Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mad Max

Mad Max / Mad Max. AU © 1979 Mad Max Pty. PC: Kennedy Miller Productions / Crossroads / Mad Max Films. P: Byron Kennedy. Assoc. P: Bill Miller. D: George Miller. SC: James McCausland, George Miller – based on a story by George Miller and Byron Kennedy. DP: David Eggby, Tim Smart – negative: 35 mm (Eastman 100T 5247) – camera: Arriflex 35 BL, Todd-AO Lenses – lab: Colorfilm Pty. Ltd. (Sydney) – Todd-AO 35 (anamorphic) – 2,35:1 – Eastmancolor. AD (vehicles): Ray Beckerley. SFX: Chris Murray. Cost: Clare Griffin. Makeup: Viv Mepham. M: Brian May. "Licorice Road" (Nic Gazzana) perf. Robina Chaffey, sung by Creenagh St. Clair. ED: Tony Patterson, Cliff Hayes. S: Gary Wilkins, Ned Dawson.
    C: Mel Gibson (Max Rockatansky), Joanne Samuel (Jessie Rockatansky), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter), Steve Bisley (Jim Goose), Tim Burns (Johnny the Boy), Roger Ward (Johnny the Boy), Roger Ward (Fifi Macaffee), Geoff Parry (Bubba Zanetti), Vince Gil (Crawfor "The Nightrider" Montazano), David Baracks (Mudguts), Paul Johnstone (Cundalini), Nico Lathouris (Grease Rat), LuLu Pinkus (Lobotomy Eyes), LuLu Pinkus (Roop), John Ley (Charlie), Jonathan Hardy (Commissioner Labatouche), Robina Chaffey (nightclub singer), Sheila Florence (May Swaisey), Max Fairchild (Benno), Steven Clark, George Novak. 93 min
    The film was not theatrically released in Finland – first telecast: 14 March 2015 Yle Teema – VET 102086 – VLV 1984: K18 – VET 1986: K16, 2001: K18 – MEKU 2015: K16
    Park Circus 2K DCP viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Mad Max x 3), 23 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road [4] had its international premiere last week, and tonight we are screening the three previous Mad Max movies, all four directed by George Miller.

Thus I saw the first Mad Max (1979) for the first time; it was not theatrically released in Finland, and theatrical prints have been hard to come by in our part of the world.

I rate The Road Warrior / Mad Max 2 highly as a post-apocalyptic vision with a unique design, and I also like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as an original interpretation of the primordial Australian Weltanschauung called Dreaming. George Miller created for BFI's the Centenary of the Cinema series a fascinating Australian entry called 40,000 Years of Dreaming where he elaborates a philosophy of the cinema based on that approach.

Unfortunately the initial Mad Max is not on the same level of ambition and accomplishment as the later films of the cycle.

It is a well-made violent action entertainment movie. As a story of brutalization and collapse to a revenge mentality (the opposite of justice) it has affinities with the Death Wish series. Mel Gibson here starts to create a memorable antihero. The fighter against criminals becomes a sadistic outlaw. The mad policeman persona became a starting-point for Gibson's later the Lethal Weapon series.

George Miller has real talent in action cinema. He knows how to build, he knows how to alternate moments of quiet and violence. He knows how to make a road movie.

Mad Max belongs to one of the cinema's original subgenres: the car demolition chase movie, already mastered by Georges Méliès, followed enthusiastically by French and Italian farce makers, and soon revived by Keystone and other American comedy studios. Last year in Pordenone Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi curated a special program of early cinema's car chase movies. James Bond, Blues Brothers... there is no end to this list.

Watching the film I was thinking about my mother who died two months ago. She was a traffic safety champion and also a film lover who liked Jacques Tati's Trafic and Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend. Mad Max is an illustration of her worst nightmare: a car-dominated world that has become a hell for non-drivers (and drivers, themselves, as well). She was a registered nurse and would have nodded approvingly at Dr. George Miller's hospital sequences.

This first Mad Max is not a post-apocalyptic story, nor is there as yet a unique design for a world after Doomsday. It is, however, already a film thoroughly informed by the customized car and motorcycle aesthetique. And this tale of demon motorists on both sides of the law has a stark smell of the death drive. The world has not yet ended, but they are already living like there is no tomorrow.

The Park Circus 2K DCP mostly looks good. The colour is fine. Machines and urban milieux look good in digital. Nature does not look very good in this digital presentation.

OUR MAD MAX X 3 PROGRAMME NOTE BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Akahige / Red Beard

