Sunday, December 31, 2023

Senses of Cinema World Poll 2023: my favourites

Donata Wenders: Komorebi Dreams. Her dream sequences appear in Wim Wenders: Perfect Days (2023). Wenders was at his best this year. From: Tokyo Art Beat, 22 Dec, 2023

Antti Alanen
Senses of Cinema World Poll 2023
In viewing order. Seen in the cinema unless otherwise noted.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras, 2022)
The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg, 2022)
Walad min al janna / Conspiracy in Cairo / Boy from Heaven (Tarik Saleh, 2022)
Asteroid City (Wes Anderson, 2023)
Armageddon Time (James Gray, 2022) Sodankylä
Tori et Lokita / Tori and Lokita (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, 2022) Sodankylä
Saint Omer (Alice Diop, 2022) Sodankylä
Kievski protses / The Kiev Trial (Sergei Loznitsa, 2022) Sodankylä
Monica in the South Seas (Sami van Ingen, Mika Taanila, 2023) Sodankylä
Universumin kaiut - Kaija Saariahon musiikki / Echoes of the Universe - The Music of Kaija Saariaho (Riitta Rask, 2023) Sodankylä - audio only outside the sold out cinema screening
Kuolleet lehdet / Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismäki, 2023) Sodankylä
Barbie (Greta Gerwig, 2023) Barbenheimer day 21 July 2023
Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan, 2023) Barbenheimer day 21 July 2023 - film of the year
Anselm - Das Rauschen der Zeit / Anselm (Wim Wenders, 2023) Telluride
The Holdovers (Alexander Payne, 2023) Telluride
The Pigeon Tunnel (Errol Morris, 2023) Telluride
Perfect Days (Wim Wenders, 2023) Telluride
Past Lives (Celine Song, 2023) Love & Anarchy
20 dniv u Mariupoli / 20 Days in Mariupol (Mstyslav Chernov, 2023) Ukrainian Film Days
Banat Olfa / Les Filles d'Olfa / Four Daughters (Kaouther Ben Hania, 2023) Love & Anarchy Campaign
Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese, 2023)
Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021) Yle Areena online
Kimitachi wa do ikiruka / The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki, 2023)
Neljä pientä aikuista / Four Little Adults (Selma Vilhunen, 2023)
Valoa valoa valoa (Inari Niemi, 2023)

The Hotel Room suite of eight films: ASAP, Doggystyle, Wrist Shot, Hookup, Lollipop, The Piston, Satisfyer, and Glance (by Reeta Annala, Hannu-Pekka Peltomaa, Veera Lamminpää, Josefina Rautiainen, Gyöngyi Fazekas, 2023) total 68 min also edited to a short resume Huone 409 - siivottu sinua varten / 409 - Please Make Up My Room, but the full cycle is definitive for me

Sois belle et tais-toi ! / Be Pretty and Shut Up (Delphine Seyrig, 1981) 2023 re-release, seen at Luminor Hôtel de Ville Paris
Danza macabra / Danse macabre (Antonio Margheriti, 1963) 2022 Lyre restoration, Toute la mémoire du monde
Istoriya grazhdanskoi voiny / History of the Civil War (Dziga Vertov, 1921) 2021 restoration Nikolai Izvolov, Toute la mémoire du monde
Mary Sweeney Morning Discussion, 17 June 2023 Sodankylä, hosted by Otto Kylmälä
Twin Peaks S2.E7 Lonely Souls (David Lynch, 1990) in the presence of Mary Sweeney, Sodankylä
Yam daabo / The Choice (Idrissa Ouédraogo, 1986) 2022 restoration, Bologna
Ceddo / The Outsiders (Ousmane Sembène, 1977) 2023 restoration, Bologna
Amok (Fedor Ozep, 1934) 2023 restoration, Bologna
Al-makhdu'un / The Dupes (Tewfik Saleh, 1972) 2023 restoration, Bologna
Gharibeh va meh / The Stranger and the Fog (Bahram Beyzaie, 1974) 2023 restoration, Bologna
Cherike-ye Tara / The Ballad of Tara (Bahram Beyzaie, 1979) 2022 restoration, Bologna
Macario (Roberto Gavaldón, 1960) 2023 restoration, Bologna
The Straight Story (David Lynch 1999) 2023 restoration, Bologna
Man Ray: Return to Reason. The 2023 restoration of Le Retour à la raison (1923), Emak Bakia (1926), L'Étoile de la mer (1928) and Les Mystères du château de Dé (1929). Love & Anarchy screener
Laurel & Hardy Year One: The Newly Restored 1927 Silents (Flicker Alley 2023) blu-ray
Rêves de clowns (René Hervouin, Blanche Vigier de Maisonneuve, 1924) Pordenone
Pierre Loti (early cinema compilation 1897-1923 by Elif Rongen Kaynakçi, 2023) Pordenone
Merry-Go-Round (Rupert Julian, [Erich von Stroheim], 1923) 2023 restoration, Pordenone
Amazonas, Maior Rio do Mundo (Silvino Simões dos Santos Silva, 1918) 2023 identification, Pordenone
Pêcheur d'Islande / The Iceland Fisherman (Jacques de Baroncelli, 1924) Pordenone
Die Strasse / The Street (Karl Grune, 1923) 2023 restoration, Pordenone
Hindle Wakes (Maurice Elvey, 1927) Pordenone 
Der Berg des Schicksals / The Peak of Fate (Arnold Fanck, 1924) 2022 restoration, Pordenone 

The film year 2023 was better than 2022. Big films got bigger, others suffered. Film industry and film culture are in an existential crisis. Although big films were successful, there are not enough of them. Most streaming services suffered also. There was a revival of home formats such as blu-ray, in reaction to the dearth of quality on streamers. Film festivals thrived. After the pandemic, people enjoy the common experience of cinema-going.

