laura is going nowhere while Dean and Felix have all the freedoms.

Dean remains unknown, unexplained, mysterious. He can accomplish anything, but we learn nothing about him, his background or his thoughts, beyond success in business. Might it be that because he is not secure about fully belonging, he compensates by focusing on success so much that he neglects wife and family?

The absence is filled by Felix. Felix is the love of Laura's life, and Laura is the greatest love of Felix. For him, everything else is a flirt. But the crisis of jealousy urges Dean to change. A symbolic gesture is the birthday gift of a Cartier watch: Laura withdraws the one from her father and puts on the one from Dean.

Like in her previous films, Sofia Coppola both relishes and satirizes the good life, the life of luxury, the glorious illusion.

Like in Somewhere, there is a moment of classical music that seems to crystallize a dimension of eternity. In this film, it is Schubert's Impromptu, Opus 90 Number 3, played by Alfred Brendel.

Another similar moment is the revelation of a rare Monet painting. Felix is a de luxe art dealer with wide expertise in such treasuries.

Sofia Coppola keeps shooting on 35 mm, and channeled via a sophisticated 4K digital intermediate, the rich, vivid detail is conveyed even in D-Cinema.


Om det oändliga / About Endlessness


Roy Andersson: Om det oändliga / About Endlessness (2019). Chagallian lovers hover over the ruins of Cologne in 1945.

Otto Dix: Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden. 1928. Oil and tempera on wood. 121 × 89. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris. – Roy Andersson singles out this painting as an inspiration to About Endlessness: "I am interested by the Neue Sachlichkeit artists because of the strength of their paintings. In my opinion they are extraordinarily sharp and detailed: everything is in focus, everything is very clear and distinct. You can't find this sharpness in film history: the background has to be out of focus. That's why I find these paintings very inspiring for my scenes: everything is in focus, even the grotesque moments in life".

Kukryniksy: Конец / The End (1946). Oil on canvas. 251 x 200. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Kukryniksy was the joint nom de plume of three artists working together. This painting is staged by Roy Andersson in vintage tableau vivant style in About Endlessness.

Kohti ääretöntä.
    SE/DE/NO © 2019 PC: Roy Andersson Filmproduktion AB. Co-PC: 4 ½ Fiksjon AS, Essential Films in association with Parisienne de Production, Sveriges Television AB, Arte France Cinéma, ZDF/Arte, Film Capital Stockholm Fund. P: Pernilla Sandström, Johan Carlsson.
    D+SC: Roy Andersson. Cin: Gergely Pálos – colour. Set design: Anders Hellström, Frida E. Elmström, Nicklas Nilsson. Wardrobe: Julia Tegström, Isabel Sjöstrand, Sandra Parment, Amanda Ribrant. Sound mix: Robert Hefter. Casting: Pauline Hansson, Katja Wik, Zora Rux
    C: Martin Serner (The Priest), Jessica Louthander (The Narrator), Tatiana Delaunay and Anders Hellström (The Flying Couple), Jan Eje Ferling (The Man in the Stairs), Bengt Bergius (The Psychiatrist), Thore Flygel (The Dentist).
    Soundtrack selections include:
– "All of Me" (Gerald Marks, Seymour Simons, 1931), perf. Billie Holiday (1941).
– "Stilla natt, heliga natt" / "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" (Franz Xaver Gruber, Joseph Mohr, 1818).
    76 min
    International Sales: Coproduction Office.
    Festival premiere: 3 Sep 2019 Venice Film Festival.
    Swedish premiere: 15 Nov 2019.
    Finnish premiere, 9 Oct 2020, distributed by Cinema Mondo, with Finnish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 16 Oct 2020.

The Priest: I have lost my faith...
The Psychiatrist: I'm sorry, but I have to catch my bus.

AA: About Endlessness is Roy Andersson's sixth feature film on a career that has spanned over six decades. After the commercial failure of Giliap (1975), Andersson took a 25 year break from feature films, instead directing 400 advertising spots and becoming "the best director of commercials in the world" (Ingmar Bergman).

