Monday, November 27, 2023

Banat Olfa / Les Filles d'Olfa / Four Daughters / بنات ألفة

Kaouther Ben Hania: Banat Olfa / بنات ألفة / Les Filles d'Olfa / Four Daughters (FR/TN/DE/SA 2023). 

Neljä tytärtä / Fyra döttrar
    France, Tunisia, Germany, Saudi Arabia / documentary / 2023 / Arabic / 110 minutes / sound 5.1 / 1:85
    A production by Tanit Films
in collaboration with Cinetelefilms / Twenty Twenty Vision
Co-produced by Red Sea Film Festival Foundation / ZDF Arte / Jour2Fête
    Produced by Nadim Cheikhrouha
with Habib Attia, Thanassis Karathanos, Martin Hampel
    A film written and directed by Kaouther Ben Hania
Image  Farouk Laaridh
Sound  Amal Attia, Manuel LAval, Henry Uhl, Maxim Romasevich
Set  Bessem Marzouk
Make up / Costumes  Anissa Ghelala
Music  Amine Bouhafa
Edited by  Jean-Christophe Hym, Qutaiba Barhamji, Kaouther Ben Hania
Hend Sabri in the role of Olfa
Olfa Hamrouni  herself
Eya Chikhaoui  herself
Tayssir Chikhaoui  herself
Nour Karoui  in the role of Rahma Chikhaoui
Ichraq Matar in the role of Ghofrane Chikhaoui
Majd Mastoura in the role of the men
Kaouther Ben Hania
Farouk Laaridh 
Amal Attia, Manuel Laval, Henry Uhl, 
Maxim Romasevich
Bessem Marzouk
Anissa Ghelala
Amine Bouhafa
    Festival premiere: 19 May 2023 Cannes
    French premiere: 5 July 2023
    Tunisian premiere: 20 Sep 2023
    Finnish premiere: 12 April 2024 - released by Cinemanse
    Bio Rex Lasipalatsi, Helsinki: Love & Anarchy: Helsinki International Film Festival: Save Love & Anarchy Campaign Screening, 27 Nov 2023
OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: " The life of Olfa, a Tunisian woman and mother of 4 daughters, oscillates between light and shadow. One day, her two eldest daughters disappear. To fill their absence, director Kaouther Ben Hania calls upon professional actors and sets up an extraordinary film mechanism to unveil the story of Olfa and her daughters. An intimate journey full of hope, rebellion, violence, intergenerational transmission and sisterhood, which will question the very foundation of our societies. "

CINEMANSE OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: " Cannesin elokuvafestivaaleilla 2023 parhaan dokumenttielokuvan Golden Eye -palkinnon saanut ja Kultaisesta palkinnosta kilpaillut koskettava Neljä tytärtä on intiimi kuvaus perheestä ja poikkeuksellinen dokumentti, jonka sisällä yhdistyvät fakta ja fiktio. Oscarilla palkittu ja kriitikoiden jo vuosien ajan ylistämä elokuvantekijä Kaouther Ben Hania seuraa dokumentissään tunisialaisen Olfan elämää ja neljää tytärtä, joista kaksi yllättäen katoaa. Osaksi perhettä kutsutaan kaksi näyttelijää, joiden sulautuminen perheeseen paljastaa Olfasta ja tämän perheestä jotakin ennennäkemätöntä. "

" Neljä tytärtä on toivon, kapinan, väkivallan, muutoksen ja sisaruuden intiimi matka, joka kyseenalaistaa kaiken mille yhteiskuntamme on rakennettu. "

" Suomen elokuvasäätiön maahantuontituki 2023. "

" Between light and darkness stands Olfa, a Tunisian woman and the mother of four daughters. One day, her two older daughters disappear. To fill in their absence, the filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania invites professional actresses and invents a unique cinema experience that will lift the veil on Olfa and her daughters' life stories. An intimate journey of hope, rebellion, violence, transmission and sisterhood that will question the very foundations of our societies. "


English Wikipedia: " Tunisian Olfa Hamrouni rose to international prominence in April 2016 when she publicized the radicalization of her two teenage daughters, Rahma and Ghofrane Chikhaoui. Both teenagers had left Tunisia to fight alongside the Islamic State (IS) in Libya. Hamrouni publicly criticized the Tunisian authorities for not preventing her daughter Rahma from leaving the country. After the arrest of the two women by Libyan forces, the authorities again did not react. Hamrouni is also said to have been prevented from leaving the country in order to look for her daughters in Libya on her own. "

AA: Kaouther Ben Hania's extraordinary meta-documentary is the story of the Chikhaoui family (a single mother and her four daughters) in Tunisia before and after the Jasmine Revolution that ignited the Arab Spring in 2011.

Ben Hania's approach is Pirandellian - Brechtian - Kiarostamian - Wellesian. 

The borderline between reality and play is fluid.

There are affinities in the subject with Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides and Udayan Prasad's My Son the Fanatic.

Part of the family is played by themselves, part by actresses, the mother Olfa is at times played by an actress, and at times by herself.

From tragedy to comedy there is but one step.

Ben Hania's experimental approach is bold, she takes chances, and succeeds. The film is powerful and engrossing but not melodramatic, although the subject would be ideal for melodrama.

The visual solution is at once reduced and complex. There are stirring inventions such as a four-way split screen where we see the ultrasonic fetus images of the four daughters with birth year labels.

It is the story of women in a violent, patriarchal, reactionary and heartbreakingly injust society. Ever since childhood, women need to learn to defend themselves from men (all interpreted by the same actor). The mother Olfa beefs herself up via weightlifting.

Included is a contender for the most extraordinary wedding night sequence in the history of the cinema. Olfa is not interested in her husband. Instead of romancing, Olfa turns him down, beats him up brutally, bloodying him, rubbing the bedsheet in his face and parading the bloody sheet to the cheering wedding guests. The female guests burst into the traditional Mahgreb wail of delight (resembling the Indian war cry in Westerns or maybe the rebel yell).

Once a year Olfa makes an exception, and four daughters are born. The father abandons them. Olfa confesses that she hates girls, and those words cut deep. Mobile phones are introduced, and the daughters take teasing photos where a close-up of an innocent bodyline can be imagined to be something indecent. After the Jasmine Revolution, Olfa invites Wissem, a fugitive from prison, to the home. "We were not used to such kindness", but Wissem also turns out to be an abuser, taking turns with the mother and the daughters. One of the daughters becomes a Goth, a devil worshipper and a heavy metal fan. In May 2013, veils start being sold, and soon all daughters wear hijab. They turn into extreme islamist fanatics. Thus they find a way to dominate their mother. Olfa finds them jobs as cleaning women. The sisters' games take extreme turns, including self-flagellation, threats of stoning a friend of Olfa who becomes pregnant out of wedlock, and spending a night buried alive. Olfa informs on her jihadi daughters to the police. They are taken to a juvenile detention centre. "I had nightmares and cried almost all day". "That was one of the best experiences of my life. My life turned over".

Rahma and Ghofrane leave Tunisia to join ISIS in Libya. Especially after the US airstrike to the Islamic State training camp in Sabratha, Libya, in 2016, Olfa's quest to save her daughters turns desperate. Ghofrane gives birth to a baby, Fatma. She looks at us with expressionless eyes. Rahma and Ghofrane are sentenced to 16 years in prison in Libya. In the finale, Fatma is eight years old.

Four Daughters is about the vicious circle of every mother transferring to the next generation the teaching of the previous one. "But this is a generation who can break the chain".

Four Daughters is a shattering film. It also leaves much for further exploration about the exact process of transformation of the wild and liberated girls into hijab-clad angels of death and terror.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

We Will Not Fade Away / My ne zgasnemo

Alisa Kovalenko: We Will Not Fade Away / Ми не згаснемо (UA/FR/PL/US 2023).

Ми не згаснемо
Alisa Kovalenko, 2023, Ukraine, France, Poland, USA, documentary, 100 min
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian
Subtitles: English
Kino K13, Helsinki: Kettupäivät, 23 Nov 2023

Kettupäivät 2023: " Synopsis: Matka Himalajalle tarjoaa hetkellisen pakopaikan todellisuudesta viidelle teini-ikäiselle, jotka asuvat konfliktin koettelemalla Donbassin alueella. Elokuva on kuvaus sukupolvesta, joka kykenee kaikesta huolimatta tunnistamaan elämän hauraan kauneuden ja juhlistamaan sitä. "

" Synopsis: For five teenagers living in the conflict-ridden Donbas region of Ukraine, a Himalayan expedition provides a brief escape from reality. A portrait of a generation that, in spite of everything, is able to recognize and celebrate the fragile beauty of life. "


Berlin Film Festival 2023: " “I don’t remember a single year in my life as well as 2014.” – “It’s as if a new timeline began at that moment.” 

