Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best of the 2000s

Darren Aronofsky: Requiem for a Dream (US 2000)
Hayao Miyazaki: Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away, JP 2001)
Eija-Liisa Ahtila: Rakkaus on aarre (Love Is a Treasure, FI 2002)
Aleksandr Rogozhkin: Kukushka (The Cuckoo, RU 2002)
Pedro Almodóvar: Hable con ella (Talk to Her, ES 2002)
Rithy Panh: S-21, la machine de mort Khmère rouge (KH/FR 2003)
Denys Arcand: Les Invasions barbares (CA/FR 2003)
Brad Bird: The Incredibles (US 2004)
Abbas Kiarostami: 10 on Ten (IR/FR 2004)
Sembene Ousmane: Moolaadé (SN/FR 2004)
Clint Eastwood: Million Dollar Baby (US 2004)
Mika Taanila: Optinen ääni (Optical Sound, FI 2005)
Victor Erice: La Morte Rouge (ES 2006)
Fatih Akin: Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven, DE/TR/IT 2007)
Jason Reitman: Juno (SC: Diablo Cody, starring Ellen Page) (US/CA 2007)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Planet Terror - customized Grindhouse screenings

US 2007. PC: Dimension Films. EX: Sandra Condito, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. P: Elizabeth Avellán, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Erica Steinberg. D+SC+DP+M+co-ED: Robert Rodriguez. CAST: Rose McGowan (Cherry Darling), Freddy Rodriguez (Wray), Josh Brolin (Dr. William Block), Michael Biehn (sheriff Hague), Bruce Willis (ltn. Muldoon). Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion (Tarantino Connection), Helsinki, 29 Dec 2009.

In the European release of Planet Terror only one fake trailer is included: Machete, directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Antti Suonio and Lauri Lehtinen had customized our Grindhouse screenings with actual exploitation trailers.

PLANET TERROR:
- Kill! (FR/ES/IT/DE 1971), D: Romain Gary, with Jean Seberg, James Mason, Stephen Boyd, Curd Jürgens
- La novia ensangrentada / The Blood Spattered Bride (ES 1972), D: Vicente Aranda

DEATH PROOF:
- Komissar X: Jagd auf Unbekannt / Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill / Miehemme X: Tapaus kultatytöt (DE/IT/YU 1966)
- Huo feng huang / Red Phoenix / Kung-fu punainen salama (TW 1981)
- Il mercenario / A Professional Gun (IT/ES 1968), D: Sergio Corbucci, with Franco Nero, Jack Palance

I saw the trailers before Planet Terror and some 20 minutes of Planet Terror only. Interesting aspects:
- Planet Terror (but not Death Proof) is digitally mastered, but they have simulated photochemical film aging, colour blemishes, scratches, and bad joins
- the crying go-go dancer Cherry Darling
- the film seems like gory nonsense with an unflinching commitment to the basic instincts of sex and violence

I have admired Robert Rodriguez's powerful cinema instinct since El Mariachi, but he seems to have little to say.

Toinen jalka haudasta

Med ena foten ur graven / One Foot Under. Suomi 2009. PC: Dionysos Films Oy. P: Riina Hyytiä. D: Johanna Vuoksenmaa. Ass. D: Hannu Salonen. SC: Mika Ripatti, Seppo Vesiluoma. DP: Peter Flinckenberg - colour - scope 2,35:1 - digital intermediate: Generator Post. ED: Kimmo Kohtamäki. S: Tuomas Klaavo, Mikko Mäkelä. M: Kerkko Koskinen. AD: Christer Andersson. COST: Niina Pasanen. Make-up: Hannele Herttua. CAST: Tobias Zilliacus (Visa), Susanna Mikkonen (Riia), Helena Vierikko (Hanna), Tuomas Rinta-Panttila (Ile), Jarkko Pajunen (Harri), Pertti Sveholm (Matti), Kari Väänänen (Salmela), Pihla Viitala (Wilma), Vesa Vierikko (Pesonen), Antti Virmavirta (the doctor). 101 min. Distributed by Sandrew. Print without subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 29 Dec 2009.

The print was beautiful, and the quality of the image was the most pleasant of a Finnish film this year. Although printed from a digital intermediate, the look was pleasingly photochemical. The overall visual look of the film is assured and sophisticated. There are purely visual passages in the film: montages on nature, subjective tracking shots among the reeds, and visualizations of Visa's changes of consciousness.

Toinen jalka haudasta is another comedy on a serious subject by Johanna Vuoksenmaa after Nousukausi (Upswing). This film is about Visa (Tobias Zilliacus) who knows he'll die in six months of a rare disease. He takes it rather calmly, and his girlfriend Riia (Susanna Mikkonen) is much more disturbed. A journalist, Hanna (Helena Vierikko) starts a series of articles on a dying person's last wishes, and selects Visa as her subject. Visa's best "friend" Harri (Jarkko Pajunen) has designs for Riia. The slick editor and responsible single father Ile (Tuomas Rinta-Panttila) pines for Hanna.

Before death, Visa realizes he has found his true love in Hanna.

Things I liked:
1. The gravity of the protagonists.
2. The approach to the fantasies, nighmares, hallucinations, fabulations and memory fabrications related with the illness.
3. The theme of "I hope there was life before death", "carpe diem". "Isn't life always too short".
4. The satirical angle on the therapy for the dying.
5. The satire of lying in relationships.
6. The overall visual impact, the cinematography by Peter Flinckenberg.
7. The music by Kerkko Koskinen played by a full real orchestra.

The media satire was maybe slightly too obvious, and the caricature of the editor Ile too coarse.