赤ひげ / Punaparta / Rödskägg. JP 1965. PC: Toho / Kurosawa Productions. P: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ryuzo Kikushima. D: Akira Kurosawa. SC: Masato Ide, Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa – based on the short story collection Akahige shinryotan (1958) by Shugoro Yamamoto. DP: Asakazu Nakai, Takao Saito - b&w - Tohoscope 2,35:1 - lab: Toho Developing Co. AD: Yoshiro Muraki. M: Masaru Sato. S: 4-Track Stereo. C: Toshiro Mifune (Dr. Kyojo Niide, "Red Beard"), Yuzo Kyama (Dr. Noboru Yasumoto), Yoshio Tsuchiya (Dr. Handayu Mori), Tatsuyoshi Ehara (Genzo Tsugawa), Reiko Dan (Osugi), Kyoko Kagawa ("the Mantis", the madwoman), Kamatari Fujiwara (Rokusuke), Akemi Negishi (Okuni), Tsutomu Yamasaki (Sahachi), Miyuki Kuwano (Onaka), Eijiro Tono (Goheiji), Takashi Shimura (Tokubei Izumiya), Terumi Niki (Otoyo), Haruko Sugimura (Kin, the brothel madame), Yoko Naito (Masae), Ken Mitsuda (her father), Kinuyo Tanaka (Noboru's mother), Chishu Ryu (Noboru's father), Yoshitaka Zushi (Choji). Helsinki premiere: 2.2.1979 Diana, released by Dianafilmi Oy, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Satu Laaksonen / Maya Vanni – telecast: 24.5.1994 MTV3, 11.7.1999 YLE TV1 – VET 86643 – K16 – 5095 / 185 min (a 5 min music intermission is included in the duration; no need for a longer intermission) 
    A 35 mm KAVI print of the 1979 release deposited by Dianafilmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago: Films Made in 1965), 17 May 2015

Red Beard was the finale of Akira Kurosawa's long, great and fruitful creative period of 1943-1965 when he directed on the average one film every year. After the revelation of Toshiro Mifune in Drunken Angel Mifune starred in all of Kurosawa's films until Akahige save one (Ikiru).

There is in retrospect a sense of a farewell to an entire period of Japanese cinema here for instance in the final wedding ceremony where we see side by side in a single shot Chishu Ryu (Ozu), Kinuyo Tanaka (Mizoguchi), and Toshiro Mifune (Akira Kurosawa) as the father, the mother and the spiritual godfather of the bridegroom. Among the cast is also Haruko Sugimura (Mikio Naruse).

Akira Kurosawa and Donald Richie point out the influence of Dostoevsky in Red Beard - the key character of Otoyo is inspired by Dostoevsky - but for me the most profound affinity is with Tolstoy.

Richie in his excellent remarks on Red Beard in his Kurosawa book states that the film's theme of "good begets good" is exceptional (whereas "evil begets evil" is common). But there is a tale by Tolstoy which unites both themes: The False Coupon which has been filmed many times, and indeed, invariably only the first part of the tale has been filmed, where evil begets evil, a forgery of a banknote leading gradually to a massacre. Red Beard can be seen as a rare attempt to express in a film adaptation the second part of Tolstoy's The False Coupon where good begets good.

Richie compares Kurosawa here with Dickens and Griffith. The problem of showing goodness in action is in danger of getting sentimental or didactic. Kurosawa remains tough and harsh but in Richie's opinion does not completely avoid didacticism.

Red Beard is the Bildungsroman of an arrogant young doctor, Dr. Yasumoto, who wishes to land a plum position at the court but finds himself instead at the bottom of the barrel, taking care of slum people at a county hospital. This has been planned for him as a learning experience, but during the story the young doctor experiences a spiritual transformation and decides to dedicate himself to the calling of helping people, disregarding fame and fortune. Yasumoto is almost killed by a murderous patient, witnesses death for the first time and faints at the first operation he gets to observe, but the greatest transforming experiences are even deeper.

Based on a collection of short stories, Red Beard consists of episodes: - the story of "The Praying Mantis", the murderous madwoman, - the story of the evil old man who dies in agony and his daughter who has led a very hard life - the story of the other dying old man, a kind heart whose wife had committed suicide - the story of the 12-year-old Otoyo rescued from the brothel - and the story of the little boy who steals rice from the hospital. They cover all sorts of backgrounds for illness, from the psychopathological to the social: "If poverty did not exist, half of them would not be ill" states Red Beard. Red Beard is not just interested in the clinical side of the patients but always tries to have an insight into an entire life story.

There are sequences here that belong to the most beautiful that Kurosawa ever created: - The love story of Sahachi and Onaka: "we lived together, it was like a dream, then came an earthquake, and I never saw her again"... except that she survived, and when they met again, they were like different people. - And most hauntingly the encounter of Dr. Yasumoto with the first patient of his own, the 12-year-old Otoyo. First Dr. Yasumoto cures Otoyo, and then, Otoyo saves Yasumoto. There is a transference of love which Dr. Yasumoto knows how to resist.

Most of all I like in Red Beard its moral gravity.

The black and white Tohoscope cinematography by Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito is wonderful. Donald Richie calls Red Beard Kurosawa's most realistic film, but it is still strongly and beautifully stylized.