My life changed. In May I established an office of my own and started my independent working life as a historian, critic and teacher, also continuing as a member of the board of the Finnish Film Foundation (major funder of Finnish film production, distribution and exhibition). I am now also a FIAF Supporter.

The topic of the year was generative IT, such as ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer), based on a large language model. Machine learning and data mining are transformative, indeed, and for their champions they change everything while for critics, they are a big bubble. A wise friend of mine finds both claims correct. In 1941-1954, the term "AI" ("artificial intelligence") was launched (first called "machine intelligence" by Alan Turing), but I avoid it. For me, intelligence, or at least intellect, is a defining feature of the human being, and probably to an unknown degree of animals. In the core is logos, a combination of consciousness, language and intention. In 1950, Alan Turing launched the concept "the imitation game". The Turing test is about a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour indistinguishable from that of a human. My conviction is that the machine will never pass the Turing test. In 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum built the first chatbot, and early enthusiasts thought that soon we will not distinguish the man from the machine. But Weizenbaum thought different, because in communication, we never fully know the other. More profoundly, we never fully know ourselves. We are secrets to each other and ourselves. Communication is always a journey to the infinities of the partners in dialogue. In the machine, there is imitation but no infinity. The imitation is based on pre-existing material. No true creativity can take place. Just an imitation game.

The world is burning because of the climate change and the warmongers. Grave injustice is being committed to young generations. But I keep being an optimist on all counts. "Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal. " Martti Ahtisaari (1937-2023) Nobel Lecture 2008

Antti Alanen
Film historian, critic, teacher

Neljä pientä aikuista / Four Little Adults

Selma Vilhunen: Neljä pientä aikuista / Four Little Adults (FI 2023) with Eero Milonoff (Matias) and Alma Pöysti (Juulia). The nuclear family is open to expansion.

Fyra små vuxna.
    FI 2023. Tuffi Films Oy, Hobab, Aurora Studios Oy. P: Elli Toivoniemi, Venla Hellstedt. Assoc P: Nima Yousefi (Hobab), Ari Tolppanen, Roosa Toivonen, Petri Kemppinen. EX: Kirsikka Saari, Jenni Toivoniemi, Selma Vilhunen.
    D+SC: Selma Vilhunen. DP: Juice Huhtala. PD: Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen. Cost: Karoliina Koiso-Kanttila. Makeup: Kaisu Hölttä. VFX: Sami Haartemo (James Post). M: Sarah Assbring, Jacob Haage. Musiikkivastaavat: Rasmus Thord, Li Stanley (Solid Music Supervision).  S: Lotta Mäki. ED: Antti Reikko. Intimacy coordinators: Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä, Siobhan Richardson.
    C: Alma Pöysti (Juulia), Eero Milonoff (Matias), Oona Airola (Enni), Pietu Wikström (Miska), Iivo Tuuri (Miro), Kaija Pakarinen (Kaarina), Esko Roine (Paavo), Peter Kanerva (Kerkko Salonen), Salla Kozma (Iida Pihkala), Timo Tuominen (Timo Viljanen), Pertti Sveholm (Jaakko Holopainen), Emilia Sinisalo (Amanda).
    122 min
    Festival premiere: 29 Jan 2023 Rotterdam.
    Finnish premiere: 27 Dec 2023, distributed by SF Studios with Swedish subtitles by Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 14, Helsinki, 31 Dec 2023

Tagline: "Love and let love".

AA: Four Little Adults represents a new stage of accomplishment in the development of Selma Vilhunen, the distinguished director of Pitääkö mun kaikki hoitaa? / Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?, Tyttö nimeltä Varpu / Little Wing, Hobbyhorse Revolution and Hölmö nuori sydän / Stupid Young Heart.

The partners in the ménage à quatre include a well-off middle class couple who have already been married for twenty years. First Matias (Eero Milonoff) and then Juulia (Alma Pöysti) discover other partners: Enni (Oona Airola) and Miska (Pietu Wikström).

The film's premiere was postponed by a year. It was moved into a safe distance from the avalanche of the post-pandemic oversupply: 2022 was a record year of 57 Finnish cinema premieres.

During the long waiting period, Four Little Adults became the talk of the town, inspiring comments about the fashionable topic of polyamory. Frenchmen call it polyamour.

Selma Vilhunen's approach is honest and responsible. I would guess that for most patrons, Four Little Adults serves as a dire warning against polyamory.

Most of the fundamental issues are eternal. Bigamy and polygamy are ancient arrangements, as are marriages of convenience with love affairs or established lovers on the side. The heartbreaks and the headaches have been with us always, as are traumatized and inflamed relations between children and relatives. Bitte Westerlund has published this year (with Philip Teir) a book of reckoning of the multiple affairs of her husband, Jörn Donner. She discovered them after his death.

The crucial difference and the point of polyamory in Four Little Adults is that of an open marriage: no more secrets, everything basing on transparency and agreements. All are friends, and if children are born outside marriage, full responsibility prevails.

Can it work? Nobody among the quartet's circle of friends believes it can, as the four protagonists, fools for love, stray from crisis to crisis. There is a lot of crying and shouting and confusion. The foursome get friendly pieces of advice and warnings from family and colleagues, but they keep navigating further into the unknown.

Life is difficult, and they are not making it easier.

Love is a play with fire, and they act like pyromaniacs.

