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 the exhibition.

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 Ballet 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 Apollonic and the Dionysean. 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. 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.

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 total 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 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 has been broken. Beyond repair.

But Enckell kept reinventing his art in works such as the radiant "modern Icarus" vision 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. Mobile phone photo from the catalogue.

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

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 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 contemporary art historians' assessments / reassessments of him based on this exhibition. Sadly, the corona lockdown makes it very 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 Christianity. In Freud and Plato, Eros is central in a similar way. 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 a long period of a repression of sexuality.

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 do 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, 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.
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.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Katseen vanki / Captive of the Gaze – The Anneli Sauli Story


Timo Humaloja: Katseen vanki / [The Prisoner of the Look] (2011). A documentary film about the actress Anneli Sauli.

FI 2011 © 2010 Kinovid Productions. P: Timo Humaloja.
    A documentary film about the actress Anneli Sauli (born 1932).
    D+SC: Timo Humaloja. Research: Timo Humaloja, Outi Nyytäjä, Tuula-Liina Varis. Cin: Harri Paavola. S: Heikki Innanen. ED: Petteri Evilampi. Yle archive research: Eva Lintunen.
    Featuring: Anneli Sauli.
    Interviewed by: Tuula-Liina Varis, Timo Humaloja.
    Featuring in archival footage: T. J. Särkkä, Jouko Turkka, Åke Lindman, Alexander von Richthofen, Toni Sailer, Jaakko Pakkasvirta,
    Archival footage:
– Hilja maitotyttö / [Hilja the Milkmaid] (FI 1953, D: Toivo Särkkä)
– Risti ja liekki / The Cross and the Flame (FI 1957, D: Armand Lohikoski)
– 1918 (FI 1957, D: Toivo Särkkä)
– Miriam (FI 1957, D: William Markus)
– Lumisten metsien tyttö / [The Girl from the Snowy Forest] (FI 1960, D: William Markus)
– Unruhige Nacht / Veri huutaa taivaisiin / The Restless Night (DE 1958, D: Falk Harnack)
– Weit ist der Weg (DE 1960, D: Wolfgang Schleif)
– Von Mäusen und Menschen / Of Mice and Men (DE 1963, theatre tour)
– Pikku veli ja pikku sisar (FI 1963, Lilla Teatern)
– Raportti eli balladi laivatytöistä / [Report, or a Ballad about the Girls of the Port] (FI 1964, D: Maunu Kurkvaara)
– Onnenpeli / [A Game of Luck] (FI 1965, D: Risto Jarva)
– Käpy selän alla (FI 1966, D: Mikko Niskanen)
– X-paroni / [Baron X] (FI 1964, D: Risto Jarva, Jaakko Pakkasvirta, Spede Pasanen)
– Nuoruuden suloinen lintu / Sweet Bird of Youth (Joensuu City Theatre, 1990, D: Lars Lindeman)
– Kuka pelkää Virginia Woolfia /  Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Joensuu City Theatre, 1991, D: Sinikka Tossavainen)
– Jumalan rakastaja / [God's Lover] (Joensuu City Theatre, 1985, D: Seppo Luhtala)
Telepremiere 21 May 2011.
Viewed from my DVR at home, Helsinki, 11 Oct 2020.

AA: Timo Humaloja's documentary about the beloved Finnish actress Anneli Sauli is based on the contrast between the public image and the real human being.

The movie has largely been conducted in split screen. We see vintage movie footage to the left, and the bemused Anneli watching and commenting to the right. "Then" and "Now" is the concept.

Anneli Sauli became a star in 1953 at Finland's biggest film production company Suomen Filmiteollisuus (SF). The CEO was T. J. Särkkä who signed his name as director and screenwriter as Toivo Särkkä.

Sauli became instantly Finland's love goddess, with a status similar with Silvana Mangano, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren in Italy, Brigitte Bardot in France, Marilyn Monroe in the US, Diana Dors in Britain and Ulla Jacobsson and Harriet Andersson in Sweden.

Sauli declares that it was merely painful and embarrassing. Since she was a teenager she found it unpleasant to be stared at. She almost prayed God to avoid attention.

Särkkä was like a benevolent father figure, safe and protective; funny and charismatic. "I was allowed to be myself, a child of nature. He was a man of honour". Also the biggest star Tauno Palo "was big enough" to be only loyal, friendly and nice, with no need to be mean.

