Saturday, May 27, 2023

Les trois mousquetaires : D'Artagnan (2023) / The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan

Martin Bourboulon: Les trois mousquetaires : D'Artagnan / The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan.(FR/DE/ES/BE 2023). Above: Eva Green : Milady de Winter.
Center: Pio Marmaï : Porthos – Vincent Cassel : Athos – Romain Duris : Aramis.
Below: François Civil : D'Artagnan.

Kolme muskettisoturia: D'Artagnan / De tre musketörerna – D'Artagnan / The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan
    FR/DE/ES/BE 2023. PC: Chapter 2 (Mediawan) et Pathé Films. Co-PC: M6 Films, Constantin Film, ZDF, DeAPlaneta, Umedia. P: Dimitri Rassam
    D: Martin Bourboulon. SC: Alexandre de La Patellière, Matthieu Delaporte – d'après le roman Les trois mousquetaires (1844) d'Alexandre Dumas. Décors: Stéphane Taillasson. Cost: Thierry Delettre. M: Guillaume Roussel. Montage: Célia Lafite-Dupoint.
François Civil : D'Artagnan
Vincent Cassel : Athos
Romain Duris : Aramis
Pio Marmaï : Porthos
Eva Green : Milady de Winter
Lyna Khoudri : Constance Bonacieux
Patrick Mille : le comte de Chalais
Julien Frison : Gaston d'Orléans
Dominique Valadié : Marie de Médicis
Thibault Vinçon : Horace Saint Blancard
Gabriel Almaer : Benjamin de la Fère, frère d'Athos
Raynaldo Houy Delattre : le comte de Rochefort
Laurent Claret : De Monfort
Dominique Daguier : juge Tréville [pas clair]
Nicolas Vaude : juge Athos [pas clair]
Charlotte Ranson : Isabelle de Valcour
Stéphane Margot : un protestant, allié d'Athos
Louis Garrel : Louis XIII
Vicky Krieps : Anne d'Autriche / Queen Anne of Austria, Queen of France
Éric Ruf : le cardinal de Richelieu
Marc Barbé : le capitaine de Tréville
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (en) : le duc de Buckingham, George Villiers
    Loc: Île-de-France, Bretagne, les Hauts-de-France, Normandie, les Invalides, la cour du Louvre, la cathédrale de Meaux, le Château de Chantilly, Fontainebleau, Compiègne.
    Languages: French – with some English.
    Genre: Cape et épée.
    121 min
    Date de sortie France, Belgique, Suisse romande: 5 April 2023
    Finnish premiere 26 May 2023 – released by Nordisk Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Ilse Rönnberg / Charlotte Elo.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 27 May 2023.

" Du Louvre au Palais de Buckingham, des bas-fonds de Paris au siège de La Rochelle… Dans un Royaume divisé par les guerres de religion et menacé d’invasion par l’Angleterre, une poignée d’hommes et de femmes vont croiser leurs épées et lier leur destin à celui de la France. " (synopsis Unifrance)

AA: The Three Musketeers, a swashbuckling adventure entertainment, is grounded in broad outlines in the history of France.

The background is the great religious wars. The Thirty Years' War is raging in Europe in the year 1627 when the movie starts. France, led by the Bourbons, supports the war against the Holy Catholic Empire of the Habsburgs. Reformation has started a hundred years earlier, and a nadir of religious persecution, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, is remembered with shudder.

The persecution was stopped in the Edict of Nantes by Henry IV, France's first Bourbon king, the father of Louis XIII, himself the father of the future Sun King, Louis XIV. To fortify the nation against religious and regional divisiveness, all power is being centralized, in a development leading towards absolutism.

After the assassination of Henry IV by a Catholic fanatic, the queen, Marie de' Medici, becomes the regent, but her son Louis XIII takes over and reigns while keeping track on his mastermind, the prime minister genius, Cardinal Richelieu – and his own Queen Anne, who carries on with the enemy via her liaison with the Duke of Buckingham. When French Protestants pursue a separate republic inside the kingdom of France, England supports them. Richelieu disarms them and gets equipped to a decisive battle in La Rochelle.

Into this highly explosive hub of international political, religious and military intrigue, spiced with sexual tension, arrives the clumsy but fearless young hunk from the provinces, D'Artagnan, who wants to join the King's Musketeers. He commits every imaginable blunder but soon earns the grudging approval of the renowned Three Musketeers, being finally recognized as the Fourth Musketeer.

This is the tale we know from the novels of Alexandre Dumas and countless adaptations and references in other media, not least in the movies. My favourite D'Artagnan interpreter in the movies is Douglas Fairbanks, particularly in The Iron Mask (1929), one of the most extraordinary action adventure films ever made. I agree with those who say that Douglas Fairbanks was born to play D'Artagnan.

I have only good things to say about Richard Lester's Musketeers series. My French friends seem to prefer George Sidney's film adaptation starring Gene Kelly. It is fascinating that while Frenchmen have produced several memorable Monte Cristo film adaptations, the best Musketeer films seem to have been made by foreigners. Perhaps the subject is too familiar for Frenchmen?

Most Musketeer films have emphasized comedy, with Fairbanks's The Iron Mask among the exceptions. Martin Bourboulon's approach is also more serious and tragic, faithful to Dumas. A sense of humour is present, reverberating here on a darker foundation.

The screenwriters Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte have dramatized the adventure very well. Martin Bourboulon introduces the characters memorably and intertwines the private affairs with the epic turning-points deftly. Grandiose setpieces include the masked ball and the cancelled wedding of Gaston de France, the King's brother. Actual locations were used whenever possible, and the costumes seem authentic.

The cast is great. François Civil, Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris and Pio Marmaï project a convincing sense of camaraderie. In awareness of a widening perception of identity politics, Porthos is conveyed as bisexual. Eva Green as Milady de Winter, Vicky Krieps as Anne d'Autriche, Lyna Khoudri as Constance Bonacieux and Dominique Valadié as Marie de Médicis bring a formidable female presence to the male-dominated world. Milady is of course one of the great female villains in fiction. In this account we get an insight in the abuse she had been forced to endure in her formative years. Louis Garrel as Louis XIII, Eric Ruf as cardinal de Richelieu and Marc Barbé as captain de Tréville make their characters forces to reckon with.

While I admire the epic sweep of the movie, I have misgivings about the action scenes. Handheld camerawork and ultra rapid edits convey the general feeling of frenetic combat, but it is hard to make sense of who does what to whom.

Cinema is an art of light, and relentless darkness in prolonged passages may start to feel depressing. In real life, eyes are highly adaptable to darkness, but in movie darkness there is no room for the eyes to adapt.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Don Giovanni (opera "live in HD" from The Met, 20 May 2023)

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023. In the beginning there is Vatermord. Donna Anna and Don Ottavio witness in shock the death throes of the Commandatore, Anna's father. The shock waves of the primal act of violence reverberate through the tragedy until the last supper, where the dead father, reincarnated as the Stone Guest, consigns Don Giovanni, his murderer, to Hell. Photos: The Metropolitan Opera. Please do click on them to enlarge them.

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023. Don Giovanni and the three masked avengers at the end of Act I.

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023.

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023. Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni.

Il dissoluto punito ossia Il Don Giovanni / Der bestrafte Wüstling oder Don Giovanni. KV 527.
    AT 1798. Dramma giocoso. Composer: W. A. Mozart. Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte – based on: Giovanni Bertati: Don Giovanni Tenorio. Original in Italian. Premiere: 29 Oct 1787, Prague: Gräflich Nostitsches Nationaltheater (today: Ständetheater). Duration: 165 min
    The action takes place in Sevilla in the 17th or 18th century.
Donna Anna, die Tochter des Commandatore und Braut von Don Ottavio (soprano) / Federica Lombardi
Donna Elvira, vornehme Dame aus Burgos, Don Giovannis verlassene Geliebte (soprano) / Ana María Martínez
Zerlina, die Braut von Masetto, eine Bäuerin (soprano or mezzosoprano) / Ying Fang
Don Ottavio, der Verlobte von Donna Anna (tenor) / Ben Bliss
Don Giovanni, ein ausschweifender junger Edelmann (barytone) / Peter Mattei
Leporello, Don Giovannis Diener (bass) / Adam Plachetka
Masetto, ein Bauer, Bräutigam der Zerlina (bass) / Alfred Walker
Il Commendatore (Der Komtur) / Der steinerne Gast (bass) / Alexander Tsymbalyuk
contadini, contadine, servitori, suonatori (chorus)
    A co-production of the Metropolitan Opera and Opéra National de Paris.
    Conductor: Nathalie Stutzmann
    Producer: Ivo van Hove
    Production and lighting design: Jan Versweyveld
    Costume design: Christopher Ash
    Choreography: Sara Erde
    Live in HD director: Gary Halvorson
    Live in HD presenter: Erin Morley
    Duration announced: 3h 15 min - 3h 35 min (allowing flexibility of opening commentary and intermission). The presentation started at 18.00 and ended at 21.30 (3h 30 min with an intermission, opening speeches and closing credits.
    English subtitles.
    Recording from The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 20 May 2023.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 23 May 2023.

AA: I am not an opera-goer, but in a parallel life I would love nothing more. I see today for the first time a full-length performance of Don Giovanni which is familiar to me only as a music listener and from Joseph Losey's film adaptation.