Selma Vilhunen has selected a strong cast, and Oona Airola, Alma Pöysti and Pietu Wikström provide deeply moving performances. The stranger among the quartet is Eero Milonoff, who plays his role like a sleepwalker. He is like a somnambulist reading his lines correctly but without conviction. Matias, his character, is a vicar by profession, and maybe his interpretation is about the alienation and obsolescence of religion in contemporary life.

In the supporting roles, Kaija Pakarinen and Esko Roine as Matias's parents are excellent. Maybe the odd feeling of Matias's being absent from his own life - from himself - is a consequence of his parents's presence. They are not overbearing. But it is not always nice to select one's parents' profession. As a character Matias seems other-directed, not inner-directed. To speak with Donald Winnicott, Matias seems to project a false self and be devoid of a true self.

" Le bonheur n'est pas gai. " 
- Max Ophuls: Le Plaisir, based on four stories by Guy Maupassant.


Kimitachi wa do ikiruka / The Boy and the Heron

Hayao Miyazaki: 君たちはどう生きるか / Kimitachi wa do ikiruka / The Boy and the Heron (JP 2023).

君たちはどう生きるか / Poika ja haikara / Pojken och hägern.
    JP © 2023 Studio Ghibli. P: Toshio Suzuki. EX: Koji Hoshino, Goro Miyazaki and Kiyofumi Nakajima.
    Hand-drawn and hand-painted animation.
    A Hayao Miyazaki film. Original story, screenplay and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Color / Vista Vision / Dolby Cinema / Dolby Atmos IMAX. AN director, character designer: Takeshi Honda. AD: Yoji Takeshige, Noboru Yoshida. M: Joe Hisaishi. Theme song "Spinning Globe" by Kenshi Yonezu (Sony Music Labels Inc.).
    124 min
    Japanese premiere: 14 July 2023.
    Festival premiere: 7 Sep 2023 Toronto.
    Finnish premiere: 17 Nov 2023, distributed by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Mökkönen / Frej Grönholm.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 4, Helsinki, 31 Dec 2023


A young boy named Mahito yearning for his mother
ventures into a world shared by the living and the dead.
There, death comes to an end, and life finds a new 

Mahito’s guide is part-heron, part-man,
and cunningly juggles lies and the truth. 

The boy makes new friends, reunites 
with his mother, and meets the 
world’s creator, the Granduncle. 

“I’m so glad you were here.” 

A semi-autobiographical fantasy 
about life, death, and creation, in
tribute to friendship, from the
mind of Hayao Miyazaki


The Boy and the Heron” is a fantasy film with an element of semi-autobiography. Its Japanese title, “Kimitachi wa do ikiruka” (published in Japan by Shinchosha), literally meaning “How do you live?”, is borrowed from an eponymous novel by Genzaburo Yoshino that filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki was given in his youth by his mother. What’s more, certain events from Miyazaki’s childhood are depicted in this new animated feature for the first time ever. 

Its story takes place in a past Japan that still exists vividly within Miyazaki’s memories. 

After losing his mother in a fire in Tokyo, 11-year-old Mahito moves to the countryside with his father Shoichi to take up residence at the Gray Heron Mansion, a fusion of Japanese and Western architecture on a sprawling leafy estate. 

Mahito struggles with his complex feelings toward his bold and forceful father, as well as his new stepmother Natsuko, who also happens to be his late mother’s younger sister. Isolation and alienation drive Mahito to self-harm and shut himself off inside his new home. Everything changes when he is visited by a gray heron, who eventually reveals himself to be the avian guise of a shapeshifting “heron man.” 

The estate was once the abode of the Granduncle, who is said to have become mentally unstable from reading too many books, and ultimately vanished into thin air. The mansion is staffed by several elderly maids, who watch over Mahito. Led by the gray heron, Mahito ventures further into the dark corners of the estate, where time and space begin to warp, dreams and reality blend into one another, and a world far beyond exerts an inescapable pull.

He sets foot into a world where life and death exist on the same plane. After passing through a gate, he meets Kiriko, a fisherwoman who bears a similar scar on her head, who introduces him to the secrets of the world. 

The Warawara, creatures who embody both life and death. Pelicans who continue to soar high into the sky despite the injuries it causes them. A parakeet king leading legions of his fellow birds, who are caricatures of human mass society. 

Himi, a girl with the power to wield fire. 

Mahito and the heron man delve deeper and deeper into this world — which appears to be a simulacrum of our own — that has suddenly sprung into being and lost all balance and control. 

Why has Mahito been led into this domain shared by the living and the dead? Is his late mother actually still alive? Who is the mysterious maiden Himi, and what does the Granduncle, who maintains the equilibrium of this world, want from Mahito...

AA: Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest masters of the cinema. Every movie of his is a precious gift. In The Boy and the Heron he again achieves a sense of wonder.

A psychedelic animation, a cosmological vision, a pantheistic odyssey, a story of spiritual growth, a saga of childhood during war, a handmade animation in the digital age.

The Boy and the Heron is a companion piece to Grave of the Fireflies, and the opening sequence is a direct hommage to Isao Takahata's masterpiece, including the imagery of the "fireflies" - the sparks from the Tokyo firebombings.

The boy's birdman friend evokes for me a distinguished Finnish film, Liisa Helminen's Pelicanman, based on the novel by Leena Krohn.

Hayao Miyazaki's movie is not directly autobiographical, but it has personal links: early childhood memories of bombings, the beloved figure of the mother, the more distant father who is the director of an airplane company during WWII. In the movie, the mother dies in the firebombing, and the father marries her sister, who becomes the boy's tender mother-in-law. But Hayao Miyazaki's parents survived the war. 