According to Andersson, it was Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue (1988–1989) that inspired him back to features. Andersson made a remarkable short, Härlig är jorden / World of Glory (1991) that resonates strongly with the forthcoming features.

Härlig är jorden starts with a re-enactment of a Nazi-style murder van, where naked passengers are gassed with an exhumation pipe. "History started with Auschwitz", says Roy Andersson, born on the first year of the Endlösung. "Härlig är jorden" is the Swedish title of a popular hymn, sung in John F. Kennedy's funeral as "O God of Loveliness". Ten years later Andersson started his "Living Trilogy". I have not yet seen its third film, A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence.

By Härlig är jorden Andersson had his signature style in place: a revival of the early cinema mode of tableaux (and even the special fashion of tableaux vivants), based on long takes, long shots, plan-séquence, immobile camera and deep focus. The lighting is neutral, without contrast. The faces of the actors are smeared in pancake makeup, and there is an affinity with the "white clown", the Pierrot of the commedia dell'arte. Almost everything has been shot in the studio.

Simultaneously with Andersson's comeback feature, Songs from the Second Floor, the tableau style became fashionable in the competition series of prestigious film festivals. I soon developed a fatigue for that fashion. At the time I was seeing a great many original early cinema tableau films of "a hundred years ago" in Pordenone and Bologna. Already in the 1960s as I grew into cinephilia, I was about to launch myself onto a heavy diet of plan-séquence films by Michael Snow, Andy Warhol and Chantal Akerman.

Enough endlessness for me? No, because clearly Andersson is now presenting something new, something special, a chef-d'œuvre. There are direct links to Härlig är jorden of almost 30 years ago. Among the vignettes is Andersson's vision of "der Untergang", complete with Hitler and Bormann in the bunker. Andersson creates a tableau vivant in direct homage to Kukryniksy's painting The End (see above). Another powerful sequence shows German prisoners-of-war on a death march to Siberia. In a further vignette an execution by firing squad is staged. The emblem of the movie is a homage to Marc Chagall's flying lovers – over the ruins of Cologne after WWII.

For the first time, Andersson employs a voice-over: the beautiful voice of a female narrator (Jessica Louthander). Andersson compares her with Scheherazade. Andersson also refers to the narration of Hiroshima mon amour (where we have a female narrator challenged by the male). The introductions are terse: “I saw a man with his daughter on their way to a birthday party... it rained a lot.” “I saw a woman... a communications manager, incapable of feeling shame.” “I saw a couple, two lovers... floating above a city, renowned for its beauty, but now in ruins.

The dimension of love and beauty is essential as a counterweight to the horror. The father helping tie his little daughter's shoestrings in pouring rain. The carefree dance of young girls in front of a summer café. The student couple discussing theoretical physics: "The first law of thermodynamics states that everything is energy and it can never be destroyed. That means you are energy, I am energy."

The existential guilt will not fade away, but regeneration is possible. Roy Andersson takes up a theme that has resonated during the history of the cinema, not least in Sweden: the loss of faith. An early masterpiece dealing with this was Mauritz Stiller's The Saga of Gösta Berling (1924), based on the novel by Selma Lagerlöf and starring Lars Hanson (who also played Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter). John Ford's Gösta Berling was Preacher Casey (John Carradine) in The Grapes of Wrath (Ford pursued the topic also in The Fugitive, based on Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory). We could cite Bresson, Bergman and Tarkovsky. "God is dead" was a widespread feeling already after WWI, and even more devastatingly after WWII. Most recently the theme has been revived by Paul Schrader in his masterpiece First Reformed.

The priest (Martin Serner) is perhaps the most prominent recurring figure in About Endlessness. He is seen re-living the stations of the Cross. "Crucify him!" He wakes up from the nightmare. He gets drunk by liberal helpings from a bottle of sacramental wine. He visits a psychiatrist who is unable to help. The best that the psychiatrist can offer by way of help is to propose that perhaps God does not exist.

