Sunday, June 13, 2021

Eatnameamet – min jaskes dáistaleapmi / Eatnameamet – Our Silent Struggle

Suvi West: Eatnameamet – min jaskes dáistaleapmi / Eatnameamet – Our Silent Struggle (FI 2021).

Suvi West: Eatnameamet – min jaskes dáistaleapmi / Eatnameamet – Our Silent Struggle (FI 2021). A goldmine in Vuotso. Photo: Anssi Kömi.

The director Suvi West. Photo: Linda Tammela / Yle

Eatnameamet – hiljainen taistelumme / Eatnameamet – Vår tysta kamp.
    FI 2021. PC: Vaski Filmi Oy / Ltd. P: Janne Niskala.
    D+SC: Doavtter-Piera Suvi Máret = Suvi West. Cin: Anssi Kömi – colour – 2.35:1 – 4K. M: Anthoni Hætta. S: Pekka Aikio – D-Cinema 48kHz 5.1 RCA Sound Recording. ED: Markus Leppälä.
    Soundtrack selections: "Diamanta Spállit" (comp. Mari Boine, Svein Schultz, lyr. Karen Anne Buljo) perf. Mari Boine, "Protest Yoik" (comp. trad., lyr. Oula Näkkäläjärvi) perf. Aillohaš (Nils-Aslak Valkeapää) and ČSV-sámit, "Sámi soga lávlla"(comp. Arne Sørli, lyr. Isak Saba) perf. Dimitri Joavku.
    Featuring: Aslak Holmberg, Petra Lahti, Tiina Sanila-Alkio, Tomi Guttorm, Anneriston Juuso (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), Maarit Paltio, Kaarin Lehtonen, Tiovo West, Arvi Hagelin, Tuomas-Aslak Juuso, Risten Mustonen, Magreta Sara, Ida-Maria Helander, Pekka Alkio, Ristenrauna Magga, Juha Guttorm, Sampo Terho, Taija Kaartokallio, Anni-Sofia Niittyvuopio, Enni Similä, Vuokko Tieva-Niittyvuopio, Antti Katekeetta, Mika Alkio, Anne Kalmari, Veikko Riitamäki, Aulis Nordberg, Markku Eestilä, Petra Biret Magga-Varis, Inkerimarja Katarina Hetta, Riitta Lönnström, Pirkka Hartikainen, Antti Äärelä, Jouni Alakorva, Neeta Jääskö, Anne Nuorgam, Anne Olli, Maren Benedicta Nystad Storslett, Jussa Seurijärvi, Nils-Heaika Valkeapää, Uula-Petteri Sorrby, Leo Alkio, Suvi Niittyvuopio-Nieminen, Gollerássi Kindergarten children.
    Loc: Lapland (Inari, Utsjoki, Teno River), Helsinki, New York (The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues).
    Languages: Northern Sami, Finnish, Swedish, English.
    74 min
    Festival premiere: 30 Jan 2021 Docpoint (online)
    Wide premiere (postponed due to the pandemic): 19 May 2021 – distributed by PEK (Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus) with Finnish subtitles by Janne Kauppila. There were pre-release screenings all over the country during the spring.
    Helsinki corona emergency security: max 10 capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    In the presence of Suvi West, Anssi Kömi and Impact Producer Emmi Nuorgam, hosted by Juha Elomäki.
    Press screening at Finnkino Tennispalatsi 2, Helsinki, 17 Feb 2021 at 10 am.

    The Northern Sami title Eatnameamet means "Our Land".

Lydia Taylerson (DocPoint 2021): "The Sámi are Europe’s only remaining indigenous people, who reside in the northernmost regions of the Nordic countries, including Finland. Their existence is tied to their language, traditional knowledge and relationship to the land, which they nurture so that it may someday sustain the future generations of Sámi yet to come. However, in the midst of this serene landscape howls a series of broken rights, laws, and injustices as the Sámi are time and time again caught under the foot of the Finnish government and the state’s economy-driven policies."

"Suvi West’s Eatnameamet takes a swing at these injustices through a series of themes that each represent a significant element to the Sámi in one way or another. The topics, such as language, ownership and power, are each explored through opinions and discussions amongst Sámi, sometimes in quiet chats along a forest stroll, other times roared through a megaphone at a climate change rally."

