Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tarinoiden Suomi / Stories from Finland

FI © 2017 Inland Film Company Oy. P+D+SC+CIN+ED: Jussi Oroza. Creative P: Iikka Vehkalahti. Photographer: Saara Mansikkamäki. M: Antti Nordin. Lyrics: Sibone Oroza. Musicians: Antti Nordin, Boris Nordin, Sibone Oroza, Franka Oroza, Mikko Helenius, Mauri Saarikoski, Elsa Sihvola, Lassi Kari. Theme songs sung by: Sibone Oroza, Franka Oroza. "Lei" by Abdigani Hussein. Assistant ED: Ulrika Enckell. Sound ED+end credits: Benjamin Oroza.
    Tarinateltta team 2008–2012: original idea, D+interviews by Benjamin Oroza, interviewers Ismo Leinonen, Aija Salovaara, Janne Kari, Sami Laitinen.
    A documentary featuring: Göran Palmqvist, Tuuli Manninen, Otto Köngäs, Pentti Ahlroot, Iida Reini, Göran Tornberg, T. Seppänen, Mauno Ranto, Minna Rimpilä, Janne Hakkarainen, Oiva Vallius, Lassi, Elias and Erik (the boys), Martti Kinnunen, Viljo Liukkonen, Jussi Kleemola, Vilho Kuusela, Riitta Palomäki, Soili Mantila, Paula Malinen, Johanna Broman, Markku Tuomikorpi, Hilkka Malm, Shahnaz Mikkonen, Metin Sahinler, Sakke (Peloton), Abdigani Hussein "Kani" (the rapper), Tapani Hyrkäs, Riitta Excell, Synnove Excell, Marta Vera Ortiz, Päivi Kuusela, Jussi Kuokkanen
    Digital, no subtitles, premiere 11 August 2017, 84 min
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 3, on 12 August 2017

In our age spellbound by social media people are increasingly living in virtual bubbles where they can always look at the bright side of life and present only happy and beautiful aspects of themselves.

On the other hand everyone has a fundamental need to be seen as she or he actually is. Which is why the phenomenon of digital depression is becoming more widespread.

Based on the Tarinateltta (Story Tent) television project that ran in 2008–2012, the feature-length documentary Stories from Finland is a montage of some 35 talking heads intercut with associative, conceptual, and poetic imagery and aerial photography from all over the country. There are also beautiful montages of faces.

The project is relevant to the reality television syndrome, but the approach is not to cash in sensation or triviality.

Stories from Finland is a mosaic of vignettes with ordinary and extraordinary tales. It covers all of Finland, and chronologically the stories date from the 1930s to the present day.

We hear happy stories of love. There is a female vignette that resembles Before Sunrise. A male narrator met Day Tripper and never recovered. We hear about the first kiss, a life-long love, a shotgun wedding, and a marriage that has lasted 42 years.

Wartime memories extend to Kauhajoki during the Winter War. When there was an air raid alarm, everybody was covered in white sheets (in snow camouflage), the MPs and the patients of mental hospitals alike.

The ultra-militaristic education of the 1930s, rarely mentioned after 1944, is evoked here. Even a 13 year old boy was equipped with a gun.

We meet children from homes that were broken after WWII, and orphans. "I have never had a home". "It is difficult to display feelings". There was abuse at home. When father left the family with another woman, the children had to become beggars. Orphanages could be harsh.

We meet a man who estimates that he must have been one of the last huutolainen, children for auction. Homeless children could be acquired by the family who made the cheapest bid at the auction. The children were treated worse than slaves or animals. The master of the house could hit the child at will. But one day the boy came home and found the kitchen floor covered in blood. The master had slashed his throat.

We hear stories about life on resettlement farms established for evacuees from Eastern Karelia after WWII. Families were huge with 12 children or more. People had nothing, but they "cared for each other more". "Kamara oli enemmän hoitava", "the fundament was more nurturing". "Joy and sorrow felt like something then".

School bullying was brutal. A man reminisces this in lurid detail. The chief education officer, however, learned about it. He was a war veteran. The bullies were invited into his office one by one. They returned crying out loud. The bullying stopped then and there.

We meet a black boy who tells about his years as a juvenile delinquent. His family sent him to Africa for one year. He visited a Quran school and witnessed a lynching at age 12: an apparently innocent man was burned alive. His eyes were opened.

We meet immigrants to Finland. "Loneliness is very hard to handle". A woman born in Taiwan observes that it took her 14 years to feel at home in Finland.

Travelling to the North, the land of the Northern Lights, we meet a gold-digger who reveals his feeling for the nature.

We meet a couple who has been wed according to an ancient, pre-Christian shaman wedding in Kalevala style.

We meet a senior lady who had a happy near death experience at the opera during a marvellous mezzo soprano's performance of Rossini's Stabat mater. "And then the damn heart started to beat again".

This series of vignettes resembles a collection of very short stories. They are not random, but they do not grow into a whole either, and that would be impossible.

The people, their faces, and their stories are eloquent. There are stories in this movie that I'm likely never to forget.