Sauli did not try to please, but "I can't help my sensuality". Male attention was offensive, female attention was derogatory. "All my life I have had to defend myself" against hypocrisy. "Much is still going on. Men dominate female sexuality and repress it."

Miriam (1957) "was my best film", one of Sauli's three adaptations based on the writer Walentin Chorell. Another notable one was Lumisten metsien tyttö, "believable to this day". "Then I was unemployed, could not pay the rent. Films were no longer made".

Anneli Sauli moved to Germany where she made 12 films as Ann Savo, plus three teleplays, including two Goldoni adaptations. She also toured in a theatrical group with Of Mice and Men. She was in the heart of German popular cinema, working for Artur Brauner's CCC company for instance, with actors like Gert Fröbe, Klaus Kinski and Senta Berger, and including several Krimis based on Edgar Wallace or starring Dr. Mabuse.

The most prominent role was the first one: The Restless Night (1958), coming to terms with German invasion into Ukraine. The director was Falk Harnack who had attracted attention with The 20th of July (1955), about the von Stauffenberg assassination conspiracy against Hitler, with Wolfgang Preiss in the role later incorporated by Tom Cruise, among others.

The German years took Savo to far away places like Africa or Rio de Janeiro in Weit ist der Weg (1960). She had a three-year relationship with Alexander von Richthofen, a friendly and progressive actor (of the same family as the "Red Baron" WWI air ace Manfred von Richthofen) and a one-year relationshop with Toni Sailer, the Olympic ski champion from Kitzbühel, the national hero of Austria, also an actor and singer.

Sauli was attracted back to Finland by Maunu Kurkvaara (to make the movie Raportti) and Vivica Bandler (to play at Lilla Teatern in Pikku veli ja pikku sisar). "Kurkvaara made Anna Karina out of me", "but I did not imitate anybody". Further on in the Finnish new wave cinema, Sauli acted in Risto Jarva's Onnenpeli, the first modern Finnish urban movie. She had entered the Filminor team in the comedy X-paroni starring Spede Pasanen. Jaakko Pakkasvirta, a key Filminor talent, became Sauli's husband in 1967–1969. Sauli also had a guest role in the most popular Finnish new wave movie, Käpy selän alla. Life was tough and modest.

Then Sauli called Jouko Turkka at the Joensuu City Theatre. Turkka launched her on a 30 year career there with young talents including Tuula Nyman, Turo Unho, Hellevi Seiro Härkönen, Matti Ruohola and Esa Pakarinen, Jr. "I was an outsider". "I swam against the current all alone". All her life Sauli has been a Communist, based on profound conviction, also politically active.

Sauli's most shattering performances emerged in Joensuu. The Sweet Bird of Youth was powerfully cathartic and deeply personal. "Film stardom had been the most difficult burden to carry". Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was about living in a lie, charting both sore points and feelings of happiness. Jussi Parviainen's God's Lover brought her into the core of native contemporary drama, scandalously for a hypocritical element of the audience who had been duly warned.

Sauli is deeply grateful for the theatre for the restoration of her honour as an actress. The decades as a film star were a period of humiliation and disappointment.

Sauli has also always been an activist in the cause of the Romani people. As a child she learned that her biological father was Valdemar Swarz, a Romani man, and a feeling of being an outsider therefore has always accompanied her. This was not discussed at home. There was little tolerance for those who are different.

But "finally I'm on my own, and have been that way for a long time now".

Friday, October 09, 2020



Teemu Nikki: Nimby (2020). In the center: Susanna Pukkila (Mervi Hirvi). Left to right: Ona Kamu (Minttu Jalonen), Elias Westerberg (Mika Jalonen), Leila Abdullah (Farrah Mohsen), Matti Onnismaa (Artsi), Stephan Schad (Hermann Haettenschweiler), Antti Reini (Topi Hirvi), Jouko Puolanto (Osmo Jalonen), Almila Bagriacik (Kata Mohsen) and Mari Rantasila (Kaisa Hirvi).