This is also one of the films with an interrupted wedding. Ile and Hanna are getting married, and with his last breath Visa interrupts the ceremony but dies before the altar.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ralliraita

Ralliraita 1 [the title on screen] / [Rallyrullen] / [The Rally Reel]. FI 2009. PC: Suomen Filmiteollisuus Oy. P: Satu Sadinkangas, Jukka Karttunen. D: Markku Pölönen. SC: Arttu Käyhkö, Heikki Silvennoinen, Markku Pölönen. Cinematography: Kari Sohlberg, Juha Korhonen, Matti Poutanen. Digital intermediate: Generator Post. AD: Pete Neuvonen. COST: Anna Sinkkonen. Make-up: Riikka Virtanen. M: Vesa Mäkinen. Songs by Kotiteollisuus. Title song: "Tie laulaa" (comp. Vesa Mäkinen, lyrics Markku Pölönen) perf. Sakari Kuosmanen. S: Kyösti Väntänen. ED: Jari Innanen, Markku Pölönen. The Rally Chronicle: Marko Mäkinen. CAST: Olavi Uusivirta (Lauri ”Luumu” Pesonen), Heikki Silvennoinen (Seppo ”Sladi” Pesonen), Peter Franzén (Suko), Laura Birn (Aija), Tom Petäjä (Puupponen), Kai Hyttinen (Pekkarinen), Sakari Kuosmanen (Raimo ”Runki” Petterson), Eeva Litmanen (Susa), Satu Silvo (Sirkku Kyllönen), Mika Nuojua (Stumppi), Heikki Nousiainen (Ukko-Torppo), Antti Virmavirta (Torppo-Juniori), Hans Stigzelius (Leivo), Janne Reinikainen (main  commentator Levanto), Aake Kalliala (second commentator Takalo). 86 min. Distributor: Walt Disney Motion Pictures, Finland. Viewed at Cinema Orion (Jussit), Helsinki, 28 Dec 2009.

Markku Pölönen is one of my favourite Finnish directors, especially with his films Onnen maa [Land of Bliss] and Koirankynnen leikkaaja [Dog Nail Clipper]. He has an excellent sense of humour.

With Ralliraita he is about to launch a new Finnish low budget comedy series. Predecessors include Risto Orko (the Ryhmy and Romppainen military farce series), the grand master T.J. Särkkä (the rillumarei films, the Pekka and Pätkä series), and the miraculously productive Aarne Tarkas. The most obvious goldfinger model is the comedian Spede Pasanen, the most successful film producer in Finland since the 1960s till his death. Two successful off-Helsinki producers have been Visa Mäkinen in Pori and Timo Koivusalo (the Pekko series) in Nakkila next to Pori, and the most successful recent comedy concept has been created by the Kummeli team from Tampere. Markku Pölönen is located at Kontiolahti in North Karelia, in Eastern Finland.

Those comedies are among the most popular films in the history of Finnish cinema. They are the films that foreigners never get to see. Comedy does not travel, with the big exception of American comedy. Critics have always conducted a demolition derby with Finnish comedy, and Markku Pölönen, a distinguished director, certainly knew what to expect. Having seen Ralliraita I read some 20 of the reviews, and they were unanimous in their crushing sentence.

To be redeemed:
1. The subject is rich. Finns have a strong car culture, and numerous Finnish international champion racing drivers have developed from this background. Among the main secrets are the long dirt roads, perfect for practise. There has never been a film about this background really. Risto Jarva's Bensaa suonissa [Gasoline In My Veins] was more focused on the actual racing scene. The dirt road practise scenes in Ralliraita may have documentary value.
2. The actors are good. The young lead actor, the popular singer-songwriter Olavi Uusivirta, is charismatic in the same way as young Clint Eastwood, but not as cold. He was good as Cisse Häkkinen in Ganes, and he carries this film well. Heikki Silvennoinen, the singer-comedian-actor famous from the Kummeli team, is convincing as the driving school instructor with endless patience. The film is well cast.

The film is riddled with clichés. Most disappointingly, the wonderful women Laura Birn, Eeva Litvanen, and Satu Silvo have not been given anything interesting to do. I don't miss the harridans from the Särkkä and Spede films, though.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia / Julie & Julia. US (c) 2009 Columbia. EX: Donald J. Lee, Jr., Scott Rudin, Dana Stevens. P: Nora Ephron, Laurence Mark, Amy Robinson, Eric Steel. D+SC: Nora Ephron - based on the book (2005) by Julie Powell based on her blog (2002) - based on the book My Life in France (posthumous, 2006) by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. DP: Stephen Goldblatt - colour - 1,85:1 - 2K digital intermediate: EFilm. M: Alexandre Desplat. CAST. Meryl Streep (Julia Child), Amy Adams (Julie Powell), Stanley Tucci (Paul Child), Chris Messina (Eric Powell), Linda Emond (Simone Beck), Helen Carey (Louisette Bertholle), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Sarah), Jane Lynch (Dorothy McWilliams), Joan Juliet Buck (Madame Brassart), Crystal Noelle (Ernestine), George Bartenieff (Chef Max Bugnard). Released in Finland by Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anna-Leea Heinonen / Joanna Erkkilä. Viewed at Tennispalatsi 4, Helsinki, 26 Dec 2009.

The first mainstream film based on a blog.

One of the all-time best films on cooking, based on the life of Julia Child (1912-2004), author, together with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, of Mastering the Art of French Cooking I-II (1961, 1970). In Finnish: Ranskalaisen keittiön salaisuudet (1968), copies of which also belong to the library of my wife Laila. Julia Child made also 12 television series on cooking, which are also available on dvd. Her magnum opus as a book and on video is The Way to Cook (1989). Her husband was Paul Child (1902-1994).

I liked Sleepless in Seattle a lot, and this may be Nora Ephron's best film (I haven't seen them all).

I am not at all familiar with the tv persona of Julia Child, but I enjoyed Meryl Streep's performance very much. It's mannered, exaggerated, a caricature, yet affecting and with a ring of emotional truth. Stanley Tucci gives a less flamboyant but brilliantly timed performance as her husband.

One of the best films of the year.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's Complicated

Pientä säätöä. US (c) 2009 Universal Studios. P: Scott Rudin, Nancy Meyers. D+SC: Nancy Meyers. DP: John Toll - colour - digital intermediate: Company 3. M: Heitor Pereira, Hans Zimmer. CAST: Meryl Streep (Jane), Steve Martin (Adam), Alec Baldwin (Jake), John Krasinski (Harley), Lake Bell (Agness). JANE'S BEST FRIENDS: Mary Kay Place (Joanne), Rita Wilson (Trisha), Alexandra Wentworth (Diane). THE CHILDREN: Hunter Parrish (Luke), Zoe Kazan (Gabby), Caitlin Fitzgerald (Lauren). Released by Finnkino with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marko Hartama / Saliven Gustavson. Viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 25 Dec 2009 (day of global premiere).

The mainstream big Christmas-release romantic comedy - rom com, chick flick - of the year. The Finnish title is successful.