"  Having grown up among the ruins, minefields, bomb shelters and coal mines of the Donbas, Andriy, Illia, Lera, Liza and Ruslan live in a world where, ever since 2014, shelling and gunfire have been as commonplace as the ever-present yearning for a better life. An expedition to the Himalayas gives the five Ukrainian teenagers the chance to fulfil this dream for a brief moment, before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February of 2022 ends up destroying the last remnants of hope. With its sensitive, unobtrusively perceptive gaze, the film paints a moving portrait of a generation of young people surrounded by darkness, who are nonetheless – or perhaps all the more – able to recognise and celebrate the fragile beauty of life. "

IDFA 2023: " The people of the Donbas region of Ukraine have been living with war since 2014. Young people suffer in particular, leading an uncertain, hopeless life in a rural area that has little to offer in the way of excitement anyway, and where a future as a miner seems inevitable. "

" We follow teenagers Andriy, Ruslan, Ilya, Lisa and Lera in 2019, during golden summer days, swimming in the lake, tinkering with a moped, rehearsing a play or helping in the garden. But these pensive shots keep being rudely interrupted by the raw reality of the front, just around the corner from their homes: the rattle of gunfire, distant explosions, the discovery of a rocket casing during a peaceful walk in the woods. "

" An invitation to go trekking in the Himalayas brings hope, and the five teenagers embark on an intensive training program to get in shape. Meanwhile, they talk about their dreams and plans for the future, determined to make something of their lives when the war, which has already taken up half their youth, is finally over. "

AA: The distinction of Alisa Kovalenko's We Will Not Fade Away is dignity. This is a chararacteristic it shares with Mstyslav Chernov's 20 Days in Mariupol. Both film-makers understand the force of restraint in a subject full of horror.

We Will Not Fade Away is a lyrical documentary of young people in the shadow of war. In Donbas, war started already in 2014, and it has become the overwhelming generation experience. Lisa, Lera, Andriy, Ruslan and Ilya spend a lovely summer holiday, dreaming of the future. Inspired by Valentin Shcherbachov (Щербачов), they start to plan a trek to the Himalayas. They exercise all summer to get in shape.

The aesthetical approach of Alisa Kovalenko is based on the contrast of the shadow of the war in coalmining Donbas and the yearning to get higher, first to domestic hilltops, and finally to Nepal, where the youngsters reach the Annapurna Base Camp.

The sublime of the nature is a life-saving counter-image to the vile conditions in the war-torn homeland.

I have never seen more beautiful footage from Nepal: the glowing red rhododendra, the breathtaking mountain paths, passages in the rain, the sense of infinity, the trek in the darkness before sunrise, the Buddhist prayer. "Walking through the fog felt like a dream".

The low definition of much of the footage (perhaps shot with a mobile phone) gives We Will Not Fade Away a home movie quality. But what is gained is an exceptional sense of warmth and intimacy. In the finale we see fields of sunflowers and glimpses of family life. And shocking American Graffiti style resumes of the protagonists: what happened after Putin's Feldzug on 24 February 2022. 

Lift Up Your Voices

Arttu Nieminen: Lift Up Your Voices (FI 2023).

Arttu Nieminen, Finland, 2023, experimental, 12 min
Language: English
Subtitles: English
    Opening event hosted by Markku Heikkinen, in the presence of Isa Aaltonen and Nataliya Teramae, and Guest Speaker Jukka Kekkonen.
    Kino K13, Helsinki: Kettupäivät, 23 Nov 2023

Kettupäivät 2023: " Synopsis: Suurelta algoritmien epäpaikalta kajahtava ääni puhuttelee ihmiskuntaa, joka ottaa viimeisiä hengenvetojaan. Emily Dickinsonin runosäkeistöön "Tunsin hautajaiset, aivoissani" nojautuen ääni kutsuu meitä murtamaan leipää ja rukoilemaan yhdessä sekä kohtaamaan inhimillisten halujemme kohtalokkaat seuraukset. Lopulta ääni anelee meitä kohottamaan äänemme vastustaaksemme harhauskoisuuden helvettiä. "

"Synopsis: Voice from the noplace of an all-embracing algorithm addresses humanity in its last gasps. Punctuated by a song based on a stanza from Emily Dickinson’s poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” the Voice invites us to break bread and pray together, and to face the deadly consequences of our human desires. Finally, the Voice implores us to lift up our own voices against the hell of misbelieving. "

AA: The event started with the Kettupäivät 2023 trailer, also directed by Arttu Nieminen, a fast edit resume of Lift Up Your Voices.

Merging glorious Lapland nature footage with computer generated imagery, Arttu Nieminen creates a "surrealist requiem" in which a collective consciousness in the form of a computer* addresses mankind in its death throes.

Arttu Nieminen draws from euphoric ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) experiences to craft audiovisual incantations.

A psychedelic movie with wonders of nature, hallucinatory aspects, blitz montages, star gates and visions of death. Based on a radiocast by Gregory Whitehead, the movie impresses with its soundscape designed by Nieminen and Whitehead.

Followed by an information bulletin (tietoisku) on refugees. No one plans to become a refugee. They are desperate to find safety.



Kokeellinen lyhytelokuva, drone-, VFX- ja kollaasitekniikkat
12 min

Perustuu Gregory Whiteheadin radio-ohjelmaan.

Kaikkisyleilevän algoritmin paikattomuudesta kumpuava ääni puhuttelee henkitoreissaan olevaa ihmiskuntaa. Ääntä rytmittää laulu, joka perustuu Emily Dickinsonin runon säkeeseen “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”. Ääni kutsuu meitä murtamaan leivän ja rukoilemaan yhdessä sekä kohtaamaan ihmismäisten halujemme kuolettavat seuraukset. Lopulta ääni anelee meitä kohottamaan oman äänemme harhauskoisuuden helvettiä vastaan.

Arttu Nieminen (s.1981) on Rovaniemellä asuva ohjaaja ja mediataiteilija, jonka teosten lähtökohtana on arktinen luonto. Välillä luonto näyttäytyy hänelle omana tiedostavana olionaan, toisinaan taas mystisenä rajapintana näkyvän ja näkymättömän välillä. 

“Virtaavat luontokuvat, poeettinen lausunta, minimalistinen musiikki ja kokonaisuutta rikkovat brutaalit montaasit ovat ilmaisuni kulmakiviä. ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) ladattuja kohtauksia ketjuttamalla sorvaan audiovisuaalisia loitsuja, joihin pyrin istuttamaan muutosvoimaa. Olen siis eräänlaisen propagandaelokuvan äärellä, vaikka pyrinkin puhdistavaan taidekokemukseen.”


AV-ARKKI Centre for Finnish Media Art

Voice from the nonplace of an all-embracing algorithm addresses humanity in its last gasps. Punctuated by a song based on a stanza from Emily Dickinson’s poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”, the Voice invites us to break bread and pray together, and to face the deadly consequences of our human desires. Finally, the Voice implores us to lift up our own voices against the hell of misbelieving.

Production Year
Single channel
artificial intelligence, meditation, surrealism
Original Title
Lift Up Your Voices
English Title
Lift Up Your Voices

Dialogue: Yes
Sound: Yes
Arttu Nieminen (Author), Arttu Nieminen (Cinematographer), Nicholas Francett (Composer), Arttu Nieminen (Editor), R2 productions Ky (Producer), Arttu Nieminen (Script), Gregory Whitehead (Script), Arttu Nieminen (Sound Design), Gregory Whitehead (Sound Design), Taiteen edistämiskeskus (Funder), Suomen Kulttuurirahasto (Funder), AVEK (Funder)



Lift Up Your Voices 
12 min / 2023 / Experimental Drone-, VFX- ja kollaasitekniikalla videoinstallaatio

Kollektiivinen tietoisuus tekoälyn muodossa puhuu henkitoreissaan olevalle ihmiskunnalle. Viimeisellä matkallaan kokija lipuu läpi aikojen ja maailmojen. Surrealistisessa sielunmessussa kohdataan inhimillisten halujen tappavat seuraukset.

Arttu Nieminen: 

Olen Rovaniemellä asuva mediataiteilija (s. 1981) ja teosteni lähtökohtana on usein symmetrialla ja horisontilla leikittelevä muoto, arktinen hauras luonto sekä enteiden ja näkyjen kaltaiset rinnastukset ajankohtaisiin ilmiöihin. Virtaavat luontokuvat, poeettinen lausunta, minimalistinen musiikki ja kokonaisuutta rikkovat brutaalit montaasit ovat ilmaisuni kulmakiviä . ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) ladattuja kohtauksia ketjuttamalla sorvaan audiovisuaalisia loitsuja joihin pyrin istuttamaan muutosvoimaa. Olen siis eräänlaisen propagandaelokuvan äärellä, vaikka pyrinkin puhdistavaan taidekokemukseen.

Luonto, kuin myös ihmisen rakentamat kolossaaliset struktuurit ja kaupungin syke näyttäytyy minulle omana tiedostavana olionaan, toisinaan taas mystisenä rajapintana näkyvän ja näkymättömän välillä. Eristäytynyt, mystinen ja virtaava ovatkin määreitä joista teokset hallusinoivat muotoaan. Ne ovat houreisia oodeja luonnon mystisille piirteille ja houkuttaen metsään uusin silmin.