    FI © 2020 It's Alive Films Oy. P: Jani Pösö. EX: Mikko Leino, Ari Tolppanen, Nunnu Karppinen (Friday Capital Oy).
    D: Teemu Nikki. SC: Teemu Nikki, Jani Pösö. Cin: Sari Aaltonen. AD: Santtu Toivola. Cost: Riitta Röpelinen. Makeup: Mari Vaalasranta. Visual post-production: Post Control Helsinki Oy. M: Janne Huttunen. S: Tuomas Seppänen. ED: Matti Näränen.
    C: Susanna Pukkila (Mervi Hirvi), Almila Bagriacik (Kata Mohsen), Elias Westerberg (Mika Jalonen), Matti Onnismaa (Artsi), Mari Rantasila (Kaisa Hirvi), Antti Reini (Topi Hirvi), Ona Kamu (Minttu Jalonen), Jouko Puolanto (Osmo Jalonen), Leila Abdullah (Farrah Mohsen), Stephan Schad (Hermann Haettenschweiler), Hannamaija Nikander (Janika), Hannes Suominen (Teuvo), Youssef Asad Alkhatib (Amir), Jalal Haj Ali (Ahmed), Hassan Alsaleh (Jamal), Rami Rusinen (postman), Markus Karekallas (chief constable Salonen), Matti Rönkä (news anchor), Cerstin Cassidy (news anchor), Kersti Ahlgren (journalist at the press conference), Frank Wiedmann (journalist at the press conference).
    Loc: Forssa.
    Languages: Finnish, English, German.
    95 min
    English and Finnish subtitles by Liina Härkönen.
    Premiere: 9 Oct 2020, distributed by Scanbox Entertainment A/S, theaterical distribution in Finland by Finnkino Oy.
    Viewed with Finnish subtitles for the hard of hearing by BTI Studios at Kinopalatsi 8, Helsinki, 9 Oct 2020.
    Nimby = Not in my backyard.
    Tagline: A comedy about the difficulty of tolerance.

Official synopsis: "Meet Iranian-Finnish lesbian couple, Mervi and Kata, a model of tolerance. Take them in a Finnish small town to visit Mervi’s parents, where you’ll find a gay pastor and his racist wife, a pro-refugee Iranian activist, a German overprotective bodyguard, and a pacifist, who refuses any talks about politics or religion in his house – and you’ll get an extraordinary melting pot. Surround the house with the local far-right activists and refugees and the mix will be explosive!"

AA: Intolerance, the title of D. W. Griffith's 1916 masterpiece, would also suit Teemu Nikki's new movie. It's about the difficulty of loving one's neighbour. As the official synopsis states, it's about a melting pot turning into an explosive mix.

Everybody has something to hide, and because everybody has been waiting too long, a string of inconvenient truths and awful confessions is unleashed. Such is the private sphere of the movie, the story of three families.

The setting is a fictional small town called Lämsä. The main employer, a paint factory, has been closed, and resentment is brewing among the unemployed. The empty factory has been turned into a refugee shelter. Nationalistic populists incite the unemployed to hate refugees, an even more marginalized group.

Mervi Hirvi (Susanna Pukkila), the small town girl, has turned into a suvakkilesbo (untranslatable: "suvakki" = "a tolerant one" in a pejorative sense), and her ex-boyfriend Mika (Elias Westerberg) is now an incel neo-Nazi. Mervi is romantically involved with Kata Mohsen (Almila Bagriacik), whose mother, the Iranian Farrah Mohsen (Leila Abdullah), a world-famous champion of refugees' rights, arrives among the hicks to find her. Upon learning about this the populists immediately besiege the house and demand the extradition of the Mohsens.

Teemu Nikki and Jani Pösö create an audacious cocktail of incompatible genres. Nimby is a "meet the parents" style comedy where everyone is each other's worst nightmare. It is a political thriller that can be compared for instance with Stuart Heisler's Storm Warning that I saw six weeks ago in Bologna. It has touches of the horror film in the nocturnal siege during which the citizens of Lämsä turn into an arsenous lynch mob. And there are, indeed, Griffith connections in the "last minute rescue" concept whose earliest master Griffith was – in use also in the atrocious Ku Klux Klan finale of The Birth of a Nation. In the climax Nimby even turns into a gang war film.

Nikki and Pösö relish the clichés and stereotypes that they twist and turn. Mika the neo-Nazi both ignites the persecution and launches the rescue. The pastor and his wife (Jouko Puolanto, Ona Kamu) are the first to suggest the surrender of the Iranians to the Nazis. Nikki and Pösö's dense screenplay moves briskly ahead, always flirting with disaster, but the offbeat approach is not an end in itself.