The slick lawyer Jake (Alec Baldwin) left his wife, now a Santa Barbara luxury bakery keeper, Jane (Meryl Streep) and their three children ten years ago for a younger woman, Agness (Lake Bell). Now the children have grown up. On a graduation trip Jake and Jane meet again and start a secret affair, just as Jane has felt balanced after the terrible ordeal of the divorce. Jane refuses to become her ex's mistress, but Jake seems serious about the affair. But Jane is also courted by the lonely architect Adam (Steve Martin), who has designed her dream house extension complete with the perfect kitchen.

I read a sample of the mean reviews written about this funny and generous comedy. The big mystery for me, and a reason why I avoid press screenings, is why critics hate comedy.

Comedy is the most unrelenting genre, and It's Complicated has been made by masters of the difficult trade. Nancy Meyers makes comedies for grown-ups. In comedy, you need cliches, you need stereotypes, you need caricatures, and you need to bring original twists to them. Meryl Streep with her hot flashes, Alec Baldwin with his bulky figure, and Steve Martin with his melancholia are great. I like the open ending to this story.

John Krasinski seems to be one to watch. As I don't watch tv, I haven't seen him in The Office.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Robin Wood (1931-2009) in memoriam

My Rifle, My Pony, And Me
(Dimitri Tiomkin, Paul Francis Webster)
perf. Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo (1959)

Purple light in the canyon
That's where I long to be
With my three good companions
Just my rifle, pony, and me

Gonna hang my sombrero
On the limb of a tree
Comin' home sweetheart darlin'
Just my rifle, pony and me

Whippoorwill in the willow
Sings a sweet melody
Ridin' to Amarillo
Just my rifle, pony, and me

No more cows to be ropin'
No more strays will I see
Round the bend she'll be waitin'
For my rifle, pony, and me
For my rifle, my pony, and me

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Maata meren alla

Land under hav / Overseas and Under Your Skin / [literal translation: Earth Under the Sea]. FI / DE (c) 2009 Silva Mysterium Oy. Co-Production with Flying Mon Filmproduktion GmbH (Berlin). P: Mika Ritalahti, Niko Ritalahti; Roshanak Behecht Nadiad. D+SC: Lenka Hellstedt - based on the novel by Riikka Ala-Harja (2003). DP: Mark Stubbs - digital intermediate: DFF. AD: Saara Joro. COST: Titta Kettunen. Makeup: Elina Laakso, Barbi Laine. M: Anna-Mari Kähärä. Theme song ”Maata meren alla”, comp. Kähärä, lyrics Lenka Hellstedt, perf. Emma Salokoski. S: Olli Huhtanen. ED: Kimmo Taavila. CAST: Amira Khalifa (Ida), Jarkko Niemi (Jore), Leena Uotila (Pipsa), Marja Packalén (Kati, Ida's mother), Matti Ristinen (Ville), Annika Ernst (Anita), Ismael Sahin (Deniz). Colour, 1,85:1, 86 min. Released by Sandrew. In Finnish, German, and English, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Mikko Lyytikäinen / Joanna Erkkilä. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 23 Dec 2009.

I missed the beginning of this film (ice picking, the Baltic herring as the catch, the diving lesson, Beat the Devil on tv). It is the Bildungsroman of a young black Finnish seamstress Ida (Amira Khalifa) adopted from Namibia when she was three years old. The film is about a multiple clash of cultures. Black and white. Berlin and Finland. The radicals of the Sixties and the young people of today.

Ida is a foreigner in Finland, and a Finn in Berlin. The characterization of her as a black Finnish moron is realized as a parody and a caricature, a figure of a farce that fails to amuse.

The mother Kati (Marja Packalén), a welder by occupation, and a communist and a feminist since the 1960s, knows she is about to die and worries that nothing will be left of her. She is still loyal to the fundamental ideals of her youth, participating actively in the Red Cross Hunger Day fundraising. The Berlin apartment of her youth is still there and that's where Ida stays trying to figure out who she is and what she will do. Kati and Ida commit all possible mistakes in their mother-daughter relationship.

Ida is a slacker who does not know what to do with her life. Abroad she is unable to make contact and misses almost every opportunity to learn something or have a good time, although she seems to meet almost only friendly people: her neighbour (and quasi-half-sister) Anita (Annika Ernst) and the masseur of the Finnish sauna in Berlin Deniz (Ismael Sahin). Maata meren alla is a story of embarrassments.

It is true, as the film implies, that although the sauna is a Finnish word, Germans tend to be more advanced in sauna culture.

My personal experience of Berlin is that Finnish women tend to get along very well with Germans.

Following the international trend of the romantic comedy since the 1990s the only balanced person in the story is the gay friend. Matti Ristinen as Ville the diving instructor is the most sympathetic character in the film.

Something went wrong, and I don't know whether it is the way the character of Ida was written or Amira Khalifa's performance.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kielletty hedelmä / Forbidden Fruit

Förbjuden frukt. FI / SE (c) 2009 Helsinki-Filmi / Anagram Produktion. P: Aleksi Bardy. D: Dome Karukoski. Ass. D: Mark Lwoff. SC: Aleksi Bardy. DP: Tuomo Hutri - digital intermediate: The Chimney Pot. PD: Antti Mattila, Antti Nikkinen. COST: Anna Vilppunen. Make-up: Kati Koskela. M: Adam Nordén. S: Mattias Eklund. ED: Harri Ylönen. CAST: Amanda Pilke (Maria), Marjut Maristo (Raakel), Malla Malmivaara (Eeva), Joel Mäkinen (Toni), Jarkko Nemi (Jussi), Olavi Uusivirta (Johannes), Timo Tikka (Luukas), Jani Volanen (Ilari), Teemu Ojanne (Mäki), Heikki Nousiainen (Joki), Tapio Liinoja (Laakso), Tommi Korpela (the preacher at the Suviseurat summer revival meeting). Colour, 2,35:1, 104 min. Distributed by Sandrew. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 22 Dec 2009.

The locations of the film include the interiors of Cinema Orion in three scenes. The exterior of the cinema is that of Cinema Diana. These two belong to the oldest continuously active cinemas in Helsinki.

The old believers called the Laestadians are an important religious sect in Finland, especially in Northern Ostrobothnia. They have large families, they are honest and successful businesspeople, and they obey old religious commandments such as the prohibition of the image as faithfully as possible.

Kielletty hedelmä is the story of three sisters who leave their Laestadian family in Liminka and discover the forbidden urban world of Helsinki.

Eeva (Malla Malmivaara) has already been rejected by the family and left for Helsinki because she is lesbian. Maria (Amanda Pilke) is curious to see what is going on there. Raakel (Marjut Maristo) goes to look after her.