The basic health of the visual quality of the 1979 print is overwhelming. It has been heavily used and there is the expected patina but most memorable are the many passages of fine soft sophistication; I would not be surprised if it would turn out that part of the print were struck directly from the original negative. For instance the daring and unique sequence of the mutual healing between Yasumoto and Otoyo looks breathtakingly beautiful. Also the remarkable sequence of calling the dying little boy's spirit back from the other side via crying into a deep well looks startling and unforgettable.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN

Spotkanie w Bajce / Café from the Past

Spotkanie w ”Bajce” / Menneisyyden kahvila / Möte på café. PL 1962. Studio Filmowe Kadr. PC: Zespół Realizatorów Filmowych Rytm. P: Włodzimierz Śliwiński. D: Jan Rybkowski. SC: Michał Tonecki and Jan Rybkowski – based on the radioplay O siódmej w ”Bajce” by Michał Tonecki. DP: Mieczysław Jahoda. Camera operator: Jan Janczewski - b&w - 1,37:1 - lab: Wytwórnia Filmów Fabularnych (Łódź). AD: Wojciech Krysztofiak. Cost: Alicja Waltoś. Makeup: Tadeusz Schossler. M: Wojciech Kilar. Frédéric Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31. ED: Krystyna Rutkowska. S: Bohdan Jankowski. C: Aleksandra Śląska (Teresa), Gustaw Holoubek (Paweł, doctor), Andrzej Łapicki (Wiktor, pianist), Teresa Iżewska (Ewa, singer), Maria Wachowiak (waitress), Barbara Kościeszanka (clerk), Witold Elektorowicz (café pianist), Beata Barszczewska (Krysia, Teresa's daughter), Mieczysław Pawlikowski (przewodniczący = President of the MRN), Aleksander Fogiel Kowalec (pracownik Rady Narodowej = an employee of the National Council), Rudolf Gołębiowski (pracownik Rady Narodowej, organizator koncertu = an employee of the National Council, concert organizator), Magdalena Zawadzka (córka przewodniczącego MRN = daughter of the President of the MRN, n.c.). Loc: Sandomierz. Studio: Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych (Warsaw). Helsinki premiere: 2.2.1968 Regia, distributor: Suomi-Filmi, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (n.c.) – VET 70001 – K12 – 77 min
    A vintage 35 mm KAVI print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 17 May 2015
    MRN = Miejskiej Rady Narodowej = City Council.

A charming intimate contemporary (1962) triangle story, strong on atmosphere and character, a film I look forward to revisiting.

It is set in Sandomierz, one of the oldest towns in Poland, built on a site inhabited since Stone Age, a popular tourist attraction thanks to its well-preserved Old Town. Shot on location, the film itself has a travelogue (and tourist propaganda!) dimension in an attractive way. The genius loci is strong. The two male leads are visitors who return 15 years after the war, and there is an official sight-seeing for the pianist and the singer in a jeep. Besides, the daughter of the president of the city council takes the pianist to a private tour, including to the Opatow Gate and Tower.

Sandomierz appears also in the title of a Franz Grillparzer tale which has been filmed thrice, most famously by Victor Sjöström as Klostret i Sendomir which was entirely studio-bound, shot at Svenska Biografteaterns ateljé in Lidingö.

The classical unities of time, place, and action are obeyed in the story originally written by Michał Tonecki as a radioplay. It all takes place within one afternoon. It is a national holiday (not 3 May in that period of history). A statue of the war hero Kania is unveiled, and there is a big celebration with song, dance, and music by Chopin. Everybody is invited into the outdoors event on a beautiful sunny day.

Jan Rybkowski opens his movie with a long tracking shot. We hear the inspired Chopin scherzo and see a piece of a meadow during the opening credits. Then a part of the audience is revealed as the camera tracks from right to left and rises to catch the player at his grand piano on a scaffold, with the magnificent Vistula (Wisła / Weichsel) River in the background. The tracking goes on slowly to reveal a folk dance troupe and the majority of the audience enjoying the summer festival.

The pianist Wiktor has returned to Sandomierz, and now he sees Teresa, a schoolteacher, whom he has not met in fifteen years, either. They agree on a date at Café Bajca. Too late (he is known for being always too late) for the celebration arrives a comrade-in-arms of the late Kania, the surgeon Paweł, who lived in Sandomierz before the end of the war. The private triangle between Teresa, Wiktor, and Paweł provides the manifest plot of the movie.

There is also a deeper narrative about the painful process of reconstruction and coming to terms with the traumatic history of 15 years ago. There are obvious signs such as the prosthetic hand of one of the political bosses. There are intriguing hints such as the lingering question why the war hero Kania has received a statue first now. There is a clue that "he had finally joined the Holy Ones". The year everyone is referring to is 1947, the period of the civil war before the final establishment of Stalinist rule. In the opening sequence it takes a long time until we see the pedestal of the statue. The statue itself we never get to see. (The statue motif brings to mind Man of Marble whose screenplay Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski originally wrote in 1962, in the very year of Café from the Past, as an outright attack against hollow hero monumentalism in the name of "socialist realism").

The pianist Wiktor is a restless soul who has a hard time in focusing on anything. He is aware of the fact that as an artist he is no Rubinstein. In Warsaw he has a jealous wife. His current lover, the singer Ewa, wonders whether any woman can sustain his interest longer than two months. During the afternoon he is surrounded by Teresa, Ewa, and even a young local beauty who turns out to be the mayor's daughter. Wiktor himself is puzzled about what is it in piano playing that attracts women.

Wiktor and Teresa fail to meet at Café Bajca. Instead, it is the surgeon Paweł whom Teresa sees there. They had married during the war, but Teresa had left with the touring pianist Wiktor. "It was reported that you had been killed". "Shells crushed our car, and my leg was riddled with bullets". "You never had time for me. War was your world". Even if Teresa had known that Wiktor had survived their marriage would have ended.