In his "word from the director" Teemu Nikki confesses that he lives in a complacent bubble of the like-minded like everybody else, but his mission in this movie was to have a big laugh at his own prejudices.

Masters of comedy, starting with Molière, often start with gross stereotypes, and imbue them with wit and humour, enabling laughter at many layers.

Nimby laughs at intolerance, even of the "tolerant ones". The film climaxes with a rousing speech by Mervi. Farrah is so impressed that she quotes it in her own great address broadcast globally.

The visual quality in the screening was strangely drab.


There are funny details. The dysfunctional Walther PPK of the local Führer (Matti Onnismaa). Ona Kamu singing the hymn "Oi kuningasten kuningas" ["O King of Kings"]. I always find it appealing when a film director appears as the songwriter. Nikki has written the lyrics to the gloomy punk songs.


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 23 "Appassionata" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1999)


Carl Friedrich Lessing (1803–1880) : Schützen am Engpass / Riflemen Defending a Pass (1851). Öl auf Leinwand. 195 x 164,5. Quelle : Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin. Urheber : Carl Friedrich Lessing. From : Wikimedia Commons. Birgit Verwiebe: "Bereits 1836 bestellte der Sammler Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener bei Carl Friedrich Lessing die dem Dreißigjährigen Krieg gewidmete Komposition »Schützen im Engpaß«, jedoch erst 15 Jahre später, 1851, sollte das Bild vollendet sein. Wagener bezahlte mit viertausend Talern die höchste Summe, die er je für ein Gemälde ausgegeben hatte. Lessing stellte einen Gebirgspaß dar, der von einer Gruppe Schützen von einem Felsvorsprung aus gegen Soldaten verteidigt wird; in ihrer Mitte ein gefangener Burgherr, der von einer Frau mit Pistole bewacht wird. »Es ist die konkrete Gestalt des Aufruhrs«, äußerte Friedrich Eggers im Deutschen Kunstblatt, »es ist eine Scene, die gewiß niemals gefehlt hat und niemals fehlen wird, wo die Empörung ihr gesetzloses, fluchbeladenes Haupt erhebt«. Die als Ort der Freiheit geltende Bergwelt wird in diesem Werk zum Schauplatz für um Freiheit ringende Rebellen. »Ein Bild von grosser Anziehungskraft, dem eine allgemeine Bewunderung gezollt wird« (F. Eggers, Die diesjährige Berliner Kunstausstellung, in: Deutsches Kunstblatt, 3. Jg., 1852, H. 39, S. 330). Für Wagener wurde Lessings Werk, das Gebirgslandschaft und Historie vereint, »die schönste Perle« seiner Sammlung (Wagener an Lessing, 8.2.1842, SMB-ZA, IV/NL Wagener, Briefkonzepte, S. 13). Als das Gemälde im Herbst 1851 endlich beim Sammler eintraf, schrieb dieser dem Künstler: »Meine Sammlung ist mit einem Juwelen bereichert worden« (Wagener an Lessing, 29.9.1851, in: ebd., S. 216). Zugleich aber ließ er sich dazu hinreißen, eine Änderung zu erbitten. Sein Wunsch an Lessing war, eine der Hauptfiguren – den gefesselten Burgherrn – durch eine Frauenfigur zu ersetzen, dies allerdings nur, »falls der Entführung eines Mannes kein geschichtliches Motiv untergeben werden kann« (ebd., S. 216). Weder ist eine Antwort Lessings überliefert noch wurde die Änderung realisiert. Eine im Privatbesitz befindliche Studie zum Gemälde ist im Ausstellungskatalog »Düsseldorfer Malerschule« (Petersberg 2011, Bd. I, S. 41, Abb.16) abgebildet. – Chromolithographie von O. Troitzsch." Birgit Verwiebe (Alte Nationalgalerie) . It's worth examining the photo on a large screen!

