Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Celluloid Underground

Ehsan Khoshbakht: Celluloid Underground (GB 2023).

DIRECTOR: Ehsan Khoshbakht
COUNTRY: United Kingdom
YEAR: 2023
DURATION: 80 min
LANGUAGES: English, Persian, subtitled in English
CATEGORY: Documentary Films, Film History, Special Screenings, Subtitles in English
Viewed at Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), 12 June 2024

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2024): " Miten perusteellisesti filmihulluus, cinefilia, voikaan vaikuttaa ihmiseen ja hänen kohtaloonsa? "

" Tästä kertoo viime kesänä Sodankylässä Arkkitehtuuri ja elokuva -teeman merkeissä esitelmöineen Ehsan Khoshbakhtin syvästi henkilökohtainen, runsaiden elokuvanäytteiden maustama dokumentti Celluloid Underground. "

" Paitsi omista kokemuksistaan maanpaossa Lontoossa hän kertoo ystävästään Ahmad Jorghanianista, jonka intohimoinen elokuvakopioiden arkistoiminen vei Iranissa neljäksi vuodeksi vankilaan, kidutettavaksikin. "

" Kipeissä mutta rakkaissa synnynmaansa muistoissa Khoshbakht perusti Teheranissa elokuvakerhon jo 17-vuotiaana. Kun hän esitti modernin iranilaisen elokuvan isän, 2023 murhatun Dariush Mehrjuin klassikon Lehmä (1969), alkoivat vaikeudet islamilaisen vallankumouksen kanssa. "

" Ajojahdin aiheuttama emigroituminen on toisaalta tuonut Khoshbakhtille lännessä sellaisia siunauksia kuin paikan Italian Bolognan arvostetun festivaalin Il Cinema Ritrovaton neljän taiteellisen johtajan kvartetissa. "

" Se, kuinka cinefilia voi todella uhmata valtaa, tulla viranomaisten vinkkelistä vaaralliseksi, näyttäytyy surumielisesti Jorghanianin kohtalossa. Tämä ”Iranin Henry Langlois” arkistoi yli 4 000 elokuvaa ja 1 000 still-kuvaa kätkien kielletyt kelat esikaupunkipiiloonsa. Varsinainen filmiuskovainen: Ahmad pitääkin kopioita tärkeämpänä kuin itseään! " Timo Malmi

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2024): " How deeply can the passion for cinema, cinephilia, impact a person and their destiny? "

" This is illustrated in Celluloid Underground, a deeply personal documentary flavoured with abundant film snippets from Ehsan Khoshbakht who lectured last summer in Sodankylä on architecture and film. "

" Khoshbakht shares his own experience of exile in London and tells the story of his friend Ahmad Jorghanian, whose passionate archiving of film copies led to his imprisonment for four years and torture in Iran. "

" In the painful but treasured memories of his birthland, Khoshbakht founded a film club in Tehran at only 17. When he screened the classic film The Cow (1969) by the father of modern Iranian cinema Dariush Mehrjui who was murdered in 2023, he got in trouble with the Islamic revolution. "

" The emigration caused by the persecution has, on the other hand, brought Khoshbakht blessings in the West, such as a place among the quartet of artistic directors of the prestigious Italian festival Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. "

" The consequences of cinephilia, defying authority and becoming dangerous from the authorities’ perspective are sadly evident in Jorghanian’s fate. Known as the “Iranian Henry Langlois,” he archived over 4,000 films and 1,000 still images, by hiding these forbidden reels in his suburban hideout. Ahmad, a true believer in cinema, values the copies more than himself! " Timo Malmi

AA: Celluloid Underground, a tribute to the great Iranian film collector Ahmad Jorghanian (2014), is a companion piece to Filmfarsi (IR/GB 2019), the director Ehsan Khoshbakht's previous marvellous piece about Iran's secret film history.

Filmfarsi was created "in VHS-Scope", documenting the return of the repressed of Iran's low budget sensationalist cinema, films only surviving on home video.

Celluloid Underground is a celebration of photochemical film, private possession of which was decreed illegal in 1984. In defiance of the film ban, the heroic collector Ahmad Jorghanian gathered thousands of prints and let underground film societies access them.

This could be a thrilling and entertaining anecdote and a footnote to film history. But helmed by Khoshbakht the story grows into a personal Bildungsroman, a story of a great friendship, a history of Iranian cinema and Iran itself before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It is about cinephilia in the "classe tous risques". On many levels it is about cinema as an art of time - and about time itself.

As in Filmfarsi, the visual quality is unique in being beyond good and awful. The film-makers display excellent taste in creating a mosaic from disparate materials that separately might be refused. The film is bigger than the sum of its parts. In its experimental drive it reaches cosmic and timeless grandeur.

NB. Celluloid means nitrate film which was the norm until the early 1950s. Safety film became the norm in 1951. First it was acetate, in the 1990s polyester. The digital turn of the cinema started in 1999.

La spiaggia / The Boarder (2021 Bologna restoration)

Alberto Lattuada: La spiaggia / The Boarder (IT/FR 1954). On a Ligurian beach in Pontorno, the single mother Anna Maria Mentorsi (Martine Carol) meets the adventuress Marini (Mara Berni). I love the hairy armpit.

Kuuma rannikko / Gatflickan i societeten.
DIRECTOR: Alberto Lattuada
COUNTRY: Italy, France
YEAR: 1954
DURATION: 102 min
LANGUAGES: Italian, subtitled in English
CATEGORY: Master Classes and Special Presentations, Olaf Möller, Subtitles in English
Introduced by Olaf Möller.
Viewed at Lapinsuu, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), 12 June 2024

Olaf Möller (MSFF 2024): " One of the most famous quotes about Italian postwar cinema comes from Giulio Andreotti, who as a vice-minister in one of the eight De Gasperi governments likened Neorealism to the washing of dirty laundry in public. The cinema of this era, thus, should be a clean one that only showed an unspoiled, spotless, unsullied, pristine if not outright immaculate image of Italy. But what does that mean? Alberto Lattuada was one of the most stylish and refined masters of the era, whose films were always perfectly crafted and radiant with beauty – while often talking about all the unsavory things to be found in the so spotless-seeming world, especially of the gente per bene. Which makes The Boarder something of a reflection on the period, its morals: Here, a high-class sex worker goes on holiday with her young daughter, gets seen by one of her clients whose loose lips soon have everybody whispering in nasty tones about the poor woman. "

" What becomes visible, even when seemingly good deeds get done, is a world made of little more than hypocrisy, a mere façade, a chillingly silly charade. This fits well with one technical aspect of The Boarder: It was one of the very first Italian color films; the technology, especially in its Ferraniacolor-variety here, stresses the artificiality of the world we get to see… The Boarder might look harmless, but it’s a bottomless pit. " Olaf Möller

AA: Alberto Lattuada visited Sodankylä in 1991, but La spiaggia was not screened back then. Now we were offered a reconstructed and restored version (2021) of the film that suffered censorship cuts during its initial release. La spiaggia is a cynical caricature about hypocrisy in Italy during its postwar economical boom. Anna Maria Mentorsi (Martine Carol) is taking a Liguria vacation with her little daughter Caterina (Anna Gabriella Pisani) in the town of Pontorno. Believed to be a respectable widow, Anna Maria is initially accepted by high society, but when her profession in Milan is exposed, everyone turns their backs on them, even children. The mayor Silvio (Raf Vallone) does his best to help, but he fails to find cooperation. Deus ex machina: the billionaire Chiastrino (Carlo Bianco) takes Anna Maria in his protection with no strings attached. His satisfaction is to see the instant turnabout in everybody's attitudes towards Anna Maria and Caterina. Money talks.

Men from Milan recognize Anna Maria and start to suggest dates. I was thinking about Woody Allen's To Rome with Love and its references to Italian films. Might Anna (Penélope Cruz) be an homage to Anna Maria in La spiaggia?

The restoration and reconstruction looks clean, stable and smooth in the DCP presentation. I am not a Ferraniacolor expert, and I have no Ferraniacolor sense. In this presentation the colour impact is consistent, and there is a soft blur, no clear outlines. I have just been meditating the 150th anniversary of Impressionism, and in the colour world of La spiaggia there is some affinity with post-impressionist painting such as La Grande Jatte by Seurat, but in lower definition.


Isabella Eklöf: Kalak ( DK 2023). Trying to come terms with his trauma, Jan (Emil Johnsen) resorts to the indigenous face masks of indigenous Greenland.

DIRECTOR: Isabella Eklöf
COUNTRY: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Finland
YEAR: 2023
DURATION: 120 min
LANGUAGES: Danish, Greenlandic, English, subtitled in Finnish
CATEGORY: Gems of New Cinema, Puhuttu tai tekstitetty suomeksi
Viewed at Lapinsuu, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), 12 June 2024

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2024): " Ruotsalaisen Isabella Eklöfin pohjoismaisena yhteistuotantona Grönlannissa ohjaama Kalak käynnistyy hätkähdyttävällä kohtauksella: vanhempi mies käyttää seksuaalisesti hyväkseen nukkuvaa nuorta miestä. Mistään sensaatiohakuisesta rankistelusta ei kuitenkaan ole kyse, vaan luontaisen elokuvallisesti lahjakas kertoja seuraa myötätuntoisesti Kööpenhaminasta oman perheensä kanssa Grönlantiin ”paenneen” Janin aikuisvaiheita, vuoden 2000 molemmin puolin, vaikean isäsuhteen traumatisoimana. "

" Kalak pohjautuu käsikirjoitukseen osallistuneen Kim Leinen omaelämäkerralliseen romaaniin – joten elokuvan kärjistyneimmilläkin vaiheilla uskoisi olevan kaikupohjaa. Eklöf käsittelee asioita rehellisen suorasti, mutta samalla ytimekkään säästeliäästi: kuinka hymyilevä Jan on päihteiden vauhdittamana maanisen seksuaalisen moniavioisuuden vallassa, minkä hänen suvaitsevainen vaimonsa ja kahden lapsen äiti (Asta Kamma August) hyväksyy, vaikkei ole tietoinen edes isäsuhteen pimeistä puolista. "

" ”Kalak” tarkoittaa ”likaista grönlantilaista”, mikä viittaa kotiutumisprosessin sekä positiiviseen että negatiiviseen puoleen. Suhteet elokuvan alkuperäisasukkaisiin heijastelevat tanskalaista kolonialismia. Nadim Carlsenin kamera tavoittaa ihailtavasti saarimaan karunkauniin atmosfäärin, ja norjalainen Emil Johnsen on varsinainen löytö poikamaisen Janin ristiriitaiseen rooliin. " Timo Malmi

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2024): " Kalak, directed by Swedish filmmaker Isabella Eklöf as a Nordic co-production in Greenland, opens with a startling scene: an older man is sexually abusing a sleeping young man. But this is not sensationalist doom and gloom; instead, the effortlessly talented narrator sympathetically follows the adult life of Jan, who flees Copenhagen with his family to Greenland at the turn of the millennium, traumatised by a difficult relationship with his father. "

" As Kalak is based on an autobiographical novel by Kim Leine, who also contributed to the screenplay, even the most intense phases of the film can be expected to have counterparts in reality. Eklöf deals with things with honest frankness, but also with succinct economy: how the smiling Jan is in the grip of manic sexual polygamy fuelled by drug abuse, which his tolerant wife and mother of two (Asta Kamma August) accepts – even though she is not aware of the dark side of his relationship with his father. "

" “Kalak” means “dirty Greenlander,” referring to both the positive and negative aspects of the adaptation process. In the film, relationships with the Indigenous population reflect Danish colonialism. Nadim Carlsen’s camera beautifully captures the barren atmosphere of the island, and Norwegian Emil Johnsen is a real find in the conflicted role of the boyish Jan. " Timo Malmi

AA: Isabella Eklöf has an assured touch with the tough subject-matter of Kalak. 

It is the tragedy of Jan (Emil Johnsen) coming to terms with the legacy of his pedophilic and incestuous father. Now in a terminal phase of cancer, the father Ole (Søren Hellerup) is jovial and unrepentant, celebrating his licentious lifestyle to the end. Jan's family has moved to Greenland, but in the finale they return to Copenhagen.

The world unfolds in a mode of contemporary realism / naturalism, but the theme dates back to ancient tragedy and Sophocles.

Everybody in Jan's circle suffers collateral damage: his wife, his children, his colleagues at the hospital where he works, the partners in his serial polygamy. Like his father, Jan in his relationships seems to have a void where conscience should exist. At the hospital Jan has access to drugs, and he becomes a reckless addict.

Greenland dogs can be dangerous. Jan's daughter becomes horribly savaged by one. His wife and children fly back to Copenhagen and its surgical experts. When Jan refuses the attentions of Nikoline, an indigenous lover, she commits a family suicide by burning down her house with her child. The traditional Nordic funeral hymn, "Gammal fäbodpsalm från Dalarna", is heard in the funeral sequence. The camera catches it in a distant high angle shot, tilting up along a mountain and further up to heaven.

A half-hidden current in the story is the profound resentment of the indigenous Greenland people towards Danish colonialists.

Kalak is an original tragedy of Vatermord. Isabella Eklöf offers us a potent cocktail, as powerful as the one mixed by Jan for his father in the finale, but with reverse impact. Eklöf wants to wake us up. 

The sublime landscapes of Greenland offer a striking counter-image to the darkness of the fabula. According to the end credits they have been shot on photochemical Kodak film. 

Cerrar los ojos / Close Your Eyes

Víctor Erice: Cerrar los ojos / Close Your Eyes (ES/AR 2023). The actor Julio Arenas (José Coronado) on the night of his disappearance.

DIRECTOR: Víctor Erice
COUNTRY: Spain, Argentina
YEAR: 2023
DURATION: 169 min
LANGUAGES: Spanish, Catalan, English, French, subtitled in English
CATEGORY: Gems of New Cinema, Subtitles in English
Viewed at Lapinsuu, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), 12 June 2024

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2024): " Espanjalaisen elokuvan ihmemies Víctor Erice on tehnyt 50 vuodessa vain neljä pitkää elokuvaa, joista Close Your Eyes on yhtä mestarillinen kuin kaikki edeltäjänsäkin. Eikä ole syytä arastella mittavaa kestoa: tämän ”elokuva elokuvassa” -teoksen juoni on kerroksisuudestaan huolimatta helposti seurattava eikä pitkästytä pätkääkään. Pikkubonuksena vuoden 1995 tekijävieraamme kunnianosoitus festivaalillemme: päähenkilön kaverilla Maxilla on Elokuva 100 -vuoden Sodis-paita! "

" Ajan ja muistin teemoja luotaava Close Your Eyes tapahtuu 2012, mutta päähenkilö Miguel Garaylta kesken jäänyttä viimeistä elokuvaa The Farewell Gaze tehdään 1990-luvulla – ja sen tapahtumat sijoittuvat kolmannella aikatasolla vuoden 1947 Ranskaan. The Farewell Gazen tähti Julio Arenas katoaa arvoituksellisesti kesken filmausten, ja ”nykypäivässä” Miguelia pyydetään tv-show’hun selvittämään tapausta ja sen vaikutuksia. "

" Melankolinen Close Your Eyes on monen mielestä viime vuoden kärkielokuvia – vaikka ensi-ilta jäi syyttään paitsioon Cannesin filmijuhlilla merkillisen episodin vuoksi: elokuva oli pääsarjassa, mutta Ericen yllätykseksi kilpailun ulkopuolella, minkä vuoksi hän boikotoi juhlia ja julkaisi avoimen ihmettelykirjeen. Ericen Etelän (1983) esittely ja ohjaajan haastattelu, ks. Yle Teeman Sodankylän parhaat (s. 152–153). " Timo Malmi

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2024): " Spanish cinema virtuoso Víctor Erice has only made four feature films in 50 years, and Close Your Eyes is as masterful as any of them. Don’t be put off by its length: despite its many layers, this “film within a film” is easy to follow and never bores for a moment. As a little bonus, our 1995 guest pays homage to our festival: the main character’s friend Max wears a Midnight Sun Film Festival T-shirt from the 100 Years of Cinema edition! "

" Close Your Eyes, which explores the themes of time and memory, is set in 2012, but The Farewell Gaze – an unfinished film left behind by the protagonist, Miguel Garay – is being made in the 1990s and takes place on a third temporal plane, in France in 1947. The star of The Farewell Gaze, Julio Arenas, mysteriously disappears in the middle of filming, and in “present day,” Miguel is asked to appear on a TV show to investigate the case and its implications. "

" The melancholy Close Your Eyes is considered by many to be one of last year’s best films – although its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival was overshadowed by a curious episode: the film was in the main selection but, to Erice’s surprise, out of competition, prompting him to boycott the festival and publish an open letter about the matter. For an introduction to Erice’s South (1983) and an interview with the director, see Yle Teema’s Best of Midnight Sun Film Festival (pages 152-153). " Timo Malmi

AA: The year 2023 is turning out to be one of the greatest in the history of the cinema. One of its distinctions was that veterans and established masters presented some of their best work (Wenders, Spielberg, Dardenne brothers, Kaurismäki, Payne, Morris, Scorsese, Loach, Holland, Haynes, Nolan).

Add to their number Víctor Erice whose Close Your Eyes is a cinephilic detective story like La Morte Rouge. It is the most story-driven movie by the master from the Basque Country. 

Erice's movies are usually purely imagist, carried by the spell of poetic visions. In Close Your Eyes, Erice has lost none of the spellbinding power of his cinematography. An engrossing ambience of meditation and a genius in moments of epiphany are on display as profoundly as in The Spirit of the Beehive and El Sur.

But Close Your Eyes is also a storyteller's tale in many layers, continuing from the Sherlock Holmes legacy of La Morte Rouge, and displaying roots going deep into One Thousand and One Nights. Again there is a significant reference to the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent reign of terror.

A Jewish character in La mirada del adíos, the film within the film, is the primus motor. In 1947, the ageing Monsieur Lévy (Josep Maria Pou) engages a detective to find from Shanghai his only surviving relative, his daughter Judith / Qiao Shu (Venecia Franco). Monsieur Lévy has chosen the detective because of his record as a contact person during the French Occupation for refugees over the Pyrenees. The film ends with with Judith and Monsieur Lévy joining in the Sephardi song "Hija mia, mi querida". 

The actor Julio Arenas / Gardel (José Coronado) has lost his memory after playing the role of the detective for Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo). He has then lost contact with everybody, even his daughter Ana (Ana Torrent). There is an extraordinary double catharsis. The screening of the surviving reels of La mirada del adíos brings about an anagnorisis. On the verge of waking up from amnesia, Julio closes his eyes.

The Julio Arenas story evokes Leo Tolstoy's The Living Corpse, Luigi Pirandello's The Late Mattia Pascal and Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger.

There is a warm blur in the imagery, shot on 16 mm. Ana Torrent was discovered by Erice as a child for The Spirit of the Beehive when Franco was still alive. Her deeply moving presence 50 years later in Close Your Eyes evokes a feeling of a closing of a circle.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

A letter to the managements of Musée d'Orsay and Fondation Louis Vuitton: to photograph or to see IV

From: Lindsey Tramuta's article on Lonely Planet, 26 Nov 2022.

To the managements of
Musée d'Orsay
Fondation Louis Vuitton

Dear Madam, dear Sir,

I thank you for the fabulous exhibitions I saw during my three-month visit to Paris this spring: " Van Gogh à Auvers-sur-Oise : Les derniers mois ", " Mark Rothko ", and " Paris 1874 : Inventer l'impressionnisme ".

I am an enthusiastic visitor to art exhibitions since the 1960s, and these three belong to the most unforgettable I have ever seen.

I am a man of the cinema. In our commercial and artistic world we find it self-evident that concentration on the visual presentation is sacred.

The opening announcements of the UGC cinema network nail it perfectly:
- Respecter sa place
- Respecter ses voisins
- Respecter l'œuvre
- Respecter l'environment

Which means for instance: mobile devices must be turned off during the entire presentation. The illumination on the screen is fragile, and the impact is disturbed if there is a bright LED screen in the field of vision.

Nothing can make me happier than to observe your beautiful museums filled with huge crowds, local and international. This is the golden age of art museums.

I admire your subtle lighting (extra tender for pastels), the invisible non-reflective glass protection and the art of hanging.

Ten years ago, you lifted the photo ban. Could you please consider instead making reproductions of the whole exhibition available at websites? Obviously there is a tremendous need for people to have digital copies of artworks.

Paradoxically, the focus of the exhibition has by now shifted so much that the main activity is photographing.

More than that. The brightest element at your museums are now the LCD / LED / OLED screens of mobile devices. It is not rare to detect twelve such screens dominating the space before a painting. That bright, quickly moving spectacle prevents concentration on the art on display. Thinking back on those exhibitions I saw this spring: I visited them and was impressed - but did not really see them. I saw a social media spectacle.

As we know, one of the great turns in the breakthrough of impressionism 150 years ago was a new way of appreciating a painting. Viewing an impressionistic painting requires finding the proper distance and being able to concentrate and meditate, to let the full impact sink in. Not long ago, it was not rare to contemplate a single painting for hours.

Shouldn't we give today's art lovers the opportunity to the same full experience - in conditions that are respected even in cinemas ? Films are artworks of mechanical reproduction. Your treasures are unique - shouldn't  they be treated with even greater respect ?

Yours with best regards - with love, respect and gratitude for your wonderful work - live long and prosper !

Antti Alanen
Film historian

My previous blog comments in this series:
Musée d'Orsay: to photograph or to see II (5 March 2023).
Manet/Degas: to photograph or to see III (13 April 2023)