"Eatnameamet walks a precarious line, balancing between an intimately heavy topic of a struggling nation, with sweeping panoramas of the landscapes in the heart of the Sámi homeland, where reindeers roam amongst the rolling fells and flowing rivers.
" Lydia Taylerson

AA: Suvi West's Eatnameamet is an exceptionally important film, an engaged film, a partisan film, and a collective cry of distress on behalf of the Sámi people.

It forces me to confess that I have understood little of the complexity and the gravity of the Sámi situation. I am writing these blog notes in the middle of June, five months after seeing the movie in a press screening. I have needed time to digest the serious charges pursued in the movie.

In the production notes, the film-makers refer to the Sámi as "the only indigenous people in the EU" which is perhaps not accurate, since also the Basques and the Sorbis live in the EU.

The Sámi people live in the Far North of Europe by the Arctic Ocean on a wide territory that is today divided into Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. My grand-uncle Väinö Oinonen (1897–1975), a lieutenant general and a botanist, commander in Lapland in the Lapland War and after in 1944–1947, was named by the Sámi people as a honorary poroisäntä (lord of the reindeer) in the Farthest North ("the Arm" of Finnish Lapland). He wrote two interesting books on Lapland, Kolmen valtakunnan Kota-Lappia (1947 ["The Goathi Lapland Across Three States"]) and Lapin yliperällä (1964 ["In the Farthest North of Lapland"]). As a botanist and a natural scientist he observed species there that were unique in Europe but also appeared in the Far East by the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea. Oinonen entertained the hypothesis that not only plant and animal species, but perhaps even Sámi people might have survived the Ice Age thanks to the Gulf Stream.

Be that as it may, we live in an age in which we are learning to grasp the bitter and uncomfortable truth that we, the liberal and enlightened Nordic people, also have our Colonial past, and it is not even past.

We have robbed the Sámi people of their way of living, their culture, and their language. We have indulged in demeaning stereotypes and clichés. The images may have been well-meaning, like those of the Inuit and the Native Americans, but we have done great injustice in insensitive cultural appropriation of the Sámi dresses, dances, and other traditions ("the fake gákti").

The fight goes on concerning land property rights, rights regarding language, and threats to the culture. The UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a firm background. But there are grave issues, including non-Sámi people infiltrating into their self-administration organs.

Huge developments are becoming existential for the Sámi. The Arctic Railway would destroy the remaining circumstances of the Sámi nomadland. Massive mining projects would rape the landscape of Lapland and transform it into an Anthropocene. Mass tourism with its ever-increasing holiday paradise plans – and the accompanying mass littering, garbage and waste – are spoiling Lapland. What is being destroyed in a year will take thousands of years to recover.

Essential issues are profoundly philosophical. The term "property" does not mean the same for Sámi. For the Sámi, everything we have is on loan only.

Eatnameamet sounds an urgent alarm bell about the fate of the Sámi. As directed by Suvi West, this multi-dimensional documentary film is a rallying cry and a passionate plea for justice, putting its hope in the work of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Friday, June 11, 2021

Get Out

Jordan Peele: Get Out (US 2019) starring Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington.