Unlike Ingmar Bergman in The Magic Flute, Losey decided to open up the opera on real locations, which does not work for me. The Mozart / Da Ponte piece was conceived as music theatre and in my opinion is best kept that way, even in film adaptation keeping a "filmed theatre" approach like Bergman did with The Magic Flute.

The co-production of the Opéra National de Paris and The Metropolitan Opera of New York is a magnificent achievement, perfection in all departments, conveyed beautifully in the "live in HD" presentation from three days ago.

The Paris leg of the show opened in 2019, and the New York production was scheduled to open right after, but because of the 2019 global Covid pandemic, the opening at the Met was postponed until now. The production is the same, but the casting and the musicians are different.

Don Giovanni belongs to the Mozart / Da Ponte trilogy of operas "before the Revolution": Le nozze di Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1789/1790), the last of which was actually premiering during the Revolution.

Don Giovanni / Don Juan is a character well-known in European fiction at least since Mannerism, the earliest notable dramatization being Tirso de Molina's play (1630), followed by Molière, Goldoni, Zorrilla, Byron, Hoffmann, Pushkin and many others. In many versions, in the beginning, Don Juan kills Doña Ana's father, whose grave marker, "the stone guest", he meets at his last supper before being sent to Hell.

The protagonist's name has become a watchword, Don Juanism meaning the male desire for a maximal number of women, immortalized in Leporello's "catalogue aria".

The 2019 / 2023 approach to the opera is Me Too. This is Don Giovanni as Donald Trump. Don Giovanni as a hitman. Don Giovanni as James Bond. Don Giovanni from Pulp Fiction. He defies Death. He can commit murder or a brutal assault in cold blood. 

Don Giovanni is a predator, so virile, fearless and determined that everyone else seems paralyzed. In a scene in the end of Act 1 Don Giovanni is directly menaced by all, yet walks away scot free. Don Ottavio fails to stand up to him and therefore loses the love of Donna Anna. Masetto is stronger, yet ends up brutally beaten, which undermines Zerlina's love.

Reportedly Giacomo Casanova visited the premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague, but in case he did, he did not discover a mirror image of himself on the stage. Casanova claimed interest only in women he loved. Don Juan is insatiably interested in all women, young and old, blondes and brunettes, all sizes, nations and walks of life. Love is not an issue.

Don Juan is indifferent to love, but he cannot live without women, they are like air and water to him, essential Lebensmittel for conspicuous consumption. Don Juan's way with women is nearer to hate than love. Classically, Don Juan has been seen as a narcissist, but his approach is nearer to self-hate than self-love.

In the age of Tinder, women are as likely to have multiple partners as men, and that was probably so also in Mozart's time ("così fan tutte").

Don Giovanni is being played in contemporary dress. Contemporary dress for classic plays has been the norm all my lifetime, and I still don't understand why. Women of today are not like the women of Rococo Austria or Renaissance Spain.

There are men today like Don Giovanni played by Peter Mattei. There is a complexity and a determination in him that is convincing. He keeps his poker face in the most amazing situations of danger and bluff. He has seen it all and seems mostly be enjoying his skill at the routine of surviving any threat. He can still play the part of the serenading lover very well, perhaps more perfectly than the other men who are genuinely in love. For the women it is heartbreak non stop.

Like other archetypal Mannerist figures (Don Quijote / Sancho Panza, Doktor Faustus / Mephistopheles), Don Juan has a sidekick, here called Leporello. He is a buffoonish Doppelgänger, and he can trade places with his master to save him from trouble and mislead vengeful women. I like Adam Plachetka's performance. He is a survivor and a scoundrel, ein Mitläufer in his master's demonic ploys. He sings the devastating catalogue aria with abandon, particularly the "è la grande maestosa" line where he transforms into a towering figure.

I am not a music connoisseur. Natalie Stutzmann and the orchestra play the incredibly wonderful and complex music perfectly, perhaps making it slightly more sober, avoiding brio (I imagine). Similarly, Peter Mattei's masterful interpretation of the songs is more about control than abandon.

I notice that on the Met's cast list, Federica Lombardi, Ana María Martínez and Ying Fang, the three female leads, are first billed. Federica Lombardi as Donna Anna is the real center of the production, magnificent in her beautiful and sensual interpretation. Ana María Martínez transcends the traditional buffoonish view of Donna Elvira. She is comical but also dignified although she is being repeatedly cheated in the meanest possible way. Love is blind. Ying Fang brings a spirit of fighting courage to her Zerlina.

Don Giovanni is full of "greatest hits of the opera". This time I am struck by Don Giovanni's surprisingly tender and genuine serenade performance in "Deh, vieni alla finestra". Similarly with the brilliant but cynical "Là ci darem la mano". Among the most memorable performances are Ben Bliss as Don Ottavio singing "Dalla sua pace" and "Il mio tesoro" apparently out-Mozarting Mozart in incredibly challenging passages.

All great, subtly toned down, all holds barred. The digital age cinema theatre is black. The stage image aspires to the condition of the monochrome, as does the costume design. Black, bleak and dark prevail. Only the music conveys the light of love and transcendence in the black night of the soul.

Don Giovanni is a tale of passivity, powerlessness, appeasement and defaitism against violence. This is striking from the viewpoint of the philosophy of history, because the opera was premiered on the eve of the revolution – the uprising against the very type of ruthless aristocracy personified by Don Giovanni. But we see the mounting furor even here.

Mozart believes in divine intervention. Don Giovanni being sent to Hell in the end is not a deus ex machina shortcut. Mozart was a true and profound believer. He died three years later, and during the last year of his life he completed Die Zauberflöte, his greatest celebration of love, and his sacred masterpieces, Requiem and Ave verum corpus.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Il materiale emotivo / Un dragon en forme de nuage / A Bookshop in Paris

Sergio Castellitto: Il materiale emotivo / Un dragon en forme de nuage / A Bookshop in Paris (IT/FR 2021) starring Sergio Castellitto (Vincenzo) and Bérénice Bejo (Yolande). Sur le Pont Mirabeau. Facing Pont de Grenelle-Cadets de Saumur (with Statue de Liberté Paris, invisible behind Castellitto in this photo but visible in the film itself).

Pieni kirjakauppa Pariisissa / En liten bokhandel i Paris.
    IT/FR © 2021 Rodeo Drive / Mon Voisin Productions / Tikkun Production. P: Marco Poccioni, Marco Valsania.
    D: Sergio Castellitto. SC: Ettore Scola, Furio Scarpelli, Silvia Scola – Margaret Mazzantini, Sergio Castellitto – from the story "Un drago a forma di nuvola" by Ettore Scola. Cin: Italo Petriccione – colour – 2.39:1. PD: Massimiliano Sturiale. AD: Emanuele Pellegrino. Set dec: Ilaria Fallacara, Matteo Mattei. Cost: Andrea Cavalletto. VFX: Virginia Cefaly. M: Arturo Annecchino. S: Alessandro Rolla. ED: Chiara Vullo. Casting: Angélique Luisi.
    C: Sergio Castellitto (Vincenzo), Bérénice Bejo (Yolande), Matilda De Angelis (Albertine), Clementino (Clemente), Sandra Milo (Madame Milo), Alex Lutz (Gérard), Marie-Philomène Nga (Colombe), Nassim Lyes (Alain), Maxence Dinant (Padre Mathieu), Bruno Goeury (cleptomane), Alessio Montagnani (clochard Hector), Julie Ciccarelli (Fioraia). Voice talent: Domitilla D'Amico (Yolande's voice).
    Languages: French and Italian.
    Studio: Cinecittà Studios, Rome.
    Loc: Paris, France.
    IMDb, Wikipedia: 89 min, Finland: 97 min
    Festival premiere: 5 March 2021 Berlin International Film Festival.
    Italian premiere: 7 Oct 2021.
    French release (VOD internet): 28 Nov 2021.
    Finnish premiere: 19 May 2023 – released by Future Film – with Finnish subtitles by Lauri Holma & Tarja Sahlsten / Swedish subtitles by [the credit flashed by too fast].
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 22 May 2023.

AA: Based on an unproduced screenplay by Ettore Scola (1931–2016) and his team, A Bookshop in Paris was first adapted as a graphic novel by Ivo Milazzo, imagining Gérard Depardieu and Massimo Troisi in leading roles.

Sergio Castellitto catches engagingly the emotional arc of the story about the ageing bookstore owner Vincenzo (Castellitto) and his paralyzed daughter Albertine (Matilda De Angelis). Vincenzo seems to have been caught in a timeless existence: he does not even have a mobile phone. He is shaken up from his routine by a wild spirit, the actress Yolande (Bérénice Bejo).

The film is openly theatrical and studio-bound, mostly shot on Cinecittà sets. In the beginning and the end there are even opening and closing curtains.

A Bookshop in Paris is a celebration of books and reading. Vincenzo is committed to literature. Yolande is a living negation of his calling: "Who needs books? We live in the digital age." "You are dead men walking". But Vincenzo is happy to fight for his cause: "Literature is eternal. Actuality is lethal".

When Yolande complains that she has no time for big books, Vincenzo gives her Marguerite Yourcenar's Les Trente-Trois Noms de Dieu. Other books discussed include Boris Vian's L'Écume des jours, Le Journal d'Anne Frank, Madame Bovary and Schopenhauer's Hedgehog's Dilemma. Oscar Wilde is quoted ("I live in terror of not being misunderstood").