Now everything is different. Ewa has a daughter, Krysia - not hers; it is her sister's who is dead. Krysia is playing hopscotch on Sunshine Street when Paweł arrives in the conclusion. He did not take the evening train to Warsaw.

The performances are perfect. The music by Wojciech Kilar is completely different from Milczenie that I saw two days ago: here it is mostly quasi-diegetic - Chopin, the café pianist, and a single horn out of tune being played at Opatow Gate. It is the final sound of the movie.

Mieczysław Jahoda's cinematography is very pleasurable to watch. The drowsy, sunny holiday atmosphere is absorbing. Jahoda is another of those Polish cinematographer aces, with credits such as Knights of the Teutonic Order and The Saragossa Manuscript under his belt.

Jan Rybkowski was the director who made more films than anyone else in Poland during his career in 1949-1984 (but Andrzej Wajda's career is longer and he has directed more). Besides cinema films he made epic television series. He was very versatile; Café from the Past represents his quiet and introspective side. Rybkowski was a professional theatre designer before the war, and his film debut was as a production supervisor to The Last Stage / Ostatni etap. Himself an eyewitness to the bombing of Dresden, he made his most famous film on it: Tonight a City Will Die / Dzis w nocy umrze miasto, a year before the Café from the Past. This is the first Rybkowski film I have seen, and I look forward for more. I admire Rybkowski's sense of duration. Café from the Past is a relatively short film but it conveys a lot yet never feels hurried.

The visual quality of the vintage print is good to perfect with hardly any signs of wear.

Thanks to Susanna Välimäki for identifying the Chopin scherzo.

The movie is legally online on YouTube, courtesy Film Polski, in low definition, failing to convey the visual quality of the cinematography.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY PETTERI KALLIOMÄKI

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Election

Vaalit. US © 1999 Paramount Pictures. PC: MTV Productions. In association with Bona Fide Productions. P: Albert Berger, David Gale, Keith Samples, Ron Yerxa. D: Alexander Payne. SC: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor – based on the novel (1998) by Tom Perrotta. DP: James Glennon – Super 35 – Panavision Cameras and Lenses – Eastman Kodak – colour by DeLuxe – 2,35:1. PD: Jane Ann Stewart. AD: T. K. Kirkpatrick. Set dec: Renee Davenport. Cost: Wendy Chuck. Makeup: James Ryder. Hair: Denise Fischer, Kyra Panchenko. M: Rolfe Kent. "Three Times a Lady" perf. The Commodores; "Navajo Joe Main Title" perf. Ennio Morricone; "Jennifer Juniper" perf. Donovan; "If You'll Be the Teacher" perf. Mandy Barnett. S: Frank Gaeta, Scott Wolf. ED: Kevin Tent. Casting: Lisa Beach. C: Matthew Broderick (Jim McAllister), Reese Witherspoon (Tracy Flick), Chris Klein (Paul Metzler), Jessica Campbell (Tammy Metzler), Mark Harelik (Dave Novotny), Phil Reeves (Walt Hendricks), Molly Hagan (Diane McAllister), Delaney Driscoll (Linda Novotny), Colleen Camp (Judith R. Flick), Frankie Ingrassia (Lisa Flanagan), Matt Malloy (vararehtori Ron Bell). Loc: Omaha, New York, Washington D.C. Not theatrically released in Finland – vhs: 1999 Finnkino – telecast: 24.9.2004, 28.12.2005, 15.6.2008 Nelonen – VET V-04339 – 103 min
    A Park Circus (BBFC logo / UIP / Paramount / Viacom) 35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alexander Payne), 16 May 2015

Revisited Alexander Payne's brilliant satire, his second with an affinity with Preston Sturges, but entirely modern and original. Election was also one of the key films in the remarkable phenomenon of "the class of 1999" in American cinema. I knew Election previously only from dvd as it was not theatrically released in Finland.

This time I paid attention to the class difference between Paul Metzler, the jovial, popular and clumsy sportsman and gentleman from a rich family, and Tracy Flick, the single mother's daughter who is single-minded in her quest for success. Tracy has a will of steel and a look that could kill. "The weak always try to sabotage the strong" is among her mottoes.

In this film Alexander Payne puts to use a wide repertory of means such as inner monologues of the leading characters, rapid montages, extremely high and low angles, split screen, fantasy close-up inserts of alternative women in lovemaking scenes, and a simulation of warm 8 mm footage in Tammy's love affair at the Immaculate Heart. Election was made by MTV Productions, and Payne here turns MTV clichés into expressive satiric means of his own.

Reese Witherspoon's dynamic and compelling satiric performance has been justifiedly celebrated. Matthew Broderick and Mark Harelik play the teachers who fail to meet basic standards of ethical conduct in their profession and perish utterly. At this viewing I discovered Jessica Campbell's performance as Tammy Metzler. She is the adopted sister of Paul Metzler, a loner like all the protagonists except Paul, and a Lesbian just starting to discover her sexual identity, a rebel who takes the blame of the torn election campaign posters and is expelled from school (although it was Tracy who did it). "When I'm sad I watch the power station".