Like always, Miyazaki's female characters are interesting, complex individuals seen without objectification and stereotyping. Besides the stepmother, we meet the non-binary fisherwoman-magician Kiriko and the pyrokinetic Himi. 

The dreamlike charge is compelling. We discover mysteries of the nature, the forest, and the sea. We proceed deeper into the essence of the fantastique: between reality and fantasy, waking state and dream, human and animal, life and death, genesis and apocalypse.

As an avian fantasy, The Boy and the Heron impresses no less than Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Besides the central figure of the birdman, there are predatory pelicans and man-eating parakeets. But also hordes of frogs, sea creatures and mystery beings, the "soul creatures" named wara-waras.

We move into domains of birth and death, being and nothingness, portals to other dimensions and primordial stones that launch apocalyptic storms. We contemplate cosmic building blocks. The way opens to outer space. Time will cease to exist. The film's philosophy is a fantasy in the dimensions of quantum physics.


Beyond the Canon of the Sight & Sound 2022 Greatest Films Poll: my suggestions

Mauritz Stiller: Sången om den eldröda blomman / Song of the Scarlet Flower (SE 1919) with Edith Erastoff (Kyllikki) and Lars Hanson (Olof Koskela). It is hate at first sight. Because they realize that their life is over. They cannot resist each other nor live without the other.

The Beyond the Canon team asked people to propose film titles that were not mentioned among the 4363 films in the Greatest Film poll of Sight & Sound in 2022. These are my suggestions.

7 Men from Now (1956) Budd Boetticher
10 on Ten (2004) Abbas Kiarostami
Al-ard / The Land (1970) Youssef Chahine
Amiche, Le / The Girlfriends (1955) Michelangelo Antonioni
Amok (1934) Fedor Ozep
Anselm – Das Rauschen der Zeit (2023) Wim Wenders
Baby ryazanskie / Women of Ryazan (1927) Olga Preobrazhenskaya
Barbie (2023) Greta Gerwig
Bend of the River (1952) Anthony Mann
Blind Husbands (1919) Erich von Stroheim
Blood Money (1933) Rowland Brown
Breaking Point, The (1950) Michael Curtiz
Broken Blossoms (1919) D. W. Griffith
Carabiniers, Les (1963) Jean-Luc Godard
Carnet de bal, Un (1937) Julien Duvivier
Classe tous risques (1960) Claude Sautet
Corpo celeste (2011) Alice Rohrwacher
Corridors of Power, The (2022) Dror Moreh
Criss Cross (1949) Robert Siodmak
Croix de bois, Les / Wooden Crosses (1932) Raymond Bernard
Csend és kiáltás / Silence and Cry (1968) Miklós Jancsó
Da no tian gong / The Monkey King (1961) Wan Laiming
Dead of Night (1945) Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden
Detstvo Gorkogo / My Childhood (1938) Mark Donskoy
Deuxième souffle, Le (1966) Jean-Pierre Melville
Fängelse / Prison (1949) Ingmar Bergman
Femme douce, Une / A Gentle Creature (1969) Robert Bresson
Festival (1967) Murray Lerner
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) Mike Newell
Freshman, The (1925) Harold Lloyd – Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Fröken Julie / Miss Julie (1951) Alf Sjöberg
Gamperaliya / Changes in the Village (1963) Lester James Peries
Gardiens de phare / The Lighthouse Keepers (1929) Jean Grémillon
Gaslight (1944) George Cukor
Gatekeepers, The (2012) Dror Moreh
Giorgobistve / Falling Leaves (1966) Otar Iosseliani
Girl Shy (1924) Harold Lloyd – Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Grande guerra, La / The Great War (1959) Mario Monicelli
Grandma's Boy (1922) Harold Lloyd – Fred C. Newmeyer
Hindle Wakes (1927) Maurice Elvey
Holdovers, The (2023) Alexander Payne
Hôtel du Nord (1938) Marcel Carné
House of Bamboo (1955) Samuel Fuller
Ihmiset suviyössä / People in the Summer Night (1948) Valentin Vaala
Iko shashvi mgalobeli / Once Upon a Time There Was a Singing Blackbird (1970) Otar Iosseliani
Iluminacja / The Illumination (1973) Krzysztof Zanussi
Incredibles, The (2004) Brad Bird
Inde fantôme, L' 1–7 / Phantom India (1969) Louis Malle
Johan (1921) Mauritz Stiller
Joueur d'échecs, Le / The Chess Player (1927) Raymond Bernard
Jour de fête (1949) Jacques Tati
Judex I–XII (1917) Louis Feuillade
Karin Ingmarsdotter (1920) Victor Sjöström
Kid Brother, The (1927) Harold Lloyd – Ted Wilde
Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) Martin Scorsese
King & Country (1964) Joseph Losey
Komissar / The Commissar (1967) Aleksandr Askoldov
Kuun metsän Kaisa / Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest (2016) Katja Gauriloff
Lady and the Tramp (1955) Walt Disney – Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Letyat zhuravli / The Cranes Are Flying (1957) Mikhail Kalatozov
Letter, The (1940) William Wyler
Lettre de Sibérie / Letter from Siberia (1958) Chris Marker
Letzte Chance, Die / The Last Chance (1945) Leopold Lindtberg
Lincoln Cycle, The 1–10 (1917) John M. Stahl
Long Voyage Home, The (1940) John Ford
Loviisa – Niskavuoren nuori emäntä / Louisa (1946) Valentin Vaala
Lust for Life (1956) Vincente Minnelli
Maison du mystère, La 1–10 (1923) Alexandre Volkoff
Man Hunt (1941) Fritz Lang
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The (1966–1977) Walt Disney – John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, Ben Sharpsteen
Maternelle, La / Children of Montmartre (1933) Jean Benoît-Lévy, Marie Epstein
Merry Widow, The (1934) Ernst Lubitsch
Ministry of Fear (1944) Fritz Lang
Miracolo a Milano / Miracle in Milan (1951) Vittorio De Sica
Misérables, Les I–IV (1925) Henri Fescourt
Moana (1926) Robert Flaherty, Frances Flaherty
Monterey Pop (1968) D. A. Pennebaker
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) Frank Capra
Müde Tod, Der (1921) Fritz Lang
Muhamatsu no issho / The Rickshaw Man (1943) Hiroshi Inagaki
Naked Spur, The (1953) Anthony Mann
Nightmare Alley (1947) Edmund Goulding
Nixon director’s cut (1995) Oliver Stone
Notti bianche, Le / White Nights (1957) Luchino Visconti
Nóż w wodzie / Knife in the Water (1962) Roman Polanski
Okraina / Outskirts (1933) Boris Barnet
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) Walt Disney – Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
Oppenheimer (2023) Christopher Nolan
Painters Painting (1972) Emile de Antonio
Pasażerka / The Passenger (1963) Andrzej Munk
Past Lives / 패스트 라이브즈 (2023) Celine Song
Patsy, The (1964) Jerry Lewis
Pépé le Moko (1937) Julien Duvivier
Pervyi uchitel / The First Teacher (1965) Andrei Konchalovsky
Peter Pan (1953) Walt Disney – Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Pechki-lavochki / Happy Go Lucky (1972) Vasili Shukshin
Pickup on South Street (1953) Samuel Fuller
Pigeon Tunnel, The (2023) Errol Morris
Plein soleil / Purple Noon (1960) René Clément
Post, The (2017) Steven Spielberg
Prestuplenie i nakazanie / Crime and Punishment (1970) Lev Kulidzhanov
Procès de Jeanne d'Arc (1962) Robert Bresson
Proverka na dorogah / Trial on the Road (1986) Aleksei German
Pursued (1947) Raoul Walsh
Rabochi posyolok / Workers’ Quarters (1966) Vladimir Vengerov
Ragbar / Downpour (1972) Bahram Beyzaie
Raid, The (1954) Hugo Fregonese
Rakkaus on aarre / Love Is a Treasure (2002) Eija-Liisa Ahtila
Road Back, The original cut 2016 restoration (1937) James Whale
Run of the Arrow (1957) Samuel Fuller
Safety Last! (1923) Harold Lloyd – Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Sarraounia (1986) Med Hondo
Seed (1931) John M. Stahl
Seemabaddha / Company Limited (1971) Satyajit Ray
Sparrows (1926) Mary Pickford – William Beaudine
State Fair (1933) Henry King
Strannye lyudi (1970) Vasili Shukshin
Strong Man, The (1926) Harry Langdon – Frank Capra
Szindbád / Sinbad (1971) Zoltán Huszárik
Sången om den eldröda blomman / Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919) Mauritz Stiller
Såsom i en spegel / Through a Glass Darkly (1961) Ingmar Bergman
Testament d'Orphée, Le / Testament of Orpheus (1960) Jean Cocteau
Tête contre les murs, La / Head Against the Wall (1959) Georges Franju
This Gun for Hire (1942) Frank Tuttle
Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) Jacques Becker
Traffic (2000) Steven Soderbergh
Trafic (1971) Jacques Tati
Trou, Le (1960) Jacques Becker
Trouble in Paradise (1932) Ernst Lubitsch
Tuntematon sotilas / The Unknown Soldier (1955) Edvin Laine
V ogne broda net / No Ford in the Fire (1968) Gleb Panfilov
Varieté / Variety (1935) E. A. Dupont
Vechir na Ivana Kupala / The Eve of Ivan Kupalo (1968) Yuri Ilyenko
Who's Minding the Store? (1963) Jerry Lewis – Frank Tashlin
Why We Fight 1–7 (1942–1945) Frank Capra – Anatole Litvak, Anthony Veiller
Wind, The (1928) Victor Sjöström
You Only Live Once (1937) Fritz Lang
Zed & Two Noughts, A (1985) Peter Greenaway