Videotaiteeni hengittää museoissa, gallerioissa, elokuvateattereissa, kuin myös tapahtumissa installaatioina ja julkisivuprojiisioina. Tapahtumissa ja festivaaleilla vierailen toteuttamassa videoinstallaatioita, sekä heittäydyn artistikollaboraatioihin, joissa törmäytän mediataidetta performansseihin, koreografioihin, runouteen ja musiikkiin.

Ympäristökysymykset ja ihmisen ristiriitainen luontosuhde ovat teemoja jotka toistuvat töissäni. Pohdin myös ihmiskunnan tietoisuuden taso ja valintaa joka meillä on joka hetki käsillämme herkistäessämme sisintämme polun risteymissä ja kurkottaessamme lajina korkeampaan tietoisuuden tilaan. Vaikka monesti tuntuu ettei yksilöllä merkitystä tässä suuressa taikinassa jota vaivataan, olemme kuitenkin osa suurempaa konsensusta, hermoverkostoa, jossa jokainen yksilö resonoi omalla värähtelyllään ja potentiaalillaan ympärillä olevaan sähköistäen tätä kollektiivisen tietoisuuden rihmastoa. Ehkä siinä piilee syy miksi pyrin puhuttelemaan teoksillani kokijaa ikään kuin he itse olisivat intensiivisellä tripillä, jotta teoksien lyhyeen kestoon saisin istutettua vipuvoimaa jonka kukin voi tulkita omalla tavallaa ja arvoistaan käsin ja näin parhaassa tapauksessa voisin jättää jotain kytemään kokijan sydänalaan.

Näyt ja kuvat joita työstän ammentavatkin usein estetiikkaa ja tyylilajia luontomatkojen lisäksi päänsiäisiltä matkoiltani, jolloin tajunta ikään kuin huokaa ja herää uusiin todellisuuksiin, taas sieltä sukeltaen uusiin mielen maisemiin, joiden äärellä haltioitua, pohtia elämää ja kokea pyhää, kaunista läsnäoloa itsensä ja universumien äärellä. Annan kaikkeuden resonoida minussa ja minuuteni liueta siihen.

* The program notes use the term Artificial Intelligence which I avoid, because there is no intelligence in "artificial intelligence".

Kettupäivät 23-25 Nov 2023

Kettupäivät: Festival of Political Cinema: Images of War and Peace, Kino K13, Helsinki, 23-25 Nov 2023.

Näytöksen ajankohta: to 23.11.2023 klo 18.30.
Näytöksen kesto: noin 140 min.
Ikäraja: K-12.
Kino K13, Helsinki: Kettupäivät, 23 Nov 2023

Puhujana: Jukka Kekkonen, oikeushistorian emeritusprofessori, rauhanaktivistien poika.

Näytöksessä esittäytyy: Ukrainalaisten yhdistys Suomessa ry.

Ukrainalaisten yhdistys Suomessa ry on perustettu 1997 Helsingissä, ja  sen tavoitteina ovat Suomessa asuvien ukrainalaisten yhdistyminen ja edustaminen,  ukrainalaisen kulttuurin saavutusten säilyttäminen ja Ukrainan tunnetuksi tekeminen laajalle yhteisölle. UYS ylläpitää kumppanuussuhteita ja järjestää yhteisiä kulttuuritapahtumia mm. Turun, Tampereen, Lahden, Oulun, Jyväskylän ukrainalaisyhteisöjen kanssa.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

20 Days in Mariupol / 29 dniv u Mariupoli (in the presence of Vasilisa Stepanenko)

Mstyslav Chernov: 20 Days in Mariupol / 20 днів у Маріуполі (UA 2023). 

20 днів у Маріуполі
UA 2023.
Director: Mstyslav Chernov
94 min
Genre: documentary
Languages: English, Ukrainian, Russian, with English subtitles
    Pulitzer Prize 2023 for public service
    Sundance Film Festival 2023 World Cinema Audience Award - Documentary
    NPO IDFA Audience Award 2023 [NPO = Nederlandse Publieke Omroep = the Netherlands Public Broadcasting System], [IDFA = International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam]
    Ukrainian proposal for the Academy Awards 2024
    Hosted by Nataliya Teramae
    Interpreted by Oleksi Prehodko
    In the presence of Vasilisa Stepanenko and other Mariupol survivors.
    Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki: Ukrainian Film Days (UFD), 19 Nov 2023

UFD 2023: " An Associated Press team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting atrocities of the Russian invasion. As the only international reporters who remain in the city, they capture what later become defining images of the war: dying children, mass graves, the bombing of a maternity hospital, and more. "

" The film offers a vivid, harrowing account of civilians caught in the siege, as well as a window into what it’s like to report from a conflict zone, and the impact of such journalism around the globe. "

" Awards and nominations:
    Award World Cinema Documentary at Sundance Film Festival 2023
    Mstyslav Chernov (film director), Evgeniy Maloletka (still photographer), and Vasilisa Stepanenko (field producer), received the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for courageous reporting from the besieged city of Mariupol that bore witness to the slaughter of civilians in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
    Ukraine’s submission for the best international feature category at the 2024 Oscars. "

" The film is presented and followed by the Q&A with Vasilisa Stepanenko, field producer: “I remember the eyes of the parents who were losing their children and voices of Mariupol residents, who asked to show this to the world. I hope that every person will see the film to find out the truth about what happened in Mariupol”. "

" Vasilisa Stepanenko is a video journalist from Kharkiv, Ukraine, whose work focuses on issues of human rights and social justice, especially related to the war in her country. Stepanenko has worked with Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka since before the start of the full-scale russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when she realized that it would be crucial to provide accurate information from eastern Ukraine. Starting in Kharkiv – the hometown of both her and Chernov – the team realized that Mariupol would be the first key to the war. They arrived hours before the first rockets landed and were the only journalists working for an international news organization to stay in the city for more than two weeks, leaving just ahead of the Russian takeover of the city center. Since then, Stepanenko has reported from Lviv and Kharkiv as well. She has dedicated her work in Mariupol to the people there who lost their lives, families and homes in the war. " (UFD 2023)


IDFA 2023: " On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a team of Ukrainian journalists enter the strategic eastern port city of Mariupol. During the subsequent siege and assault, as bombs fall, inhabitants flee, and access to electricity, food, water, and medicine are severed, the team — the only international journalists left — struggles to cover the war atrocities and to transmit their footage out. "

AA: There were moments of silence in the beginning and the end in standing ovation to the victims and survivors of Mariupol, the Hero City of Ukraine.

A first hand account of the first twenty days in the Siege of Mariupol. The film is divided into 20 chapters: Day 1, 24 Feb 2022 till Day 20, 15 March 2022. It is based on original news despatches and private footage by the Associated Press (AP) journalist Mstyslav Chernov and his team. We saw the film in the presence of the field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko who was today also celebrating her 24th birthday.

On screen was the English version (narration, credits and subtitles in English).

The approach is one of dignity. The narrator's voice remains calm, a decision of sound judgement.

The film is evidence of a vast number of war crimes. Russian air strikes target civilians, not even sparing maternity hospitals and air raid shelters for civilians. A severe humanitarian crisis is caused intentionally. Safe corridors are blocked. The Red Cross calls the crisis "apocalyptic". 90% of the city's residential buildings are destroyed by tank fire. A project of ethnic cleansing is systematic, proof of the crime of genocide. In disgrace, Russian Armed Forces sink to the level of baby killers.

Much of the movie is in low definition, handheld, shaky and trembling, growing into an epic documentation of devastation, towards the end covering the destroyed city in drone footage, never losing the human perspective of children's suffering, parents' infinite agony, doctors overwhelmed when painkillers run out, a lethally injured pregnant woman crying "please kill me", homeless citizens moving their belongings in wheelbarrows. We visit makeshift hospitals, shelters where the lights are out, rubble that used to be someone's home. Stores and banks are plundered and robbed. In war, the good get better and the bad get worse.

Worst of all is isolation when communications do not work. Russian disinformation claims that Ukrainians are bombing the city themselves. The film-makers struggle to get their images for the world to see. There is a meta level running through the movie: the original footage as evidence, and the international media disseminating that footage in news programmes.

We visit mass graves and grave markers with only numbers on them.

This is documentation in the heat of the moment, warfare against civilians seen at close range.

For reference, I'm thinking about For Sama by Waad al-Kateab, her first person video diary about the massacre of Aleppo by Bashar al-Assad with the brutal help of Vladimir Putin's air force.

Tonight's event was made special by the live testimony of the three survivors on stage. "It was hard to believe that this is really happening". "War entered our homes". "To see a baby dying with my own eyes". "We decided to stay and show this to the world". "There is in the movie but a fraction of what really happened". "One of the worst things was the information vacuum, filled by disinformation". "I was also moved to register in the frontline many fighters of my own age". "God is dead".