Tracy Flick and Dave Novotny's love affair is wrong and illegal, yet it is a true and profound affair. For the first time someone has seen Tracy's real me, and for the first time someone has wanted to read Dave's novel (which has not even been written yet).

Satirical highlights of the movie include: - the campaign speeches of the three candidates; Tammy the third candidate urges all not to vote and gets a thunderous applause and a standing ovation (and is suspended from school) - the prayers on the eve of the election of the three candidates - Tracy's victory dance in the corridor when she learns of the first count via sign language - and the quick montage of close-ups in the sequence where Jim McAllister's fraud is exposed.

The print is clean and complete and has the regular slightly duped or speedprinted look.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BASED ON MANOHLA DARGIS BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Milczenie / Silence (Kazimierz Kutz)

Hiljaisuus / Tystnad. PL 1963. PC: Zespół Filmowy Kadr. P: Jerzy Rutowicz. D: Kazimierz Kutz. SC: Kazimierz Kutz and Jerzy Szczygieł – based on the novel (1962) by Jerzy Szczygieł. DP: Wiesław Zdort. Camera operator: Maciej Kijowski. AD: Ryszard Potocki. Cost: Marian Kołodziej. Makeup: Teresa Tomaszewska. M: Wojciech Kilar. Orkiestra Filharmonii Narodowej. ED: Irena Choryńska. S: Jósef Bartczak. C: Kazimierz Fabisiak (proboszcz = a vicar), Mirosław Kobierzycki (Stach), Elżbieta Czyżewska (Kazia, pielęgniarka = a nurse), Maria Zbyszewska (Stefa, pielęgniarka = a nurse), Zbigniew Cybulski (Roman, chłopak Kazi = Kazia's boyfriend), Tadeusz Kalinowski (Wójcik, woźnica = a coachman), Edward Rączkowski (Firganek), Stefan Wroncki (kościelny = verger Grzegorz Aleksandrowicz), Zygmunt Zintel (Sitnik), Zygmunt Listkiewicz (lekarz = a doctor). WFF Łodz. Helsinki premiere: 6.10.1963 Kino-Palatsi, released by Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marjatta Kaija [Swedish subtitles n.c.] – VET 66682 – K16 – 100 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pawlikowski's Poland), 14 May 2015

A stark vision of Poland in 1945, after WWII, contrasting a senile old vicar with a young orphan boy blinded in a mortar projectile accident.

I have been aware of the talent of Kazimierz Kutz since I saw The Salt of the Black Earth / Sól ziemi czarnej and Pearl on the Crown / Perła w koronie on Finnish tv in 1974, but Silence I had not seen before.

The shock of WWII was exceptionally harsh for Poland, and it is inevitable that artists have discussed the harrowing experience in their works for decades since. Silence is a distinguished exercise in coming to terms with the past. Its protagonists are all cripples in one way or the other.

The old vicar is at times almost catatonic. The silence is his, and there is an affinity with Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, although interestingly this film shares its title with another Bergman film made in the same year. The vicar is silent when he should help Stach, but the church rituals are beautiful and life-affirming, and there is nothing ironic about them.

The young teenager Stach is an orphan who lives in a rat-infested cellar with his sick little brother or friend. They have nothing to eat. Stach is becoming wild and brutalized, and when with a friend of his they explore an abandoned battery on a hill high above the village he is horribly injured by a mortar projectile (the fault is his), is blinded, and gets to spend the winter in a hospital.

On a previous night Stach had threatened the vicar with a "hands up!" shout before realizing who he is, and there is now in the village a lynch mob mentality against him because of a false rumour that Stach was injured in an attempt to kill the vicar. The lynch mob attitude spreads even to the hospital ward.

At the hospital nurses are kind to Stach, especially Kazia, herself an orphan who has had to suffer unspeakable offenses in the hands of Gestapo officers. She is being rehabilitated by the love of her boyfriend Roman, and Kazia's tenderness is crucial for the rehumanization of Stach. Other friends of Stach include the coachman Wójcik and his little brother / friend who brings him new clothes via UNRRA.

This film is character-driven, not strong on narrative but with powerful cinematography and soundscape. Not only the main performances are gripping, but even faces in crowd scenes are expressive. For instance the wedding sequence has an almost ethnographic fascination.

Silence was one of the first feature films of Wiesław Zdort as a director of photography, and here already he belongs to the masters of the Polish school of cinematography. The visual range is both reduced and imaginative. There are extreme close-ups (Stach's ear is a recurrent visual motif) and extreme long shots (the final shot where the blind Stach is walking alone through the snowscape) and everything in between. Crane shots and extreme high angles are exciting to watch for instance in the scene where the blind Stach discovers a familiar pole in the middle of the snow and hits it.

Silence was also one of the early works of Wojciech Kilar as a film composer, and he is at his best here. The score is powerful and efficient from the start to the end. There is also diegetic music, beautiful in the church sequences. After the blinding of Stach the entire soundscape gains special emphasis.

Silence belongs to a distinguished series of films about children coming the terms with war, to be compared with Pojat / The Boys, Somewhere in Europe, The Search, Forbidden Games, Germania anno zero, Unszere Kinder, and films about wartime bombs causing threats after the war has ended, like in Tarkovsky's Today the Furlough Has Been Cancelled, and Laszlo Ranody's A tettes ismeretlen / The Murderer Unknown.