Get Out / Get Out .
    US © 2019 Universal Studios. PC: Blumhouse Productions / QC Entertainment. P: Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele.
    D+SC: Jordan Peele. DP: Toby Oliver – colour – 2.39:1 – source format: CFast 2.0 – ProRes 4444 (3.2K) – master format: 2K. PD: Rusty Smith. AD: Chris Craine. Set dec: Leonard R. Spears. Cost: Nadine Haders. Makeup: Remi Savva. Hair: Voni Hinkle, Carl Variste (Fairhope). SFX: Ryan Cox. VFX: Ingenuity Studios. M: Michael Abels. S: Trevor Gates. ED: Gregory Plotkin. Casting: Terri Taylor.
    CAST (copied from Wikipedia):
Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington
Zailand Adams as 11-year-old Chris
Allison Williams as Rose Armitage
Bradley Whitford as Dean Armitage
Caleb Landry Jones as Jeremy Armitage
Stephen Root as Jim Hudson
Lakeith Stanfield as Andre Hayworth / Logan King
Catherine Keener as Missy Armitage
Lil Rel Howery as TSA Agent Rod Williams, Chris's best friend
Erika Alexander as Detective Latoya
Marcus Henderson as Walter
Betty Gabriel as Georgina
Richard Herd as Roman Armitage
Keegan-Michael Key as NCAA Prospect
Writer-director Jordan Peele voices the sounds made by the wounded deer, and narrates a UNCF commercial.
[NCAA = National Collegiate Athletic Association, UNCF = United Negro College Fund, TSA = Transport Security Administration].
    Loc: Alabama, USA.
    104 min
    Festival premiere: 23 Jan 2017 Sundance Film Festival
    US and Canada premiere: 24 Feb 2017
    Finnish premiere: 5 May 2017, released by Finnkino.
    Blu-ray edition (Universal 2018) with 14 subtitles, bonus features and commentary tracks.
    Blu-ray viewed at home with English subtitles on a 4K tv set in Lappeenranta, 11 June 2021.

AA: In his debut feature film, Jordan Peele rises to the stratosphere of Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski and David Lynch.

Get Out belongs to the horror film's new wave that started around 2014 and on which Jason Zineman wrote an insightful essay, "Home Is Where the Horror Is" in The New York Times. I have seen too few of these films, but among the ones I have seen, Get Out stands out.

Zineman observes that many new wave horror films proceed in the context of the family, the house, and the home. The concept of "the uncanny" ("das Unheimliche"), developed by Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud, inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann and F. W. J. Schelling is particularly rewarding in discussing these films.

Jordan Peele introduces a new disturbing angle to the uncanny. There is a family, a house, and a home here, too, in the familiar literal meaning. But Get Out is also about the United States as a home, a homeland, a motherland. In Get Out, the United States appears as a horror movie from the Black point of view.


Starting from the first shot Jordan Peele creates an irresistible tension and drive. Get Out bears the hallmark of the best horror movies of a genuine feeling of a compelling inner urge, an ability to reach beyond consciousness and awareness.

In the beginning there are situations like in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Meet the Parents. A liberal, unprejudiced family who would have voted Obama for a third term. But nothing is what it seems.

The hypnosis sequences are extraordinary. The mind trip leads Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to a "sunken place". Another anthology piece is the bingo lottery, in which the winner is the blind art dealer Jim Hudson. The prize is Chris, master photographer.

There are aspects of Donovan's Brain, Seconds, Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives in the story, but Jordan Peele's touch is original and irresistible. As a horror movie, Get Out delivers, and Peele excels both in memorable detail and the profound subtext. The moments of shock are organic to the whole.


Saturday, June 05, 2021

Wonder Wheel

Woody Allen: Wonder Wheel (US 2017) starring Kate Winslet as Ginny Rannell.