Things such as make-up, television, movies, even the mildest alcoholic drinks such as cider, discos, pop music, holding hands with a boy, kissing, petting, and premarital sex are adventures for them.

The film-makers have a critical view about the stern religious movement which forbids normal things of contemporary life. It would be interesting to hear a Laestadian comment this film, but probably no Laestadian has seen it because of their prohibition of television and the cinema. They accept computers, though, because of their value in education and industry.

The view of Laestadianism is not a one-sided caricature. The Laestadians are shown as protective, caring, loving, and disciplined people. The most impressive shot of the film is an aerial view of the Suviseurat, the legendary summer revival meeting of the Laestadians. Over one hundred thousand people assemble in an inspiring and well-organized way that could be a model for anybody.

The contrast of the virtuous country life and the sinfulness of the city was a foundation of Finnish cinema during the studio era, for example in films produced by Erkki Karu or T.J. Särkkä. The contrast was exaggerated to dimensions of unintentional parody by Teuvo Tulio.

Kielletty hedelmä returns to the same traditional contrast, which exists today only in special circumstances such as with the Laestadians. There are aspects in the film that are new and perplexing.

The film shows that urban freedom can also mean solitude and indifference.

In the end, the rebel sister Maria returns to the Laestadian community, and the responsible sister Raakel leaves it.

The director Dome Karukoski is in full command of all aspects of his third film. He has a special gift to find good young actors. I look forward to the future work of all of them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Muukalainen / The Visitor

Främlingen / Der Besucher / Külaline. FI/DE/EE/GB 2009 © 2008 blueLight, Helsinki-Film [and two other companies]. P: Aleksi Bardy, Alain de la Mata. D: Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää. SC: Jan Forsström, Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää. DP: Tuomi Hutri - digital intermediate: Head-Quarter. PD: Kaisa Mäkinen. M: Helena Tulve. FX: Armin Altorf, Kalju Kivi. COST: Sari Suominen, Tarja Westman. Makeup: Kairit Nieländer. S: Micke Nyström, Sami Sarhamaa, Rolando Camilo. ED: Mervi Junkkonen. CAST: Vitali Bobrov (the son), Emilia Ikäheimo (the mother), Pavel Liska (the visitor), Jorma Tommila (the father). In Finnish, but there is hardly any dialogue. Colour, 1,85:1, 106 min. Released by Sandrew. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 21 Dec 2009.

A diploma work from The Department of Motion Picture, Television, and Production Design of The University of Art and Design Helsinki (TAIK / ELO).

Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää in his debut cinema feature film displays talent. He is an artist whose next film I look forward to.

There is an intensity and a command of the elements of cinematography, sound and music, landscape and art direction, and the performance of the actors.

Valkeapää denies that the film would be an homage, but the affinities is evident. 1) The child's viewpoint to the mystery of the grown-ups' life reminds me of Víctor Erice. 2) The imagery is Tarkovskyan.

Tarkovskyan aspects in Muukalainen: 1) the fundamental feeling for "zapetshatlyonnaya vremya" (the name of Tarkovsky's manuscript, which was published in English as Sculpting in Time, in German as Die versiegelte Zeit, in Finnish as Vangittu aika), 2) the building (it is a set), the walls, the objects marked by time, 3) even the purposefully faded colours remind us of of the imperfect Sovcolor of many Tarkovsky prints (but if you see them in good prints, they look different), 4) the abandoned rails, the crippled mother and the mute or silent son remind us of Stalker, 5) the shots of the mother at the fence and the stranger coming towards us from the forest remind us of the most powerful scene in The Mirror, 6) the horses.

It is impossible for me to make sense of the story at a first viewing. If it is supposed to take place in Finland, then it would maybe take place in the 1920s (I have to check again about the bus and the policemen's uniforms for that). The father could be a member of contraband (we had prohibition then) who has hidden his stash in the abandoned well, confided this to his mute son, and promised shelter for the accomplice, the visitor / the stranger of the film's title. The father may also be a wife-beater who has crippled his wife.

The film is needlessly enigmatic. In a Víctor Erice film the mysteries stem from the circumstances of the Franco dictatorship. In Tarkovsky's The Mirror and Stalker we are dealing with the repression in the Soviet Union. The mystery in Muukalainen is pointless.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pihalla

Lekplatsen / Playground. FI/DE (c) 2009 Helsinki-Filmi. With NDR, Nelonen, TAIK / ELO. P: Aleksi Bardy. D: Toni Laine. SC: Petja Peltomaa, Sanna Reinumägi. DP: Konsta Sohlberg. PD: Päivi Kettunen. COST: Anna Vilppunen. M: Karl Sinkkonen. S: Mika Niinimaa. ED: Aleksi Raij. CAST: Sibel Kekilli (Laura), Teemu Palosaari (Arto), Sanna-June Hyde (Riina), Mikko Leppilampi (Tero), Alisa Hakala (Nella), Venla Hakala (Nella), Mikael Hakarauta (Niklas), Matleena Kuusniemi (Sikke), Mari Perankoski (Leena), Pihla Viitala (Meri). In German and in Finnish. Released by Sandrew Metronome Distribution Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Laura Ruuttunen & Tero Välimäki / Joanna Erkkilä. Colour, 1,85:1, 93 min. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 8, Helsinki, 19 Dec 2009.

A diploma work from The Department of Motion Picture, Television, and Production Design of The University of Art and Design Helsinki (TAIK / ELO).

Interesting features from my personal viewpoint: 1) this is the story of a German-Finnish marriage, a subject dear to me, having lived three years in West Berlin and followed several such relationships since 1981 to this day, 2) the location is Tampere, Finland, where I have lived during two periods of my life, 3) Sibel Kekilli is an excellent and talented actress with a great sense of humour.

The story feels bizarre, though. Laura, a young German woman moves to Tampere, Finland, with her Finnish husband, who is always travelling. When they divorce, Laura decides to stay in Tampere. Almost invariably, it is the other way around. Finnish women move to Germany and stay there even after the divorce.

Germans love Finland, though, and there could be a story there. The area of Finland is as big as that of united Germany, but the population of Finland is only 5,3 million, whereas that of Germany is 82 million. There is a lot of space in Finland, and many Germans love the feeling of nature, the big forests and the countless lakes. The fresh air, the clear water, and the relatively untamed qualities of Finland are exotic to Germans. Yet Finland has also a high level of education, culture, technology and language skills. There could be other reasons for a German to stay, but none of them are explored. Generally and unfortunately, regarding the talent involved, Pihalla remains too much on the level of conveyor-belt entertainment without ambition.