Among the original songs of the movie is the beautiful theme song "Kertoisin sinulle tarinan" ["I'd Like to Tell You a Story"] composed by Antti Nordin with lyrics by Sibone Oroza and sung by Franka Oroza.

The interviewees are not identified in the movie. The shooting locations of the Story Tent are fascinating.

The visual concept is based on a contrast of close-ups of faces and magnificent aerial views made possible by drone cinematography. The definition is often low as is expected in this kind of documentary.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Hail, Caesar! (4K projection)

Hail, Caesar! Please click to enlarge.

Hail, Caesar! / Hail, Caesar! / Ave, Cesare! / Χαίρε, Καίσαρ! / Ave, César! / ¡Salve, César! / Да здравствует Цезарь!
    US © 2016 Universal Studios. PC: Mike Zoss Productions, Working Title Films – presented in association with Dentsu. P: Tim Bevan, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Eric Fellner. EX: Robert Graf. D: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. SC: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Cin: Roger Deakins – negative: 35 mm – colour – 1:1,85 – master format: digital intermediate 4K (EFILM). PD: Jess Gonchor. AD: Cara Brower, Dawn Swiderski. Set dec: Nancy Haigh. Cost: Mary Zophres. Makeup: Jean Ann Black (as Jean Black). Hair: Cydney Cornell. SFX: Steve Cremin. VFX: Dan Schrecker, Dan Levitan. M: Carter Burwell. Song credit listing beyond the jump break. Includes several tracks performed by the Red Army Choir. S: Craig Berkey. ED: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (as Roderick Jaynes). Casting: Ellen Chenoweth.
    C: Josh Brolin (Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnna Moran), Tilda Swinton (Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker), Channing Tatum (Burt Gurney), Frances McDormand (C. C. Calhoun), Jonah Hill (Joe Silverman), Veronica Osorio (Carlotta Valdez), Heather Goldenhersh (Natalie, Mannix's secretary), Alison Pill (Mrs. Mannix), Max Baker (head communist writer), John Bluthal (Professor Marcuse), Christopher Lambert (Arne Seslum), Natasha Bassett (Gloria DeLamour), Dolph Lundgren (submarine commander), the Aqualillies (the synchronized swimmers).
    See also the cast of characters as edited in Wikipedia, copied after the jump break.
    Loc: Warner Bros. Burbank Studios, Los Angeles Theatre, Union Station (Downtown L.A.), Good Luck Bar (Hillhurst Ave.), Bronson Caves (Griffith Park), Pelican Cove Park (Palos Verdes), Craven Estate (Pasadena), First Congregational Church (Commonwealth Avenue), Whitley Terrace, Walker Residence (Carmel-by-the-Sea), Sony Pictures Studios (Culver City), 635 South Mateo Street, Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park (Agua Dulce, CA), Big Sky Ranch (Simi Valley), Harvey Apartments (Santa Monica Boulevard).
    Helsinki premiere: 4.3.2016 Tennispalatsi, distributed by: Finnkino Oy, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Mökkönen / Markus Karjalainen – MEKU: K7 – 4K DCP – 106 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (the Coen Bros.), 11 August 2017

I belong to the ones who may have been suffering from Coen fatigue which is why I have missed their two latest films on their first run and discovered them first in our retrospective this summer. It turns out that like in Inside Llewyn Davis, the brothers are at their best in Hail, Caesar!

Both are accurate accounts of specific moments in American cultural history. In Inside Llewyn Davis we are in Greenwich Village anno 1961, in Hail, Caesar! in Hollywood exactly ten years earlier.

The two films have little in common. Llewyn Davis is the portrait of a loser, "King Midas's idiot brother" in whose hands everything turns into the opposite of gold. Hail, Caesar! is the portrait of a Hollywood fixer who can find the solution to the most improbable calamity.

The star (George Clooney) of Hollywood's most expensive blockbuster is kidnapped by communists and converts to communism himself. The studio's idolized bathing beauty (Scarlett Johansson) is single and pregnant. The leading actor of a sophisticated comedy is a rodeo star (Alden Ehrenreich) who can't act. The two leading gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton) know the backstory of the dandyish star director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). The musical star Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) defects to the USSR on a submarine whose commander is played by Dolph Lundgren.

All this Mannix (Josh Brolin) can fix. But he is also being seduced by Lockheed to a highly paid top executive job that has nothing in common with the Hollywood madhouse. During the picture the Catholic Mannix goes to a confession every night, and is seduced by Lockheed every day. In the finale he sees the light.

At every step there are references to the actual Hollywood scene. Eddie Mannix really existed, although he was not at all like this (the relationship is like between Llewyn Davis and Dave Van Ronk). The Hail, Caesar! film project resembles Quo vadis?, The Robe, The Ten Commandments, and Ben-Hur. The performances are not parodies but parallel creations inspired by real personalities which include Clooney doing Charlton Heston, while Channing Tatum is at Gene Kelly, Scarlett Johansson at Esther Williams, and Ralph Fiennes at George Cukor. Tilda Swinton gets to do parallel figures as both Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. One of my favourites is Frances McDormand as the studio's wizard editor, based on Margaret Booth.