Wonder Wheel / Wonder Wheel.
    US © 2017 Gravier Productions, Inc. Amazon Studios present in association with Gravier Productions – A Perdido Production. P: Erika Aronson, Letty Aronson, Edward Walson.
    D+SC: Woody Allen. Cin: Vittorio Storaro – color (ACES) – 2.00:1 – source formats: F55 RAW 4K, F65 RAW 4K – master format: 4K – release: D-Cinema. PD: Santo Loquasto. AD: Miguel López-Castillo. Set dec: Regina Graves. Cost: Suzy Benzinger. Makeup: Stacey Panepinto. Hair: Jerry Popolis. SFX: Mike Myers [IX]. VFX: Glenn Allen (visual effects producer: Brainstorm Digital). No original score music. Soundtrack listing: beyond the jump break. S: Robert Hein. ED: Alisa Lepselter. Casting: Patricia DiCerto.
    C from Wikipedia:
Kate Winslet as Ginny Rannell, Humpty's wife and Richie's mother and Carolina's stepmother
Juno Temple as Carolina Rannell, Humpty's grown daughter from his first marriage
Justin Timberlake as Mickey Rubin, a lifeguard and the film's narrator
Jim Belushi as Humpty Rannell, a recovering alcoholic, Ginny's husband, Carolina's father, and Richie's stepfather
Jack Gore as Richie Rannell, Ginny's young son
Tony Sirico as Angelo, a gangster
Steve Schirripa as Nick, a gangster
Debi Mazar as birthday party guest
Thomas Guiry as flirtatious man at Ruby's
Max Casella as Ryan, Humpty's fishing buddy
David Krumholtz as Jake, Mickey's friend
    Filming dates: 15 Sep – 28 Oct 2016.
    Loc: Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park (Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City). New York, Staten Island.
    Typeface: Windsor Light Condensed.
    101 min
    The Wonder Wheel in the film is the actual Coney Island Wonder Wheel. Opened in 1920, it has been designated as an official New York landmark and is still in operation a hundred years later.
    Festival premiere: 14 Oct 2017 New York Film Festival.
    US premiere: 1 Dec 2017 (limited), 15 Dec 2017 (wide).
    Finnish premiere: 29 Dec 2017, released by Finnkino.
    Dvd released in 2019 by Scanbox / Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Nordic & Baltics AB with Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish subtitles, Finnish subtitles by Jaana Wiik.
    Dvd borrowed from Helsinki City Library, Rikhardinkatu Library.
    Dvd viewed at home in Lappeenranta on a 4K tv screen, 6 June 2021.
Woody Allen belongs to the film-makers from whom I want to see everything. Today I finally caught up with Wonder Wheel, an amazing and brilliant look at illusion and reality in romantic dreams and everyday family life, all reflected in the make-believe world of an amusement park at Coney Island. I usually take copious notes while watching a film, but Wonder Wheel is so engrossing and engaging that it took me quite a while before I was able to start.

No director in the history of the cinema has had more superb casts than Allen. In Wonder Wheel I believe all four leading actors appear in his film for the first time. Like Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart previously, Kate Winslet gets an opportunity to create something new, different and great. Winslet's performance as Ginny is quietly disturbing. It is a subtle study of a woman whose talent has been repressed and wasted. Winslet's ability to convey profound currents via silence and immobility is memorable in a similar fashion in her wonderful performance in Ammonite.

Jim Belushi is cast against type as the recovering alcoholic husband Humpty. Belushi creates a complex persona, capable of both terrible injustice and tenderness. Juno Temple is appealing as Humpty's daughter Carolina who is in trouble with the mob, having informed to the FBI ("I know where all the bodies are buried").

Justin Timberlake as the young lifeguard Mickey provides both beefcake and a direct address discourse on the essence of tragedy (his dream is to become a great playwright like Eugene O'Neill). The athletic dreamboat, the confident and assured Mickey is the direct opposite to Allen's typical schlemiel protagonist. Mickey belongs to a lineage including Jean-Pierre Aumont in Lac aux dames and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.

Wonder Wheel provides both escapism and an exposé of escapism. It is based on clichés but goes beyond them, revealing both the truth and the deception of clichés. Love is a dream that can become reality. Dream can help us survive reality, or it can prevent us from facing reality. In all main characters we see both sides: a talent for love, and a temptation for self-deception.

Wonder Wheel is in an unusual way a study in tragedy, as lectured by Mickey: we sense the capacity to grandeur, but there is a fatal weakness in each character. With Ginny, it's infidelity, with Humpty, alcohol, with Carolina, naivety, and with Mickey, philandering. Associations run to Phaedra and Desire Under the Elms.

Most prominently, Wonder Wheel is a tragedy of jealousy in which both mother (Ginny) and (Humpty's) daughter (Carolina) love the same young man (Mickey). Let's observe the beautiful account of the romance between a mature woman and a young man. The affair is wonderful as long as it lasts, but Mickey is not ready to commit. He is still immature. There is nothing cynical or facile in the way their story is told.

After Café Society, Wonder Wheel is Allen's second digitally captured movie and his second collaboration with master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. Allen and Storaro again use glossy digital unreality as a means of expression. The magic world, the make-believe, has interested Allen for a long time in films including The Purple Rose of Cairo, Shadows and Fog, Sweet and Lowdown, and Scoop. Here the digitally enhanced gorgeous visual approach is both enchanting and tragic in its shallowness.