Avatar

Avatar / Avatar. US/GB (c) 2009 Twentieth Century Fox / Dune Entertainment. P: James Cameron, Jon Landau. D+SC: James Cameron. DP: Mauro Fiore - source format: HDCAM SR (1080p/24) - Fusion Camera (dual-strip 3-D) - digital intermediate 2K - released on a) D-Cinema 3-D 1,78:1 - b) 70 mm IMAX dual-strip 3-D etc. - c) 35 mm anamorphic 2,35:1 etc. FX: BUF, Blur Studio, Framestore CFC, Gentle Giant Studios, Giant Studios, Halon Entertainment, Hybride Technologies, Hydraulx, Industrial Light & Magic, Lola Visual Effects, Pixel Liberation Front, Stan Winston Studio, The Third Floor, Weta Digital. PD: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg. COST: Mayes C. Rubeo, Deborah Lynn Scott. Makeup designer: Rick Findlater. AN: Aldo Gagliardi. M: James Horner. S: Christopher Boyes. ED: James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivkin. CAST: Sam Worthington (Jake Sully), Zoe Saldana (Neytiri), Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Grace Augustine), Stephen Lang (Col. Miles Quaritch), Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacon), Giovanni Ribisi (Parker Selfridge), Joel Moore (Norm Spellman), CCH Pounder (Moat), Wes Studi (Eytukan). 164 min. Released in Finland by FS Film. The 3-D viewing with Finnish subtitles only by Topi Oksanen. Viewed as D-Cinema 3-D at Tennispalatsi 1, Helsinki, 18 Dec 2009 (day of Finnish premiere).

The biggest cinema of Finland was sold out, and we sat in the front row, which was perfect. It was a sight to see the full audience with their 3-D glasses on. There was an applause after the picture. The film is long but I never glanced my watch. Technically, the 3-D screening was perfect.

The credits of this film fill 23 pages of the Internet Movie Database.

First impressions of the most expected film of the year.
1. This is an auteur film essential to James Cameron.
2. There is a deep concern for the ecological catastrophe (the Cousteau connection).
3. The film follows the classical hubris / nemesis structure (as did Titanic).
4. This is another essential cyberpunk film from James Cameron, creator of The Terminator.
5. Avatar is one of the great dystopian science fiction films, deeply critical of the military-technological complex, as were the Alien films (Cameron directed Aliens).
6. Sigourney Weaver plays one of the leads in Avatar. Cameron favours strong female characters.
7. The story is about the guerrilla war of small tribes with inferior weapons against an overwhelming aggressor (as in the Rambo films, where Rambo curiously resembles a Vietnamese guerrilla; Cameron wrote Rambo II).
8. The novelty is that the overwhelming aggressor is "us" and the guerrilla are "them", but there is a switch in the middle of the story.

From familiar ingredients Cameron has created something new and strange. Through virtual reality Jake Sully transforms into a creature from another planet. He rejects mankind, what is left of our race dying because of the ecocatastrophe on Earth.

Final Fantasy (2001), the first mainstream photorealistic all-computer-generated feature film, was technically impressive but not really moving. Avatar is better, more gripping, but I miss strong performances such as those in Titanic.

300 (2006) and Beowulf (2007) displayed interesting steps of photorealistic digital animation, and Avatar goes further in this promising and fascinating development.

I had been annoyed by the Avatar trailers, thinking, "do I have to see that". Still I'm not fully convinced by the digitally animated aliens. The colour scheme is artificial, with an emphasis on purple, blue, and cold green. It is the look of a computer game, of virtual reality. Awesome but not entirely convincing.

Anyway, Avatar is a great James Cameron film and a great science fiction film.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Liikkumavara

[Spelrum] / Within Limits / [literally: Leeway]. FI (c) 2009 : Illume Oy. P: Pertti Veijalainen. D+SC: Annika Grof. Planned by: Annika Grof, Janina Kokkonen. DP: Anssi Leino, Joni Ulmanen, Jarmo Kiuru, Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. M, S: Ville Riippa. Musicians: Antti Hartikainen, Marko Portin, Tero Toivonen, Janne Pulkkinen. Digitization: Vappu Tuomisto, Joni Ulmanen, Outi Rehn. Online: Ville Lepistö, Mikko Löppönen, Henri Pulla – Talvi Oy. ED: Pauliina Punkki. 87 min. The best available format of this is Digital Cinema 2K. We screened a Betacam with English credits and headlines but without English subtitles, from PEK / Illume. At Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 17 Dec 2009.

An excellent documentary film about the functioning of the Finnish parliament, focusing on the processing of the law on daycare and healthcare fees in April 2008. Plenary sessions, committee meetings and so on are surprisingly full of excitement. These are matters of life and death especially for those who are ill. A revealing film for today's viewers. A valuable document of these times for the future. The title of the film (literally: Leeway) comes from a comment by Jörn Donner: "there is little leeway". Because everything has been settled in the governement's agenda already for the whole term of the parliament.

19 Dec 2009: Afterthoughts a couple of days later: this strong and focused documentary film keeps growing and seems more essential and relevant. The steel grip of the government agenda, the minimal leeway for anything else. 24 Dec 2009: The stony faces of the prime minister and the inner circle of the goverment. The Finnish Right markets itself as "the workers' party", as did certain famous right-wing parties in Europe in the 1930s... The Finnish right-wing politicians are completely different from those forces of the past. They are nice people, yet there is a steely hidden agenda of class struggle beneath their worker-friendly slogans. - Something of the real faces behind the masks are revealed in Liikkumavara.

Christmas thoughts 24 Dec 2009: "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." - The words of Jesus in the Gospel According to Mark, 4:25.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roman de gare

Crossed Tracks. FR 2007. PC: Films 13. EX: Rémi Bergman. P+D: Claude Lelouch. SC: Claude Lelouch, Pierre Uytterhoeven. DP: Gérard de Battista. COST: Marité Coutard. Make-Up: Lucía Bretones-Méndez, Paul de Fisser (hair). M: Gilbert Becaud, Alexandre Jaffray. ED: Charlotte Lecoeur, Stéphane Mazalaigue. S: Harald Maury, Jean Charles Martel. CAST: Dominique Pinon (Pierre Laclos / Louis), Fanny Ardant (Judith Ralitzer), Audrey Dana (Huguette), Michèle Bernier (Florence), Myriam Boyer (Huguette's mother), Zinedine Soualem (the inspector). 103 min. A MAEE print with English subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 16 Dec 2009.