A man disturbs the mood by crying on a train. Passenger: "Are you not allowed to be sad anymore?" Other Passenger: "But why can't he be sad at home instead?" A patient refuses anesthesia at the dentist's. A father stabs his daughter to death to defend family honour. In a restaurant, a waiter pours red wine to a glass until it spills over. A car engine shuts off while a wedge of cranes flies towards the horizon in the sky.

Roy Andersson stages a disturbing collection of "pictures at an exhibition". Many great film-makers have recently offered some of their best work at a respectable age: Oliveira, Lanzmann, Wiseman, Wajda, Varda, Godard... To their number belongs also Roy Andersson, who is at his best in About Endlessness.

PS. 19 Oct 2020. Silja Rantanen notices an affinity in the narration with J. L. Runeberg's epic poem The Tales of Ensign Stål (1848 and 1860):

"Jag såg ett folk som kunde allt
Blott ej sin ära svika

["I saw a people capable of anything / except to betray its honour"].


Ensilumi / Any Day Now

Hamy Ramezan: Ensilumi / Any Day Now (2020). An Iranian migrant family in Finland: Shabnam Ghorbani (as the mother Mahtab Mehdipouri), Kimiya Eskandari (as the daughter Donya Mehdipouri), Aran-Sina Keshvari (as the son Ramin Mehdipouri) and Shabab Hosseini (as the father Bahman Mehdipouri).

Den första snön.
    FI © 2020 Elokuvayhtiö Oy Aamu Ab. P: Jussi Rantamäki, Emilia Haukka.
    D: Hamy Ramezan. SC: Hamy Ramezan, Antti Rautava. Cin: Arsen Sarkisiants – colour. PD: Kari Kankaanpää. Cost: Kirsi Gum. Makeup: Anu Uusipulkamo. M: Tuomas Nikkinen. S: Svante Colerus. ED: Joona Louhivuori.
    C: Shabab Hosseini (Bahman Mehdipouri), Shabnam Ghorbani (Mahtab Mehdipouri), Aran-Sina Keshvari (Ramin Mehdipouri), Kimiya Eskandari (Donya Mehdipouri).
    With: Vilho Rönkkönen (Jigi), Laura Birn (Annika, the teacher), Kristiina Halkola (Helena), Eero Melasniemi (Onni), Muhammed Cangore (Fazel), Lumi Barrois (Marianna).
    Languages: Farsi (dominant) and Finnish.
    82 min
    Finnish subtitles: Sampsa Peltonen. English subtitles: Aretta Vähälä. Swedish subtitles: Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski.
    Premiere: 16 Oct 2020, distributed in Finland by Nordisk Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    International sales: New Europe Film Sales.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 16 Oct 2020.

AA: The Finnish Iranian director Hamy Ramezan is known for a series of outstanding short films –  Over the Fence (2009), Keys of Heaven (2014) and Listen (2014) – and a documentary film, Refugee Unknown (2016).

In the context of Refugee Unknown, made in Mytilene in the year of the European migrant crisis, Ramezan emphasized that the human reality is much simpler than the images in the media. The migrant debate has been going wildly awry, because there is an attempt to mislead us via fear. Ramezan also stressed the viewpoint of children. As soon as the children are taken to school, a process of integration starts. Children give us hope.

In his first fiction feature, Any Day Now, Ramezan draws from his own experiences as an Iranian migrant almost 30 years ago. But his film is a story of an Iranian family that fails to get a permit of residence in Finland.

Shabab Hosseini, well-known from Nader and Simin: A Separation, appears in a portrait of unobtrusive authority as the father Bahman Mehdipouri. Shabnam Ghorbani gives a beautiful film debut as the mother Mahtab. The son Ramin, the center of attention, is played by Aran-Sina Keshvari, and the little daughter Donya by Kimiya Eskandar. Ramezan creates a portrait of a happy family, facing adversity stoically. The circumstances in asylum reception centers are spartan, but the Mehdipouris establish friendly contacts with local people, played by the real-life couple Kristiina Halkola and Eero Melasniemi, a presence in Finnish culture since the New Wave hit film Käpy selän alla (1966).