A similar naive dream-world is evoked on the film's wonderful soundtrack, consisting solely of Allen's beloved vintage popular records, with titles such as "Coney Island Washboard" and "Kiss of Fire" (sung by Georgia Gibbs). The soundtrack provides an unusual background to tragedy.

Café Society took place in Hollywood and the high end nightclub scene of New York. The dramatis personae of Wonder Wheel belong to the working class and hard-working small enterpreneurs. Woody Allen views their life with affection and empathy.


Having seen the film I had a look at some of the reviews, by critics I most highly respect. I am sure they will regret those reviews more bitterly than anything they have ever done in their lives. They are documents of infinite shame to the profession of film criticism. Having read them I felt physically ill and did not sleep well.

I believe in fair play. Bless you Woody Allen, please never stop making films.

I am a Me Too partisan dal primo giorno. It's a world historical movement. False accusations and boycotts can damage it greatly. This is only the beginning, and the watchword must be justice.


Wednesday, June 02, 2021

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Lee Daniels: The United States vs. Billie Holiday (US 2021) starring Andra Day.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday / The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
    US 2021 © 2020 Billie Holiday Film. Hulu Presents – a Hulu original – in association with New Slate Ventures. P: Lee Daniels, Jordan Fudge, Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Pamela Oas Williams, Tucker Tooley. A Lee Daniels Film. A Lee Daniels Entertainment Production. A Roth-Kirschenbaum Films Production.
    D: Lee Daniels. SC: Suzan-Lori Parks – based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015) by Johann Hari. DP: Andrew Dunn – negative: 35 mm, some scenes 16 mm – master format: 4K – release format: D-Cinema. PD: Daniel T. Dorrance. AD: Félix Larivière-Charron. Set dec: Geneviève Bolvin, Elise de Blois. Cost: Paolo Nieddu.
    [M: Billie Holiday, n.c.]. M: Kris Bowers. Executive M producer: Salaam Remi. Executive M producer for Unigram: Amanda Ghost. M supervisor: Lynn Fainchtein.
    Soundtrack listing: beyond the jump break.
    S: Robert Hein. ED: Jay Rabinowitz.
    CAST from Wikipedia:
Andra Day as Billie Holiday
Trevante Rhodes as Jimmy Fletcher
Garrett Hedlund as Harry J. Anslinger
Leslie Jordan as Reginald Lord Devine
Miss Lawrence as Miss Freddy
Adriane Lenox as Mrs. Fletcher
Natasha Lyonne as Tallulah Bankhead
Rob Morgan as Louis McKay
Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Roslyn
Evan Ross as Sam Williams
Tyler James Williams as Lester Young
Tone Bell as John Levy
Blake DeLong as Agent Carter
Dana Gourrier as Sadie Fagan
Melvin Gregg as Joe Guy
Erik LaRay Harvey as Monroe
Ray Shell as Carl the Drummer
    130 min
    US release: 26 Feb 2021 (Hulu).
    Finnish release: 2 July 2021 (theatrical) by Finnkino with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Charlotte Elo.
    Corona security: max 10 capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at a press screening at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 2 June 2021.

AA: Cinemas in Helsinki are still suffering from the regional lockdown restriction of max 10 capacity, and they are all closed save a few intrepid independents such as Kino Engel. Last weekend cinemas in Lappeenranta opened for a capacity of 20, and on 4 June they open for full capacity. Finnkino theatres in all of Finland will be open by 11 June, in Helsinki for what seems like max 10 capacity but might turn out to be higher.

During the lockdown, I have been very grateful for press screenings.

I admire the high quality of movie access online. I have no complaints. But more than ever I have realized the superiority of the movie experience in a cinema. I have traditionally shunned press screenings because the audience experience in them is so twisted. Nobody laughs if it the film is a comedy or if the scene is humoristic, etc. The worst are gala screenings in the presence of film-makers. I am instantly tuned into a mood of courtesy and cannot sincerely assess the movie because I root so much for the film-makers whose hard work I respect. Regarding Aki Kaurismäki's The Other Side of Hope I remember the icy atmosphere at the gala premiere and the warm flow the day after at Cinema Orion when we screened a 35 mm print for a dedicated audience at Cinema Orion. It was a different film.