But the true meta-dimension is provided by Dostoevsky. A Gentle Creature is another "small book" recommended by Vincenzo to Yolande who has no patience for big ones. It was filmed by Bresson as Une femme douce. A poster of Visconti's Le notti bianche, an adaptation of another Dostoevsky tale, White Nights, can be seen on Vincenzo's wall. Dostoevsky sets his story in the midnight sun period by the river Neva in St. Petersburg. In Visconti's imagination we are on a wintertime bridge in the Venezia Nuova district of Livorno. Castellitto's film reminds us of Bresson's version, Quatre nuits d'un rêveur, shot on Pont-Neuf (and paid homage to in Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf).

Castellitto stages a central scene on another bridge over the Seine, Pont Mirabeau (see poster above), famous from a poem by Apollinaire. Like Dostoevsky's dreamer, Vincenzo is waken up by a vibrant woman, only to be discarded by her in the end. But both he and his daughter have been jolted back to life.

Like Visconti and Bresson, Castellino approaches his story as a fairy-tale. We are in a tourist Paris of retouched / photoshopped picture postcards. The bookshop is on the pictoresque side of Montmartre like Amélie's home. Eiffel Tower is visible on the other side, on the left bank. Everything is in pastiche. There is an obvious, even flaunted, digital look.

Despite the artifice, the "emotional material" promised in the film's title is genuine. But again, perhaps due to pandemic circumstances, there is a lack of vigour and power in the movie.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Ellos eatnu / Let the River Flow

Ole Giæver: Ellos eatnu / Let the River Flow (NO/SE/FI 2023) starring Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen as Ester.

Ellos eatnu – La elva leve [Norwegian title] / Anna joen virrata / Låt älven leva.
    NO/SE/FI © 2023 Mer Film / Zentropa Sweden / Bufo / Knudsen Pictures / Helmet. PC: Mer Film. P: Maria Ekerhovd. Co-PC: Bufo, Zentropa Sweden, Knudsen Pictures, Helmet. Co-P: Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff.
    D+SC: Ole Giæver. DP: Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen – 2K. PD: Ragnhild Juliane Sletta, Cecilie de Lange. Cost: Nell Knudsen. Makeup: Salla Yli-Luopa. ED: Wibecke Rønseth. S: Bent Holm – 5.1. M: Ola Fløttum, Pessi Levanto.
Ester – Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen
Mihkkal – Gard Emil  
Risten – Sofia Jannok
Piera – Beaska Niillas
Marit – Marie Kvernmo
Stein – Finn Arve Sørbøe
Thomas – William Sigvaldsen
Áhkku – Mary Sarre
Gøran – Ivar Beddari
Principal – Maria Bock
Ailu – Robert Amadeus Gaup Mienna
Ailu's father – Mikkel Gaup
    Languages: Northern Sámi, Norwegian.
    Duration according to the pressbook: 123 min, Filmikamari 124 min, Norwegian Wikipedia and IMDb 118 min
    Festival premiere: Tromssa Film Festival 2023.
    Finnish premiere: 5 May 2023 – distributor: B-Plan Distribution – 118 min – subtitles in Finnish and Northern Sámi by Thomas Brevik Kjærstad.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 21 May 2023.

IMDb: "Ester hides her identity to avoid being exposed to racism. When Ester suddenly finds herself in the middle of demonstrations against a big dam development in Alta, a personal journey out of the shame she has carried so long begins."

Wikipedia: "The Alta conflict or Alta controversy refers to a series of massive protests in Norway in the late 1970s and early 1980s concerning the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Alta River in Finnmark, Northern Norway." [In Finland, Finnmark, to the North of North Finland, is known as Ruija].

AA: A powerful dramatic subject: the Northern Sámi people's fight for their survival and existence in the 1970s. A subject relevant to themes of the Sámi, indigenous rights and new colonial history. More generally it is a major history lesson of civil disobedience and passive resistance.

The protagonist, the timid teacher Ester, is played by Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, a Sámi activist herself, in her debut film role. It is a coming of age saga of Ester, who has learned to hide her identity, turning into a fighter for the rights of her people. The tale is told with honesty and a sense for complexity.

There are memorable scenes in the film. Ester, the young teacher, is bullied, belittled and insulted by her fellow teachers. When she finally speaks up, she says it out loud in her native Northern Sámi. Nobody understands a word of what she is saying, but everybody gets the message. The bullying ends here.

The cinematography by Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen is breathtaking. The wild North is captured in endless grandiose views. The Sámi people have an experience of millennia in surviving in these harsh but compelling surroundings.

Today is Remembrance Day / Kaatuneitten muistopäivä / Commemoration Day of Fallen Soldiers in Finland. We raised the flag in the morning, but it has failed to fly because of a lack of wind.

A similar trouble haunts Let the River Flow. All ingredients are in place: a great subject and a magnificent production on location. But there is no wind. Perhaps yet another case of what I have called "the pandemic phlegmatic syndrome".


Thursday, May 11, 2023

Revoir Paris / Paris Memories

Alice Winocour: Revoir Paris / Paris Memories (FR 2022) avec Virginie Efira (Mia).

Muistan sinut, Pariisi / Minnas Paris.
    FR © 2022. PC: Dharamsala, Darius Films. Co-PC: Pathé Films. Vente internationale + distribution France: Pathé Films, Pathé International. P: Isabelle Madelaine, Emilie Tisné. Co-P: Ardavan Safaee.
    D+SC: Alice Winocour. DP: Stéphane Fontaine – 1,85 – colour. PD: Florian Sanson. AD: Margaux Remaury. Cost: Pascaline Chavanne; Caroline Spieth. Original M: Anna von Hausswolff. S: Jean-Pierre Duret, Pascal Villard, Laure-Anne Darras, Marc Doisne – 5.1. ED: Julien Lacheray. Casting: Anaïs Duran.
    C: Virginie Efira (Mia), Benoît Magimel (Thomas), Grégoire Colin (Vincent), Maya Sansa (Sara), Amadou Mbow (Assane), Nastya Golubeva Carax (Félicia), Anne-Lise Heimburger (Camille), Sokem "Kemso" Ringuet (Hakim), Sofia Lesaffre (Nour / Madeleine), Clarisse Makundul (Essé), Zakariya Gouram (médecin cicatrice), Jonathan Turnbull (restaurateur brasserie), Dolores Chaplin (Estelle, la femme de Thomas).
    M soundtrack selections: – Arvo Pärt: Fratres (1977). – Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov: La Fille de neige / The Snow Maiden / Снегурочка / Snegurochka (1880).
    Loc: Paris – Maison de Radio France (Paris 16) – Brasserie Vaudeville [L'Étoile d'Or] (Paris 2) – Arc de triomphe de l'Étoile / Avenue des Champs-Élysées (Paris 8, aerial shot) – Place de la Bourse (Paris 2) – Place de la République (Paris 3/10/11) – Opéra Bastille (Paris 12) – Musée de l'Orangerie: salles Les Nymphéas (Paris 1) – les bords de la Seine (the homeless, the illegal immigrants) – autour la Tour Eiffel, in the maze of the Champs de Mars (Paris 7). [My attempt to register them, to be verified].
    105 min
    Award: César de la meilleure actrice: Virginie Efira.
    Festival premiere: 21 May 2022 (Festival de Cannes: Quinzaine des réalisateurs)
    French premiere: 7 Sep 2022.
    Finnish premiere: 5 May 2023, released by Atlantic Film, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Joel Kinnunen / Michaela Palmberg.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 11 May 2023.

AA: Alice Winocour's film has been inspired by the November 2015 Paris attacks by the Islamic State. There were six targets. The direct reference here is the attack on the Bataclan Theatre. The movie is multi-layered, and it discusses several themes, but terrorism is not among them.

Revoir Paris is a profound study about memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mia (Virginie Efira) is a survivor of the attack on the restaurant L'Étoile d'Or. She suffers from amnesia, blackout, and loss of focus and concentration. She returns from a three month convalescence as a stranger in her own life.

The approach can be compared with Alain Resnais in Nuit et brouillard, Hiroshima mon amour and Muriel: coming to terms with a traumatic social experience that transcends the limits of understanding. The level of ambition is the same, but Winocour is not imitating anyone. She has conducted a heartfelt research gaining both human and scientific results. A key concept is the "trauma diamond": in the hard process of recovery a new insight may crystallize.

After an initial retirement, Mia returns to Paris and skeptically and reluctantly starts to approach a trauma therapy network. The debriefing findings in the post-crisis meetings seem initially banal and useless, even destructive, but little by little trivial details turn into building blocks in a meaningful jigsaw puzzle. "You need two to remember". Key sentences also include: "Someone was with me" and "I have never felt such closeness" (there was a love act between two people who were expecting to die).

I feel uneasy to discover that the main channel of communication among the survivors is Facebook, which for me is increasingly an (the) embodiment of hate speech. Today I have been reading Vanessa Barbara's essay "Brazil at the Crossroads" in The New York Review of Books. She refers to Max Fisher's book The Chaos Machine (2022) about the backlash of misogyny, antisemitism, authoritarianism and fake news, the main forum of which is social media such as Facebook. In Brazil, Facebook is widely seen as a main reason for the destruction of civil society.