The vintage print is clean and complete and has been little used. The visual quality is good. There was at times some buzz on the soundtrack.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY PETTERI KALLIOMÄKI

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Taksikuski / [Taxi Driver] (1969)

Aitiopaikka: Taksikuski. FI 1969. PC: Oy Mainos-TV-Reklam Ab. D+SC: Veikko Kerttula – based on the novel Peiliin piirretty nainen ([A Woman Drawn On a Mirror], 1963) – and the radioplay (1967, D: Väinö Vainio, C: Antti Litja) by Veijo Meri. DP: Raimo Leskinen, Reijo Hassinen – b&w – 16 mm – 1,37:1 – sepmag. AD: Marianne Soisalo. S: Veikko Partanen. ED: Sirpa Häkämies. D: Antti Litja (Eino), Martti Pennanen (engineer), Harri Nikkonen (writer), Ville Salminen (Otto Kukkakoski), Kirsti Kemppainen (Eila), Esko Pesonen (father), Sylva Rossi (mother), Ritva Ahonen (Kaisa), Sirppa Sivori-Asp (Maija), Ossi Ahlapuro (Kosonen), Seppo Lehtonen (Pena), Matti Ruohola (unknown), Matti Miikkulainen (Jööran), Mirjam Salminen (a wife), Asta Backman (senior nurse), Anita Sohlberg (nurse), Eriikka Magnusson (assistant nurse), Uolevi Vahteristo (talonmies / janitor), Erkki Uotila (nimismies / sheriff), Eeva-Maija Haukinen (sales clerk), Pauli Virtanen (drunkard), Eero Soininen, Erkki Saarela ja Matti Vehniäinen (punks on the street), Matti Nurminen (policeman), Hannes Veivo (taxi driver). Telecast (Aitiopaikka): 22.9.1969 Mainos-TV, 1976, 8.10.1985 MTV2, 27.12.1985 MTV2 – 110 min (1969) – 92 min (1985)
    Hollywood Festival of World Television: Best New Drama Award (1969).
    The music selections are not credited. All music is diegetic, mostly supposedly from the taxi radio. The main music is free jazz (fine, I cannot identify it). "Muistoja Pohjolasta" is the march played on the phonograph during Eino and Eila's love scene. "Savoy Truffle" (The Beatles White Album) [my memory from the long version is that also "Honey Pie", the previous track on that album, was played]. "Let's Twist Again" (or another twist, instr., tbc). Beethoven (familiar, symphonic, not Eroica).
    KAVI RTVA 2K DCP (2015) of the 92 min version viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Antti Litja), 6 May 2015
    The original long version has not survived.

Revisited a distinguished tv drama, an existential road movie based on a novel of a key Finnish modernist writer.

Veijo Meri (born in 1928) wrote modernist stories and novels of high quality in the 1950s and the 1960s (he later turned to poetry, essays, and non-fiction). His favourites include Gogol and Kafka, but he has his own unique sense of the absurd, an original approach to existential alienation, and also a fundamental sense of an irresistible life force.

Veikko Kerttula (born in 1940) is one of the finest Finnish tv directors. I first encountered him as a director of popular tv series, among them a delicious adaptation of Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk (starring Matti Varjo and Matti Ranin), close to Veijo Meri territory. Kerttula has dramatized several of the best contemporary Finnish novels for television, and starting with Taksikuski he became the trusted man for Veijo Meri film adaptations.

I had not seen Taksikuski since 1969 but it then left a lasting impression, and now the film felt even stronger. Taksikuski has affinities with Federico Fellini (La strada, La dolce vita), Ermanno Olmi, contemporary Czech and Polish films, and the French new wave. I was thinking about Satyajit Ray's Days and Nights in the Forest but also about Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop), Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider), and Wim Wenders (Im Lauf der Zeit / Kings of the Road). Yet, despite such affinities Taksikuski is fully original.

The merits of Taksikuski were recognized at once with awards, but there were also critical remarks of unevenness and longueurs. Today the presumed weaknesses did not bother me. Veijo Meri is a creator of anti-drama; his works are compositions of relativity with no beginning and no end. He is an artist of the anti-climax. He favours a slight narrative which provides a fertile ground for digressions, war memories, comic incidents, and new time dimensions. But the dynamic composition is careful between forces such as urbanity and nature, the big and the small, the past and the present, male and female, the young and the old. There is true insight into the communication gap between generations. I think Veikko Kerttula's film metamorphoses Veijo Meri's literature successfully into cinema.

Antti Litja (born in 1938) had been acting since the late 1950s, and the leading role in Taksikuski was his breakthrough to national consciousness. His is a mature performance, an understated but deeply felt interpretation of a process of growing up within one tragic weekend. In its own peculiar way Taksikuski is a modernistic Bildungsroman and an Odyssey, and Antti Litja, one of our original New Wave actors, an anti-heroic contemporary of Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson, rose to the challenge.