Monday, December 25, 2023

Lapua 1976

Toni Kurkimäki: Lapua 1976 (FI 2023) with Linnea Leino (Kaisa Mäkelä) and Konsta Laakso (Matti Holma).

FI © 2023 Blankface Oy. P: Pekka Pohjoispää, Mikko Jokipii.
    D: Toni Kurkimäki. SC: Tuukka Haapamäki. DP: Tero Saikkonen - colour - 2,39:1. Drone operator: Taneli Hiekka. PD: Ilona Lassila. Makeup: Terhi Väänänen. Cost: Elina Vättö. SFX: Konsta Mannerheimo. VFX: Eki Haikka. M: Joona Vainionkulma. Original songs: Harmaa Pardon? S: Toni Kurkimäki, Joni Hakola - Dolby Surround 7.1. ED: Tuukka Haapamäki.
    C: Linnea Leino (Kaisa Mäkelä), Konsta Laakso (Matti Holma), Hannu-Pekka Björkman (Aarne Mäkelä), Leo Sjöman (Juhani Stenfors), Johanna Koivu (Liisa), Jussi Lampi (fire chief Tapio), Pirkko Uitto (Rauha Holma), Timo Teem (Reijo Holma), Katri Swan (author), Heikki Kinnunen (Matti Holma today), Matti Mustajärvi (President of the Republic of Finland Urho Kekkonen).
    112 min
    Premiere: 1 Sep 2023 - distributed by Finnkinon elokuvalevitys.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 4, Helsinki, Swedish subtitles by Frej Grönholm, licensed for alcoholic drinks K18, 25 Dec 2023

Logline: Joskus sattuma muuttaa elämän.