The spoof scenes are delightful and original, different from the spoofs we have been used to seeing over the decades.

The Coen fatigue that some of us have been experiencing may have emerged because we have become jaded with the expectation that all the time the Coens will shock us and subvert everything. One can get tired with shocks.

The Coens are no less subversive now, but they feel no need for the shocking twist all the time. The deeper current that has been with them since Blood Simple. flows even more confidently now. They have an original Weltanschauung, a sense of the absurd that can be compared with the Book of Job, Gogol, Kafka, and Beckett but is personal and unique to them.

The bite of the existential Angst has not vanished, but there is a broader sense of life around. The sense of humour is not monotonously bitter like in Barton Fink, their previous dark Hollywood satire. The sense of humour is on a new level, more refined, and the satire is more sophisticated. Lubitsch might have enjoyed this.

Among the surprises is the protagonist, the studio boss Eddie Mannix, who emerges as a positive figure. He is a new kind of character in the Coen world: a straight guy against the madness of Hollywood. The madness that both he and the Coens love.

Another surprise is the attitude to religion and Christianity. The film is a parody of the making of a Biblical epic. Many details are again based on reality, including the meeting of theological authorities of all Abrahamic monoteistic religions. The feature that the face of the Christ is not shown was the practice of the decade. The undercurrent of this parody is an unexpected appearance of spirituality and transcendence.

The production values are solid, and the look is glamorous and expensive. The film was again shot on 35 mm, like Inside Llewyn Davis. The digital intermediate was conducted in 4K, and the 4K DCP looks supernaturally sharp and unreal on the screen.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mansfield Park (1999)

Mansfield Park. Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price.

Kasvattitytön tarina / Mansfield Park [Swedish title].
    GB © 1999 Miramax HAL Films. PC: HAL Films, Miramax Films, BBC, The Arts Council of England, BBC Films. P: Sarah Curtis. D+SC: Patricia Rozema – based on the novel (1814) by Jane Austen, translated into Finnish by A. R. Koskimies / Karisto (1954). DP: Michael Coulter – negative: 35 mm (Kodak) – lab: DeLuxe – colour – 1,85:1. PD: Christopher Hobbs. AD: Andrew Munro. Set dec: Patricia Edwards. Makeup: Veronica McAleer (as Veronica Brebner). Cost: Andrea Galer. VFX: Drew Jones (CFC). M: Lesley Barber. S: Glenn Freemantle. ED: Martin Walsh.
    C: Frances O’Connor (Fanny Price), Jonny Lee Miller (Edmund Bertram), James Purefoy (Thomas Bertram, Jr., Tom), Embeth Davidtz (Mary Crawford), Alessandro Nivola (Henry Crawford), Harold Pinter (Sir Thomas Bertram), Lindsay Duncan (Lady Bertram / Mrs. Price), Victoria Hamilton (Maria Bertram), Justine Waddell (Julia Bertram), Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Rushworth), Sheila Gish (Mrs. Norris), Charles Edwards (Mr. Yates), Sophia Myles (Susan Price), Anna Popplewell (Betsey), Hannah Taylor-Gordon (the young Fanny).
    Loc: Kirby Hall (Northamptonshire), Cornwall, Eton College (Berkshire), Fenton House, Kenwood House (Hampstead, London), Lulworth Cove (Dorset), Osterley Park House (Middlesex), Portsmouth (Hampshire).
    Telecast in Finland 13.4.2004 MTV3 – VET V-04641 – S, recommended rating 10 –  112 min
    A print with Norwegian subtitles by Harald Ohrvik viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jane Austen, Bicentennial of Death), 10 Aug 2017

Patricia Rozema announced that Mansfield Park is "not a Jane Austen film. ... It's a Patricia Rozema film. My job as an artist is to provide a fresh view". "Whenever you turn a novel into a movie, you're changing form. ... I felt fairly free to make changes as long as I felt I could face Austen if I met her".

Mansfield Park was a straggler to the remarkable 1995–1996 cycle of Jane Austen television and film adaptations when Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma were filmed almost simultaneously, Emma even twice.

All Jane Austen adaptations face the the challenge of the free indirect speech, the unique address in the heart of Austen's art. All previous adaptations gave it up because it would have required the use of a narrator. Only Patricia Rozema solved this problem. In Mansfield Park she turned Fanny to a writer. She created a new character based less on Fanny Price than Jane Austen, herself.

I have not read Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, her third published novel, and I trust here on what sources say about the novel. Most illuminating has been Kathi Groenendyk's essay "Modernizing Mansfield Park: Patricia Rozema's Spin on Jane Austen" (JASNA, Winter 2004).

It seems that Patricia Rozema's film is Austenesque while not a faithful interpretation of the novel. She does justice to Jane Austen's voice and views but not to her concept and characters of Mansfield Park.

I find the development of the relationship between Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) and Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) very moving. It is an account of love as a journey of exploration, an exploration to the deepest fountains of oneself, and of the other. A journey of a definition and revelation of the self and the other. A journey of widening one's horizon together with the other.