As different from Ramezan's electrifying short films, Any Day Now is an exercise in dedramatization. Ramezan has written about his own dangerous two-year trek as a migrant in the same age as Ramin is in Any Day Now, but in this film there are no thriller elements. Mainly it is about the frustration of waiting, requiring a lot of patience. Most of all, Any Day Now is a study in dignity.

Any Day Now is the story of a happy family caught in an unhappy situation. Ramezan has a lot to say, and he knows how to say it. In a tale like this, he emphasizes that being a migrant is not an identity but a transitory situation. From a Finnish-European viewpoint I find that much is being taken for granted: the burning issues of why the family has left their homeland and what are their plans for the future. We know much from the news, but we would like to hear their particular story here.

When a film is dedramatized, we would expect a high intensity of presence, what is known in Russian literature as byt, in the meaning of a full charge of being in an account of everyday life. But I guess that Ramezan has been so committed to make this important film accessible for a wide audience that he has edited away the profound dark dimensions that were so compelling in his short films, and as a result, there is a loss of intensity.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020).

US © 2020 C7 Productions, Inc. PC: Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks Pictures / Shivhans Pictures / Cross Creek Pictures / Marc Platt Productions. Distributed by: Netflix. P: Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson.
    D+SC: Aaron Sorkin. Cin: Phedon Papamichael – colour – 2,39:1 – source format: Codex ARRIRAW 4.5 K – digital intermediate 4K – release: D-Cinema. PD: Shane Valentino. AD: Nick Francone. Set dec: Andrew Baseman. Cost: Susan Lyall. Makeup: Louise McCarthy. Hair: Nathan J. Busch II. M: Daniel Pemberton. S: Renee Tondelli. ED: Alan Baumgarten. Casting: Mickie Paskal, Jennifer Rudnicke.
    "Hear My Voice" (Daniel Pemberton), perf. Celeste.
    C (as edited in Wikipedia): Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman
Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richard Schultz
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale
Michael Keaton as Ramsey Clark
Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman
John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger
Mark Rylance as William Kunstler
Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis
Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin
Noah Robbins as Lee Weiner
Daniel Flaherty as John Froines
Ben Shenkman as Leonard Weinglass
Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Fred Hampton
Caitlin FitzGerald as Daphne O'Connor
Max Adler as Stan Wojohowski
Alice Kremelberg as Bernardine
John Doman as John N. Mitchell
J. C. MacKenzie as Tom Foran
    Loc: Chicago, Illinois. – Morris County, New Jersey.
    129 min
    US premiere (limited): 25 Sep 2020.
    Finnish premiere (limited): 2 Oct 2020, distributed by Cinemanse Oy, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Mirja Muurinen / Annika Vasiliadou.
    Netflix premiere: 16 Oct 2020.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 15 Oct 2020.

Tagline: "The whole world is watching".

Edited from Wikipedia: "The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an American historical legal drama film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film follows the Chicago Seven, a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago."

"Sorkin originally wrote the screenplay in 2007, with the intent of Steven Spielberg directing the film with mostly unknown actors. After the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike and budget concerns forced Spielberg to drop out as director, Sorkin was announced as director in October 2018. Filming took place in the fall of 2019 in Chicago and around New Jersey."

"Originally planned for a theatrical release by Paramount Pictures, the distribution rights to the film were sold to Netflix due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
" (Edited from Wikipedia).

AA: The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a great historical play, a first-rate political thriller and an excellent courtroom drama. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, it boasts brilliant dramatic dialogue, performed by an outstanding ensemble cast.

It is one of the best films about "the crazy year 1968": the year of an escalation of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. This film is about the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968. Its centerpiece was the debate of the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Organizations protesting against the involvement in the Vietnam War included the Youth International Party, National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and Students for a Democratic Society. Next to their representatives, The Chicago 7, also Bobby Seale from the Black Panther Party was accused in the Chicago trial, as the eighth of the accused.