I watched the beginning only of an interesting new kind of film from the veteran Claude Lelouch. The opening sequences take place at the wine district of the Burgundy, at a literary programme of television, at the highway where a serial killer known as The Magician escapes the police, and at a service station where a girl is dumped by her lover. Fanny Ardant plays the writer of bestsellers who has a ghost writer. Seems well made and worth revisiting.

Rintamalotta / [The Lotta at the Front]

Lottor vid fronten. FI 1956. PC: Fennada-Filmi. P: Mauno I. Mäkelä. D+SC: Aarne Tarkas – based on the serial story and the novel Rintamalotta muistelee (1956) by Tuulikki Raja. DP: Esko Töyri. S: Gösta Salminen, Tuomo Kattilakoski. ED: Nils Holm. CAST: Leena Häkinen (Irma Vuori), Elina Salo (Soilikki), Ella Pehkonen (Mimmi Riipinen), Pia Hattara (Oili, lotta hostess), Vappu Jurkka (Katri), Tommi Rinne (private Heikki Nurminen), Sakari Jurkka (corporal Antero), Heimo Lepistö (Iisakki), Pentti Irjala (Captain Paukku), Jussi Jurkka (Erik Vuori), Uljas Kandolin (Riikonen), Leo Jokela (draftee), Pentti Viljanen (Räty). 83 min. A vintage print with Swedish subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 16 Dec 2009.

Aarne Tarkas wrote and directed some 30 films in some 10 years at breakneck speed. He was a special talent from the late studio era of the Finnish cinema. He had a droll sense of humour and a way with the actors.

Rintamalotta I saw for the first time and was positively surprised. There is an impressive realistic approach and a powerful sense of the horror of the war in addition to the familiar Tarkas virtues of good direction of actors and that droll sense of humour.

This is the story of five lottas at the front during the attack against the Soviet Union. The performances by Leena Häkinen (Irma Vuori), Elina Salo (Soilikki), Ella Pehkonen (Mimmi Riipinen), Pia Hattara (Oili, lotta hostess), and Vappu Jurkka (Katri) are all individual and with an authentic feel. The women they portray do heavy service at the front without carrying arms.

In one of her very first roles, Elina Salo gets to play it for the humour at times, portraying a lotta who likes to sing although she cannot carry a tune, and imitating the sounds of weapons.

Lottatyttö

Puolustusvoimien katsaus 80: Lottatyttö / [Army Newsreel No. 80: The Lotta Girl]. FI 1944. PC: Puolustusvoimat. D: Reino Tenkanen. A clean 16mm print, 14 min. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 16 Dec 2009.

A fine documentary short about the girl organization of The Lotta Svärd. The girls get education in housekeeping, they help at soldiers' homes, they engage in sport and folk dance, they participate in air surveillance and in weather observation, they get education in orienteering, they visit the Kollaanjoki, they sell Lotta badges, even to the ex-President Pehr Evind Svinhufvud. The Lotta Svärd director Fanny Luukkonen examines their camp. The girl organization is 12 years old, and there are 45.000 members. They play, engage in sports, do camping and sing "I Am A Lotta Girl".

Rivilotta

Frontlotta / [The Lotta at the Service]. FI 1943. PC: Puolustusvoimat. D: Turo Kartto. A documentary feature film. Its original length has been reported to be 2500 m but that was the combined length with two other documentaries. The current length is 37 min on dvd (2010). The version viewed today at 25 fps on Digibeta was 17 min. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 16 Dec 2009.

Excellent documentary footage on air surveillance lottas, lottas at the communication centers, sending coded messages, sorting mail from the front, taking care of catering, canteens, moving big soup carriages, tending a pigsty, preparing cabbage soup.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Vanishing Point

Nasta laudassa / Med spiken i bottnet. US (c) 1971 20th Century Fox. D: Richard S. Sarafian. SC: Guillermo Cain – based on a story by Malcolm Hart. DP: John A. Alonzo. M: Jimmy Bowen. Tracks: You Got to Believe (Delaney Bramlett, perf. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends), I Can't Believe It (Long-branch / Pennywhistle), Super-Soul Theme and Freedom of Expression (The J.B. Pickers), Got It Together (Mike Settle, perf. Bobby Doyle), Where Do We Go from Here? (Mike Settle, perf. Jimmy Walker), Runaway Country (Doug Dillard Expedition), So Tired (Eve), Dear Jesus God and Over Me (Segarini / Bishop), Welcome to Nevada (Don Lanier & Joe Bob Barnhill, perf. Jerry Reed), Mississippi Queen (West, Laing, Pappalardi & Rea, perf. Mountain), Sweet Jesus (Red Steagal), Love Theme (Jimmy Bowen, Pete Carpenter, perf. Jimmy Bowen Orchestra), Sing Out for Jesus (Kim Carnes, perf. Big Mama Thornton), Nobody Knows (Mike Settle, perf. Kim Carnes).ED : Stefan Arnsten. S: William Edmonson, Tom Edwards, Theodore Soderberg. CAST: Barry Newman (Kowalski), Cleavon Little (Super-Soul), Dean Jagger (desert wanderer), Victoria Medlin (Vera), Paul Coslo (young cop), Bob Donner (older cop), Timothy Scott (Angel), Gilda Texter (nude motorcyclist), Delaney & Bonnie & Friends (J. Hovah's Singers). Original duration 107 min, Finnish / European version 99 min. A vintage print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Hellevi Reinikainen / Eirik Udd. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Tarantino Connection), 15 Dec 2009.

A vintage print with faded red colour, lots of scratches, screened at full frame (looks better at Orion that way).

One of the top road movies still looks great, enigmatic, and powerful. And with one of the great pop soundtracks ever, and with one of the great disc jockey star performances: Cleavon Little as the blind disc jockey Super Soul. - I watched just the first 40 minutes (too tired to stay longer).