The tragic lead is played by Ville Salminen, a heavyweight veteran of the Finnish cinema both as a director and an actor, most familiar in comic or villainous roles. He is very moving here as the bitter artist who is believed to have stomach cancer but who is actually just sick of life; he commits suicide with his Parabellum. It seems that his supposedly bad health is a cover story. We hear that his creative force as an artist was at its best in the 1920s. But he has lost his life force, as well. After an unhappy love affair during the war he has turned into a woman hater. The war (1939-1945) again provides a grim backstory to many of the characters as is usual in Veijo Meri's fiction.

Taksikuski is divided between the city (Helsinki) and the countryside (Lohja). It has documentary value as a portrait of contemporary Helsinki in 1969. It is also an artistic vision of the highways of the land in a period of a rapid growth of motor traffic (but in the countryside the two ageing sisters have never seen a Mercedes Benz before). There is also a fine sense of nature in the excursion to the painter's home by the lake. The visual climax is the men's boat trip to the painter's sauna island, rowing through the mist. Visually the film is rewarding and full of interesting observations.

The cinematographers Raimo Leskinen and Reijo Hassinen have a fine sense of realistic composition and filming in what looks like available light. Reijo Hassinen had a lot of documentary experience, Raimo Leskinen was a new kid on the block.

The DCP has been created with care, preserving a pleasant sense of the grain of the original 16 mm cinematography. Certainly Taksikuski looks much better in this way than it originally did on a 1969 television set.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ill Met by Moonlight

Night Ambush / Kenraali katoaa / Generalen kidnappad. GB 1957. PC: The Rank Organisation [J.  Arthur Rank n.c.]. P+D+SC: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger [The Archers n.c.] – based on the book of memoirs by W. Stanley Moss (1950, in Finnish by Tapio Hiisivaara / Tammi, 1951). DP: Christopher Challis – b&w – VistaVision – 1,85:1 (IMDb) – even better in 1,66:1. AD: Alex Vetchinsky. FX: Bill Warrington. Cost: Nandi Routh. Makeup: Paul Rabiger. M: Mikis Theodorakis. S: Charles Knott, Gordon K. McCallum (sound recordists), Archie Ludski (sound editor). ED: Arthur Stevens. C: Dirk Bogarde (Major Patrick Leigh-Fermor or ΦΙΛΕΔΕΜ), Marius Goring (Major General Heinrich Kreipe), David Oxley (Captain W. Stanley Moss), Dimitri Andreas / Demetri Andreas (Niko), Cyril Cusack (Sandy), Laurence Payne (Manoli), Wolfe Morris (George), Michael Gough (Andoni Zoidakis), John Cairney (Elias), Brian Worth (Stratis Saviolkis), Christopher Lee (a German officer at the dentist's). Helsinki premiere: 24.5.1957 Metropol, distributed by: Parvisfilmi Oy, Finnish/Swedish subtitles by Liisa Ahti – VET 46730 – K12 – 104 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Powell and Pressburger), 23 April 2015.
    The title is from Shakespeare: Oberon: "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania." (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 2, Scene 1).

The last film of the Archers belongs to the double set of war movies made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for J. Arthur Rank. The first was in Technicolor, this one is in black and white.

Ill Met by Moonlight is a film about gentlemen's war, in continuation to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The expression "a nightmare of horror" is heard at the start to describe the Nazi occupation of Crete, but nothing we see confirms this.

It is a true story about the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the commander of the German occupation forces at Crete. There has even been a non-fiction reconstruction of that adventure with Kreipe himself among the participants.

Shot on Mediterranean locations on the Riviera the film impresses with the black and white outdoors cinematography by Christopher Challis. The landscape is magnificent, and protective of its native inhabitants, including the resistance fighters hiding in the mountains. In the philosophy of the landscape, in the sense of the sublime, there is a continuity with Powell's films starting with The Edge of the World and including A Canterbury Tale and I Know Where I'm Going by Powell and Pressburger. Ill Met by Moonlight belongs to the realistic current of the duo.

The phases of the Moon are a visual refrain in the film.

There is also a sense of the fairytale and myth, starting with the title from A Midsummer Night's Dream and the motto from Ulysses. On Crete we stay on Mount Ida, home of the Cave of Zeus. Minos and Ariadne are evoked.

Ill Met by Moonlight is a well made war adventure film full of suspenseful moments but directed with a laid back, relaxed approach. The actors are all good but a sense of urgency is missing from this cinematic reconstruction.

The last film of the Archers was the first film of Mikis Theodorakis, already providing a warm and exhilarating score.