During the pandemic I have savoured press screenings. The warmth, the reactions, the atmosphere, the laughter and the pheromones of the audience are gone. Films are often about sex and violence, they bypass reason and reach to our unconscious, even to our "reptilian brain", unleashing a potent hormone cocktail into the atmosphere of the cinema. None of that this time. But during the pandemic the safety and the distancing of the cinemas have been very relaxing, whether in Helsinki, Lappeenranta or Bologna.

Watching The United States vs. Billie Holiday in a press screening for max ten viewers is a more meditative experience than a normal cinema screening would be. This is a movie about sex and violence. This is a movie about drugs and jazz. This is a political film about racism, repression and fighting for your rights. The subject is potentially scandalous and sensational, but although the film is highly charged and passionate, it is tempered by intelligence. It is a film of outrage, but the main thrust is to make us think.

It is a top production, independently financed outside the mainstream. The strong screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks was inspired by Johann Hari's non-fiction book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, its chapters on the film's two protagonists: Billie Holiday and Harry J. Anslinger, First Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

The saga of Billie Holiday could easily fall into the "rise and fall" formula of artist biopics. But Johann Hari and Suzan-Lori Parks select an unusual angle into the theme of drug addiction: "the War on Drugs" as a key instrument in racist oppression and violence. Black artists seek solace from drugs to alleviate pain from racist violence. But drug addiction exposes them to a circle of crime and punishment. They become extra vulnerable to the structural violence of the society.

Although Billie Holiday was dealt an abysmally bad hand, she rose to superstardom and created one of the most recognizable idioms in 20th century culture. More than that, she did not compromise, and became a pioneer of the civil rights movement by singing her signature song "Strange Fruit" about lynching.

The key dynamics in The United States vs. Billie Holiday is about the singer's defiant civil rights stance and the government's war on Billie Holiday. It is not a surprise that the FBI and the FBN are after her, but, shockingly, they manage to infiltrate Holiday's nearest and dearest to try to suppress her and even plant drugs on her. They succeed with her husbands and managers, but when they send a double agent, Jimmy Fletcher, he switches sides. The drama is like from a paranoid Hollywood thriller but seems to be true.

The thrust of the film is that government agencies killed Billie Holiday, at least indirectly, but perhaps even directly. And this happened with the connivance of Holiday's inner circle. I'll be intrigued to learn more.

The movie is a tragedy, but it belongs to the lineage of Joe Hill ("I never died" says he). Those who harass Billie Holiday to death make her immortal. Her last lines in the movie are directed to Harry J. Anslinger:

" You think I'm going to stop singing that song. Your grandkids will be singing Strange Fruit. Y'all motherfuckers think you got something on me. You don't. You stupid bitches ain't got shit. Suck my black ass. "

This is a top production. The glamorous dresses are by Paolo Nieddu in collaboration with the House of Prada, the hairdos by Stacie Merriman and Charles Gregory Ross, and the makeup by Laini Thompson.

The cinematographer Andrew Dunn shoots on photochemical film, helping sustain a vibrant, physical feeling even in digital transfer.

The producer-director Lee Daniels succeeds in conveying an original vision of the legendary singer, different from Lady Sings the Blues (starring Diana Ross) and the recent portrait documentary Billie. He brings the bold screenplay to life uncompromisingly.

One of the hallmarks of Suzan-Lori Parks's screenplay is that it is structured intelligently around Billie Holiday's songs. Lee Daniels's major coup is casting the superb singer Andra Day in the leading role, followed by the decision of having her sing all the songs herself. (A similar decision was made in Lady Sings the Blues where Diana Ross interpreted the Billie Holiday songbook).

This is Andra Day's debut as an actor, and she is breathtaking in the extremely demanding part, completely different from her own persona. She is a fighter, an artist, outraged and outrageous, engrossing as a star presence. This movie becomes an Andra Day vehicle. She embodies the concept of "the triumph of the spirit" in tribute to Billie Holiday.

We don't hear Billie Holiday in this movie. For a while in the final song "All Of Me" I thought it was her but evidently I misunderstood.