PS 22 Nov 2023. An excellent article on this Helsinki screening by Sami Sillanpää in Helsingin Sanomat.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Jüri Rumm (1929) (2023 Estonian Film Archive restoration in 4K)

John Loop, Boris Borissoff, Mihhail Lepper: Jüri Rumm (EE 1929) with Hans Suursööt (Jüri Rumm) and Ly Kerge (Madli).

EE 1929
D: John (Johannes) Loop, Boris Borissoff (Jaanikosk), Mihhail Lepper
SC: Mihhail Lepper, John (Johannes) Loop
Cast: Hans Suursööt, Ly Kerge, Boris Borissoff (Jaanikosk), Karl Laas, Mihhail Lepper, Benno Hansen, Salme Peetson, Meta Kelgo, Elsa Silber, Voldemar Toffer, Voldemar Päts, Olga Holts, Alfred Hindrea, Aleksander Mildeberg, A. Kaasik
Producer: Ida Jeršova
DoP: Konstantin Märska
Production: Konstantin Märska Filmiproduktsioon
From: Rahvusarhiivi filmiarhiiv
101 min
Languages: Estonian, German, Russian
Subtitles: English
27. Pimedate Ööde filmifestival (PÖFF) / 27th Black Nights Film Festival
Programm: Vana Kuld: klassika ärkab ellu / Golden Oldies: Classic Films Revived
Žanr: seiklusfilm, tummfilm / adventure, silent
Teema: seiklused / adventure
    22 fps
    Hosted by Eva Näripea.
    Stephen Horne at the grand piano.
    Frank Bockius alla batteria.
    Kino Sõprus, Pimedate Ööde Filmifestival (PÖFF) / Black Nights Film Festival, Tallinn, 18 Nov 2023

Eva Näripea (PÖFF 2023): "“Jüri Rumm” is a satiric adventure film about a legendary Estonian thief from the second half of the 19th century, who became an archetypal folk hero, a sort of local Robin Hood – an outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor. In the early 20th century, his colourful character inspired an entire series of stage plays and stories. Based mainly on Hans Varessoo’s (pseudonym) 1908 novel and the first volume of Jaan Metua’s trilogy of plays, which appeared in 1921, the film’s screenplay was allegedly written by Mikhail Lepper, the first Estonian to study with Georg Wilhelm Pabst and work with Fritz Lang in the early 1920s, who later emigrated to Sweden to work as a photojournalist. The premise of the film draws on Jüri Rumm’s biography: as a nobleman’s servant, Jüri is punished for stealing food from the baron for his sick father. Vowing revenge, he leaves the manor on a stolen horse, slipping away from his pursuers again and again, wearing ever-new disguises. Jüri’s love affair with Madli, who also serves at the manor, adds spice to the adventurous storyline and ultimately proves fatal for the clever fugitive. "

" “Jüri Rumm” was digitised in 6K and restored in 4K in 2023 in the Film Archive of the National Archives of Estonia, using the original nitrate negative, three surviving reels of a nitrate print and a reel of a safety print. "

" The live music accompanying the film will be composed and performed by Stephen Horne (UK, piano) and Frank Bockius (Germany, drums). Horne and Bockius are internationally acclaimed silent film musicians who regularly perform at film heritage festivals around the world. " Eva Näripea

AA: Jüri Rumm is a movie about a legendary Estonian bandit and folk hero in the second half of the 1800s. Two days ago I saw Dovbush in the Ukrainian Film Days in Helsinki, and both belong to the same great international rebel trend with Robin Hood, Zorro and Captain Blood. During Jüri Rumm's lifetime, also Rinaldo Rinaldini and Fra Diavolo were evoked. The outlaw was also known as a Don Juan irresistible to women, but in today's movie, he is monogamous.

Since the Great Northern War, Estonia had belonged to the Russian Empire. German landlords remained powerful landowners.

The director triumvirate of John Loop, Boris Borissoff and Mihhail Lepper bring a multiple approach to the saga. The movie starts with images of appealing realism about harvest time on the Estonian countryside. 

It proceeds to a vision of an authoritarian and oppressive society. Serfdom has been abolished, but there is still a quasi-feudal rule in manors owned by German aristocrats who wield the whip liberally over Estonians, their servants. Maids are routinely harassed, and when the servant Jüri Rumm helps his sick father, he is brutally whipped.

Offended, Jüri gradually launches a career as a horsethief and robber. He is chased by the German owners of the manors and protected by his people. His is a thrilling saga of audacious feats and ingenious escapes. He becomes the leader of a robber gang.

This movie is also a love story of Jüri Rumm and the maid Madli, saved by Jüri from her tormentors. When Rumm is finally caught and banished into Siberian hard labour camps, the final images are of Madli's sorrow and longing.

Appealing features in the movie include Jüri Rumm as a master of disguises and escape artist. From this angle, the movie belongs to the grand tradition of the Fregolinade

There is an ample dose of humour in scenes where Jüri Rumm cheats arrogant landowners and a vain magistrate who fails to recognize Jüri Rumm sitting opposite him dressed as a German aristocrat.

Hans Suursööt has a great likeness in build and facial features to the mug shots of the real Jüri Rumm. He is believable as a strongman with a tender side, schooled in German aristocratic ways and language, facing a life of danger with a fearless, stoic and amused attitude. Like Dovbush, he has what Ukrainians call volia: an undying fighting spirit.

But most memorably, Jüri Rumm is a rebellious work of indignation about injustice. The scenes of violence of masters against servants have an inflammatory atavistic force. Repeated scenes of sexual violence likewise.

A very well done restoration with appealing grayscale and black levels. Based on the negative, with one reel missing. The restoration obeys the original trilingual intertitling in Estonian, German and Russian. There were English subtitles in the presentation.

The show was powered by two of the most experienced and acclaimed musical maestri on the scene of international film culture. Stephen Horne at the grand piano and Frank Bockius alla batteria contributed an electrifying and exhilarating drive, full of character, and a perfect uplift helping revive and connect a remarkable film with contemporary consciousness.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Jäähyväiset presidentille / Farewell, Mr. President (in the presence of Taavi Kassila and Marjatta Nissinen)

Matti Kassila: Jäähyväiset presidentille / Farewell, Mr. President (FI 1987) starring Hannu Lauri (Asko Mertanen). Photo: Night Visions.

Night Visions: Finlandia Gala

Maa ja vuosi: Suomi 1987
Ikäraja: 16
Kesto: 87 min
Ohjaus: Matti Kassila
Käsikirjoitus: Matti Kassila, Taavi Kassila
Tuotanto: Kaj Holmberg
Kuvaus: Kari Sohlberg
Musiikki: Heikki Sarmanto
Rooleissa: Hannu Lauri, Laila Räikkä, Antti Litja, Esa Saario, Aake Kalliala, Markku Huhtamo, Markku Nieminen, Tarmo Manni
Kieli: Suomi
Tekstitys: Englanti
Formaatti: 35 mm [vintage print screened with a single projector with leader runs between reels]
    In the presence of Taavi Kassila and Marjatta Nissinen, hosted by Matti Rämö.
    Kinopalatsi, Helsinki: Night Visions (NV) Maximum Halloween: Finlandia Gala, 16 Nov 2023.

NV 2023: " Kotimaisen elokuvan ohjaajalegendoihin kuuluneen Matti Kassilan 31. elokuva on suomalaisittain harvinainen tapaus: tiukkailmeinen kuvaus psykopaatista, joka päättää murhata presidentin. Asko Mertanen (Hannu Lauri) on tarjoilija, joka pitää yhteiskuntaa yhtenä suurena salaliittona. ”Mitä suurempi herra, sitä suurempi sika”, hän valistaa työtovereitaan hakiessaan kabinetissa juhliville herroille lisää häppää. "

" Kerrostaloasuntonsa komerossa Mertanen varastoi asearsenaalia, jolla voisi lähteä sotaan. Kun hän paljastaa suunnitelmansa tyttöystävälleen (Laila Räikkä) tämä ei pelästy, vaan haluaa mukaan. Vain riittävän ison maalin kaatamalla voi saada aikaan riittävän muutoksen, Mertanen uskoo terroristin vakaumuksella. Tutkiessaan nuoren tarjoilijan seksuaalimurhaa ylietsivä Hanhivaara (Antti Litja) ajautuu Mertasen jäljille. "

" Rikoselokuvilla aloittanut Kassila (1924−2018) palasi uransa lopussa lähtöruutuun entistä kovemmin eväin. Jäähyväiset presidentille on suomalaisittain poikkeuksellisen kovaotteinen rikoselokuva. Olof Palmen murhan ja Mikkelin panttivankidraaman jälkeen valmistunut ohjaus  oli hyytävä kuvaus suomalaisen poliittisen terrorismin mahdollisuudesta. Laurin kylmällä vihalla lataama päärooli toi hänelle Jussi-palkinnon. Litja ja presidenttiä viimeisessä elokuvaroolissaan näyttelevä veteraani Tarmo Manni (1921−1999) antavat sivuosissa tehokasta tulitukea. "

" Matti Kassilan yhdessä Taavi-poikansa kanssa kirjoittama Jäähyväiset presidentille pohjautuu Pentti Kirstilän romaaniin, jolle kansainvälisen tason trillerisovitus antoi uutta katu-uskottavuutta. Finlandia-gaala tekee kunniaa suomalaisen psykopaattikuvauksen valiolle. "