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 57: Klaviersonate Nr. 23 in f-Moll „Appassionata“ (1805)
Erster Satz: Allegro assai, f-Moll, 12/8 Takt, 262 Takte
Zweiter Satz: Andante con moto, Des-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 97 Takte
Dritter Satz: Allegro ma non troppo, f-Moll, 361 Takte
    Dem Grafen Franz von Brunsvik gewidmet.
    Dédié à Monsieur le Comte François de Brunsvik par Louis van Beethoven.
    The title "Appassionata" was given by the Hamburger publisher Cranz in 1838, after the composer's death, to a four-handed arrangement.
    Stephen Kovacevich (1999) 25 min

András Schiff: The Guardian Lecture on Sonata in F Minor, opus 57 no. 23 ('Appassionata'), Wigmore Hall, London, 2006, 47 min

For Romain Rolland, Appassionata was "a torrent of fire on a bed of granite".

András Schiff uses expressions like "apocalypse", "the last judgment", "the dance of death" and "csárdás macabre" (for the finale). He confesses that during the first movement he may feel like on the verge of a heart attack (hinting that it might be his preferred way to go).

Angela Hewitt writes about the last movement which Beethoven reportedly conceived during a long walk in the woods: "When they returned home Beethoven immediately sat down at the piano and played what later became the last movement of the ‘Appassionata’. The most remarkable thing about this movement is how much of the power is held back until the very end when all is unleashed. Czerny imagines ‘the waves of the sea on a stormy night, whilst cries of distress are heard from afar’. Perhaps it is not necessary to be quite so graphic, but the two-note sighing figures do certainly give that impression. Nobody had written anything nearly as powerful for solo piano before that, and it remains to this day a landmark in musical history." (Angela Hewitt, Hyperion Records, 2006)

Waldstein and Appassionata appear as the twin peaks among the piano sonatas of Beethoven's early heroic period, separated by the deceptively plain sonata number 22. Waldstein is upbeat, Appassionata is downbeat. Waldstein is about the life force, Appassionata is about the call of death.

Appassionata is a tragedy. It has been said that unlike in most of Beethoven's other tragic compositions, there is no redemption. For me, this is where its exceptional greatness resides. Beethoven stares death and defeat in the eye. This is about "victory in defeat", as in the sagas of Achilleus, Hector or Spartacus. In death they become immortal. "I am Spartacus".

The composition is not monotonously dark. The second movement, Andante con moto, is an expression of quintessential Beethovenian humanity, his sunny disposition and heart full of love. Bright rays of sunshine can be glimpsed during the piano sonata. The contrast emphasises the severity of the tragedy.

Appassionata is a touchstone of the sublime in art as understood by Kant. It seems to portray something overwhelming, something that transcends the limits of understanding. But the very act of trying makes us discover in ourselves a growing capability to imagine and conceive something bigger than ourselves. This growth gives us the experience of tragic grandeur.


Appassionata is one of the most frequently recorded pieces of music. To my layman's ears the interpretations sound highly variable. I even suspect that familiarity breeds contempt. It is possible to play Appassionata with an assured surface sheen, but underneath lie treasures that open possibilities to highly personal expression. Mostly I listened to the interpretation of Stephen Kovacevich, which is very fine, indeed. Daniel Barenboim and András Schiff offer interpretations that are powerful, nuanced and personal. I was a bit puzzled by the recordings of Edwin Fischer and Rudolf Serkin that I heard. Arthur Rubinstein sounded like rushing to judgment. Robert Casadesus starts very well, but the finale sounds like he tries to break speed records. At the other extreme is Glenn Gould who hated Appassionata and recorded a parodistic, ponderous version in slow motion. His first movement takes 15 minutes (Kovacevich plays it in 10 minutes), etc.

Discussing his piano sonatas No. 17 and No. 23 Beethoven reportedly referred to William Shakespeare's The Tempest, and subsequently No. 17 has often been called Der Sturm / The Tempest / La Tempête. Beethoven's mention may be apocryphal, but it makes sense with the dream / reality dynamics of the sonata No. 17. Shakespeare's The Tempest is not a tragedy, and neither is Beethoven's piano sonata No. 17. But Appassionata is a tragedy, and I would rather propose Macbeth as a point of reference.

Friday, October 02, 2020



Zaida Bergroth: Tove (2020) starring Alma Pöysti (Tove Jansson).

Zaida Bergroth: Tove (1920) starring Alma Pöysti (Tove Jansson). Photo: Tommi Hynynen / Helsinki-filmi.