IMDb synopsis: " On April 13th 1976, a devastating munitions factory accident shook the town of Lapua, Finland. Hundreds of kilograms of gunpowder ignited, causing an explosion that took the lives of 40 workers. Lapua 1976 tells a story of love, life, perseverance, grief and hope in the face of unbelievable calamity. "

AA: The debut feature film by the director Toni Kurkimäki, Lapua 1976 is the first Finnish disaster movie.* A true story, but the characters are fictional. The narrative is based on the same concept as James Cameron's Titanic: young lovers cross class barriers and become identification figures in the epic. They help make the suffering personal. A conventional solution which I accept because it works.

I was impressed already by the trailer. It conveyed a real sense of urgency. Like in Titanic, the disaster occurs after we have been properly introduced to the milieu and the cast.  It is important that we have a sense of "before" before moving to the "after" where nothing is the same again. The pyrotechnics and the special and visual effects are shockingly effective in the explosion.

It is a good solution to start the movie with another disaster, a fire, in which we meet the munition factory's volunteer fire department in action, including the male protagonist Matti Holma (Konsta  Laakso).

In the cast of characters I like the fact that they are not idealized heroes but complex characters with weaknesses and difficult family situations. Nobody is perfect, but they are doing their best.

Aarne Mäkelä, the director of the factory, a patriarchal old school boss, is played charismatically by the dependable Hannu-Pekka Björkman. This is not a story of a greedy owner compromising safety measures (like Titanic). The factory runs under the control of the Ministry of Defence. There are clues about possible reasons for the disaster, but the cause for the explosion was never established.

Linnea Leino as Kaisa Mäkelä is deeply moving in the female leading role. Flashbacks introduce the tragedy of her teenage love affair with Matti, broken by her father Aarne. The film is her Bildungsroman: she grows up to defy her father and take charge of her own life. In two electrifying scenes, Matti throws the abusive rival Juhani (Leo Sjöman) out, and Kaisa for the first time rebels against her father, thereby winning his admiration.

In these scenes there is something of the true spirit of Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia). Pohjanmaa has had a lingering reputation of violence because of the reign of terror of the häjy badmen before the 1870s, but since then, Pohjanmaa has been the province with the least violent crime in Finland. Lapua in the early 1930s was also notorious for the extreme right wing terror of the Lapua Movement, led by the Finnish Mussolini, Vihtori Kosola. Even more importantly, Pohjanmaa has been a major ground for Finnish enlightenment and national awakening with figures such as Anders Chydenius, J. V. Snellman, Zacharias Topelius, J. L. Runeberg and Santeri Alkio. A keyword has always been freedom, including freedom of speech and enterprise, a pioneer of which was Anders Chydenius, a predecessor of Adam Smith.

Lapua 1976 does not discuss these themes but it makes me think about them because of my Ostrobothnian roots. My father was born in Isokyrö (South Ostrobothnia), and my mother's father in Haapavesi (North Ostrobothnia). My own conscious memories start from Vaasa and Isokyrö, and the South Ostrobothnian dialect is a language of love for me since childhood. I don't speak the dialect, but I enjoy it in Lapua 1976. I feel that it is in character in the movie.

In the Lapua Cartridge Factory explosion, 35 of the 40 deceased were women, and it has been commented that in the movie there is not sufficient emphasis on the female viewpoint and agency. A valid point.

What the movie conveys is a powerful and dignified sense of the Lapua community and the shared tragedy. The funeral sequence has epic grandeur. It is an accurate reconstruction of the real event as can be verified from the newsreel footage on display at the Yle Areena Elävä arkisto website ("Lapuan patruunatehtaan räjähdys jätti jälkeensä surun").

One of the most powerful scenes makes me think about Tolstoy's War and Peace, Book Three, where the rivals for Natasha's love, Anatole Kuragin and Andrei Bolkonsky, meet as lethally wounded invalids at the field hospital after the battle of Borodino. In Lapua 1976, the heartbroken rivals Matti and Juhani sink to the cellar floor of the Seinäjoki hospital, because Kaisa is no more.

In the touching finale, the intensity of the presence of Katri Swan and Heikki Kinnunen elevates a brief vignette to timeless transcendence.

Lapua 1976 is a feat of regional film-making. It was produced outside established production structures, without funding from the Finnish Film Foundation and without television commitment. The film-makers took a huge chance, and the production itself is a proud achievement of the Pohjanmaa spirit of enterprise. It has become the most popular film in Pohjanmaa, and one of this year's greatest audience favourites nationwide.

There are rough edges, but because of the passion and the commitment of the film-makers, the film as a whole is a winning and engrossing experience and an enduring commemoration of a national tragedy.


* "The sinking of the MS Estonia, the deadliest civil maritime disaster in European waters" (as formulated in IMDb), while crossing the Baltic Sea from Tallinn to Stockholm on 28 September 1994, is the subject of the television series Estonia 1-8 (FI 2023, D: Måns Månsson, Juuso Syrjä), telecast and streamed by MTV Katsomo / C More, the most expensive drama series produced in Finland.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Drive My Car

Ryusuke Hamaguchi: Drive My Car / ドライブ・マイ・カー (JP 2021) with Hidetoshi Nishijima (Yusuke Kafuku), Toko Miura (Misaki Watari) and a Saab 900 Turbo sedan.

AA: The best Chekhov movie I have seen.

The buzz about Drive My Car has been good since Cannes 2021. It has appeared on best of the year lists and it is already being mentioned on best of the century lists. I am happy to join the club.