Besides, more than other Jane Austen adapters Patricia Rozema puts an emphasis on tenderness between women.

The funniest line of dialogue in the movie is when Fanny's long-suffering mother says to her daughter that there is no shame in wealth and that "I married for love". But the shame in wealth is an issue in Rozema's adaptation.

The issue of West Indies slavery as the source that plays for the party is briefly mentioned in Jane Austen's novel. Slave trade had been abolished in Britain in 1807 but not slavery itself. Austen was an abolitionist. Edward Said highlighted the issue in Culture and Imperialism (1993). Harold Bloom, the great Jane Austen champion, has since been fed up with the over-interpretation of the slavery angle in Austen studies.

Patricia Rozema wrote her film from the Edward Said angle. In the beginning we hear cries from a slave ship on the coast of England (slave ships did not come to England). Tom (Thomas Beacham, Jr.) is seen as a victim of a traumatic shock having witnessed slavery in Antigua. Fanny, too, is shocked when she discovers Tom's collection of pornografic paintings and drawings on violence and rapes of slaves, also featuring his father, Sir Thomas (Harold Pinter). The original theme music to the end credits is Lesley Barber and Salif Keita's "Djonga" / "Slavery".

One might see Patricia Rozema's slavery angle in Mansfield Park as a corrective to the entire cycle of Jane Austen films, heritage films, and Regency Era films.

A brilliant, clean, and complete print.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

La strada / The Road

La strada. Giulietta Masina (Gelsomina), Anthony Quinn (Zampanò). "Sans doute dira-t-on que seul le cinéma pouvait par exemple conférer à l'extraordinaire roulotte motocycliste de Zampanò la force de mythe concret auquel atteint ici cet objet insolite et banal tout à fois" (André Bazin).

Tie / Vägen.
    IT 1954. PC: Ponti–De Laurentiis Cinematografica. P: Dino De Laurentiis, Carlo Ponti. D: Federico Fellini. SC: Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano. DP: Otello Martelli – b&w – 1,37:1. PD: Mario Ravasco. AD: Enrico Cervelli, Brunello Rondi. Cost: Margherita Marinari. M: Nino Rota. S: R. Boggio, Aldo Calpini. ED: Leo Catozzo.
    C: Giulietta Masina (Gelsomina), Anthony Quinn (Zampanò), Richard Basehart (Il Matto / The Fool), Aldo Silvani (il signor Giraffa, circus director), Marcella Rovena (la vedova / widow), Lidia Venturini (la suora / nun), Mario Passante (cameriere / waiter), Anna Primula (madre di Gelsomina), Pietro Ceccarelli (oste / bartender), Nazareno Zamperla (Neno), Giovanna Galli (la prostituta all'osteria), Yami Kamedeva (prostituta). Doppiatori originali: Arnoldo Foà (Zampanò), Stefano Sibaldi (il Matto).
    Loc: Bagnoregio, Viterbo, Lazio, Ovindoli, L'Aquila, Abruzzo. The final sequence: the wharf of Fiuminico.
    Helsinki premiere 10.2.1956 Savoy, distributor: Valio-Filmi – VET 43912 – K16 – 3220 m / 104 min, 108 min
    Viewed in a print released by Polfilm with Swedish subtitles by Stig Björkman, with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Wonderful Actresses of Italy), 9 Aug 2017

In memoriam Aito Mäkinen (who was with Valio-Filmi when it premiered La strada in Finland).

Revisited Federico Fellini's third solo feature film as a director, his breakthrough to the ranks of the masters of world cinema, his personal favourite film, one of the most influential films in history, one of the essential road movies, and a film that for André Bazin belonged to the all too few that belong to the greatest achievements of all art.

When I first wrote about La strada some 40 years ago I was under the spell of Pablo Picasso's Blue Period. Posters of his paintings were hanging on my wall. In fact I was living Picasso's Blue Period. I was struck by the affinity with La strada but not aware of any conscious influence.

Whereas the Charles Chaplin influence is obvious in the characters of Gelsomina and Il Matto and in the unforgettable score by Nino Rota. The contrast between the sublime and the ridiculous is introduced already in the main title music which starts with a passionate arrangement of the main theme, only to be replaced abruptly by a frenetic circus march.

Fellini has revealed that the characters of the story emerged as cartoon figures, like the Big Bad Wolf (Zampanò), Bugs Bunny (Il Matto), and Tweety (Gelsomina). The original Fellini quality is revealed in the tragic force he was able to elicit from caricature. It is one of the paradoxes of the actor that a circus stereotype, a commedia dell'arte figure, a marionette, a puppet or a cartoon character can move us so strongly.

Fellini was known as a neorealist, and his previous film, I vitelloni, was still a neorealist masterpiece. Audiences were confused at first by La strada because the protagonists are anti-realistic. But the world of La strada is still neorealistic in a way that can be compared with Paisà, Roberto Rossellini's "road movie" which Fellini scripted. The sites of the journey are real. They are full of life and haunted by the magic of reality.