Of previous films covering this theme I remember Haskell Wexler's contemporary Medium Cool (1969) which I saw during its first run but have never seen again since. In my memory, it was a powerful but impressionistic and chaotic account of the violent convention week.

In contrast to Medium Cool, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is well structured. It starts with a montage of establishing scenes of the participants and the historical context before the convention. Then we jump to the trial and follow it chronologically, jumping consistently to the events in flashbacks. The sujet is the trial, and the fabula is the course of the events in August 1968.

This exciting drama rises to special heights in three extraordinary climaxes. The first is the Bobby Seale mistrial. The Black Panther leader is brutally beaten and gagged, to the shock of even those who reject his views.

The other climax is the suppression of the testimony of the previous US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, in office until 20 January, 1969. To the amazement of a closed session of the court in which the jury is not granted access, he states that the previous government found no reason to accuse the demonstrators because the violence was found to be instigated by the Chicago police.

The final climax is the Tom Hayden's statement after the declaration of the verdict: he reads aloud the names of all the thousands of US casualties in Vietnam that have taken place during the trial. The demonstration turns the trial into a victory in defeat.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Miriam (in the presence of Anneli Sauli)

William Markus: Miriam (1957). Pentti Siimes (Hans Allnes), Anneli Sauli (Miriam). Photo: Elonet.

William Markus: Miriam (1957). The final revelations. Irma Seikkula (Britta Allnes), Leo Riuttu (teacher Hans Allnes), Pentti Siimes (Hans Allnes), Anneli Sauli (Miriam). My screenshot from Elonet.

William Markus: Miriam (1957). Anneli Sauli (Miriam). Father and son desired her but did not love her. My screenshot from Elonet.

William Markus: Miriam (1957). Anneli Sauli (Miriam). Hans turns his back, and the camera tracks back to reveal the roll of honour of Finland's great men above: Linnankoski, Topelius, Runeberg, Lönnrot, Aho, Gallen-Kallela, et al. My screenshot from Elonet.

William Markus: Miriam (1957). Anneli Sauli (Miriam), Pentti Siimes (Hans Allnes). She leaves without saying a word. My screenshot from Elonet.

William Markus: Miriam (1957). Miriam (Anneli Sauli) leaves the Allnes house in the last shot: long take, long shot, no camera movement, fade to black. My screenshot from Elonet.

63 years later: Anneli Sauli introducing Miriam at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 12 Oct 2020. Photo: Mikko Lyytikäinen / ELKE / Risto Jarva -seura.

FI 1957. PC: Suomen Filmiteollisuus SF Oy. P: T. J. Särkkä.
    D: William Markus. SC: William Markus, Pentti Unho – based on the novel (1954) by Walentin Chorell. Cin: Pentti Unho – 35 mm – b&w – 1,33:1. AD: Aarre Koivisto. Makeup: Olavi Suominen. Hair: Sinikka Juutinen, Anna-Liisa Taivainen. M: Heikki Aaltoila. S: Yrjö Saari. ED: Armas Vallasvuo.
    C: Anneli Sauli (Miriam), Irma Seikkula (Britta Allnes), Pentti Siimes (Hans Allnes), Leo Riuttu (teacher Torvald Allnes).
    Loc: Nurmijärvi, Karkkila, Pernaja, Hyvinkää.
    Studio: SF-hallit. Shot in summer–autumn 1956.
    88 min
    Premiere: 18 Oct 1957, distributor: Oy Suomen Filmiteollisuus.
    Festival premiere: July 1958, Berlin International Film Festival.
    Tribute to Anneli Sauli.
    Introduced by Anneli Sauli, interviewed by Antti Alanen.
    35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 12 Oct 2020.