Since the first shots there is a compelling intensity which the director Ryusuke Hamaguchi sustains for the duration of the three hour movie.

We meet an artist couple, the actor turned director Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and the television screenwriter Oto Kafuku (Reika Kirishima). (The name Kafuku seems to be a reference to Kafka). They work together and inspire each other. Oto reads on compact cassettes plays for which Yusuke is preparing, leaving out his dialogue, such as that of Uncle Vanya. Yusuke's favourite way of preparation is listening to Oto's tapes and rehearsing while driving his car.

It's not just any car. It's a 15 year old red Saab 900 Turbo sedan, a Swedish-Finnish car, with manual transmission, manufactured for demanding climate conditions in four seasons. Yusuke is reluctant to let anyone else drive it, including Oto. The car's smooth driving qualities seem to inspire his playing and directing.

The movie is based on the eponymous short story in Haruko Murakami's Men Without Women plus two other stories in the collection. The first 40 minutes are a "prequel" inspired by the story "Scheherazade". Making love, Oto's climax liberates her to tell stories, which she forgets but Yusuke recalls and relays back to her. In her half-dream state Oto senses that she is sea creature, a lamprey. She has also a recurrent story about a secret love during high school.

The Kafukus have been devastated by the death of their two year old daughter almost two decades ago. Suddenly, Oto dies of brain hemorrhage. After the funeral, the doubly devastated Yusuke is no longer able to perform as Uncle Vanya, but he accepts an assignment to direct a multilingual production of the play in Hiroshima. The actors don't understand each other's languages (Japanese, Mandarin, English, Korean Sign Language) but during a patient rehearsal process they create a powerful performance, equipped with electronic surtitles in many languages.

In Hiroshima, Yusuke, a good driver, is banned from driving, because a previous guest had caused a lethal traffic accident. Reluctantly, he accepts a driver, Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), a young woman, who turns out to be the better driver. Grudgingly, Yusuke confesses that her driving is so smooth that he does not even notice. At first, they don't communicate, because Yusuke focuses on listening to Oto's Uncle Vanya audiotape, now doubly valuable because of the presence of the voice of the woman lost. Yusuke is increasingly spellbound by Chekhov and inhibited to perform, because the play gets too deep and demanding.

In Hiroshima, the hot shot Koji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada) is cast as Uncle Vanya. He had been introduced to Yusuke by Oto, and unbeknownst to both, Yusuke knew they were lovers. Koji can barely control his sex drive, and he has been punished for interfering with minors. Koji cannot stand paparazzi, and when he beats one brutally, the photographer dies. Before going to jail, Koji reveals to Yusuke something about Oto he did not know. With his Uncle Vanya in jail, Yusuke has two days to make up his mind: to call the whole thing off or accept the role of Uncle Vanya himself. 

He needs a retreat, and Misaki offers to take him to Hokkaido, her home ground. Because she is a superb driver, she can make it on time from Hiroshima to Hokkaido without sleeping. During the trip, Yusuke learns about Misaki's secret, her childhood with a brutal mother whom she had to drive twice a day so smoothly that she could sleep. A few years ago, her mother has died in a landslide. Misaki found her way to Hiroshima as a driver, because that was the only thing she knew.

An unexpected emotional connection opens between the withdrawn protagonists Yusuke and Misaki who confess each other their hidden pain. This is no May-September romance. Instead, a surrogate father-daughter relationship, Misaki taking the place of Yusuke's lost daughter, who would be of the same age if alive.

Having been overwhelmed by Uncle Vanya during his period of crisis, Yusuko has now grown to accept the challenge again.

The central soundtrack is the taped Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya dialogue read by Oto and complemented by Yusuke reciting the title role. The dialogue resonates in multiple ways. The result is both a true Chekhov performance and a tribute.

The title is a tribute to the 1965 Beatles song. For copyright reasons, the song was not available, and I think the movie is stronger for it. I feel so also for personal reasons. Rubber Soul and the related "Day Tripper" / "We Can Work It Out" single belong to my foundational pop treasures. They made sense to me and they helped make sense of me. Hearing them in this movie would throw it off balance for me.

Instead, the love music consists of Mozart (Rondo D Major, KV 485) and Beethoven (3. String Quartet, D Major, Op. 18 No. 3).

Gorgeously shot on many locations by Hidetoshi Shinomiya, he and Ryusuke Hamaguchi turn Chekhov's chamber play into an original road movie. Might Drive My Car have inspired Wim Wenders in Perfect Days?

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese: Killers of the Flower Moon (US 2023). The Osage-Catholic wedding with Lily Gladstone (Mollie Burkhart), Robert De Niro (William Hale) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Ernest Burkhart).

AA: A historical epic, a genocide tragedy, a detective story. In his last two films (The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon), Martin Scorsese has perfected his grasp of the historical genre, combining epic grandeur with psychological depth in a cast of complex characters. Formidable production values have been made possible by generous funding of the streaming giants Netflix and Apple TV.

Visually, Killers of the Flower Moon is stunning, and although made by Apple TV, it should be experienced on a cinema screen. The cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and the production designer Jack Fish create an unending series of setpieces which immerse us in the foreign country known as the past. A good opportunity to revisit the visual highlights is the IMDb Media Viewer gallery of 854 photos from the movie.

In charge of editing is Scorsese's trusted partner Thelma Schoonmaker. In his recent epics, Scorsese creates something rare and original. His sometimes stately objectivity has an affinity with Visconti's historical films. The subject could not be more inflammatory, but the distanced approach elevates the film from being a merely partisan statement, importantly in our times of divisive identity politics.

It would be an understatement to call the leading male characters anti-heroes. They are forces of evil, perhaps even irredeemably so, yet with deep complexities. Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a WWI veteran. He is a naive, simple and stupid guy,  an alcoholic, who becomes a stooge for his uncle William Hale. He falls genuinely in love with Mollie, but at the same time participates in the systematic destruction of her tribe and family - and herself. He perhaps never completely understands the extremity of his betrayal.

William Hale (Robert De Niro) is the "King" of the community. He is happy to play the great benefactor of the Osage Nation and the whole community, but in fact he has a systematic agenda of buying oil headrights from the Osage and hastening the process with methodical contract killings. Mollie, already almost lethally poisoned by Ernest, manages to meet President Calvin Coolidge in Washington and alert him about the genocide. The Bureau of Investigation (BOI), precursor of FBI, already under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, takes the plea seriously and exposes the conspiracy.

Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart plays the leading female role with strength and dignity. Hers is a situation of existential agony. She is not naive, and she and her friends openly discuss the white males in terms of animal predators. But white men are worse than their worst nightmares. To live in an atmosphere of such extreme lying and betrayal is devastating. The character of Mollie grows into an embodiment of the Indigenous American experience.


Friday, December 15, 2023

Aalto ELO Film School Finland: 2023 Autumn Show of Student Films, Part II



Tennispalatsin iSense-Sali (3. Krs), Salomonkatu 15, Helsinki
New Student Films
Friday 15.12.2023


OPENING SPEECH: Tuomas Auvinen, Dean
UUSIEN OPISKELIJOIDEN ESITTELY - introducing the new students

documentary, 2024, dir. Juho Luukkainen, 17’, MA film
    AA: Experimental. A moving poetic meditation of Trauerarbeit, on loss and endless grief, bordering on avantgarde, set on a seashore, with a central image of drowning, with underwater footage including jellyfish. Intriguing apocalyptic soundscape.

documentary, 2024, dir. Jani Peltonen, 23’, MA film
    AA: Experimental. An essayistic film poem on asentoaisti (proprioception), the dance ban on rukouslauantai [the Saturday devoted to prayer], Ryan O'Neal as Rodney Harrington visiting Finland on Midsummer 1970 (footage possibly from Jörn Donner's Perkele!), phantom rides from the 1890s from the Library of Congress (courtesy Zoran Sinobad), Biafra / Nigeria footage from 1967, James Drury as The Virginian mobbed in Finland in 1971. - 30 km per second is the speed in which the Earth revolves the Sun.

JE M’APPELLE MARIIA (My Name is Mariia)
documentary, 2024, dir. Juho Reinikainen, 26’, MA film
    AA: Non-fiction. A cinéma-vérité record of Mariia from Ukraine coming to Finland and continuing to Paris to study, escorted there by her mother. "I only have you". A lot of handheld footage. Moments of discovering tourist attractions, moments of fun like learning from the internet how to heat the bottleneck to remove the cork. The displaced, refugee, stranger experience in Europe today.

ISÄN MÄYRÄ (My Father’s Badger)
fiction, 2024, dir. Sameli Muurimäki, 20’, välityö
    AA: Fiction, drama with the experienced actors Armi Toivanen, Vesa Vierikko, Tiina Weckström and Sherwan Haji. The daughter (Armi Toivanen) owns a bar in Thailand and has come to fetch the preserved badger of her deceased father. Taxidermy was their shared passion. But mother (Tiina Weckström) is reluctant to relinquish it. The argument takes place in a bar where Vesa Vierikkö, a man at the last stage of cancer, keeps her company. A black comedy on intergenerational incommunicado.

Aalto ELO Film School Finland: 2023 Autumn Show of Student Films, Part I



Tennispalatsin iSense-Sali (3. Krs), Salomonkatu 15, Helsinki
Friday 15 Dec 2023

OPENING SPEECHES - Saara Toivanen - introduction of the film-makers

fiction, 2023, ohj, Sonia Gran, 2’, Course Exercise: Studiotyö 2022
    AA: To "Yumeji's Theme" by Shigeru Umebayashi from In the Mood for Love, a wordless, glowing, sensual pantomime. An actress in front of a mirror in the dressing-room changes clothes and removes her jewels.

documentary/experimental, 2023, dir. Mikael Rutkiewicz & Anna Törrönen, 3 x 2’, Shorts published by Aalto Communications, Exercise Films
    AA: I  Desolation of war-destroyed Mariupol via surveillance camera footage. II Boys balance on rails. Ancient imprints. Extreme low res on the threshold of perception. III  I did not believe that the war might begin. Europeans care a lot about European tragedies, not about Palestine.

SUURET TUNTEET (Great Emotions)
fiction, 2024, ohj. Veera Lamminpää, 21  min, MA film
    AA: A drama school lesson in extreme emotion, living the part to the max, discovering the point that hurts, radical realism, Gestalt therapy, hate projection. "An ordinary actor portrays. A star actor is fully genuine". The great emotion of crying happens when the lesson is over.

HUONE 409 – siivottu sinua varten (409 – Please Make up My Room)
fiction, 2023, ohj. Reeta Annala, Hannu-Pekka Peltomaa, Veera Lamminpää, Josefina Rautiainen, Gyöngyi Fazekas, 30 min
    AA: I saw the eight separate films (ASAP, Doggystyle, Wrist Shot, Hookup, Lollipop, The Piston, Satisfyer, Glance) of The Hotel Room series in the Aalto ELO Film School Spring Show on 29 May 2023. That screening of 68 minutes is one of the most memorable experiences for me this year. This abridged montage of 30 minutes fails to sustain the engaging, dynamic drive of the full version.