Signe Hammarsten-Jansson (1882–1970) with her daughter Tove Jansson. Photo © Tove Jansson’s estate. From:

Viktor Jansson (1886–1958): A Girl's Head [Tove Jansson (1914–2001], 1920, marble, 32 cm. Private collection. Photo: Valtion taidemuseo / Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto / Kokoelma Viktor Jansson. I discovered this bust at Retretti, 2011, at the Artist Couples retrospective curated by Riitta Konttinen. Included were both the couple Signe Hammarsten-Jansson & Viktor Jansson and Tove Jansson & Tuulikki Pietilä. I haven't seen this bust since Retretti. It features prominently in the motion picture Tove.

FI/SE © 2020 Helsinki-filmi / Anagram Sverige. P: Andrea Reuter, Aleksi Bardy.
    D: Zaida Bergroth. SC: Eeva Putro – from a story by Eeva Putro, Jarno Elonen. DP: Linda Wassberg. PD: Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth. AD: Tony Alfström, Christer Hongisto, Juha-Matti Toppinen. Lighting design: Micke Nyström. Cost: Eugen Tamberg. Makeup: Riikka Virtanen. SFX: KFX Finland. VFX (Paris): Antoine Simkine. VFX (Post Control): Tuomo Hintikka. M: Matti Bye. S: Micke Nyström. ED: Samu Heikkilä. Intimacy coordinator: Pia Rickman.
    C: Alma Pöysti (Tove Jansson), Krista Kosonen (Vivica Bandler), Shanti Roney (Atos Wirtanen), Joanna Haarti (Tuulikki Pietilä), Kajsa Ernst (Signe "Ham" Jansson), Robert Enckell (Viktor "Faffan" Jansson), Jakob Öhrman (Sam Vanni), Eeva Putro (Maya Vanni / London).
    With: Wilhelm Enckell (Lars "Lasse" Jansson), Liisi Tandefelt (landlady), Emma Klingenberg (Maj-Lis Wirtanen), Juhana Ryynänen (Bruno Frank, Maj-Lis's lover), Henrik Wolff (chairman of the grant committee), Dick Idman (Erik von Frenckell), Simon Häger (Kurt Bandler), Saga Sarkola (actor at Studentteatern), Lidia Taavitsainen (Irja Koskinen), Paavo Järvenpää (Göran Schildt), Oskar Pöysti (Snusmumriken / Snufkin), Iida Kuningas (Tofslan / Thingumy), Heli Hyttinen (Vifslan), Fabian Silén (Rådd-djuret / The Muddler), Willehard Korander (Mumintrollet / Moomintroll), Andrea Reuter (journalist), Jonathan Hutchins (Sutton, editor of Evening News), Sara Soulié (Coco).
    In Swedish and some French, English and Finnish.
    116 min
    Festival premiere: 9 Sep 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.
    Premiere: 2 Oct 2020, distributed by Oy Nordisk Film Ab with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila / Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski.
    International sales: LevelK.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi isense with Dolby Atmos, Helsinki, 2 Oct 2020.

AA: There has been a gross neglect of great women in Finnish biopics, and it is welcome and long overdue that the situation is now being straightened with high profile movies such as Helene (on Helene Schjerfbeck), Aalto (giving equal credit to Aino and Alvar Aalto) and Tove. A vast source of great drama could also be found for example in the stories of the world's first female members of parliament, the heroic 19 who were elected in 1907 in Finland.

Cinema was important for Tove Jansson (1914–2001) who was a film buff, a Francophile and a Rive Gauche habituée. She had even been conceived in Paris. As an art student in the mid-1930s she was a regular at the Filmistudio Projektio film society together with her then boyfriend Sam Vanni, later a pioneer of Finnish abstract art. There they were able to absorb films by Léger, Cocteau, Buñuel, Dalí, et al.

The world knows Tove Jansson as the creator of the Moomin characters, but the daughter of an artist family was versatile during a professional career that spanned from 1928 until 1998. She was a painter of still lifes, landscapes, portraits, murals, altarpieces, glass paintings, surrealist visions and abstractions, a drawer, a caricaturist, a cartoonist, a comic strip artist, an illustrator, an author of picture books, short stories, novels, memoirs, travel stories, stage plays, opera librettoes, poems and songs. She designed book cover art, postcards, invitations, posters and advertisements. She also loved music: she sang, played instruments, danced and wrote some of the best-loved lyrics of Finland such as "Höstvisa" ["The Autumn Song"] composed by Erna Tauro. In 1929–1944 Jansson was also a contributor of 600 caricatures to the Garm magazine dedicated to political satire, lambasting both Hitler and Stalin.