”Jäähyväiset presidentille on näinä aikoina harvinaisuus: hyvin tehty toimintaelokuva supisuomalaisessa ympäristössä supisuomalaisin ihmisin”
– Sakari Toiviainen / Ilta-Sanomat (16.1.1987)

”Hannu Lauri tekee avainhenkilönä hyvin jännittävän, voi sanoa karismaattisen keskeisen näyttelijätyön”
– Heikki Eteläpää / Uusi Suomi (17.1.1987)

”Tarmo Manni esittää vallastaan nauttivaa presidenttiä nautittavan ilkeästi”
– Helena Ylänen / Helsingin Sanomat (17.1.1987)

Quoted by NV 2023: " In this thriller, a waiter in a popular and busy restaurant has a real way with women, but his most powerful sexual feelings are reserved for his collection of guns. He is a highly skilled marksman who is convinced that he is the defender of all that is righteous. The current presidetnt of Finland is at the top of the waiter's list of people who should be dead, and he mena to do something about it. Once that becomes clear to him, the next thing he sets out to do is try out a little target practice on actual human beings. The resulting furor sets the police on his tril, and they are in a hurry to find him before he cuts down his next target." - Clarke Fountain AllMovie

AA: Revisited Farewell, Mr. President which I had not seen since 2004 when we screened it in our 80th anniversary tribute to Matti Kassila, in its first part dedicated to detective stories and thrillers.

The film has stood the test of time well and even grown in stature because of aspects that seem more topical today: random gun violence and populist rage.

In comparison with the lineage of films such as The Sniper, Suddenly, Targets and The Jackal, Farewell, Mr. President holds its own.

Based on the novel in the "farewell" cycle of the detective novelist Pentti Kirstilä, the story is firmly grounded in the city of Tampere and the province of Tavastia.

The fact that the sniper of Kirstilä and Kassila prefers to kill his victims from the roof evokes Mannen på taket / The Man on the Roof by Bo Widerberg, based on the Detective Beck novel The Abominable Man by Sjöwall & Wahlöö. Both films are vividly felt accounts of their society, the life and the times.

Today such a story might feature an incel (involuntarily celibate) killer, but in this story, Asko Mertanen is more like a hermit playboy, a narcissist and a bodybuilder.

Timebound elements include casual misogyny, double standards and homophobia. They don't seem a part of the ethos of the creators of the novel and the movie. Rather they are documentary details of a period. Watching this film we realize that we have moved on. The attitude to political corruption and "hyvä veli -verkostot" ("old boy networks") is matter-of-fact. In this aspect I am not sure we have made so much progress.

Excellent work by cast and crew: Hannu Lauri as the killer, Laila Räikkä as his girlfriend Eeva-Maria Kilpinen, Antti Litja as Detective Hanhivaara. As always in Kassila, there are no indifferent roles.

A real coup is casting Tarmo Manni as the President of the Republic. He is convincing and charismatic in his final movie role. His baldness is a reference to the former actual President of Finland, Urho Kekkonen, who had resigned in 1982. There is double baldness, because Asko Mertanen, about to assassinate the President, shaves his head clean, as well.

Present in the Finlandia Gala were the director's son Taavi Kassila, co-screenwriter, and Marjatta Nissinen, costume and makeup designer. Eloquent cinematography on location in Tampere by Kari Sohlberg. Exciting jazz score by Heikki Sarmanto.

Dovbush (in online presence of Oles Sanin)

Oles Sanin: Dovbush / Довбуш (UA 2023) starring Serhiy Strelnikov as Oleksa Dovbush. Photo: Ukrainian Film Days.

Довбуш / Dovbush: The Warrior of the Black Mountain / Dovbush: Lord of the Black Mountains
    Ukraine, 2022
Director: Oles Sanin
Cinematographer: Serhiy Mikhalchuk
Cast: Serhiy Strelnikov, Oleksii Hnatkovskiy, Daria Plakhtiy, Rostyslav Derzhypilkii, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Jerzy Schejbal, Agata Buzek
120 min
Genre: historical action adventure
Language: Ukrainian, with English subtitles. Also Polish, Yiddish, Romanian.
    Festival premiere: 19 Aug 2023 Odesa International Film Festival
    Ukrainian and German premiere: 24 Aug 2023
    Kinopalatsi, Helsinki, Ukrainian Film Days (UFD), 16 Nov 2023

UFD 2023: " Welcome to the VII Ukrainian Film Days, traditionally held every autumn in Helsinki. This year, we present four films produced in Ukraine during Russia’s full-scale invasion: “Dovbush”, “Mavka”, “Myrnyi-21” and “20 Days in Mariupol”. The program is multi-genre, as it is designed to present the diversity of Ukrainian film production and includes historical features, a family animation, and a documentary. All films are united by one idea: we are on our land – from the Carpathians to Mariupol, and we will defend our right to freedom. "

" To defend the freedom of the state, many artists have joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine, including filmmakers. The screening of “Myrnyi-21” is dedicated to one of its stars, Pavlo Lee. The 33-year-old actor died on 6 March 2022 in Irpin. Additionally, actor Maksym Devizorov, director Akhtem Seitablaev and “Dovbush” cameraman Serhiy Mykhalchuk are all serving in the Armed Forces. We cherish the memory of our defenders. "

" This year we will host the following guests – Oles Sanin, director of “Dovbush”, and Vasilisa Stepanenko, field producer of “20 Days in Mariupol”. "

" The Ukrainian Film Days are held as part of the first Ukraine Season of Culture in Finland. Our goal is to present the culture of Ukraine, while touching upon the current situation in the country and supporting Ukrainian artists who lost the opportunity to work productively due to Russia’s invasion. "


UFD 2023: " Carpathians. Beginning of the 18th century. The brutal rule of the Polish nobility forces Hutsuls to flee to the mountains. Two brothers, Oleksa and Ivan Dovbush, find themselves to be outlaws and become opryshoks. In search of revenge on the lords for the murder of Dovbush’s parents, the brothers become enemies of each other. One yearns for money, the other for justice. Hutsuls start a rebellion led by Oleksa. The nobility does everything possible to destroy Dovbush. But he outwits them. So the legend of the Carpathian knight spread. A legend that inspires generations of those who fight for freedom of their native land. About the strength and love of Oleksa Dovbush, about betrayal and wrongdoing. About how he lived and how he cheated death. "

" The film is presented and followed by the Q&A with Oles Sanin, film director and screenwriter (“Mamai”, “The Guide”): “Every nation has its national hero. We have Dovbush. First of all, this is a story about freedom. This is a story about people who chose their own path, even at the cost of their lives to gain this freedom and defend it to the last”. "

AA: We started the screening with a moment of silence in honour of Ukraine's war martyrs and heroes. Slava Ukrainy. It has become the standard greeting by now.

Oles Sanin's Dovbush is a grandiose Ukrainian historical adventure epic in the lineage of Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers and Zorro.

In 1733, in the turbulent years after the Great Northern War, Ukrainian peasants revolt against foreign oppressors in their ravaged country. Their leader in an ingenious guerrilla warfare in the magnificent forests, rivers and mountains is Oleksa Dovbush, a mythical folk hero with a background in actual documented history.

The action scenes are thrilling, the derring-do is amazing, and the warfare is unflinchingly brutal but never gratuitous. The conflict of the Dovbush brothers (one is for money, another for honour) is a key tragic element.

Dovbush is also a great love story of Oleksa Dovbush (Sergay Strelnikov) and Marichka (Daria Plakhtii). Their death-defying love is the key life-affirming element. Sanin draws from the great traditions of the Ukrainian poetic schools of Dovzhenko, Donskoi (Dorogoi tsenoi / At Great Cost / Le Cheval qui pleure) and Paradjanov.

There is a compelling drive in the movie. The cinematographer Sergey Mikhalchuk fills the scope screen with vivid, vibrant life and stunning visionary landscapes, shot on location in the Carpathian Mountains.

The narrative is mainly linear, with non-linear elements of flashbacks and hallucinations. The camera movement is dynamic, and tranquil passages alternate with hectic montages of handheld camera and rapid edit. In action scenes, there is a trendy approach of ultra-rapid edit where it is impossible to tell who is doing what to whom.

Most importantly, Dovbush is a film about an indomitable fighting spirit: volia (bоля), That is something that Ukrainians and Finns have in common.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Concrete Utopia

Eom Tae-hwa: Concrete Utopia / 콘크리트 유토피아 (KO 2023).