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Punainen neilikka / Den röda nejlikan. GB 1934. PC: London Film Productions. P: Alexander Korda. D: Harold Young. SC: Lajos Biró, S. N. Behman, Robert E. Sherwood, Arthur Wimperis and Baroness Orczy - based on the play (1903) and the novel (1905) by Baroness Orczy. DP: Harold Rosson. AD: Vincent Korda, David B. Cunynghame. COST: John Armstrong, Oliver Messel. M: Arthur Benjamin. M dir: Muir Mathieson. ED: William Hornbeck. S: A. W. Watkins. CAST: Leslie Howard (Sir Percy Blakeney / The Scarlet Pimpernel), Merle Oberon (Lady Blakeney), Raymond Massey (Chauvelin), Nigel Bruce (The Prince of Wales), Bramwell Fletcher (priest), Anthony Bushell (Sir Andrew ffoulkes), Joan Gardner (Suzanne de Tournay), Walter Rilla (Armand St. Just), Mabel Terry-Lewis (Countess de Tournay), O. B. Clarence (Count de Tour-nay), Ernest Milton (Roberspierre). 98 min. A 1969 re-release print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Lea Joutseno. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 15 Dec 2009.

An intact print with little scratches and with an ok, at times slightly duped definition of light.

Baroness Orczy's popular adventure story set during the Great Terror after the French Revolution, with a great cast. Leslie Howard as the seemingly sissy Sir Percy Blakeney, who is actually The Scarlet Pimpernel who saves French aristocrats from the guillotine. Raymond Massey as the cunning French agent determined to expose The Scarlet Pimpernel. Merle Oberon as the Pimpernel's wife, who misunderstands and is misunderstood. I particularly liked the Merle Oberon sections of the film. She is very moving in her close-ups.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coco avant Chanel

Coco avant Chanel / Coco, livet före Chanel. FR (c) 2009 Haut et Court. P: Caroline Benjo, Philippe Carcassonne, Carole Scotta. D: Anne Fontaine. SC: Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine - based on the book by Edmonde Charles-Roux. DP: Christophe Beaucarne - anamorphic Panavision 2,35:1. M: Alexandre Desplat. CAST: Audrey Tautou (Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel), Benoît Poelvoorde (Etienne Balsan), Alessandro Nivola (Arthur "Boy" Capel), Marie Gillain (Adrienne Chanel), Emmanuelle Devos (Emilienne d'Alencon). 105 min. Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Joanna Erkkilä. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 5, 12 Dec 2009.

The story of the young Gabrielle Chanel, the orphan girl, on her way through the cabarets to a spoiled millionaire's protégée and the lover of Boy Capel and finally to independence as a woman and as a visionary designer, who frees women of corsets and frills. An interesting and well-made film. There is a slightly detached feel, which could be intentional.

A Serious Man

A Serious Man / A Serious Man. US (c) 2009 Focus Features. P+D+SC+ED: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. DP: Roger Deakins - shot on film (Super 35) - 4K digital intermediate by EFilm. M: Carter Burwell. CAST: Michael Stuhlbarg (Larry Gopnik), Richard Kind (Uncle Arthur), Fred Melamed (Sy Ableman), Sari Lennick (Judith Gopnik), Aaron Wolff (Danny Gopnik), Jessica McManus (Sarah Gopnik). In Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. 105 min. A FS Film release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Kaisa Cullen / Sylva Lennberg. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 11 Dec 2009.

Thanks to the 4K resolution of the digital intermediate I could not tell that the source of the film print screened was digital.

A black Jewish comedy, maybe the most personal and daring film by the Coen brothers. It goes deep in the mysteries of the Judaic faith. It is an original interpretation of the Book of Job, and one of the essential works of art inspired by Franz Kafka. I was constantly surprised watching the film and I cannot pretend having understood it sufficiently at first viewing. A film that needs and deserves to be revisited.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Un pilota ritorna

[Lentäjän paluu] / [En flygares återkomst] / A Pilot Returns. IT 1942. PC: A.C.I. (Alleanza Cinematografica Italiana). D: Roberto Rossellini. SC – story: Tito Silvio Mursini (= Vittorio Mussolini) – manuscript: Michelangelo Antonioni, Rosario Leone, Margherita Maglione, Massimo Mida, Roberto Rossellini – dialogue: Ugo Betti, Gherardo Gherardi. DP: Vincenzo Seratrice. Aerial scenes cinematography: Crescenzo Gentili. AD: Franco Bartoli, Virgilio Marchi. M: Renzo Rossellini. S: Franco Robecchi. ED: Eraldo Da Roma. Military advisor: Maj. Filippo Masoero. Aerial advisor: capt. Aldo Moggi. CAST: Massimo Girotti (lt. Gino Rossati), Michela Belmonte (Anna), Gaetano Masier (lt. Trisotti), Elvira Betrone (Signora Rossati, Gino's mother), Nino Brondello (lt. Vittali), Piero Lulli (De Santis), Giovanni Valdambrini (doctor, Anna's father), Piero Palermini (young British officer), Jole Tinta (mother of the sick baby). Actual duration 85 min. Print: Cineteca Nazionale (Roma), by agreement with Ripley's Film. E-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 10 Dec 2009.

The first screening of this film in Finland. The print is good.

The film deals with Mussolini's invasion in Greece in October 1940.

1. Rossellini's second feature film, belonging to his military trilogy La nave bianca, Un pilota ritorna and L'uomo dalla croce, covering the navy, the air force, and the army.
2. Slightly more story-driven than La nave bianca.
3. The slight narrative is little more than a pretext to portray the state of war.
4. The film is official Fascist war propaganda, but it shows the distaste of the flyers for propaganda, and emphasizes the distress of the homeless and the victims more than the derring-do of the flyers.
5. There is a nominal love interest, but the film emphasizes the gravity of the protagonists. Facing death and responsibility for others dying and wounded they have little energy for romance.
6. Massimo Girotti is quite good as the serious flyer who does what is expected of him but could hardly be less excited about the official causes. His final enigmatic expression is memorable.
7. There are some good Rossellinian sequences: a) the sequence at the well with the long queues, b) the sequence of the amputation of a soldier's leg, c) the sequence of the refugees at the bridge which is blown up by the bomber.
8. There is a lot of aerial footage which gives the film an interesting and different look.
9. There are also many montages with newspaper headlines to cover the progress of the war campaign.
10. As Rossellini scholars have noticed, there are indeed some aspects of ellipse and anti-narrativity here, unfinished business, waiting, and deconstructing classical storytelling.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tyttö astuu elämään