The range of Jansson's achievements has been covered in outstanding biographies such as Boel Westin's Tove Jansson – ord, bild och liv (2007) and Tuula Karjalainen's Tove Jansson: tee työtä ja rakasta (2013). In an exhibition her many sides were on full display for the first time during her centenary in 2014 at the Finnish National Gallery at Ateneum. We learned that she was a complete professional and early on one of the family breadwinners. Her father Viktor Jansson, one of Finland's finest sculptors, was being left in the shadow of Wäinö Aaltonen. Her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson became the main breadwinner because of her office at the State Bank-Note Printery, where she designed for instance postage stamps. She is still one of the most remarkable graphic artists in the history of Finland.

For Tove Jansson, life, love and work belonged together: her life was a combination of a hard work ethos and a Bohemian party abandon. The director Zaida Bergroth has home field advantage in creating a film about an artist family; her mother is Marjatta Tapiola, one of Finland most highly regarded painters. The ambience in the artists' home ateliers and theatre rehearsals seems genuine and lived in. The mise-en-scène, the cinematography (by Linda Wassberg), the production design (by Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth) and the lighting (by Micke Nyström), are sensitively creative. We  breathe the air and share the sunlight of Tove Jansson in the heart of Helsinki (her atelier, now a private museum, is in the heart of the city on Ullanlinnankatu 1), in Paris and by the sea. The production values are high, the budget was one of the biggest in Finnish cinema, and it is all up there on the screen.

A film like this stands or falls by the performance of the leading actress. Alma Pöysti has a distinguished theatre career in Helsinki, Stockholm, Uppsala and Göteborg. She has many supporting film roles and television work under her belt, and in Tove she debuts in a leading role in a theatrical film. She succeeds wonderfully. Tove Jansson would love Pöysti's vivid and irreverent interpretation. She is like quicksilver, but there is always a core of confidence. Tove Jansson appears both as a Bohemian and a shrewd businesswoman, taught to perseverance since the Great Depression.

Also Alma Pöysti has home field advantage. Her grandfather Lasse Pöysti and grandmother Birgitta Ulfsson played the Moomin Troll and the Moomin Mamma during many decades, also in the first (1969) television series based on Tove Jansson's fairytales. The series was written by Tove and Lars Jansson, directed by Vivica Bandler and Ulla Berglund, and the many popular songs were composed by Erna Tauro. Bandler had given Pöysti the biggest opportunity of his life by engaging him in 1955 into her Lilla Teatern.

On screen, Alma Pöysti is now delivering something more substantial than before. There is depth and complexity, but also wild anarchy, conveyed with subtle gestures and unobtrusive eye movements. The art of the close-up is something in which Zaida Bergroth excels. If Ingmar Bergman were alive, he would relish this wonderful and original performance. He might also enjoy the delightful "play in the play" sequences: staging Sartre's La Putain respectueuse / Den respektfulla skökan in Helsinki in 1948 at the Swedish Theatre – and the first Tove Jansson dramatization, Mumintrollet och kometen / Comet in Moominland in 1949.

Krista Kosonen, a great presence on the Finnish stage, screen and television, has been expanding her scope in playing a show dancer (in Zaida Bergroth's Miami), a dominatrix (in Dogs Wear No Pants) and now Vivica Bandler (1917–2004), a grande dame of the Finnish theatre, a great avantgardist and an open-minded director, manager and mentor of young talent. She was also an irrepressible bisexual, and she woke up Tove Jansson to love between women. Homosexuality was criminalized in Finland until 1971 and classified as an illness until 1981, and only exceptional people carried on openly. Krista Kosonen interprets the role with great willpower and stamina, but at times there is a slight feeling of cruising on autopilot.

The forbidden love between women finds an expression in a secret language that also inspires Tove Jansson's Moomin tales. There is something vampiric in Vivica Bandler that Tove finds offputting, but they carry on until Tove finds the love of her life in the fellow artist Tuulikki Pietilä (1917–2009).

Also in her previous film, Maria's Paradise, Bergroth presented a study of a "vampiric" woman (the charismatic preacher Maria Åkerblom played by Pihla Viitala) and nice, malleable women caught in her circle (Salome played by Satu Tuuli Karhu and Malin interpreted by Saga Sarkola). Even Miami was based on the fatal attraction of a central woman: Angela (Kosonen) is at first naively admired by her little sister Anna (Sonja Kuittinen), but it is Anna who turns out to be the more ruthless criminal.