콘크리트 유토피아
      Maa ja vuosi: Etelä-Korea 2023
Ikäraja: 16
Kesto: 130 min
Ohjaus: Eom Tae-hwa
Käsikirjoitus: Eom Tae-hwa, Lee Shin-ji
Tuotanto: Byun Seung-min
Kuvaus: Cho Hyung-rae
Musiikki: Kim Hae-won
Rooleissa: Lee Byung-hun, Park Seo-joon, Park Bo-young, Kim Sun-young, Park Ji-hu
Kieli: Korea
Tekstitys: Englanti
Formaatti: DCP
    South Korean premiere: 9 Aug 2023, Taiwanese premiere 10 Aug 2023.
    Festival premiere: 9 Sep 2023 Toronto
    US premiere: 8 Dec 2023 (limited), 15 Dec 2023 (wide)
    The opening screening of Night Visions (NV) Maximum Halloween 3023
    Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 15 Nov 2023

NV 2023: " Edellinen Night Visions -avajaiselokuvana nähty korealaistuotanto oli Bong Joon Hon Parasite, josta kasvoi globaali ilmiö ja kaikki ällikällä lyönyt Oscar-magneetti. Concrete Utopian kohdalla ennusmerkit ovat jo ilmassa. Kotimaansa teattereissa lähes neljä miljoonaa katsojaa kerännyt Eom Tae-hwan ohjaus valittiin vastikään edustamaan Etelä-Koreaa parhaan ei-englanninkielisen elokuvan Oscar-kisassa. "

" Puitteet ovat scifiä, mutta asetelma piinallisen todellinen. Selittämätön maanjäristys romuttaa eteläkorealaisen asuinalueen, ehkä koko maailman. Tuhon keskellä on myös voittajia: yhteiskunnan romahtaessa yksi tornitalo jää pystyyn sattumanvaraisesti. Sen asukkaiden solidaarisuus ehtyy nopeasti. "

" Arvoituksellisen Yen-takin (Lee Byung-hun, I Saw The Devil) johdolla onnekkaat talon asukkaat häätävät suojaa hakevat kodittomat nurkistaan väkivalloin ja ottavat käyttöön fasistisen kurin. Asukastatuksesta tulee maailmanlopun ajan kansalaisuus. Muut ovat pakolaisia, joiden sietää hävitä hyväosaisten silmistä. Mutta kuinka paljon asukkaat lopulta tietävät toisistaan? "

" Kotimaassaan suosittuun Cheerful Outcast -nettisarjakuvaan perustuva Concrete Utopia on hyytävä tutkielma ihmisten moraalista äärioloissa. Virtaviivaisen tieteiselokuvan ydin tuo mieleen klassikkoromaani Kärpästen herran. Sen lailla ohjaaja Eom Tae-hwa piirtää nyanssikkaan kuvan painestetun yhteisön dynamiikasta. "

" Maailman suurimmalla elokuvafestivaalilla Torontossa kansainvälisen gaalaensi-iltansa saanut Concrete Utopia on yhteiskunnallisen scifin helmi, joka ottaa paikkansa lajin suurten teosten joukossa. "

Quoted by NV 2023: Allan Hunter: " Surviving an earthquake is nothing compared to the challenges that follow in Concrete Utopia, Um Tae-hwa's dystopian disaster movie which focuses on the aftermath as survivors try to create a new social order in the last apartment compex still standing in Seoul. A slick, inventive blend of jeopardy, volence and black comedy gains further apeal from the echoes of J. G. Ballard's High Rise and elements of biting satire in the style of Triangle of Sadness. South Kroea's Oscar slection has already proved a commercial hit on its domestic release --- "

"The earliest part of the film seems infused with the comic zest of a Joe Dante or Roger Corman production but that mood shifts to something darker and more vicious as reality sets in --- "

" An entertaining film that could follow in the wake of Parasite, Squid Game and other South Korean success stories. " - Allan Hunter / Screen International

The tension never decreases”
– Rafael Motamayor / Slash Film

”The disaster movie evolves into a more frightening mystery and moral interrogation”
– Sara Merican / Sight and Sound

”Exceptionally unique — phenomenally layered plot”
– Breanna Marcelo / NOW Toronto

“Intense and powerful, but without ever losing its propulsive entertainment value”
– Germain Lussier / Gizmodo

”Such an engrossing experience that some viewers may feel the end comes too quickly”
– Yoo Su-kyung / The Korea Times

AA: According to festival director Mikko Aromaa in his foreword to the Night Visions catalogue, in Concrete Utopia "a sense of danger" meets "an aura of grandeur". Exactly.

Um Tae-hwa's movie is an original vision of the apocalypse. The worst is not that a big city (or even the world) is reduced to ruins. More dismal is the breakdown of social order. And the worst is yet to come: the brutalization of human beings into ravenous beasts.

A strength of Um Tae-hwa's movie is that there is no explanation. Yet the movie resonates powerfully in many ways, even to headlines in today's media: the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, proxy victims on Finland's Russian border.

Concrete Utopia is a genre film, but it refuses to be reduced to genre convention. Instead Um Tae-hwa projects an atmosphere of unease and unrest that is unique.

The undercurrent is death drive. Also the fact that warfare is a feature of patriarchy. Concrete Utopia is not naive or schematic about this, but in general, women appear as carriers of the life force, focus under pressure and an elusive hope of a future.

Great contributions from cast and crew. Visual effects by Main Road Post et al. are compelling, as is the stately score by Kim Hae-won. Um Tae-hwa knows how to balance action with contemplation and how to keep members of a multi-character cast individual and memorable. The visual magnificence of Cho Hyung-rae's cinematography needs to be experienced on a large screen.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Corpo celeste

Alice Rohrwacher: Corpo celeste (IT/CH/FR 2011). Salvatore Cantalupo (Don Mario) and Yle Vianello (Marta). They fetch the dirty, wooden crucifix from the abandoned church in a ghost village high up on the mountain. From: IMDb.

Himlakropp. [Corpo celeste (heavenly body, celestial body) means an object in outer space, in Finnish "taivaankappale".]

MUBI streaming link with English subtitles of Corpo celeste, revisited in preparation for Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF) / Yle Areena TV introductions.

The following remarks are from my meditations in preparation for MSFF / Yle Areena TV introductions.

At the 2014 edition of Midnight Sun Film Festival I was impressed by Corpo celeste and Alice Rohrwacher's morning discussion. Accompanied by Olaf Möller, it was one of the last Sodankylä morning discussions by Peter von Bagh (the next day it was with Olivier Assayas, and the last one with Aki Kaurismäki). I have also blogged about Le meraviglieLazzaro felice and La chimera.

Corpo celeste suggests a parallel for the 13-year-old Marta's coming of age and the Passion Play of Jesus Christ. It takes place in Reggio Calabria in the South of Italy, where the tip of the boot-shaped country almost touches Sicily.

Marta's physical body is undergoing the fundamental metamorphosis of becoming a woman. At the same time she is visiting a confirmation class where she is the worst pupil. Marta's family has repatriated to Italy from Switzerland, and she feels like a total stranger everywhere, including in her own body.

Rohrwacher's account of the school is humoristic, also satirical and ironical about the efforts of the Church to engage children via quiz games and pop songs. Some of the young girls dream of becoming show dancers on television in a Berlusconian bunga bunga mode. There are observations about political corruption.

Don Mario is the leader of the parish. He is what is called in Finnish leipäpappi [leipä = bread, pappi = priest], meaning a priest who only practices his trade to make a living rather than as a calling (this formulation quoted from Wiktionary).

The teacher of the confirmation class is the enterprising Santa who does everything she can to keep the children interested in the ancient faith. When she learns that Don Mario might be transferred, she breaks down in tears. We are left puzzled about a relationship that might resemble that in Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light.

For the confirmation ceremony Don Mario wants to fetch a life-size wooden crucifix from the deserted church in his childhood village high up on the mountain. There is only one inhabitant left in the ghost village: Don Lorenzo, a hermit priest.

With him Marta finds instant rapport. Don Lorenzo asks Marta to read from Mark 3:20-22 how crowds gather around Jesus in such magnitude that he and his disciples are not even able to eat. The family of Jesus think he is mad, and the teachers of the law claim that he is possessed by the devil.

Alone with the dirty, wooden crucifix, Marta begins to clean it tenderly, getting closer to the abandoned image of divinity, suffering and almost naked masculinity. When they drive back on the perilous mountain road, Marta repeats the quote from Mark to Don Mario. Startled, he loses control, and soon retrieves it, but the crucifix is already sliding away from the top of the car and falls deep down into the Mediterranean. It is a disgrace for Don Mario and probably prevents his much-anticipated promotion.

The sea is a key image in many ways. Marta's mother refuses to cook fish from the Mediterranean, because so many Moroccan refugees have drowned there, becoming fish fodder. In the conclusion, Marta in her white confirmation dress takes a baptism by walking into the sea in the same place where the church staff had drowned a sack full of kittens. 

Marta has been intrigued by the sentence "Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?" ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). Now she joins Jesus in her baptism in the Mediterranean.

An interesting double bill would be Corpo celeste and Eden, Ulla Heikkilä's film about the Finnish confirmation school. Ulla Heikkilä faces the fact that many tenets of the Church strike us as obsolete and even ridiculous. And yet. Even the stories in Genesis about the Expulsion from Paradise, Noah's Flood and the Tower of Babel are still potent with urgent meaning. "Life is God's speech". "The visible is timebound, the invisible is eternal". "The search is the reason why we are here".