Mia's relationship to her partner Vincent (Grégoire Colin) disintegrates because Vincent cannot connect with the trauma which has become the central experience in Mia's existence. Instead, Mia comes closer to Thomas (Benoît Magimel), a convalescing invalid with severe leg damage, in addition to which he now suffers from claustrophobia.

Thomas is a fighter, refusing to act victimized during the painful treatment in which the bones of his legs are reconstructed bit by bit. The closeness of Mia and Thomas leads to a night of love, made special by the attention needed for the scars of both and the metal prostheses of Thomas. The tender sequence is far from Cronenberg land.

The saga of recovery is psychologically genuine, and more than that, it has philosophical depth: this is a film about memory and identity. Revoir Paris is a film about dialogue, about a meeting of the minds. We are who we are in dialogue with the other. Mia wins back her identity via memory flashes. Little memories build to a bigger picture.

The journey on the memory lane includes a visit to the Orangerie to the rooms displaying Monet's Water Lilies. Mia takes an orphan girl there because that painting was the last thing her parents saw before they died. In her press notes, Winocour says:

" What I didn’t know was that Monet had given this picture to France after the horrors of the First World War so people could meditate on a scene empty of human presence. He said that visitors should stand in silence before the painting, the better to contemplate the beauty of the world. Since it was sheer intuition that had led me to chose the museum, I was very touched to learn that. "

Besides being a psychological, medical and philosophical movie, Revoir Paris is also a sociological survey. Mia's memory flashes include a tattooed arm and holding hands. She draws the conclusion that the person must have been kitchen staff and launches a quest to find him.

Winocour's approach evokes classics of neorealism (chasing a single person can lead to revelations about society). Mia finds out that many have vanished from the scene of the massacre. There were a lot of paperless, illegal immigrants among the restaurant staff.

We are led to the revelation that there is an undocumented shadow existence, a secret society among us. More than that, we hear as an aside that the presence of illegal restaurant staff from Senegal, Mali and Sri Lanka is so overwhelming that if they would go on strike, Paris would not eat.

In my Sight & Sound 2022 Top Ten list I included Charles Chaplin's City Lights and commented that the movie is getting increasingly topical due to the global refugee crisis. I am moved by Winocour's direct reference to City Lights in the final sequence. As well as the presence of Charlie's granddaughter Dolores among the cast.

After many false starts and dead ends, the tireless Mia finds the man who goes under different names and changes location constantly. This is not a love story, but it is about something equally grand: affirming and celebrating our mutual humanity. Finding ourselves we find the other.

I keep registering a peculiar pandemic / post-pandemic phlegmatic syndrome in recent movies. Revoir Paris has many strengths. It is a character-driven movie in which Virginie Efira gives an outstanding performance in an exceptionally difficult role. It is thematically strong and complex but never confused.

I was thinking about The Beatles, why they disintegrated. They needed to play together in live performances to keep the band spirit. There was nothing wrong, but they missed the greatest joy of the play, and so they quit as a band and continued on their different paths.

In the fragmented circumstances of remote work crews may have lost something of the irresistible, infectious joy and team spirit of film-making. I may be wrong about Revoir Paris. I think that powerfully story-driven films may be easier to accomplish in exceptional circumstances than character-driven ones, visionary films, or any kinds of films that are based on the power of presence, the sense of being or a revelation or epiphany (the Chekhov school of fiction).

Revoir Paris is an exceptional and highly distinguished film, and it could be a great film if there were a sense of irresistible energy and drive.


Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Albert Edelfelt 2022–2023 touring exhibition in Paris (Petit Palais), The Gothenburg Museum of Art and Helsinki (Ateneum)

Albert Edelfelt: Självporträtt i 1600-talsdräkt / Self-Portrait in Dress of the 17th Century (1889), National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen. – A humoristic Baroque reincarnation, a self-reflection as if seen by Edelfelt's favourite painters, Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Den brända byn / Burnt Village. History painting. 1879. Oil on canvas. Height: 124 cm (48.8 in), width: 199 cm (78.3 in). Collection: Cygnaeus Gallery. The painting depicts an imaginary scene from the time of the Cudgel War of 1596–1597, a peasant uprising in Finland, which was then part of the Kingdom of Sweden. In the painting, a Finnish peasant family has fled their home village, which has been burnt down by a military force. Photo and text: Wikipedia: Burnt Village (Finnish, Swedish, English, Ukrainian).

Albert Edelfelt: På havet / At Sea. 1883. Oil on canvas. 165,00 x 152,00 cm. Frame: 206,00 x 195,00 x 12,00 cm. Collection: Gothenburg Museum of Art. Accession number: F 22. Testamentarisk gåva av Pontus och Göthilda Fürstenberg 1902. This file was provided to Wikimedia Commons by Göteborgs museer och konsthall as part of a cooperation project with Wikimedia Sverige. Göteborgs konstmuseum, foto: Hossein Sehatlou.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Ett barns likfärd / Conveying the Child's Coffin / A Child's Funeral. 1879. Oil on canvas. Height: 120 cm (47.2 in); width: 204 cm (80.3 in). Collection: Ateneum. Accession number: A II 819. Purchase 1907. Valtion taidemuseo. Source/Photographer: LAG1bHKWVB7VvQ at Google Cultural Institute.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Louis Pasteur, en 1885, huile sur toile, H. 155,0 ; L. 127,5 cm. Achat à Albert Edelfelt, 1887 ; Dépôt du musée national du château de Versailles, 1986. © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Martine Beck-Coppola. "Like many of his contemporaries from Northern Europe, the Finn Albert Edelfelt came to France when he was scarcely twenty to study at the fine arts school in Paris. He quickly took part in the official exhibitions and soon won medals and awards. The presentation of his portrait of the chemist and biologist Louis Pasteur at the Salon of 1886 marked a new stage in his career because it earned him the Legion of Honour. At a time when painters readily chose contemporary scientific subjects rather than historical painting, which was bogged down in the reproduction of anecdotes, this portrait of one of the most famous scientists of the time was very popular. Pasteur is shown in his laboratory in the rue d'Ulm, in the midst of his experimental apparatus. He is holding a jar containing the spinal cord of a rabbit infected with rabies which he used to develop a vaccine against rabies. As a result of this discovery, he was hailed as a benefactor of mankind. Far from being a heroic representation, the painting is the epitome of poise, both in its composition and lighting. Light from a window out of sight on the right spreads delicately over the scene, highlighting the equipment and the scientist's thoughtful face." Musée d'Orsay

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Portrait of the Opera Singer Aino Ackté ; 1901. 200,5 × 90 cm, oil on canvas ; purchase by the Antell deputation, 22.2.1902, A I 739 ; owner: Suomen valtio / Museovirasto. Collection: Antell collections. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen. Ateneum. Aino Ackté was a Finnish coloratura soprano. She was the first international star of the Finnish opera scene after Alma Fohström, and a groundbreaker for the domestic field. The young Ackté studied singing under her mother's tutelage until 1894 when she entered the Paris Conservatory, studying under Edmond Duvernoy and Alfred Girodet. Her debut at the Paris Opera was in 1897 in Faust and she was signed on for six years as a result. Ackté's coterie included Edelfelt. Aino Ackté married a lawyer, Heikki Renvall, in 1901 and gave birth to a daughter, Glory, the same year (Glory Leppänen became a grand lady of the Finnish theatre). She officially adopted the surname Ackté-Renvall. Their son, Mies Reenkola, was born in 1908. In 1904 Ackté was engaged by the New York Metropolitan Opera where she remained until 1906. She performed the title role of Richard Strauss's Salome at its local premieres in Leipzig (1907) and London (1910). The Covent Garden premiere was an enormous success and Strauss himself proclaimed Ackté the "one and only Salome". Ackté considered the London performances her real breakthrough. In 1911, Ackté, Oskar Merikanto, and Edvard Fazer founded the Kotimainen Ooppera (renamed in 1914 Finnish Opera, and then in 1956 the Finnish National Opera). She was to act as its director in 1938–1939. After parting ways with the National Opera, Ackté organized an international Savonlinna Opera Festival beginning on 3 July 1912; it was held 1912–1914, 1916 and 1930. Her final public performances took place at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in 1930. She provided the libretto for Juha, and opera that received two treatments: the first by Aarre Merikanto (1922) and the second by Leevi Madetoja (1934). She died of pancreatic cancer in 1944. Because of the connection with the "l'air des bijoux" in Gounod's Faust, Ackté may have been one of the models for the coloratura diva Bianca Castafiore in the Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. (From Wikipedia: Aino Ackté).

Albert Edelfelt: Une citoyénne de l'an II (1877). Huile sur toile. 60 x 45,5 cm. Niemistö Collection.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Den första snön / The First Snow. Collection: Signe ja Ane Gyllenbergin säätiön taidekokoelma. G-2011-304. 70,0 x 60,0 cm. 85,0 x 75,0 x 5,5 cm. 1902-1903. Oil on canvas. Resource ID 402749. Kuva: Villa Gyllenberg / Matias Uusikylä CC BY-NC-SA 4.0'.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Utsikt från Kaukola ås i solnedgång / Kaukola Ridge at Sunset. 116,5 × 83 cm, oil on canvas, purchase, 8.1.1976, A IV 4248, omistaja: Suomen valtio. Kuva: Kansallisgalleria / Hannu Pakarinen

Albert Edelfelt 5.5.–17.9.2023
The exhibition visited at the press conference, 3 May 2023.