Kosonen had an important role also in Helene, as Schjerfbeck's best friend Helena Westermarck, a memorable study of friendship between women. Kosonen seems to need no effort to portray a character with a big heart, but asked to explore the dark side her performance remains studied.

Martina Moliis-Mellberg in her review in Finland's leading Swedish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet pays attention to the many accents in the movie. Swedish is the main language of almost all protagonists. We hear Swedish as the first language of a Finn (Alma Pöysti), Swedish Swedish (Shanti Roney) and Swedish as the second language of a Finn (Krista Kosonen). In the cinema, such things happen all the time, and one gets used to it. I think it's most important to find the best actor for the part. It takes a Visconti to achieve a dubbing that is superior to the actor's own voice. Certainly it is Krista Kosonen who is under the greatest pressure language-wise.

Tove is the first feature film screenplay credit by Eeva Putro, a bright and original presence as an actress since 13 years, also a director of a short film of talent, Rakastuneita naisia / Women in Love (2014). She gives also a wonderful performance as Maya Vanni, the wife of Sam Vanni, both Tove's lifelong friends. In Tove's centenary exhibition I was startled to discover a portrait of Maya painted in Paul Gauguin's Tahiti style. I happened to know Maya Vanni in her last years in Helsinki before she moved to Jerusalem, and I felt a pleasant familiarity in Eeva Putro's interpretation. The Jewish dimension in the Vanni connection was significant for Tove, an outspoken and early anti-Fascist. In Hollywood she would have been called "a premature anti-Fascist". Let's notice here also that Erna Tauro belonged to a distinguished Jewish musical family.

Tove is the first film in which I pay attention to the presence of an "intimacy coordinator" in the credits. I don't think it is her fault, but there is such a feeling of embarrassment in the intimate scenes that I would prefer the film without them. They don't ring true, and they are not necessary. Ernst Lubitsch and Mae West were able to convey everything without showing anything. Intimate scenes were more affecting in Maria's Paradise and Women in Love.

Among the delicious performances is also Liisi Tandefelt's as the long-suffering landlady of Tove Jansson, the struggling Bohemian, always behind in the rent. The landlady's walls are already covered with Tove's paintings. Then comes the editor of the Evening News, the biggest newspaper of the world in the 1950s. The Moomin comics are bought for global syndication, and Tove's days of financial hardship are over. "I hope you have not done anything lawless" says the landlady upon receiving a huge wad of bills. "Only with my artistic integrity", replies Tove.

The most important decision in the screenplay was limiting the time-frame to the years 1944–1956, the period of Tove Jansson's international breakthrough and her personal development to same-sex love. The film begins during the last days of Finland's war against the Soviet Union in 1944. The people of Helsinki are hiding in bomb shelters. The genesis of the Moomin world had taken place during Finland's Winter War in 1939–1940, but the full blossoming happened only after WWII. While watching Nadezhda Kosheverova's Zolushka / Cinderella (1947) in Bologna a month ago I was thinking that there was an exceptional demand for children's fiction during the post-war "baby boom". Undoubtedly this special atmosphere also contributed to the happy reception of Tove Jansson's Moomin world.

Men are marginal. Viktor Jansson participated in Finland's Civil War in 1918, also in the notoriously bloody Battle of Tampere. He was only 32 when he came back, but the horrors of the war marked the family for years to come. "This is no ordinary war", Viktor had written home in March 1918, "but far worse. There is no quarter". Viktor, the smiling, handsome artist with a glimpse in his eye, was a changed man, withdrawn, gloomy, almost never laughing. In the film, he never gives Tove credit. After Viktor's death, there is a deeply moving sequence in which Tove receives the bust he sculpted of her as a child (see above) and a big folder of carefully cultivated clippings of her entire career.

Tove's last male lover Atos Wirtanen (1906–1979), the socialist intellectual, writer and pacifist, is portrayed mainly as an indecisive drifter, trapped in triangle circumstances. It is difficult for a male viewer to relate to male characters in Tove. Perhaps this is how female viewers experience films all the time.

Before the end credits there is a brief glimpse of Tove's home movies and a sample of her own expressive voice.