A curious observation in the main credits of the Billie Holiday movies: the music credit in Lady Sings the Blues goes to Michel Legrand, in Billie to nobody, and in this one to Kris Bowers. In none is Billie Holiday credited for the music, except in soundtrack details.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a film of high quality. The traumatic scene in which the young Billie Holiday witnesses a scene of lynching is conveyed powerfully in a shared opium delirium by Billie with the double-agent-turned-lover Jimmy. Scenes of prostitution, domestic violence and police brutality are unvarnished and uncliched. On the other hand, Billie's atavistic and exceptional sex drive is memorably shown as a force of life. Frank sex scenes in movies almost invariably fail. Not here.

Perhaps to avoid sensationalism, Lee Daniels occasionally adopts a laid back approach, like putting on the break time and again. As a rule, the scenes with Billie Holiday are exciting and full of life. The FBN scenes are less convincing, which is a pity. They are built on the disturbing concept that the first Black Federal agents in the history of the US were assigned to infiltrate and betray fellow Blacks in the "War on Drugs". It gradually dawns on them that it is a codename for a war on Blacks.

The shared opium delirium in the heart of the narrative contains the unhealed trauma of Billie's memory of lynching. Another striking framing device is a radio interview session by the journalist Reginald Lord Devine played by Leslie Jordan in one of the most memorable non-binary performances in contemporary cinema. The twist is that he/she is just as clueless about Billie Holiday as everybody else.


Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Lasse Vairio: Delade drömmar / Shared Dreams

Lasse Vairio: Delade drömmar / Shared Dreams (FI 2021). A black and white photograph showing a cliff, the sun and a ship.

The artist Lasse Vairio was born in 1966 in Helsingfors.

FI 2021. Artist: Lasse Vairio. Single channel video, stereo sound, shot on 16 mm b&w print stock.
    23 min
    Kuvan kevät 2021: MFA Degree Show of the Academy of Fine Arts of Uniarts Helsinki.
    Exhibition Laboratory (C), Merimiehenkatu 36 C, 00150, Helsinki
    Viewed on 1 June 2021, with a meeting with Lasse Vairio.

Lasse Vairio:

" Något föll ned
Något gjorde ett märke i örat
Medan jag diskade en bottenlös kastrull

från väster till öster
(vänster till höger)
Mellan de höga tallarna
och ner i Havet

utan att stiga över tröskeln
håller jag andan
för att inte bli del av


" Something came down
something made a mark on my ear
while I was washing a bottomless saucepan

from the west to the east
(left to the right)
Between the tall pines
and down in the Sea

without climbing over the treshold
holding my breath
not to be part of 
" (Lasse Vairio)

AA: A lyrical poem, a personal film, a documentary journey of memory and free associations. Shared Dreams also belongs to the current of artists' films relevant to the philosophy of perception.

I enter in the middle, facing a terrain vague view that to me somehow evokes the opening of Georges Franju's Le Sang des bêtes or vacant spaces captured by Antonioni. It is a scene of emptiness, charged with mystery.

Memories include a caged child, an early humiliation by father. Time lapse footage catches a crescent Moon crossing the night sky. Several objects are imbued with what Andrei Tarkovsky called "sealed time", with affinities with the Japanese wabi sabi aesthetics.

The sky and the sea are major elements. Personally, I was reminded of my earliest childhood memories: the sky and the sea of the harbour city Vaasa. A child cannot make sense of bigger contexts and continuities, just the immediate experience of the elements. Jellyfish is examined in close-up.

A lighthouse is glimpsed, with a Fresnel lens such as was highlighted in Robert Eggers's The Lighthouse, and what I believe is a radar. We travel far North to the land of ice and mountains. We visit a construction site. We pause to meditate on estranged details of autumnal nature. Embers are glowing in a brief colour footage in a black and white film.

The non-stop screening proceeds to the terrain vague anew, and I start re-watching the film. The images now reveal new depth and density. This impressive, lyrical movie gains in strength when revisited.

The title of the film reminds me of Jean Cocteau's opening words in Le Testament d'Orphée:

« Le privilège du cinématographe, c'est qu'il permet à un grand nombre de personnes de rêver ensemble le même rêve."

" It is the film-maker's privilege to be able to allow a large number of people to dream the same dream together. "

The digital presentation succeeds in conveying the sensitivity of the photochemical 16 mm stock on which the film has been made.