The stages of the journey are also haunted by a sense of transcendence, of the holy. La strada belongs to the great spiritual and religious works of art. Not surprisingly, because this dimension, the specifically Francescan approach, had already emerged in Rossellini's Roma città aperta, Paisà and Francesco, giullare di Dio which Fellini co-scripted. And obviously in Il miracolo in which Fellini gave his only performance as an actor. Reportedly La strada is the favourite film of the current Pope, Pope Francis.

La strada takes us to the crossroads of comedy and tragedy. It makes us laugh and cry at the same time. The sense of the absurd is unique. 

It feels redundant to write about a film on which André Bazin has written such a definitive essay. He finishes it with the remark: "Le sel de l'âme que Zampanò verse pour la première fois de sa pauvre vie sur la plage qu'aimait Gelsomina est le même que celui de cette mer infinie qui ne peut plus ici-bas rafraîchir sa douleur."

This interesting re-release print looks like it has been struck from a source that has been carefully manufactured from disparate elements, including ones with very good visual quality. In the beginning there is low contrast but in a refined way preserving the fine soft detail. No scratches. A virtually complete print of the 108 min edit.


Friday, August 04, 2017


FI © 2017 Helsinki-Filmi.
Directed by Zaida Bergroth    
Screenplay: Zaida Bergroth, Jan Forsström – from an original idea by: Kaarina Hazard, Leea Klemola
Produced by Miia Haavisto
Music by Matthias Petsche    
Cinematography by Henri Blomberg ... (as Hena Blomberg)
Film Editing by Samu Heikkilä    
Production Design by Okku Rahikainen    
Costume Design by Tiina Kaukanen    
Marjut Samulin ...  makeup designer
Micke Nyström ...  sound designer
Jan Forsström ...  music supervisor
Krista Kosonen ... Angela
Sonja Kuittinen ... Anna
Alex Anton ... Timi
Juhan Ulfsak ... Eduard
Christian Lindroos ... Jakke
Kristian Smeds     ... Mertsi
Pirkko Hämäläinen ... Junell
Juha Lehtola ... Korhonen
    Released by Nordisk Film on DCP with Swedish subtitles, premiere 4 Aug 2017.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, 4 Aug 2017

Zaida Bergroth is one of Finland's most highly regarded film directors known for noteworthy shorts and the features Skavabölen pojat / Last Cowboy Standing and The Good Son. Bergroth's third feature film Miami has opened to excellent reviews and is her best work to date.

Despite the title we never get to Miami. Miami is the dream world of Angela the show dancer, the land of happiness to which she yearns to escape after the dreary treadmill of a working girl in Finland.

Miami the land of the sun is the counter-image to the autumnal Finland in which the sisters' road trip takes place. We move from Southern Finland towards the Eastern border and from there to Lapland and Helsinki. Winter is coming by the end of the story.

Bergroth's forte has always been the direction of actors. She casts exciting actors and encourages them to powerful performances.

The experienced Krista Kosonen is one of Finland's top actors, and the role of Angela gives her an opportunity to create something different and unusual. This is a nuanced, complex and multi-layered performance. Beneath the dazzling surface glitter there is an assured and patient professional, but when we learn to know Angela better we realize the force of her self-destructive urge.

Sonja Kuittinen is a newcomer, and in her first big film role she, too, creates something surprising. From a shy bystander who naively admires her big sister emerges a steel-tempered mastermind of crime.

On one level Miami is the story of the half-sisters Angela and Anna. They come from a broken family, and they try to make sense of each other and their relationship during their rampage across Finland. Key aspects remain ambiguous, but we are left pondering certain disturbing hints such as the remark that their father had separated them when he had observed Angela keeping Anna's head under the water in the bathtub.

On the other hand Miami is a crime drama and a gangster film. Angela has been caught in a spiral of debt with a criminal gang, and although she seems like a professional, she has no business sense and does not realize what it means to have to pay a 20% monthly interest. She is being closely watched by thugs, and violent incidents belong to her daily life. So far she has been able to handle the thugs, but Angela is also an alcoholic, and one night she drives over an ex-gangster and kills him.

It is Anna who takes them to the next level. In cold blood Anna dumps the corpse to a pond. It is Anna who plans and realizes their new criminal business line: taping Angela's sex encounters and blackmailing the victims. In Lapland at the Saariselkä holiday resort the sisters also happen to tape a meeting of Minister Junell (Pirkko Hämäläinen) documenting her illegal collaboration with Eastern powers. Having cashed on this jackpot they finally have the money to break free from everything. Except that now an Eastern criminal organization, more ruthless than the native one, is after them.

The world of prostitution is conveyed elliptically, almost reminding us of the euphemisms of the age of the Production Code. But remarks about Reeperbahn, the TOR network of the deep internet, Imatra and Lappeenranta being key spots, and "private shows" as the major source of income let us know what is being meant.

Miami is a road movie, and for the self-destructive Angela it is a death trip. In the final ruse of the sisters in the hands of the Eastern mafia Angela escapes to the thin ice of the early winter of the Baltic sea, and the thugs fall through the ice into the sea. Anna gets a chance to start a getaway car full of money on her way to Miami while Angela vanishes into the horizon of the winter mist of the sea.

There is a religious current in the movie. Each night Angela reads her personal evening prayer. At Saariselkä she can connect with an Eastern orthodox businessman by opening a conversation on a holy icon. There is a significant sequence at the Temple of the Rock in Helsinki. In one of their show numbers the sisters sport angels' wings, and in the final big caper adventure their camouflages include a revivalist preacher and a burkha-clad Muslim. There is an element of self-deception and escapism in Angela's religion. But also an authentic dimension of transcendence. God exists despite everything.

The soundtrack is mostly relevant to the run-of-the-mill show music of Angela's bar circuit. Some selections are more poignant such as the following two extreme cases. Samantha Fox's "The Best Is Yet To Come" is heard when Angela retreats to drinking in the car at night while Anna is meeting her boyfriend Timi. J. S. Bach's Sonate 1 Es-Dur, BWV 525 is heard at the Temple of the Rock sequence.

I have had reservations about the digital quality of Bergroth's previous movies, but in this Winterreise the autumn colours, the chilly winter scenes, and the glitter of the sisters' shows are impressive and expressive. Hena Blomberg is the ace cinematographer.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Wendy and the Refugee Neverland

FI © 2017 ELO Film School. PC: Aalto-yliopisto / ELO. In association with: Theatre Academy. P+D: Olli Ilpo Salonen. SC: Olli Ilpo Salonen, Minka Kuustonen, Juha Pulli, Joonas Kääriäinen. CIN: Hannu Käki. AD: Emilia Lindholm. Cost: Suvi Matinaro. M: Tytti Arola. Songs of the band: Olli Ilpo Salonen. S: Tuomas Vauhkonen. ED: Suvi Solja.
    C: Minka Kuustonen (Krisu), Joonas Kääriäinen (Mike), Juha Pulli (Sasu), Jonas Saari (Joope), Antti Heikkinen (TP), Linda Wiklund (Ilona), Joonas Snellman (Toni).
    Matti Onnismaa (Kari Tillander, store manager), Niina Lahtinen, Eero Milonoff, Ville Tiihonen, Jari Virman, Mikko Leppilampi, Roope Salminen, Ylermi Rajamaa.
    87 min
    Distributor: Aalto-yliopisto / ELO. DCP with English subtitles. Premiere: 21 July 2017.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 3, Helsinki, 29 July 2017.

"A feelgood indie movie", a low budget student film directed by Olli Ilpo Salonen in which he and his cast and crew take advantage of their freedom on a creative training terrain, a playground of ideas.

It looks wild, anarchic, chaotic, and explosive, but there is method in the madness.

It's the story of a band called Wendy and the Refugee Neverland about to get a gig on an important indie festival in London. Before that they need to record their debut album.

There is no money. Krisu (Minka Kuustonen) has worked for ten years at a hypermarket. Her brother sleeps on the couch. Band members work at a sex store. Finally they conduct a robbery at the hypermarket.

Krisu is the protagonist. She puts as little effort as possible into her hypermarket work, yet she is promoted, and her kindly boss (Matti Onnismaa) is fired because of the robbery. The performance appraisal sequences are subtly satirical. This aspect of the movie offers an original view on alienated labour.

Her true self and creativity Krisu can express as a singer, mostly in her band, but sometimes also at a karaoke bar belting out "White Wedding" and other hit songs.

One of Krisu's jobs is acting at a children's theatre. She plays Storm Cloud against Sunshine.

She is auditioned for a lifestyle reality show project called Inspiration. Its production hoax is subjected to merciless satire, as is the sequence of producing the band's music video with a harridan director.

Krisu has told everybody that her parents have died in an accident. But then her brother who defends Krisu at a bar against a creepy customer (Mikko Leppilampi) is lethally battered by him, and in the context of the funeral Krisu gets to rejoin her parents at their chilly upper class home.

Krisu's own relationships are temporary in the extreme. She lives the life of the Day Tripper of The Beatles: "she only played one night stands". Her life with random men is hazardous. Finally she visits the doctor. She might be pregnant although she always makes a point of requiring a condom. She has also been bitten by a possibly rabiatic dog. In the finale Krisu is literally left hanging between life (giving birth) and death (rabies can be lethal).

Ostensibly a feelgood indie movie, Wendy and the Refugee Neverland is also deadly earnest.

There is a cosmic dimension, an awareness of life and death, of transience, not only in terms of the protagonists but of life on our planet.

Real nature is missing, but the film is full of representations of nature. Krisu's brother is a non-stop aficionado of television's nature documentaries, and with him we watch lions, eagles, swallowtail butterflies and salmon. Krisu herself loves to visit the Helsinki Natural History Museum and the Korkeasaari Zoo. She should know what to do with the dogbite. Let's not forget her role as the Storm Cloud.

The undercurrent of unease is profound. Krisu finally decides to return to consumption hysteria. She is not about to participate in the sinking of the ship. "The less I interfere the better I feel".

A defiantly low definition look.


Lauri Mäntyvaaran tuuheet ripset / The Thick Lashes of Lauri Mäntyvaara

Lauri Mäntyvaaras tjocka fransar. FI © 2017 Elokuvayhtiö Aamu. P: Jussi Rantamäki. Assoc P: Emilia Haukka. D+SC: Hannaleena Hauru. DP: Jan-Niclas Jansson. AD: Kari Kankaanpää. Cost: Aino Havu. Makeup: Minna Pilvinen. M: Lauri Wuolio. S: Jussi Honka, Enos Desjardins. ED: Jenny Tervakari.
    C: Satu / Inka Haapamäki
Heidi / Rosa Honkonen
Henri / Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä
Lauri / Tiitus Rantala
Ari Rimpiläinen  / Peter Kanerva
Minka Rimpiläinen / Janni Hussi
Viljami / Samuli Vauramo
Essi / Lumi Aunio
Tuulikki  / Helena Valkee
Eero / Viktor Vansen
Riku / Julius Reini
NHL scout / Juhani Tamminen
    Distribution rights: Scanbox Entertainment Finland. Distributed by: Finnkino, with Swedish subtitles by Frej Grönholm. Rating: 12. Duration: 90 min. Premiere: 28.7.2017
    DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 7, Helsinki, 29 July 2017.

The Thick Lashes of Lauri Mäntyvaara is Hannaleena Hauru's debut feature film, but she is a well-known talent, highly regarded for award-winning shorts such as If I Fall, Whispering in a Friend's Mouth, and Mercy All the Way.

The production company is Aamu known for offbeat and uncompromising projects such as their previous film, Juho Kuosmanen's The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki.

The Thick Lashes is an outlandish satire in which Satu and Heidi declare war on commercial love. They sabotage wedding planners by inserting explosives into bridal buckets and kidnapping bridegrooms. They expose The Scandinavian Geisha School focused on training ice hockey brides. The Geisha School's key commercial events are "quark cruises" sponsored by a dairy company on Baltic sea cruiser liners where hockey players are rumoured to employ knockout drops on geisha students. (Quark here means protein quark, a dairy product popular with athletes, not unlike cottage cheese or fromage blanc).

The anti-capitalistic crusade fizzles out due to Heidi's devastating crush on the hottest hockey player Lauri Mäntyvaara. But it is not a case of Heidi just simply succumbing to conformism. Heidi is also rebelling against the bossy attitude of her best friend Satu. Amazingly, also Lauri rebels and questions career plans to become a National Hockey League player in America. Here Lauri Mäntyvaara is similar to Olli Mäki.

In the beginning the protagonists have fixed agendas, but the narrative explodes into questioning everybody and everything. Lauri's ice hockey career has been an obsession for his domineering mother, and he needs to grow into independency. And Heidi needs to move on from Satu's lunatic anarcho-terroristic wedding sabotage conspiracies.

Deep themes emerge: are we inner-directed or other-directed? Are we living our own lives or fulfulling somebody else's aspirations?

The comic farce style, the cartoonish effects, the outlandish reactions, the incredible sight gags, and the belly laughter on consumer society bring to mind post-WWII comedy classics starting with Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis.

The Thick Lashes is a comedy with a defiantly feminine viewpoint, and relevant female references range from Věra Chytilová (Sedmikrásky) to Penelope Spheeris, and, in Finland, from Kaisa Rastimo to Auli Mantila. It's refreshing to see for a change feminine counterparts to the over-the-top reactions of Tex Avery's Wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood cartoons.

It's fun with Hannaleena Hauru and her talented cast, starring Inka Haapamäki as Satu and Rosa Honkonen as Heidi. The film is original, unusual and unexpected. There is no message but there is a wisdom: a wisdom of doubting everybody, a wisdom of following one's own heart.

The Thick Lashes is daring, unconventional, impolite and unpolished. I'm looking forward for more from Hannaleena Hauru.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pride and Prejudice 1–6 (1995)

Pride and Prejudice (1995). Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy), Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennet)

Pride and Prejudice, 1–6 / Ylpeys ja ennakkoluulo. GB © 1995 BBC. PC: BBC Worldwide Ltd., / Chestermead. EX: Delia Fine, Michael Wearing. P: Sue Birtwistle. D: Simon Langton. SC: Andrew Davies – based on the novel (1813) by Jane Austen. CIN: John Kenway – Super 16 – colour – 1,66:1.  PD: Gerry Scott. AD: John Collins, Mark Kebby. VFX: Graham Brown. Cost: Dinah Collin. Makeup: Caroline Noble. M: Carl Davis. S: Brian Marshall. ED: Peter Coulson.
    C: Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennet), Colin Firth (Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy), Susannah Harker (Jane Bennet), Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet), Alison Steadman (Mrs. Bennet), Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet), Crispin Bonham-Carter (Mr. Charles Bingley), Polly Maberly (Kitty Bennet), Lucy Briers (Mary Bennet), Anna Chancellor (Mrs. Bingley), Lucy Robinson (Mrs. Hurst), Adrian Lukis (George Wickham), David Bamber (Mr. William Collins), Lucy Scott (Charlotte Lucas), Lucy Davis (Maria Lucas), Emilia Fox (Georgiana Darcy), Marlene Sidaway (Hill), Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Lady Catherine de Bourgh).
    Loc: Cheshire, Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Somerset.
    Finnish telecast premiere: March–April 1996 and August–September 1996, Yle TV1.
    6 episodes à 55 min, in total 327 min
    Introduced by Anna Möttölä.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion (Jane Austen: Bicentennial of Her Death), Helsinki, 23 July 2017.

The 1995 television series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has a place of honour in the remarkable 1995–1996 cycle of Jane Austen television and film adaptations when Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma were filmed almost simultaneously. Emma was shot twice, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale respectively. Mansfield Park followed in 1999.

Because of the 5½ hours duration of the six-episode series of Pride and Prejudice it was possible for the screenwriter Andrew Davies and the director Simon Langton to cover the events and dialogues in full length.

Pride and Prejudice is the most frequently filmed Jane Austen novel, and it is easy to understand why. It is story- and character-driven, with dramatic scenes and ball sequences lucrative for television or the cinema. Among the 11 adaptations of the novel this 1995 BBC production is the most highly regarded. It has even become a cult phenomenon, as was also evident in our screening. There was a special atmosphere of expectation. Audience members seemed to know the series by heart.

Even though there is enough space to cover all the action a key issue remains, common to all Jane Austen adaptations: the issue of free indirect speech. Goethe and Austen were pioneers in this mode of narration in which the narrator conveys a first person viewpoint without using a first person address. Such an intimate and confidential address is in the heart of Austen's art, and film / tv adaptations have to give it up unless there is a narrator. I am not aware of any Austen adaptation with one.

This Pride and Prejudice adaptation is well directed, written and cast. It is shot on location with a true sense of the landscape. Austen's novel is full of wit, irony, comedy, and humour, and the sense of fun and joy of life is conveyed in this adaptation. These characters relish being themselves.

Some performances border on the caricature: Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, mother of the five daughters, David Bamber as William Collins, the sycophantic clergyman, and Barbara Leigh-Hunt as the meddling Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Next to the overacting Alison Steadman Benjamin Whitrow as Mr. Bennet steals the show with his sidelong glances. William Collins in Bamber's exaggerated performance becomes an irresistible foil for Elizabeth's sweet irony.

And Jennifer Ehle excels as Elizabeth, one of the most wonderful characters in literature, the incarnation of "Prejudice". Elizabeth has received a wrong impression of the actions of Mr. Darcy, and quite an accurate impression of his character.

Colin Firth became a star in his incarnation of Mr. Darcy, incorporating "Pride". He is haughty and arrogant. He is also awkward, taciturn and tongue-tied, with no talent in small talk. There is something Finnish in this comical "strong and silent man".

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy became an instant sex symbol. I understand that pheromones have been named after Darcy due to this performance. I wonder why and need to interview lady patrons to find out. My first hypothesis: also Mr. Darcy is initially introduced as an intentional caricature. In Finnish we would call him ihmisraakile, an emotionally underdeveloped human being, man material who can develop into a fully rounded personality in good company, such as a good woman.

Mr. Darcy's proposal to Elizabeth belongs to the most disastrous dating sequences in film history, to be compared with Taxi Driver when Travis Bickle invites Betsy to see The Language of Love.

Elizabeth rejects Mr. Darcy's proposal outright. Their relationship reaches its nadir exactly in the middle, in the finale of Part III. Mr. Darcy's letter of explanation in the beginning of Part IV provides the peripeteia. During the rest of the story Elizabeth reassesses Mr. Darcy's actions, overcoming her prejudice, and Mr. Darcy gets opportunities to display tact, consideration, good manners, and hospitality, overcoming his pride.

Pride and Prejudice is a mutual Bildungsroman, une éducation sentimentale. It is more about marriage than love. Money matters. But this marriage must be based on love.

Carl Davis has composed and arranged a beautiful score with diegetic passages of playing and singing "Ombra mai fu" (Händel), "Rondo alla Turca" and "Voi che sapete" (Mozart), and "Andante favori" (Beethoven: Elizabeth and Darcy exchange glances as Georgiana is playing). Often the amateur music performances are clumsy, with an emphasis on comedy. In addition there are several country dance numbers.

But Carl Davis's main approach is Beethovenian, starting from theme tunes influenced by his Septet Op. 20 and the Emperor concerto. Beethoven was a contemporary of Austen's, and there is a parallel in their artistic trajectory. Austen was a classicist in the age of romanticism. Beethoven started as a classicist; young Beethoven belonged to the same world as Mozart, he reached his maturity as a romanticist, and transcended romanticism in his late quartets. Why not Beethoven; Beethoven was popular in England, especially the Pastoral Symphony. But Tuomas Anhava had a point in calling Jane Austen the Mozart of literature. We have a bright and joyous surface with a sense of dark depths beneath.