The literal meaning of the title is "heavenly body", an object in outer space. Marta discovers an affinity with Jesus as an "extraterrestrial". But other associations and wordplays of the title Corpo celeste are relevant, too.

I sense that Alice Rohrwacher, like Rossellini and Fellini, has affinities with the Franciscan tradition - rejecting the corruption and empty phraseology of the Church, embracing the sacred in life. And reviving the atheist legacy of the holiness of the body like Pasolini. The body is the temple of love, corporeal and celestial. Body and soul.

A hallmark of Alice Rohrwacher's movies is that they are full of life. The vibrant quality in every scene is achieved also thanks to Rohrwacher's commitment to photochemical film, from Corpo celeste to La chimera. They have been shot on 16 mm and blown up to 35 mm, even when released digitally.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

El sur

Víctor Erice: El sur (ES/FR 1983). Sonsoles Aranguren (Estrella at 8) and Omero Antonutti (her father Agustin). Photo from IMDb.

Etelä / Södern.
   ES/FR 1983. PC: Elías Querejeta, P.C. (Madrid), Chloe Productions (Paris). EX: Jean Pierre Fougez. O: Víctor Erice. SC: José Luis Lopez Linarez – based on the story by Adelaida García Morales. Cin (Eastmancolor, 1,66): José Luis Alcaine. AD: Antonio Belizon. M soundtrack: Maurice Ravel: String quartet F major; Franz Schubert: Quintet C major; Enrique Granados: Danzas Españolas. ED: Pablo G. del Amo. C: Omero Antonutti (Agustin), Sonsoles Aranguren (Estrella at 8), Icíar Bollaín (Estrella at 15), Lola Cardona (Julia), Aurore Clément (Laura, »Irene Rios»). 94 min
    Midnight Sun Film Festival screener link without subtitles, revisited in preparation for MSFF / Yle Areena TV introductions.
    Viewed at home, 7 Nov 2023.

AA: Revisited: Víctor Erice's El sur which I had not seen since its Finnish premiere on 22 Dec 1989 when I reviewed it for the Filmihullu magazine. I included El sur in my MMM Elokuvaopas [MMM Film Guide] of 1000 quality films for the centenary of the cinema in 1995 (1100 films for the second edition in 2005). In October 1989 I had visited Madrid to prepare a tribute to Spanish cinema at our Cinema Orion, and seen there for the first time El espíritu de la colmena, Erice's first film, often hailed as the most beautiful film in the history of the cinema, never theatrically released in Finland. 1989 was for me the year of the Víctor Erice revelation.

The following are from my meditations in preparation for MSFF / Yle Areena TV introductions.

Víctor Erice's approach is painterly. His composition, his sensibility for light and his subtle colour sense are those of a painter. Each shot could be hanging on the wall. That Erice achieved in collaboration with the master cinematographer José Luis Alcaine.

When the teenager Erice moved from the Basque Country to Madrid after high school in the late 1950s, he became a habitué of the Museo del Prado and could spend hours watching Las meninas (1734) by Diego Velázquez.

I don't think it is rewarding to search for particular influences from painters in Erice's films. Instead, I believe that Erice is a great connoisseur of art who has transcended direct influences. He has interiorized them, and he has educated his visual sense through a long practice and wide range of art experiences. His is an art of illumination and transfiguration.

The key difference between a painting and a film image is that cinema is time-bound, and time itself is a core subject in Erice's cinema. In Gilles Deleuze's division L'Image-mouvement and L'image-temps, Erice belongs to the latter. In the distinction between action and contemplation, likewise. That division is very roughly that between the cinema of tradition and the cinema of modernism. Among the great modernists, I feel in Erice's cinema a particular affinity with Antonioni's colour films, starting with Il deserto rosso.

Erice's cinema is anti-dramatic but engrossing in its heightened sense of presence and being. His soul brothers include Ozu, Satyajit Ray, Tarkovsky and Malick. And Abbas Kiarostami, his friend and collaborator in the "Víctor Erice - Abbas Kiarostami: Correspondences" touring exhibition. I was lucky to catch it in Paris in 2007 at the Centre Georges Pompidou.

In recent years there has been a mini-trend of women directors creating films about the relationship of a young daughter and her father: Scrapper by Charlotte Regan, Aftersun by Catherine Wells and Somewhere by Sofia Coppola. In all, there is a self-destructive or suicidal undercurrent in the father figure.

Víctor Erice preceded them in El sur. Let's register the prominence of children in major Spanish films dealing with the Franco era: in Carlos Saura's films (such as Cría cuervos) and in Erice's masterpieces. Another affinity with Kiarostami and Iranian cinema in general. In oppressive circumstances, honesty and authenticity is possible to discover in children.

The Franco era (1939-1973) was one of military dictatorship and censorship. It was a world of secrets, hidden messages and repressed suffering.

Victor Erice's original manuscript was based on a long story by Adelaida García Morales, his then companion. The production was interrupted by the visionary producer Elías Querejeta, and the film was released non finito. What should we think about this? I'm always on the side of the artist. Víctor Erice should have had the chance to finish the production. But El sur is also a masterpiece as it is. Just like Jean Renoir's Partie de campagne. Or Michelangelo's Rondanini Pietà.

El sur is a mystery tour in time, centering on Estrela in her three ages: at 8 (Sonsoles Aranguren), at 15 (Icíar Bollaín) and grown-up (the narrator voice of Maria Massip). Our memory can change with time, adding to the mystery, and that is the very subject of Erice.

The movie takes place in the North (La Rioja) while being obsessed about the South (Andalusia, visible only in colour postcards and family snapshots).

It is a movie about a difficulty or blockage in communication (another Antonioni connection) based concretely on the aftermath of the Civil War and the situation of the family broken in it. 

On the most profound level El sur is illuminating about the fact that we are all mysteries to each other - and ourselves.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Peder Balke – The Spell of the Arctic (exhibition)

Peder Balke (1804–1887): Nordkapp / North Cape (detail), 1848. The Gundersen Collection, Oslo. Photo: The Gundersen Collection / Morten Heden Aamot. From: Sinebrychoff Art Museum.

Claudia de Brün (ed.): Peder Balke: Arktisen lumo – Förtrollad av Arktis – The Spell of the Arctic. The catalogue. Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2023. Cover art: Peder Balke, «De syv søstre» / The Seven Sisters. Olje på treplate. 25 x 31 cm. Usignert. 1845-50. The Gundersen Collection.

Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Bulevardi 40
00120 Helsinki, Finland

OFFICIAL CAPSULE: " The Norwegian painter Peder Balke (1804–1887) is one of the most fascinating exponents of Romantic painting in Northern Europe. The views he saw on his trip to Northern Norway dominated his paintings throughout his life and Arctic landscapes became his hallmark. "

OFFICIAL INTRODUCTION: " The monographic exhibition presents Peder Balke´s life and work to a Finnish audience for the first time. Stormy seascapes, moonlight, northern lights, glaciers and snow-capped mountain ranges are recurrent themes. The paintings conjure up a world that few people know, even today, and which is threatened by climate change. "

" Peder Balke was one of the earliest painters to travel north of the Arctic Circle already in the 1830s. The Arctic landscape continued to inspire him to experiment with new painting techniques decades after his journey. Nature plays the main role in Balke’s paintings. "

" The exhibition, produced by the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, features 42 paintings by Balke, as well as works by his artist contemporaries from Norwegian and Swedish collections. The exhibition has been co-produced with Norway’s Nordic Institute of Art and curated by the Institute’s Director Knut Ljøgodt, Dr. philos., and the Director of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD. "

CATALOGUE: Peder Balke: Arktisen lumo – Förtrollad av Arktis – The Spell of the Arctic.
Peder Balke – The Spell of the Arctic exhibition at Sinebrychoff Art Museum 21.9.2023–14.1.2024.
    Trilingual: in Finnish, Swedish and English.
    " The Norwegian artist Peder Balke (1804–1887) is one of the most exciting proponents of Romantic painting from Northern Europe. In 1832, he travelled to the northernmost areas of Norway, a journey which provided him with inspiration for the rest of his life. Balke depicted the Arctic landscape — mountains, the midnight sun and the northern lights. The paintings conjured up a world known by few, even today, and which is threatened by climate change. "
    Publisher: Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2023.
    Editor: Claudia de Brün.
    Writers: Kirsi Eskelinen, Knut Knut Ljøgodt
    ISBN: 978-952-7371-59-6
    Size 19 x 22 cm, 152 pages.
    34 €

AA: This is my first encounter with the Norwegian Peder Balke, probably the greatest painter of the Arctic. He was a contemporary of Caspar David Friedrich and Ivan Aivazovsky and an equal master of Romanticism in landscape painting, particularly inspired by the mountains, the sea and the night. Their paintings are soulscapes. They fill us with fear and admiration.

All are in thrall of the sublime, in the classical sense of awesome, overwhelming and transcendent, in contrast to the beautiful. The Peder Balke exhibition can even be seen as something like a lesson and an introduction into the classical sublime.