Official introduction (Ateneum / Finnish National Gallery):

" The exhibition provides an overarching view of the life’s work of one of Finland’s most renowned and popular artists. 

An international perspective on a Finnish master

As well as being a pre-eminent artist, Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) was socially skillful and spoke several languages. He travelled widely across Europe and the Nordics and lived a large portion of his life in Paris. While living and working in France, he met several of the leading names in the field of arts, culture and science as well as art collectors and dealers.

The Edelfelt exhibition will present portraits of the artist’s family members, prominent figures of the time, and artist colleagues. Other exhibits will include landscapes and views from Paris, as well as depictions from Edelfelt’s travels in the south of France, Italy and Spain. He painted familiar landscapes in Porvoo, at his villa in Haikko, and in Helsinki. The exhibition will include many beloved works that are considered to be Finnish national treasures, such as Boys Playing on the Shore (1884), The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris (1887), Women of Ruokolahti on the Church Hill (1887), and Conveying the Child’s Coffin (1879).

Edelfelt is a widely researched figure, which speaks to his central role in the history of Finnish art. Prior to the Ateneum Art Museum, the Edelfelt retrospective toured Petit Palais in Paris and the Gothenburg Museum of Art.

Received to wide public acclaim, the exhibitions have produced further research and new knowledge on Edelfelt’s life and career. The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue open up completely new perspectives into the artist’s career.

The exhibition is curated by Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari, curators at the Ateneum Art Museum.

Touring exhibitions:
Albert Edelfelt, 10 March–10 July 2022, Petit Palais, Paris
22 October 2022–12 March 2023, Gothenburg Museum of Art

The retrospective of works by Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) examines Edelfelt’s entire career and, in particular, his role as an international influencer.

This is the first solo exhibition of works by Albert Edelfelt in Paris and it introduces the Finnish artist to a French audience. The artist was a trailblazer who paved the way for later Finnish artists to gain a foothold in Paris. Edelfelt also played a major role in the World Fairs held in Paris in 1889 and 1900, both as an artist and a spokesperson.

Edelfelt’s first exhibition in Sweden took place in Gothenburg in 1884. He had several close contacts in the city, for instance the couple Pontus and Göthilda Fürstenberg, who were among his patrons. The Gothenburg Museum of Art’s collection includes several important works by Albert Edelfelt and the exhibition defines Sweden’s and Gothenburg’s place in the artist’s cosmopolitan geography.

The exhibition features works from the collections of the Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, and the collections of French and Nordic museums. Exhibits also include works from other public and private collections in Finland and abroad. A total of approximately 110 works will be on display. The works travelling to France for the exhibition include Queen Bianca (1877), Conveying the Child’s Coffin (A Child’s Funeral) (1879), Boys Playing on the Shore (1884), The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris (1887), and Women Outside the Church at Ruokolahti (1887).

The curators of the exhibition are Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari for the Ateneum, and Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau for the Petit Palais and Eva Nygårds for the Gothenburg Art Museum.

The international collaboration has been partly funded by Jane and Aatos Erkko foundation
. "

AA: Albert Edelfelt is a mainstay of Finnish culture. He had a special talent in creating enduring images of history and culture, works that transcend the anecdotal and the particular and convey the timeless. His works belong to the core imagery of Finland. In France, he achieved that with his portait of Louis Pasteur.

The Pasteur painting is an example of Edelfelt's talent. Pasteur himself and his family recognized it as definitive and further commissions followed from family members. One of the most moving experiences in the Atenem exhibition is to find oneself surrounded by dozens of Edelfelt's portraits. They feel alive. Look at them, and they look back. The human presence is vivid and dignified. Edelfelt portrays queens and czars on a human scale. In turn, there is nobility in his portraits of working people such as fishermen. For Georg Brandes, Edelfelt was "adelsmannen som realist" ("the nobleman as a realist"), quoted by Salme Sarajas-Korte.

In Finland Edelfelt is such a fixture of national iconography, including school book illustrations and postage stamps, that there is a risk of the over-familiar and the cliché. "Don't we already know him?" "Haven't we seen enough?" "Haven't we seen too much?" But this exhibition gives new food to thought and reassessments.

We live in an age of rising nationalism and populism, even in the field of art. Albert Edelfelt was a patriotic activist in the period of Finland's national awakening (from ca 1870 until the declaration of independence in 1917). But he was also always an internationalist whose second home was Paris. His lineage was in Swedish nobility, and he was a court painter of the Russian Empire.

As an artist, Edelfelt's roots were in the classical tradition, with influences from realism and naturalism. Edelfelt lived in the period of the breakthrough of impressionism. It was a road he did not take, but his art was subtly influenced by the new freedom. A key current was national romanticism, for instance in works based on the historical epics by Zacharias Topelius and J. L. Runeberg.

At the press conference I heard that the term "the Golden Age" is no longer popular when discussing  Finnish art in ca. 1870–1905, but I think it still has validity. Finnish literature, music, theatre, architecture, design and art all gained international prominence during that brief period. During the national awakening a new self-confidence emerged that was crucial on the road to independence. Edelfelt was a major figure. A parallel term that I find essential for Edelfelt is "Belle Époque".

During the last five years, the Me Too debate has revived John Berger's classic "male gaze" discourse (coined in his tv series Ways of Seeing, 1972). Is there a male gaze in the Edelfelt oeuvre? Obviously, Edelfelt was a ladies' man with the expected lifestyle of an artist based in Paris. He loved to paint women, but in his portraits, women have agency. They are self-confident, they are heroes of their own lives. They are subjects, not objects. Edelfelt created the definitive portrait of Aino Ackté, the international soprano diva and founder of the Savonlinna Opera Festival. But also Edelfelt's paintings of Virginie, a Parisian demi-mondaine, explored in the books of Anna Kortelainen, are full of grace and self-assurance.

It is fascinating to register Edelfelt's empathy for the fighting woman. Une citoyenne de l'an II (1877, see above) is a striking portrait of a revolutionary woman. Year II in the French revolutionary calendar began in September 1793 and ended in September 1794. As a 17-year-old student in September 1871 Edelfelt drew the pencil sketch Une pétroleuse from memory, conveying a fighting woman of the Paris Commune (March–May 1871), inspired by a lithograph by Adrien Marie. I am alerted to these works by Anna Kortelainen in her chapter "Edelfelt's Political Thought: 'The Art of the Possible'? in the exhibition catalogue. Albert Edelfelt seemed to have an acute social consciousness with an affinity with his mentor Zacharias Topelius.

Edelfelt's distinction in the "male gaze" discourse is even more pronounced if we compare him with his teacher, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and his passion for the odalisque and the (female) slave market. Such voluptuous emphasis is absent from Edelfelt. The difference is equally great from Edelfelt's dear friend Anders Zorn who celebrated Dalarö's buxom beauties in summer paradise wear. To the classic subject of the nude, Zorn added something new: the magic impact of the Nordic summer light.

Edelfelt did not indulge in nudity like Zorn, but he joined him in the plein air voyage of discovery of the Nordic light. Plein air artists such as Zorn and Edelfelt provided inspiring models for the first Nordic masters of the cinema such as Sjöström (Terje Vigen) and Stiller (Song of the Scarlet Flower).

Edelfelt lived in the age of a growing prominence of photography and the birth of the cinema. Edelfelt used photographs for portraits if the subject was dead. Following the example of his teacher Jules Bastien-Lepage, he also had Louis Pasteur's study photographed in order not to waste the scientist's time for painting the interior sur place.

I know nothing about Edelfelt's reactions to the cinema, but I find in his work an affinity with the Lumière brothers. "Lumière" means "light", and all associations are valid here. The 2022 Petit Palais leg of this exhibition was called "Lumières de Finlande". Edelfelt was a realist with a special talent and passion in plein air, just like the Lumière brothers. I'm thinking about my favourite Lumière movie, Barque sortant du port.

I was also thinking about Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat who felt a profound brotherhood with the working people. Among Edelfelt's passions was the sea and the life of the fishermen, like in Visconti's La terra trema. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. The true nobleman recognizes the inner nobility of his fellow citizen. Visconti, like Renoir and Becker, believed in the aristocracy of the spirit. The same grandeur of spirit is evoked in Edelfelt's portraits of Larin Paraske, the Fenno-Ugric Mnemosyne (Izhorian, not Finnish), "the Mother of Song".

One of Edelfelt last works was a series of ink washes for Selma Lagerlöf's tale Sir Arne's Treasure, the illustrated edition published in 1904. They were acclaimed for their striking dramatic impact and concentration. Lagerlöf even modified the ending of her tale to better fit the illustration. Mauritz Stiller paid tribute to Edelfelt's visualization in his film adaptation Sir Arne's Treasure (1919). The composition of the final funeral procession may have inspired in turn Fritz Lang in Die Nibelungen and Sergei Eisenstein in Ivan the Terrible. This chain of tributes and influences was suggested by Bengt Idestam-Almquist in his books Eisenstein, ett konstnärsöde i Sovjet (1951) and Mauritz Stiller (Anthologie du Cinéma, no. 25, Mai 1967), qualified by Gösta Werner in his monograph Herr Arnes pengar (1979) in the chapter "Albert Edelfelts teckningar", pp. 154–158.

Edelfelt had exceptional talent for the archetypal. His angle was both national and international, temporal and eternal.