AA: In the 1950s Anneli Sauli was a bright star of the Finnish screen, on contract for the biggest film production house SF (Suomen Filmiteollisuus). In five years she shot 16 films, some of which were released with a lengthy delay. In 1958 Sauli, as Ann Savo, was already filming in Germany, where she in six years made 12 films and 3 teleplays. She was cast in many popular genre films of the day, and also in films with special artistic merit.

In Germany such a special film was Unruhige Nacht / The Restless Night (1958) directed by Falk Harnack, the German resistance veteran who had also simultaneously with G. W. Pabst made the first film about Operation Valkyrie, the 20 July plot against Hitler. In Finland among Anneli Sauli's most distinguished films were Jokin ihmisessä (1956) based on the novel by Mika Waltari and 1918 (1957), the best film of Finland's most prolific director Toivo Särkkä, the CEO of Suomen Filmiteollisuus.

Miriam is Anneli Sauli's own favourite among her films. It is also considered the best of the eight films directed by William Markus and the best of the 31 films based on works of the writer Walentin Chorell. Let's register that Miriam was a solid SF studio production with cinematography by Pentti Unho, art direction by Aarre Koivisto, score composed by Heikki Aaltoila and editing by Armas Vallasvuo. Many of the crew had also contributed to The Unknown Soldier, the studio's giant hit film two years ago, co-starring Anneli Sauli's husband Åke Lindman.

To the credit of the director William Markus, he uses the film's status as a studio production to his advantage. The execution is smooth and professional in every way, but Markus stays away from tired routines. There is a laconic touch of the classical studio style in archetypal settings such as the funeral of Miriam's beloved aunt who has been her surrogate mother, the railway station, the fishing port, the dance pavilion and the school house teeming with children, a typical phenomenon of the "baby boom" era. These scenes are vivid and authentic.

Markus has an eye for the significant detail. The beautiful special bookmark prepared by Miriam for Hans. Her see-through shirt in the laundry-room, throwing Torvald off balance. The prestigious row of Finland's Great Men decorating the crown molding.

The drama is based on an elementary concept. The 17-year-old orphan girl Miriam (Anneli Sauli) enters a schoolteacher's house as a maid. The mother Britta (Irma Seikkula) tries to freeze her out. The father Torvald (Leo Riuttu) and the son Hans (Pentti Siimes) are soon on fire. They feel the desire, but as soon as they are exposed, they deny everything and turn their backs on her.

"What's missing? Love, boys, love."

The characters are starkly delineated, but the veteran actors Seikkula, Riuttu and Siimes imbue their performances with fresh and original nuances. These are inspired interpretations. They convey a guilty self-awareness. They play pillars of society with undercurrents of unease. William Markus interprets his chamber play as a drama of hypocrisy, suffocation and frustration. The mother is ill, the father is restless, the son is allowed to sow his wild oats but not take a mere maid seriously.

Miriam is sometimes called a melodrama, but in my book it is plain drama. It is a well made film in a "genius of the system" kind of way, without a false note. The characters are not melodramatic at all. They mean well, but they are prisoners of their conventions. Miriam is like a breath of fresh air, an uninhibited force of nature, emanating sexuality in a perfectly natural and unpretentious way, but they cannot handle it. Torvald is evidently a good teacher, instructing the children to learn with joy. Their happiness is an appealing counterweight in the drama.

Miriam is alone in the world, defended by nobody – except the writer, the director and the producer. This is Miriam's film. She is an awkward and uneducated girl, but she radiates genuine warmth, tenderness and love. She carries herself with pride. The deceptions and the hypocrisy of the Allnes family she faces with dignity. In the finale, her silence speaks louder than words.

The SF studio led by T. J. Särkkä was a bulwark of the establishment, but in key films including The Unknown Soldier, 1918 and Miriam, there was a sober understanding of class society. It was not political, nor populistic. There was a genuine drive towards a development that in the 1960s was led by sociologists such as Erik Allardt in the spirit of social integration and consensus. In Miriam there is a strong sense that the Allnes family belongs to the past and Miriam to the future.