The fascination of the night in Peder Balke's work is even more pronounced than in Caspar David Friedrich and Ivan Aivazovsky because the Arctic winter is the season of eternal night.

Balke's vision is more rugged, the motif of the glacier is distinctive. His art is one of austerity. His is an aesthetics of absence, even in his traditionally realistic phase.

After his family's stay in London where the work of J. W. M. Turner was on display, Balke's minimalism evolved in the direction of abstraction. His art of reduction even turned into black and white and miniature. A reason or a consequence of such a turn was that during his lifetime, Balke was never approved of in the official art circles in his land. During the last decades of his life he ceased to exhibit.

Balke's non finito works on tiny pieces of wood would not feel out of place in an exhibition of contemporary art. I read Harri Mäcklin's enthusiastic 14 Oct 2023 review in Helsingin Sanomat of this exhibition while still in Pordenone at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Mäcklin particularly emphasized the great discovery of the miniaturist phase.

It is a great dramatic coup by the curators that the miniature room is followed by the CinemaScope room of wall paintings. They are stark celebrations of the twin subjects of the heaven and the sea.

The Arctic is also the land of the nightless night in summer, but the glory of the midnight sun is absent here. November is the gloomiest month in Finland, and a colourist such as Rafael Wardi fills gallery rooms. But also Peder Balke is a success.

In the J. W. M. Turner room the curators remark that Balke switched his skyline lower having seen Turner. More sky. I remember the final scene in Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans where John Ford (David Lynch) gives the youngster a lesson in skyline. And William K. Everson's observation of the skylines of the two masters of the Western, William K. Hart (high) and John Ford (low).

I am also thinking about Jean Sibelius and The Swan of Tuonela (Tuonela is the Land of Death in Finnish folklore), perhaps also because today is All Saints's Day, the Day of the Dead. Walt Disney wanted to include The Swan of Tuonela in the Fantasia Continued project and had the artwork prepared but shelved the project in wartime conditions. Only in the Fantasia Anthology: Fantasia Legacy (2000) project it was reconstructed. I feel such a strong Peder Balke connection in Disney's The Swan of Tuonela that it feels like an hommage.

The Peder Balke experience is a voyage towards eternity.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Yhdeksän miehen saappaat S1.E7 Sotamies Matti Nokkanen

Veli-Matti Saikkonen & Ralf Långbacka: Yhdeksän miehen saappaat S1.E7 Sotamies Matti Nokkanen (FI 1969) with Heikki Kinnunen as Private Matti Nokkanen. The nurse can be identified as a Lotta by the swastika badge. My screenshot from Yle Areena.

FI 1969. PC: Oy Yleisradio Ab - TV-ohjelma 2. P: Matti Tapio.
    D: Veli-Matti Saikkonen, Ralf Långbacka. SC: adaptation from Pentti Haanpää's novel [1945] by Veli-Matti Saikkonen, Ralf Långbacka. Cin: Pekka Mäkinen - b&w - 1,33:1. AD: Ensio Suominen. Cost: Eila Hyytiäinen, Oili Hämäläinen. Makeup: Marketta Paakkunainen. M: Heikki Aaltoila. S: Heikki Kujala. ED: Kaija Ahopelto. Military advisor: Pentti Palmu.
    Soundtrack: "Rakkautta ei se ollutkaan" ("Liebe war es nie [Blonde Natascha]"), comp. Alfred Markusch, lyr. Fritz Rotter (1931). Finnish lyr. Sauvo Puhtila (1957).
    In the opening credit music there is a reference to "Eldankajärven jää" ("Ali Baba"), comp. Alfred Markusch, lyr. Istvan Weiner (1928). Finnish lyr. Erkki Tiesmaa (1942).
    Christmas songs: "Soihdut sammuu" ("Tomtarnas julnatt", 1898) (comp. Vilhelm Sefve-Svensson,  lyr. Alfred Smedberg). "No onkos tullut kesä" (comp. trad., lyr. J. H. Erkko).
    C: Heikki Kinnunen (Private Matti Nokkanen), Ritva Holmberg (Kaija), Elsa Turakainen (landlady), Risto Aaltonen (Ensign, Kaija's husband), Vesa Mäkelä, Juha Hyppönen, Reino Manner, Armi Maaranen, Ritva Malmstedt.
    Narrator: Matti Oravisto.
    29 min
    Episode aired: 14 Dec 1969
    Viewed at home from the Yle Areena streaming platform, 3 Nov 2023.

In memoriam Veli-Matti Saikkonen (1941-2023).

Yle Areena: " Wounded soldier Nokkanen meets his old lady friend by chance while on leave. They spend Christmas together. But the Christmas celebrations are unexpectedly interrupted. "

AA: The title means: Nine Men's Boots. The classic Finnish television series is based on a novel by Pentti Haanpää. It is a Querschnitt / cross-section narrative covering a wide variety of wartime experiences via the device of army boots changing owners, to be compared with Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheines, Un carnet de bal, In jenen Zeiten, L'Argent and similar stories.

I saw and loved the series when it was first aired in 1969. It was an instant success, and it is permanently available at the Yle Areena platform. Today I revisit Episode 7 in memory of the great director Veli-Matti Saikkonen who died a month ago. I have just written his obituary for Helsingin Sanomat

I'm also trying to cope with pangs of conscience. 

Saikkonen has always been popular and highly esteemed, yet there is a major issue in film history, regarding him and all who have devoted their talent to television.

We revere great film artists who create movies for cinema theater distribution. But in film history overviews and specialized studies - such as histories of national cinemas - we neglect television film directors, although their work is of the highest level and finds larger audiences. That was too often the case with Saikkonen, as well.

It is a matter of time and energy, of course. But a solution must be found to do justice to all film artists, regardless of the medium.


Revisiting Nine Men's Boots I'm happy to register the assured mise-en-scène and the fine performances in solo scenes and ensembles. There is a particular sensitivity in the close-ups. The young couple of Heikki Kinnunen (Matti) and Ritva Holmberg (Kaija) has delightful chemistry. There is nothing obvious or mechanical in their interplay.

Veli-Matti Saikkonen and his teacher and mentor Ralf Långbacka were influenced by Brecht (Långbacka was also a major Brecht scholar), and Nine Men's Boots is an example of a non-linear play and storytelling without an identification structure. The device of the boots can be seen as a distanciation effect. This is a story about pure chance.

The director-screenwriters were also influenced by Chekhov, and the series does not belong to the tradition of classical drama but to the Chekhovian lineage which is about epiphany: the point of the story is about gaining a fuller, richer, more complex insight about life.

The episode of Private Matti Nokkanen belongs also to an ancient "conte drolatique" lineage with affinities in One Thousand and One Nights, Decamerone, and so on. Kaija is married, about which Matti does not know. Saikkonen & Långbacka refuse to exploit the potential for ribaldry. Instead there is a life-affirming tenderness, meaningful in a story about a war that was devastating and existential. There is a fine sense of tact and an appealing sense of humour in the potentially scandalous situation. 

In the beginning, Private Nikkanen's wounded arm is treated in the hospital. The pain and suffering is acute, but Nikkanen is surrounded by gentle and efficient hospital staff.

An entertainment event is arranged for the convalescents. A lady vocalist sings in Finnish "Liebe war es nie" ("Rakkautta ei se ollutkaan"), backed by a male accordeonist.  The camera roves among the faces of the thoughtfully listening convalescents. Each face counts, each face tells a story. I am not aware of English lyrics, but there is an eponymous movie whose English title is Love It Was Not. The literal translation would be "It Was Never Love". Among others, the song belonged to the repertory of Zarah Leander who recorded it in 1932 in Swedish as "Kärlek var det ej". I doubt she sang it after 1932, because the composer Fred Markusch was a Hungarian Jew. Incidentally, Markusch is also the composer of what was known in Finland as "Eldankajärven jää", one of our greatest wartime hits. It is heard during the opening credits. "Liebe war es nie" returns as the end credit theme, played by a harmonica.

Upon release from the military hospital, Nokkanen complains about the pair of stinking army boots that are thrown to him. The officer in charge of supplies responds that jazz boots are not available. Matti spends his leave of convalescence at home. His father works at a metal factory. When his folks ask how it is on the front, Matti has nothing to tell.

Saikkonen was a pacifist who directed many productions on military subjects, including Woyzeck (his acclaimed theater school diploma work) and its Finnish counterpart, Alpo Ruuth's Tykkimies Kauppalan viimeiset päivät (for the lead actor Vesa-Matti Loiri his crowning achievement).

Finland is a nation with an exceptional fighting spirit. I believe that Finnish pacifism is not an antithesis but an integral part of it. Pacifism is the expression of the better angels of our nature. A true soldier is always a pacifist because nobody knows better that in war everybody loses. Everybody who kills, dies inside.

All that take the sword shall perish by the sword.

These thoughts also evoke the memory of Martti Ahtisaari who died on 16 October 2023, the 10th president of Finland and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped achieve peace on three continents (Namibia, Kosovo, Aceh).

Blessed are the peacemakers.