Aimo Reitala points out that Edelfelt's first breakthrough paintings form a series about four basic emotions:
Love: Drottning Blanka / Queen Blanche (1877). For Reitala, the emotion here is "joy". The greatest love in Albert's life was his mother. Historical period of the painting: Folkungatiden / Folkung Period (in the Middle Ages). Blanka av Namur (1320–1363) was Queen of Sweden, Norway and Scania via marriage to King Magnus Eriksson.
Hate: Hertig Karl, skymfande Klas Flemings lik / Duke Charles IX of Sweden insulting the corpse of his enemy, Klaus Fleming (1878). The historical date of this scene is 1597, one year after the Burnt Village (see above). For a man/woman of the cinema, this painting is fascinating because of the mise-en-scène of the eyelines.
Fear: Den brända byn / Burnt Village (1879). See above. The Finnish-born Klaus Fleming, seen as a corpse in the previous painting, conducts here a brutal repression of the Finnish peasant rebellion known as Nuijasota / The Cudgel War. Having shown bravery in Gustaf Vasa's Great Russian War against Ivan the Terrible, Fleming rose to the inner circle of the Vasa dynasty [monarchs of Sweden from Gustaf Vasa till Queen Christina, 1523–1654], also wreaking terror as quasi-dictator in Finland.
Sorrow: Ett barns likfärd / A Child's Funeral (1879). See above.

The sense of history was alive in Edelfelt's family. They were friends of J. L. Runeberg and Zacharias Topelius whose historical epics inspired Edelfelt. He covered the Finnish War 1808–1809 in his cycle for The Tales of Ensign Stål (Runeberg) and the history from The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) to the coup d'état of Gustav III (1772) in The Tales of the Field Surgeon (Topelius).

Particularly close to Edelfelt was the 16th century, the Early Vasa era (1523–1611, between the Kalmar Union and the Swedish Empire / stormaktstiden). The 16th century was portrayed by Edelfelt in the Burnt Village, Duke Charles insulting the corpse of Klaus Fleming and Sir Arne's Treasure. This was the century of Reformation and Renaissance, of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Henry VIII, Anna Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Don Carlos (the Spanish Inquisition), Ivan the Terrible, la Reine Margot and St. Bartholomew's Day's massacre of Huguenots would inspire countless artworks, including movies. Edelfelt's works witness that North Europe was not safe from the brutality of the century.

Except for Huguenots: the Nordic countries were among the first converters to Protestantism and a safe haven for Huguenots. Officially Huguenots entered Sweden in 1617. Albert Edelfelt's wife was born Ellan de la Chapelle, from a noble family that arrived from France in 1611 and still flourishes in Finland. I am not aware that they were Huguenots, but they were certainly aware of the dragonnades in France.

Edelfelt became something like Finland's cultural ambassador in Paris during the country's crucial fight for its autonomy. He was in charge of the Finnish pavilion in the Exposition Universelle of 1900, the Paris world's fair where Finland for the first time appeared as a national cultural entity. There were hesitations about participation because of l'Affaire Dreyfus: Edelfelt and his circle were Dreyfusards.

As an early "Parisien from Finland", Edelfelt, the leading Finnish artist of the 19th century, become something like a generous and benevolent big brother to younger colleagues such as Axel Gallén, Helene Schjerfbeck, Ellen Thesleff and Magnus Enckell. Edelfelt let them use his atelier when he was abroad.

The exhibition is well curated, the three catalogues (the French, the Swedish, the English / the Finnish, all different) all eminently worth studying. The hanging and the lighting are perfect. The lighting is softer for pastels to protect them. Try to chase away the mobile phone tormentors with their blinding screens to fully immerse the tenderly lit pastels.


Sunday, April 16, 2023

Decision Before Dawn

Anatole Litvak: Decision Before Dawn (US 1951) avec Oskar Werner (Carl Maurer) et Dominique Blanchar (Monique).

Le Traître / Vakoilijana omassa maassaan / Förrädare / Entscheidung vor Morgengrauen.
Anatole Litvak / États-Unis / 1951 / 119 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
D'après le roman Call It Treason de George Howe.
Avec Oskar Werner, Richard Basehart, Gary Merrill.
La Cinémathèque française : Rétrospective Le cinéma d'espionnage (3e partie).
Sous-titres français sur la copie : Philippe Neumann.
Viewed at Salle Georges Franju, Paris dimanche 16 avril 2023, 15h00 17h00
" La Seconde Guerre mondiale touche à sa fin. Un jeune Allemand accepte de trahir les siens pour tenter de mettre fin aux exactions commises par les nazis. "

AA: The most powerful aspect of Anatole Litvak's Decision Before Dawn is being shot on location among the actual ruins of Munich, Würzburg, Nuremberg and Mannheim and on the Rhine. A documentary authenticity in general is its greatest strength. The training and the equipping of the spies and the parachute operation are thrilling and seem realistic.

Most important is the psychological viewpoint. Can Karl "Happy" Maurer (Oskar Werner) succeed as a spy in his own country? The most agonizing aspect of his mission is meeting people who know who he is and have no idea that he is now a spy with a double identity.

Double identity means lying all the time, and that creates the most tremendous pressure. Especially when it seems that everybody gets suspicious based on tiny details such as carrying a packet of cigarettes that are no longer available. SS and Gestapo officers, contrary to Hollywood stereotype, look harmless and innocuous, but they seem to see through Karl quickly.

A particularly chilling moment involves Rudolf Barth's nephew, a little boy who belongs to Hitler Jugend. He instantly informs on the spies. The spies know that they are supposed to kill him, but they refuse to do so, and the boy in turn finally saves the spies with his silence.

On both sides, Karl meets wonderful women. Monique (Dominique Blanchar) is fond of him but "a boche would be too much to forget before love". Hilde (Hildegarde Knef) reveals to Karl the tragedy of German women during the war. The promesses de bonheur remain unfulfilled.

The French title of Decision Before Dawn means "Traitor", but Karl is no traitor. He is loyal to the true calling of Germany for justice and honour. For that he is ready for the ultimate sacrifice. In a chilling climax it seems that the Allied only see that sacrifice as a tool. That does not diminish the dignity of Karl Maurer's mission.

The cast is fascinating. Besides Richard Basehart and Gary Merrill in further leading roles, there is Hans Christian Blech as Rudolf "Tiger" Barth, Wilfried Seyferth as the SS officer Scholtz, and O. E. Hasse as Colonel von Ecker suffering from angina pectoris: the medic Karl saves his life during the night. Klaus Kinski is memorable in his fleeting uncredited bit part in the beginning.

Written by Peter Viertel, photographed by Franz Planer and with music composed by Franz Waxman (enhanced by stirring soundtrack selections), this is a top production.

Born in Kiev, Anatole Litvak's commitment to the fight against the Nazis was personal, starting with another spy film, Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), continuing with contributions to the Why We Fight series, and going on until the 1960s in The Night of the Generals.

Decision Before Dawn belongs to the films that convey turbulence, confusion and tragedy during the last months of WWII on the Western Front. It is not a story-driven movie. It is an epic historical play conveying a sense of unrest.

The 35 mm print is ok.

Top Secret: Cinema and Espionage (exhibition at La Cinémathèque française, 2022-2023)

Top secret : cinéma et espionnage

Exposition du 21 octobre 2022 au 21 mai 2023
La Cinémathèque française, visited on 16 April 2023

Alexandra Midal & Matthieu Orléan (La Cinémathèque française): " L’exposition Top Secret explore les relations imbriquées entre espionnage et cinéma, rendant compte de l’étendue et de la vitalité d’un sujet qui se déploie autant dans une histoire que dans une géographie mondiale. L’épicentre des intrigues d’espionnage ne cesse d’être déplacé et reconfiguré, des villes divisées d’Europe (La Lettre du Kremlin, John Huston, 1970) au Moyen-Orient (la série du Bureau des légendes, créée par Eric Rochant), mettant aujourd’hui en avant des stratégies renouvelées du renseignement, caractéristiques du monde sécuritaire post 11-Septembre, dont l’impact sur la mise en scène génère de nouveaux codes, de nouveaux visages."