The vintage print shows proudly the patina of age and gives a good impression of the original VistaVision cinematography.  IMDb claims the aspect ratio is 1,85:1 but it looks much better in 1,66:1. Both would be correct within the VistaVision projection practice.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt / Hannah Arendt. DE / LU / FR / IL 2012. PC: Heimatfilm GmbH + Co KG (Köln). P: Bettina Brokemper, Johannes Rexin. D: Margarethe von Trotta. SC: Pamela Katz, Margarethe von Trotta. DP: Caroline Champetier – camera: Red Epic – release format: 2K DCP, 16:9. Vintage footage: original videotape from the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961). PD: Volker Schäfer (Szenenbild). AD: Anja Fromm. SD: Barbara Hartwich, Oliver Koch. Drawings: Petra Maria Wirth. Cost: Frauke Firl (Kostüme), Sarah Wüthrich (Garderobe). Makeup: Astrid Weber, Nadia Homri, Antje Bockeloh. M: André Mergenthaler. S: Greg Vittore – Dolby SRD. ED: Bettina Böhler. Casting: Susanne Ritter. C: Barbara Sukowa (Hannah Arendt), Axel Milberg (Heinrich Blücher), Janet McTeer (Mary McCarthy), Julia Jentsch (Lotte Köhler), Ulrich Noethen (Hans Jonas), Michael Degen (Kurt Blumenfeld), Nicholas Woodeson (William Shawn), Victoria Trauttmansdorff (Charlotte Beradt), Klaus Pohl (Martin Heidegger), Friederike Becht (young Hannah Arendt), Fridolin Meinl (young Hans Jonas), Harvey Friedman (Thomas Miller), Megan Gay (Frances Wells), Joel Kirby (Lionel Abel), Sascha Ley (Lore Jonas). Dreharbeiten: 16.10.–17.12.2011 Cologne and its surroundings, Luxemburg, Israel, New York. Original in German (and English and Hebrew). Telecast in Finland: 22.10.2014 Yle Teema – S – 113 min
    A Goethe Institut 35 mm print with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Margarethe von Trotta, student screening), 8 April 2015

    The book to the film:
    Hannah Arendt. Ihr Denken veränderte die Welt. Das Buch zum Film von Margarethe von Trotta. Hrsg. Martin Wiebel. München, Zürich: Piper, 2013, 252 pages.
    Texts by Franziska Augstein, Martin Wiebel, Margarethe von Trotta, Pam Katz, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Ernst Vollrath, Bettina Brokemper, Hannah Arendt interviewed by Joachim Fest, Barbara Sukowa, Klaus Pohl, Volker Schaefer, Jerome Kohn, Rainer Schimpf, and Bettina Stangneth. Excerpts from the screenplay. 

I watched Hannah Arendt at our morning student screening before Margarethe von Trotta's afternoon lecture and Q&A on Rosa Luxemburg, Hildegard von Bingen, and Hannah Arendt. In the evening there was a regular screening of Hannah Arendt and a subsequent Q&A.

The film was an even better opening to our Margarethe von Trotta retrospective than we had realized, representative of so many of her key concerns and characteristics.

A major continuity in her oeuvre has been an honest confrontation with the German history of the past century. To this quest Hannah Arendt brings a new contribution of an aching and disturbing complexity.

Intellectual biography is popular in today's cinema, as in the high profile Academy Award nominated films on Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing. They are commendable attempts to present difficult ideas to a general audience. Hannah Arendt is also a thrilling film, with the difference that the determination to focus on the ideas of the protagonist is on a completely different level than in the Hawking and Turing biopics. Hannah Arendt is a drama of standing up to one's convictions. It is a film that not only popularizes but also contributes on a profound level to the discussion of Arendt's still alarming insights in the Eichmann trial.

Margarethe von Trotta prefers a protagonist who is woman of courage, controversial, even a rebel.

There are several important relationships in the film: Hannah and Heinrich (husband), Hannah and Lotte Köhler (assistant), Hannah and Hans Jonas (a long-term friendship broken after the Eichmann articles), Hannah and Kurt Blumenfeld (in Israel), and Hannah and William Shawn (The New Yorker). But the deepest relationship, the true core, is that of Hannah and Mary McCarthy.

A focus on a female bond - sisterhood, friendship - is a characteristic for von Trotta. (She has even filmed Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters as Amore e paura with Fanny Ardant, Greta Scacchi, and Valeria Golino). The most memorable performances here are those by Barbara Sukowa and Janet McTeer. There is a sense of urgency in them.

A further von Trotta hallmark is a formidable presence of an architecture of power. Here the most relevant architecture of power (Auschwitz) remains invisible. Major settings are the Jerusalem courthouse of Eichmann's trial and the university lecture hall of the final voluntary "trial" of Hannah Arendt herself as she gives her remarkable defense speech against her critics.

Forceful and characteristic is here also von Trotta's mise-en-scène and composition. I had happened to visit a Vilhelm Hammershøi exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum and felt an affinity between certain von Trotta images and Hammershøi's compelling compositions of dark clad women with their backs turned to us.

Von Trotta has talent with the documentary insert. In Die bleierne Zeit the two sisters as schoolgirls get to see Night and Fog. Here the documentary inserts are the televised records of the Adolf Eichmann trials. Von Trotta's major casting decision was that all other characters are conveyed by actors but Adolf Eichmann is seen in actual documented footage only.

Margarethe von Trotta was in great form in her lecture and the Q&A sessions. There was not enough time for all the questions. One remark I wanted to make but had no time to is: In your films women are strong and men not so strong. This is not a piece of criticism. There is more than a fair share of strong roles for men in the cinema, even entire genres are male-dominated. You have made an engrossing contribution to correct the balance.

On Adolf Eichmann there is an excellent documentary film by Erwin Leiser which would deserve to be better known: Eichmann und das dritte Reich.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BASED ON A. O. SCOTT'S REVIEW BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK