Friday, January 27, 2023

Sisu / Immortal

Jalmari Helander: Sisu / Immortal (FI 2023) starring Jorma Tommila as Aatami Korpi.

From Wikipedia: "Immortal (Finnish: Sisu) is a 2022 Finnish historical action film written and directed by Jalmari Helander. The film takes place in Finnish Lapland during World War II, where a gold digger, played by Jorma Tommila, goes to take the gold he finds to town and has to escape from the Nazi patrol led by a brutal SS officer."

"Deep in the wilderness of Lapland, Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) is looking for gold during the Lapland War. From time to time the overflight of bombers and the distant sounds of war can be heard on clear autumn nights. Finally, the hard work is rewarded and the gold dust in pan grows into gold nuggets. Aatami leaves to take his gold treasure to the nearest town. When a thirty-strong Nazi extermination squad led by SS Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) turns against Aatami, a breathtaking and gold-hungry chase begins through the destroyed and mined wilderness of Lapland, with Aatami having to wage his one-man war against this superior enemy.

AA: Finnish action rampage films tend to take place in Lapland. In Renny Harlin's Born American, three young Americans cross the Soviet border just for the adventure's sake, and all hell breaks loose. In Mika Kaurismäki's The Last Border, Lapland is an ideal landscape for a Mad Max style violent dystopia.

Our Lapland war against Hitler's Germany took place from September 1944 until May 1945. When we switched to the Allies, there were 213.000 troops in Die Armee Lappland / 20. Gebirgs-Armee. A significant part of the soldiers belonged to various SS formations. The prominence of the Totenkopf cap badge is accurate.

The historical background of Helander's story is the Wehrmacht's scorched earth strategy in Lapland. It is conveyed in vivid images, of which two are particularly memorable. One is factual: the fire of Rovaniemi, burned to the ground by the Nazis. Another is imagined: a shock image of a ruined Helsinki, with half of the dome of the Helsinki Cathedral bombed away (in reality Helsinki was devastated by the great raids of the Red Air Force but not like this).

Sisu is a tall tale with little regard for realism. It belongs to the Rambo* school of lone psychotic fighters.

Having abandoned plausibility, Helander goes all the way. The ordeals of the unstoppable guerrilla warrior Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) get increasingly outlandish. I was thinking about Tex Avery cartoons and Weird Al Yankovich's parody trailer Gandhi II from UHF (in Finland: Kaapelit irti!), mixing Shaft and Rambo slogans such as "This is one bad mother you don't wanna mess with" and "He's a one man wrecking crew". In this Tarantinoesque recycling exercise Nazis speak genre-movie American English.

Leaping from history to Neverland, Sisu enters myth, legend and fairytale. Aatami Korpi can survive fire, water and the sky. I was thinking about what my friend Kai Vase told at the time about Rambo in India: he was seen as an incarnation of Shiva.

Jorma Tommila is career-best as Aatami Korpi, a role name with Biblical resonances: Aatami = Adam, Korpi = Wilderness (as in John the Baptist, the voice crying out in the wilderness). Tommila was groomed into the cinema by Jari Halonen in several fierce roles, joining Jalmari Helander since his early days as a director, also repeatedly working with Olli Saarela. He has lost none of his furor, equally at home in fairy-tales and gangster roles, as recently seen in Laitapuolen hyökkääjä / On Thin Ice.

The DP Kjell Lagerroos excels in epic scope-frame panoramas of Lapland, often gloriously evoking classic Westerns. Actually Sisu can be seen belonging to the trend of the Northern, established in the 1910s by William S. Hart, Nell Shipman (the James Oliver Curwood aficionado) and Tom Mix, followed by Sjöström, Stiller and Molander in Sweden.

Tuomas Wäinölä creates a powerful and ominous score, during the end credits paying open hommage to Morricone.

* Rambo happens to be the name of one of the oldest Swedish-Finnish settler families in North America, dating back to the settler Peter Gunnarsson, in America known as Rambo (1611–1698), in the 1640s in the New Sweden colony in then-Delaware, now-Pennsylvania. Peter Gunnarsson was all Swedish, and his wife Brita Matsdotter, whom he married in America, was Finnish, from the city of Vasa. David Morrell picked the name of his antihero from the Rambo apple brand originating with that family. According to Nils William Olsson, the name Rambo means "raven's nest" = ramn + bo and was chosen for Ramberget ("Raven's Mountain").

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Laura Poitras: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (US 2022), featuring Nan Goldin.

US 2022. Neon Presents – a Participant and HBO Documentary Films presentation – a film by Laura Poitras – photography & slideshows by Nan Goldin.
    P: Nan Goldin, Yoni Golijov, Laura Poitras. P: Howard Gertler, John Lyons. EX: Clare Carter, Alex Kwartler, Hayley Theisen. EX: Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann.
    D: Laura Poitras. Colour, 16:9 HD. M: Soundwalk Collective. Music Supervisor: Dawn Sutter Madell. Archival P: Shanti Avirgan. Archival Co-P: Olivia Streisand. ED: Amy Foote, Joe Bini, Brian A. Kates.
    A non-fiction film featuring the photographer Nan Goldin.
    Also featuring: her sister Barbara Goldin (archival). The Goldin family.
    Featuring: the Sackler family.
    Featuring: David Armstrong (archival), Marina Berio, Noemi Bonazzi, Harry Cullen, Alfonso D'amato (archival), Jesse Helms (archival), Jim Jarmusch (archival), Megan Kapler, Patrick Radden Keefe, Ed Koch (archival), John Mearsheimer, Annatina Miescher, Cookie Mueller (archival), Sharon Niesp (archival), Darryl Pinckney, Alexis Pleus, Mike Quinn, Anwar Sadat (archival), Vittorio Scarpati (archival), Maggie Smith, Robert Suarez, David Velasco, John Waters (archival), David Wojnarowicz (archival).
    Loc: Metropolitan Art Museum (New York City). Marian Goodman Gallery (Paris). Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts). Louvre Museum (Paris). Tate Galleries (London).
    Soundtrack selections include [from my screening notes]: – Vincenzo Bellini: "Casta diva" perf. Montserrat Caballé. – The Velvet Underground & Nico: "Sunday Morning" and "All Tomorrow's Parties" – Screamin' Jay Hawkins: "I Put A Spell On You" – Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht: "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("Mack the Knife") and "Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit" ("Ballad of Sexual Dependency") from Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) * – Lucinda Williams: "Unsuffer Me".
    117 min [IMDb: 122 min]
    Festival premiere: 3 Sep 2022 Venice Film Festival.
    US festival premiere: 5 Sep 2022 Telluride Film Festival (TBA hors catalogue).
    New York premiere: 23 Nov 2022.
    Finnish festival premiere: 5 Feb 2023 DocPoint.
    Finnish premiere: 10 Feb 2023 – distributed by Cinema Mondo – Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Sophia Beckman.
    Viewed at a press screening at Kino Engel 2, Helsinki, 18 Jan 2023.

Chapters: – I Merciless Logic – II Coin of the Realm – III Ballad of Sexual Dependency – IV Against Our Vanishing – V Escape Hatch – VI Sisters.

Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself -- that comes too late -- a crop of inextinguishable regrets.
– Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness (the motto of Barbara Goldin, Nan Goldin's beloved sister) **

Press notes:

"An epic story about artist and activist Nan Goldin, told through her groundbreaking photography and rare footage of her fight to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid crisis."

Short Synopsis
"Directed by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is an epic, emotional and interconnected story about internationally renowned artist and activist Nan Goldin told through her slideshows, intimate interviews, ground-breaking photography, and rare footage of her personal fight to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid crisis."
Long Synopsis
"All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is an epic, emotional and interconnected story about internationally renowned artist and activist Nan Goldin told through her slideshows, intimate interviews, ground-breaking photography, and rare footage of her personal fight to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid crisis."

"Directed by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, the film interweaves Goldin’s past and present, the deeply personal and urgently political, from P.A.I.N.’s (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) actions at renowned art institutions to Goldin’s photography of her friends and peers through her epic “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” and her legendary 1989, NEA-censored AIDS exhibition, “Witness: Against Our Vanishing.”"
"The story begins with P.A.I.N., a group Goldin founded to shame museums into rejecting Sackler money, destigmatize addiction and promote harm reduction. Inspired by Act Up, they orchestrated protests to call attention to the toxic philanthropy of the Sackler family, whose company, Purdue Pharma, ignited the opioid epidemic with its blockbuster drug, OxyContin."
"At the core of the film are Goldin’s art works “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”; “The Other Side”; “Sisters, Saints and Sibyls”; and “Memory Lost.” In these works, Goldin captures her friendships with beauty and raw tenderness. These friendships, and the legacy of her sister Barbara, anchor all of Goldin’s art.
" (Press notes)

AA: Before All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, I had seen from Laura Poitras only Citizenfour, the disturbing Edward Snowden documentary that was shot in real time as one of the greatest news timebombs of our age was detonated. It was not about sensation. It was about revelation. It was about the end of privacy, the ubiquity of NSA's Big Brother surveillance in the internet age that makes Gestapo and Stasi practices as revealed in The Life of Others look tame. Later we have learned even worse about Pegasus.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is also a big league social documentary, about the North American opioid crisis which has claimed the lives of a half a million of Americans. The target is Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, and its drug OxyContin. The movie covers the international campaign of artists to boycott the influential Sackler philanthrophy in the world's major art museums. The leader of the campaign is Nan Goldin, herself an OxyContin survivor.

The ingenious structure of the documentary proceeds on several levels and dimensions. The main story is about the artists' fearless campaign at the most prestigious addresses of the international art world. Simultaneously the movie grows into a candid portrait documentary about Nan Goldin, starting from her tormented childhood and the suicide of her beloved sister Barbara.

It is also an art documentary about Nan Goldin, the pioneering photographer of milieux and lifestyles "on the wild side". Nan Goldin's major slideshows “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”; “The Other Side”; “Sisters, Saints and Sibyls”; and “Memory Lost” provide the artistic substance. The sound of the slide projector becomes a percussion element. ***

It is also a survey of the East Coast cultural underground and gay and trans communities since the 1970s. Nan Goldin was a member, not a voyeur observer. In this epic about these milieux she registers the evolution across decades from repression to acknowledging androgynous elegance, the AIDS death toll, and steps towards liberation.

Photography became a vehicle of emancipation for the young and inhibited Nan Goldin. It also becomes a weapon in the battle of life against death in successive health catastrophes: the AIDS period, the opiod crisis – and the Covid pandemic during which this movie was made.

* "Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit" ("Ballad of Sexual Dependency") was written for the character of Mrs. Peachum in Die Dreigroschenoper but withdrawn from the libretto before premiere.

** This thought, like most of the narration in Heart in Darkness, is expressed by the sailor Charles Marlow, inside quotation marks. The remark is heard soon after the declaration "Mistah Kurtz – he dead" and "And then they very nearly buried me".

*** English Wikipedia: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (slide show exhibition and artist's book): "It is an autobiographical document of a portion of New York City's No wave music and art scene, the post-Stonewall gay subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the heroin subculture of the Bowery neighborhood, and Goldin's personal family and love life. Critic Sean O'Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said it "remains a benchmark for all other work in a similar confessional vein." Lucy Davies, writing in The Telegraph in 2014, said it "would come to influence a generation of fledgling photographers, who fell into her truth-telling wake. She was credited by Bill Clinton with inventing heroin chic"."


Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Heojil kyolshim / Decision to Leave

Park Chan-Wook: 헤어질 결심 / Heojil kyolshim / Decision to Leave (KO 2022) starring Park Hae-il (detective Hae-joon) and Tang Wei (the murder suspect Seo-rae). Location: Geumjeongsan Mountain, Busan, South Korea. Do click on the image to enlarge it.

AA: In the film's promotion information Decision to Leave is characterized as a detective story turning into romance, and I can understand the usefulness of these words as a handle.

But I find this film a metaphysical quest. The female protagonist Seo-rae is elusive, but the film itself is elusive, too. We soon realize that we are following a narrative in which perception is unreliable. In the middle of a take the conditional mood may appear: a doubled mood of the same situation.

Decision to Leave seems to take place in the detective's mind, not in the objective world. Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) is an obsessive detective suffering from insomnia. The strange disruptions and dislocations in the flow seem tell-tale signs of profound exhaustion.

For me, Decision to Leave is a film about the short attention span typical of the internet age, the lack of concentration in the mobile age, the scope of awareness getting increasingly reduced to the instant.

Decision to Leave belongs to the films inspired by Vertigo, but not in a superficial or obvious way. Falling from heights, the presence of the death drive, the centrality of a woman who is not who she seems, and the power of the sea are among the affinities. There are also set-ups in the chase sequences that seem to have a Vertigo hommage aspect.

The female protagonist Seo-rae (Tang Wei) is complex and original, and yet so mysterious that she almost feels like a figment of the imagination. Or the detective's projection is so dominating that we fail to fully empathize with the Chinese refugee herself.

Park Chan-Wook's previous films belong to the most highly regarded of the last 23 years. They have also been prominent in brutality, but brutality in art is a double-edged weapon: effective at first but may date badly.

Might the title Decision to Leave be also about Park Chan-Wook's statement of a new direction in his cinema?

Monday, January 02, 2023

On ne sait jamais / You Never Know

Victoria Schultz: On ne sait jamais / You Never Know (US/FR 2022) with Hande Kodja (Iris). Loc: Maison Louis Carré. Black and white in scope. Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Ei sitä koskaan tiedä.
    US/FR © 2022 VivaVision / Kafard films. Filmantiq. Producteur excecutif: Paul-Anthony Mille.
    Un film de Victoria Schultz, réalisatrice, productrice. Scénario: Victoria Schultz avec Pierre Mille. Directeur de la photographie: Paul-Anthony Mille – 35 mm – noir et blanc – scope. Assistants caméra: Nicolas Fouques, Juliana Vélez. Chef electro: Erwan Robert-Thomasson. Chef machino: Joseph Geremia. Ingenieur son, mixage, bruitage: Juste Bruyat. Chef maquilleuse: Natalia Vélez. Maquilleuse: Eva Goarin. Effets: Natasha Lopez. Couturière: Pinrawan Pimpimarn. Régie: Félix Louf, Stéphane Colle. Montage: Lisa-Lou Villemain. Assistant production, comptable: Ilhem Sadji. Étalonnage: Erwan Robert-Thomasson.
    Loc: Maison Louis Carré (architecte: Alvar Aalto).
Iris / Hande Kodja           
Alex / Milan Marsauche
Olavi / Jonathan Pineau Bonetti
Aino / Ronia Ava
Vera / Chantal Hecaen  
Leo / Nick Mancuso  
Roger / Olivier Che
Mauricette / Mauricette Gourdon
Ilona / Li Krook
soldats / Stéphane Colle, Olivier Le Montagner
animaux / Ronia Ava, Li Krook, Natasha Lopez, Felix Louf
barman / Jean Peyrelade
    Bande sonore:
"Kevätyö" de Selim Palmgren / Henri Sigfridsson, piano.
"Saharan uni II" ; "Sähkösoittimen ääni #1" ; "On-Off" ; "Virsi" ; "Inventio" ; "Antropoidien tanssi" ; "Preludi II" / Erkki Kurenniemi, compositeur.
"Lapsuuden toverille" ; "Karjalan kunnailla" / Iiris Tarnanen, interprete
Appels aux vaches en Carélie / Vilma Jää
"Säkkijärven polkka" / Aurélien Lehmann, accordéon
"Valse lente Op. 3" de Oskar Merikanto / Ossi Tanner, piano
    Fiche technique:   
Kodak Vision 3 ; Kodak Double X .
Arrican LT ; Arrican ST ; Arriflex 2C.
    70 min
    Versions: French version and English version. Subtitle options: English, Finnish, French.
    Private Vimeo link of the French version with English subtitles viewed at home in Lappeenranta, 29 July 2022.

AA: Victoria Schultz was born in Finland but has worked all her life in the United States and France and established independent production companies in both countries (Viva Vision and Kafard Films). After a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent, documentary filmmaker and photographer Schultz has worked extended periods with the Finnish Broadcasting Company and the United Nations.

Recently Schultz has embarked on a new path of expression with intimate poetic quests, returning at a mature age to painful encounters of youth in the 30 minute Memories of Desire (2019), photographed mostly in stark black and white, channeling personal confessions in an Expressionist mode.

Like its short predecessor, the feature length You Never Know is a dream play, a time play and a memory play, also a case of Traumarbeit and Trauerarbeit, but the visual frame of reference is the opposite to Memories of Desire. Instead of its striking contrasts, You Never Know is painted with gentle, tender light and has affinities with 1960s European Modernism, urban studies of alienation such as the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. Instead of the Academy aspect ratio of the previous film, You Never Know unfolds in scope.

The main location is Maison Louis Carré designed by Alvar Aalto, the architect who was more than a rigorous modernist, enchanted by nature and feminine curves, favouring wave-like forms and welcoming the presence of light.

The film is anchored in the early 1960s in the life of a young woman born during WWII. We are learning to understand better that post-traumatic stress disorder does not concern only soldiers but also women conducting medical service and children exposed to war. I know that from my mother who told that her childhood ended on 30 November 1939 when she stared in the eye a Soviet Red Air Force bomber pilot in her home town Lahti.

Memory montages evoke the city of Viipuri lost to Russia and the epic masses of refugees from Karelia. Red Army soldiers rape (but don't kill) a woman who later gives the baby born from the act to an orphanage. Traces of war are everywhere. Landmines and explosíves keep getting detonated for years after the war ends. Reminding of the horrible human loss are the war invalids. Memories are alive also on the soundtrack in tunes referring to the lost Karelia as "Säkkijärven polkka" and "Karjalan kunnailla" and ancient Karelian cattle calls interpreted by Vilma Jää.

Paranoia is a recurrent theme. The caretaker Alex hallucinates about Soviets everywhere. We are anchored in the 1960s, the decade of political assassinations, most prominently that of JFK, still unsolved in the sense of what it was all about. Like in The Irishman, the news of the assassination hits us obliquely but unforgettably.

Young sexuality awakens in circumstances of a ménage à trois where mother and daughter share an interest in the caretaker, the young hunk Alex. He desires Iris but belongs to the mother. The father's clothes are still hanging in the closet (he left his wife and daughter for another woman). A convention is reversed in the sauna sequence where the male is nude and the female is clothed. The young woman's éducation sentimentale evolves in twisted circumstances of shifting affinities and loyalties.

Adding to the ostranenie is the presence of animal-headed characters, reminders of the dream space in which we find ourselves. Perhaps this is a grown-up fairy-tale.

Memories of Desire was an Expressionistic dream. The shimmering You Never Know is a lucid dream.