"Résistant aux stéréotypes, l’exposition Top Secret déconstruit la représentation sexiste des espionnes, longtemps reléguées à la seule pratique du « Piège à miel », et rétablit leur apport stratégique considérable, ce à quoi le cinéma a su précocement rendre justice. De Protéa, férue de Jiu-Jitsu et première espionne de l’histoire du cinéma (1913), à Mata Hari, fusillée pour intelligence avec l’ennemi allemand (interprétée dès 1931 par Greta Garbo, plus tard immortalisée dans ce rôle par Andy Warhol), le cinéma s’est intéressé, dès ses origines, aux figures de femmes agents secrets : Marthe Richard ou Mademoiselle Docteur sont des héroïnes dont les aventures sur grand écran reposent sur des faits réels, tandis qu’Alicia Huberman (interprétée par Ingrid Bergman) dans Les Enchaînés (1946) incarne, devant la caméra d’Alfred Hitchcock (le maître incontesté en dix films majeurs du cinéma d’espionnage), un fantasme fictionnel de femme infiltrée et courageuse. Par ailleurs, de nombreuses stars ont véritablement profité de leur notoriété pour s’engager par patriotisme au sein des services de renseignement : Marlene Dietrich, l’Agent X27 de Josef von Sternberg (1931), a espionné quelques dignitaires nazis pour le compte de l’Office of Strategic Services (OSS) américain. Les risques pris par ces actrices (comme Hedy Lamarr, à l’origine du futur GPS, et dont l’artiste Nina Childress a exploré en sculpture les multiples facettes) permettent de réévaluer l’importance des femmes dans l’art du renseignement et témoignent, par comparaison, de la manière dont certains ont longtemps déformé cet engagement, en privilégiant l’hypersexualisation du sexpionnage
. "


" L’espionnage n’est donc pas plus réductible à un genre, qu’il ne l’est à un médium artistique : cherchant toujours à se réinventer, il passe de la littérature au cinéma (de nombreux films montrés dans l’exposition sont des adaptations de livres de Ian Fleming, Graham Greene ou Tom Clancy), et du design à l’art contemporain. L’exposition orchestre ainsi des propositions visuelles, ludiques ou parfois volontairement dérangeantes, du Canadien Rodney Graham, de l’Ukrainien Boris Mikhaïlov, du Français Julien Prévieux, du Serbe Nemanja Nikolič, du Libanais Walid Raad (The Atlas Group), ou de l’Américaine Heather Dewey-Hagborg, qui interrogent par leurs œuvres d’art la cryptologie, le simulacre, voire le lavage de cerveau. Autant de thèmes mystérieux et fascinants qui font de l’espion le personnage romanesque par excellence, réceptacle des fantasmes des cinéastes. Capable de glisser d’une identité à l’autre, l’espion ne cesse de se dissimuler et de se grimer tel un acteur, aux talents hors normes. Tantôt invincible, tantôt torturé, il hante autant le cinéma d’auteur (Conversation secrète, Francis F. Coppola, Palme d’or en 1974) que le cinéma de série B (Un espion de trop, Don Siegel, 1977) ; les comédies humoristiques (Modesty Blaise, Joseph Losey, 1966) que les thrillers engagés (Espions sur la Tamise, Fritz Lang, 1944). Son aura populaire culmine dans les années 1960, quand les tensions de la Guerre froide (cette guerre mondiale secrète) sont au plus haut. À l’opposition diplomatique entre les deux blocs, le cinéma d’espionnage occidental répond par une propagande qui n’hésite pas à vanter la liberté individuelle et l’opulence des biens de consommation. Ex-espion au sein du MI6 britannique, devenu célèbre écrivain, John le Carré n’hésite cependant pas à démontrer que ce manichéisme sommaire traduit en profondeur l’interdépendance entre espion et espionné, entre Ouest et Est, rejouant ici la dialectique du maître et de l’esclave. Situant ses intrigues des deux côtés du Mur, l’écrivain s’est toujours documenté avec précision sur les Sûretés d’État communistes, avant de les réinventer dans la fiction. Ainsi imagina-t-il dans La Taupe (publié en 1974 et adapté au cinéma par Tomas Alfredson en 2011) l’agent soviétique Karla, sur le modèle de l’implacable Markus Wolf, directeur des renseignements extérieurs de la Stasi. L’une des particularités de la Guerre froide est ce dialogue incessant, par fictions interposées, entre Est et Ouest qui en venaient à s’instruire, grâce aux films, sur l’état d’esprit et les avancées technologiques du camp ennemi."

Sur écoute

" Top Secret accompagne donc aussi la très sérieuse marche de l’Histoire, et expose le rôle du cinéma comme instrument de propagande ou de formation des espions. Parce que l’enregistrement du réel se révèle un art nécessaire à l’agent secret, les techniques de captation cinématographiques se retrouvent au cœur des pratiques d’espionnage. Cinéma et espionnage partagent donc l’art – et la technique – de produire des sons et des images, agencés ensuite pour former un récit. Le cœur de ce territoire commun consiste donc en de nombreux appareils performants qui servent à l’accomplissement de leurs tâches : caméras, Nagra, micros aident à la filature des uns et au tournage des autres. L’exposition en montrera de rares originaux, certains datant même du XIXe siècle. "

" Mais en ce début de XXIe siècle, chacun peut, avec un simple téléphone portable, collecter ou pirater des informations sensibles, tout en déjouant les systèmes de surveillance de l’État. Pas besoin d’être un super-héros cascadeur à la Mission impossible (série et films, 1966-2017) pour y parvenir. Un cinéma engagé, plus minoritaire, témoigne de ces nouvelles pratiques, érigeant en chef de file fictionnel le geek Jason Bourne, interprété par Matt Damon dans les cinq films de la saga inaugurée par La Mémoire dans la peau en 2002. Ex-agent de la CIA devenu renégat, il est l’incarnation du justicier solitaire contemporain qui défie les nouveaux maîtres du monde lors de scènes d’action filmées caméra à l’épaule. Dans la réalité, ces modèles sont à chercher du côté des citoyens-espions Edward Snowden ou Chelsea Manning, qui font le choix de partager en temps réel devant une caméra des informations classées top-secrètes (Citizenfour, réalisé par la militante Laura Poitras, Oscar du meilleur documentaire, 2014). Aujourd’hui, ces pratiques d’enquête sont également revendiquées par des artistes engagés : c’est le cas de Trevor Paglen dont les photographies télescopiques mettent en lumière les activités illicites de surveillance perpétrées par les USA. Avec ce nouveau millénaire, alors que certains pensaient l’espionnage relégué à des parodies hilarantes à la OSS, l’opposition entre les nouvelles forces en puissance démontrent combien l’art du renseignement est plus que jamais d’actualité, soulevant des questions éthiques et politiques, tout en produisant des formes artistiques et critiques inédites.

Alexandra Midal & Matthieu Orléan, commissaires de l'exposition

AA: A thorough retrospective on cinema and espionage is running at La Cinémathèque française, now in its third season, and a fascinating exhibition has been on display since October 2022. It is an audience-friendly show covering the history from Louis Feuillade and Fritz Lang to Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt. Besides generous samples of the films and their world, there are also several authentic espionage objects from many different periods.

In the age of cyberspace, there has been an existential transformation of espionage, covered even in James Bond movies such as Skyfall and the trilogy Skyfall - Spectre - No Time to Die which is about James Bond becoming obsolete.

But the theme of espionage and surveillance is more topical and scary than ever. After the revelations of Edward Snowden, covered in Citizenfour, we have learned about much more formidable spyware from Pegasus.

For me, Catherine Belton's Putin's People (2020) was the book of the year. Vladimir Putin, the former KGB and FSB boss, became the authoritarian leader of a newly belligerent Russia. Swearing vengeance for the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Putin's goals include breaking down the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. So far, he has been successful (Trump, Brexit). Donald Trump thinks that Putin is the world's richest man. Putin's dark money funds may be the most formidable in history. Vladimir Putin is the James Bond villain fantasy come true. Follow the money.

A favourite movie of Putin's is the television miniseries in 12 episodes called Seventeen Moments of Spring (Семнадцать мгновений весны / Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny / Kevään seitsemäntoista hetkeä, directed by Tatyana Lioznova, SU 1973), about Soviet infiltration into Nazi hierarchy from 1927 until 1945. This work would have deserved to be included.

Ever since its independence in 1917, Finland has been a hotspot of espionage, but I cannot think of a single Finnish spy movie. Foreign spy movies have been shot partly in Finland, such as The Kremlin Letter and Billion Dollar Brain. Alfred Hitchcock's last film project, The Short Night (unrealized), was to be shot in Finland.

The Finnish author and journalist Jukka Rislakki has written several books on espionage, Finnish and international. Truth is stranger than fiction. His latest book, Saatan kuolla jo rajalla : Suomen ja Neuvostoliiton vakoilusodan hahmoja [I May Die on the Border : Figures in the Espionage War of Finland and the Soviet Union] (2021), contains new revelations about the infamous Operation Trust and Sidney Reilly, "the Ace of Spies", often considered a model for James Bond.

The success of Le Bureau confirms the enduring fascination in the world of espionage. It would be interesting to see a film about Operation Trust, too.

Musée Méliès : La magie du cinéma (La Cinémathèque française)

Musée Méliès : La magie du cinéma (La Cinémathèque française).

Musée Méliès : La magie du cinéma (La Cinémathèque française).

Visited on Sunday, 16 April 2023.

La Cinémathèque française : " L'exceptionnelle collection Méliès de la Cinémathèque française, issue d'un siècle de recherches, et celle du CNC, issue d'une acquisition conséquente faite en 2004, forment un ensemble sans pareil que le public va pouvoir découvrir avec l'ouverture de ce nouveau Musée. 800 m2 flambant neufs, un périple de Montreuil à Hollywood, un voyage dans l'histoire du cinéma. Et Méliès de retrouver toute sa place, celle d'un poète génial et précurseur. Héritier d'une très longue tradition, descendant d'une pléiade de grands inventeurs, il marie science et magie et donne naissance à des images nouvelles, jamais vues auparavant, qui annoncent le sur-réalisme cinématographique cher à Cocteau et Franju, les bricolages sensationnels de Michel Gondry ou Wes Anderson, et les blockbusters de George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson ou Tim Burton, autant de cinéastes qui se sont tous, un jour, revendiqués de Méliès. "

Patrimoine exceptionnel et effets spéciaux

" Tout au long du parcours, le visiteur découvrira plus de 300 machines, costumes, affiches, dessins et maquettes. "

" Des pièces exceptionnelles complétées par une sélection de près de 150 photographies et surtout par les films de Méliès – ses plus connus, évidemment, mais aussi bien d'autres, beaucoup plus rares. Des lanternes magiques côtoieront des dispositifs « dernier cri », dont une expérience de réalité virtuelle totalement inédite. Autant de manières, nouvelles et inventives, de raconter Méliès, génial inventeur des effets spéciaux dont le cinéma contemporain est aujourd'hui infusé. Si HAL et R2D2 existent, c'est aussi grâce au cinéaste français, pionnier de la féérie cinématographique, inlassable expérimentateur, précurseur du cinéma moderne. Pyrotechnie, effets d'optique, arrêts de caméra, fondus-enchaînés, maquettes animées, surimpressions, effets de montage et effets de couleurs sur pellicule, bruitage, narration, presque tout semble avoir été conçu et utilisé par ce virtuose de la technique. Magicien et cinéaste, il est l'auteur total, scénariste, décorateur, costumier, acteur, producteur et distributeur de ses films, il dirige son propre laboratoire de tirage, et invente le studio. "

    « Quel est donc l'homme à notre époque qui pourrait vivre sans féerie, sans un peu de rêve ? »
    Georges Méliès

" La contribution de Méliès au 7e art est essentielle, ouvrant à la cinématographie les portes du rêve, de la magie et de la fiction. Mais comment le cinéaste du Voyage dans la Lune est-il devenu l'un des auteurs les plus inventifs et les plus prolifiques du cinéma ? D'où vient l'étrange cosmogonie méliésienne ? Comment travaillait-il ? De quelle façon s'inscrit-il dans les arts du spectacle et dans la longue histoire de l'invention du cinéma ? Comment se traduit son influence sur le cinéma d'aujourd'hui ? Autant de questions auxquelles le musée de la Cinémathèque française apporte aujourd'hui son éclairage en invitant le visiteur à embarquer dans une exploration merveilleuse. "

AA: Cinematic tales of mystery and imagination by the first conscious artist of the cinema, Georges Méliès, are the red thread running through La Cinémathèque française's new permanent exhibition, Musée Méliès : La magie du cinéma, that was opened in 2021, during the pandemic. I visit it for the first time. I have fond memories of the previous exhibitions from the Cinémathèque collections, including reconstructions of Henri Langlois's original museum and the wonderful 2014 tribute, Le Musée imaginaire d'Henri Langlois, with a display of original artworks from friends ranging from Matisse to Chagall. The dilemma of cinema museums, including London's legendary The Museum of the Moving Image (1988-2002), is that they may be tremendously popular in the beginning, but if they don't change, there are not enough return customers. La Cinémathèque française is doing the farsighted thing in completely rethinking its museum and selecting a "for children of all ages" approach. There is a danger at cinematheques of too high a percentage of gray panthers. Children are the future.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Santa Fe Trail

Michael Curtiz: Santa Fe Trail (US 1940). Kit Holliday (Olivia De Havilland) and J. E. B. Stuart (Errol Flynn).

Michael Curtiz: Santa Fe Trail (US 1940). The hanging of John Brown.

Michael Curtiz: Santa Fe Trail (US 1940). Kit Holliday (Olivia de Havilland), daughter of the railway magnate Cyrus K. Holliday, carrying a major responsibility in the building of the Santa Fe Trail. The rivals J. E. B. Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan).

Michael Curtiz: Santa Fe Trail (US 1940). "The Navajo Cassandra": the woman fortune teller Old Stick In The Mud (n.c.) predicts the future to incredulously laughing West Point graduates. Translating her is Kit (Olivia de Havilland) who knows the Navajo language. The Navajo prophesies that this is one of the last times they would meet as friends and that soon they would be bitter enemies. Standing: Phil Sheridan (David Bruce), George Pickett (William Marshall), James Longstreet (Frank Wilcox), John Hood (George Haywood), George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan) and Jeb Stuart (Errol Flynn). Sheridan and Custer became Union officers, the rest, Confederate Officers. Stuart died in battle in 1864, Custer in 1876 in the Battle of Big Horn.

Michael Curtiz: Santa Fe Trail (US 1940). Slaveholder J. E. B. Stuart (Errol Flynn) helped by Blacks who have escaped via the Underground Railroad.

Michael Curtiz: Santa Fe Trail (US 1940). Slaveholder J. E. B. Stuart (Errol Flynn) helped by Blacks who have escaped via the Underground Railroad.

La Piste de Santa Fe / Santa Fen sankari / Vägen till Santa Fe.
Michael Curtiz / États-Unis / 1940 / 110 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
Avec Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan.
La Cinémathèque française : Rétrospective Warner Bros., fabrique de stars
Viewed at Salle Georges Franju, vendredi 14 avril 2023, 8h30 20h20
La Cinémathèque française " 1854 : les États-Unis se forment peu à peu, mais l'esclavagisme du Sud gêne de nombreux Américains, dont John Brown, fanatique abolitionniste qui commet des massacres pour libérer les esclaves. "
" En 1854, au Kansas, les soldats Jeb Stuart et George Custer se lancent sur la piste de John Brown, un abolitionniste fanatique engagé dans une croisade meurtrière pour libérer les esclaves
. "

AA: It was a huge pleasure to see for the first time Santa Fe Trail, which I have always missed, although the movie has been telecast in Finland several times. It was theatrically released in Finland in 1941 but never re-released.

I'm a big fan of Michael Curtiz, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and they are all at their best here. The second golden age of the Western had started the year before, in the golden year 1939 of the Western, and this rousing epic spectacle proceeds with such irresistible vigour and energy that the drawbacks of the screen story and the royal disregard for historical accuracy do no fatal harm.

This was the seventh of the eight collaborations between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. They were not lovers but they were in love, and it shows in every scene in which they are together. Their genuine warmth and mutual attraction is an essential counterweight to the tragedy of "Bloody Kansas".

Errol Flynn plays J. E. B. Stuart, later a Confederate general, while Ronald Reagan plays George Armstrong Custer, later a major general in the Union army. In this movie's fairy-tale world, they are fellow West Point graduates and rivals in love. In the next and last Flynn-de Havilland collaboration, They Died With Their Boots On, as wildly inaccurate as Santa Fe Trail, Flynn got to play Custer.

Michael Curtiz had proven his craft and skill already in Europe. He was able to evoke epic grandeur, a sense of history and passion in romances. He was uniquely capable of bringing life to the often lethally boring genre of the historical epic. As a director of actors he was electrified by rebellious men and women.

Captain Blood was a turning-point for all three: it made stars out of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and it launched Curtiz to the most illustrious period of his career. For Warner Bros. the collaboration was more than a goldmine. It promoted in terms of engrossing entertainment the studio's sense of social and historical responsibility, defending liberty and equality in a period of growing tyranny.

Curtiz is at his best in the many rousing battle scenes of this movie. They are epic and exciting. They are also often truly scary, perhaps because they are all too realistic. Flynn made only one more film (Dive Bomber) with Curtiz, a bit of a tyrant himself, before turning to the more congenial Raoul Walsh.

The railway story in Santa Fe Trail seems like an afterthought, a mask and a screen, another counterweight to the tragedy and the bloodshed. The railroad founder Cyrus K. Halliday, a historical figure, is played by Henry O'Neill. Olivia de Havilland plays his daughter "Kit Carson" Holliday. It is one of de Havilland's best and most original roles. She is bright and uninhibited and carries major responsibilities in the building of the railway. Hers is a memorable portrait of a Western woman. She loves Jeb Stuart, the man from the past, but is herself a woman of the future.

Kit is also the interlocutor and translator to the "Navajo Cassandra": the woman fortune teller Old Stick In The Mud (n.c.) who predicts the future of the West Point graduates: soon they will be fighting each other. They laugh at her.

I am aware that Santa Fe Trail is an increasingly awkward film in today's America. John Brown (Raymond Massey) is portrayed in caricature as a raving lunatic. His cause is true but his action in this movie is seen as disastrous, and, incredibly enough, a key reason for the Civil War.

This is the first Western I have seen with John Brown as a character, which tells more about my limitations than those of the Western genre.

This is also the first Western I have seen about the Underground Railway. I have happened to see several Westerns recently relevant to the Civil War. Common to all is that they do not even mention Blacks, to speak nothing about slavery. Santa Fe Trail includes Blacks, and the conviction and the passion in the movie's heart is for equality and fighting slavery.

The hanging of John Brown is the shocking climax, staged by Curtiz in the starkest imagery evoking Weimar Expressionism and foreshadowing film noir. We register the pain on the faces of Kit and Custer who are among the witnesses. It is a "victory in defeat" scene. John Brown may have been a deranged fanatic (at least in this film), but the future is his, and in death he becomes immortal.

The Black characters, harassed and threatened, escaping via the Underground Railway to Palmyra, receive our total love and sympathy, but they are shown as passive victims to be helped by white liberators, even by Jeb Stuart, who rescues them from a burning barn and is himself rescued by them in one of the most moving scenes of the film. Adding insult to the injury of the treatment of the Blacks in this movie, after the ordeals in Kansas, the Blacks are seen yearning back home in Texas.

Originally released in sepiatone, we saw Santa Fe Trail in a black and white 35 mm print. In the beginning the visual quality was great, but perhaps the viewing print has been assembled from several sources with variable quality and status of wear and tear, never inferior. In general it conveyed the visual grandeur of Curtiz and his trusted cinematographer Sol Polito well.