En flicka i grått / [A Girl in Grey]. FI 1943. PC: Suomen Filmiteollisuus Oy. EX: T. J. Särkkä. D: Orvo Saarikivi. SC: Mika Waltari. DP: Armas Hirvonen. AD: Karl Fager. M: Väinö Haapalainen. ED: Orvo Saarikivi, Armas Vallasvuo. S: Pertti Kuusela, Kurt Vilja. CAST: Ansa Ikonen (Elli Arho), Eino Kaipainen (ltn. Arvo Tani), Laila Rihte (Lillukka Koponen), Kyllikki Forssell (Aino Mäkinen), Yrjö Tuominen (director Arho, Elli's father), Ossi Elstelä (draftee Mälli), Eero Eloranta (Veli Arho), Joel Asikainen (Arvi), Sasu Haapanen (Red Army officer), Mervi Järventaus (Maija, collector lotta), Ensio Jouko (colonel), Aino Lohikoski (organizer lotta), Varma Lahtinen (director of the course / the canteen director), Matti Lehtelä (soldier on duty), Veikko Linna (soldier with stubble), Laila Jokimo (dancer). Original classification length 2500 m / 91 min. Digibeta on display /25 fps/ 84 min. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 9 Dec 2009.

The first public screening of the film since August 1944.

The film has survived with part of the soundtrack missing (in this screening: from 23 min till 37 min and from 66 min till 75 min).

Tiina Suutala had prepared electronic subtitling for the parts of the film with missing soundtrack, based on the manuscript by Mika Waltari.

The version screened was a short version, self-censored by the production company. Missing from this version:
- the lines of dialogue referring to Suur-Suomi (Greater Finland), common during the enthusiasm of the attack in summer 1941
- president Risto Ryti's radio speech on 26 June 1941
- the episode with the Red Army war prisoners

The film deals with the attack of the Finnish army against the Soviet Union in Summer 1941, as a partner in Hitler's Operation Barbarossa.

The film did not get very positive reviews at the time. However, I was grateful to see it for several reasons.
1. Ansa Ikonen gives a strong performance as the young graduate girl Elli Arho who grows up during her first summer after school. It is one of Ansa Ikonen's most memorable film roles. She is very moving having barely survived from the attack on the front canteen.
2. Ossi Elstelä is good as the draftee Mälli. His disappointment with the lack of interest of Elli. His death at the attack on the canteen.
3. Although this is war propaganda, this film also shows war as hell.
4. It is interesting to notice the theme of disillusionment in a film that is set in the summer of 1941. Elli: "Nothing feels the same as before". "Maybe we don't have a future. Maybe we were only given these moments". "The dream is over. Thank you for these vanishing days".
5. The love scene between Elli and Arvo at Elli's home is unusual for a Finnish film of the time. The sense of the brevity of life. The loss of illusions. Elli is probably a virgin, and Arvo probably deflowers her. This we cannot know, but it certainly seems like it. During the summer, Elli becomes a grown-up woman via the experience of death and love.
6. The final scene is also unusual. Elli and Arvo return to the front and walk silently away from us. (I don't know if the silence is a conscious decision or another case of a missing soundtrack, but silence works perfectly here).

Fänrik Ståls sägner (1910)

Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat / Ensign Stål's Tales. SE 1910. PC: Svenska Biografteatern. D: Carl Engdahl. Based on the poem by J.L. Runeberg (1848 and 1860). DP: Robert Olsson. CAST: Wilgot Ohlsson  (two roles: Ensign Stål and General Sandels), Axel de la Motte (the student [alias J.L. Runeberg]), Gottfrid Hallberg (two roles: officer and doctor), Ellen Hallberg (Ann-Sofi, the daughter of the vicar), Käthie Jacobsson (two roles: Gertrud, the housekeeper of the vicar and the foster sister of the Cloud's brother), Georg Dalunde (two roles: the Cloud's brother and General von Döbeln), Ellen Ströbäck (the daughter at the croft), Ellen Wiktorin (the mother at the croft), Gotthard Jacobsson (two roles: the father at the croft and the adjutant of Sandels), Torsten Jacobsson (two roles: a private at the episode of the Daughter of the Croft and an express messenger at the Sandels episode), Carl Engdahl (parson at Pardala), Oscar Söderholm (Sven Dufva), Frida Greiff (Lotta Svärd), Idoff Bergqvist (two roles: the foster father of the Cloud's brother and a man who visit Sandels at his breakfast). 394 m /18 fps/ 20 min. Restored by Cinemateket / Svenska Filminstitutet, print at KAVA. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 9 Dec 2009.

Print ok, with in places good definition of light, otherwise passable, seems like a complete version with few scratches etc.

The film is a digest from a national poem of Finland, written in Swedish by J.L. Runeberg, which depicts the Finnish War (1808-1809) in which Sweden lost Finland to Russia, Finland having been a part of the Kingdom of Sweden since 1249.

The episodes based on the poem:
1. Hos den gamle fänriken / Visiting the Old Ensign
2. Minnen från flydda år / Memories from Years Gone By
3. Kriget bryter ut / The War Breaks Out
4. Björneborgarnas marsch / The March of Pori
5. Den första skärmytslingen / The First Skirmish
6. Molnets broder / The Brother of the Cloud
7. Torpflickan / The Daughter of the Croft
8. Sandels
9. Döbeln vid Juutas / Döbeln at Juutas
10. Sven Dufva
11. Sägnernas skald Johan Ludvig Runeberg / The Poet of the Tales Johan Ludvig Runeberg

Lotta Svärd has a strong presence in episode 10, Sven Dufva, keeping a stern discipline for the young soldiers. A big, awesome mama presence.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Enchanting Beauty - Masterpieces from the Collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery (exhibition)

Enchanting Beauty - Masterpieces from the Collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery / Пленники красоты / Kauneuden pauloissa
Tennis Palace Art Museum, Salomonkatu 15, Helsinki, 21 Oct 2009 - 14 March 2010
Visited on 5 Dec 2009

The official presentation: "Beauty will not fade! If you need proof, come and see Enchanting Beauty at Tennis Palace Art Museum. The exhibition of works from the Russian State Tretyakov Gallery is a splendid selection of academic Salon art that combines virtuoso techniques with an idealised treatment of the subject. These Russian masterpieces from the 19th century marry beauty with the sacred."

"The Enchanting Beauty exhibition is divided into ten thematic sections: Beauty of Everyday Life, A Dream of Italy, Still Life, Portrait, The World of Antiquity, Old Europe, Biblical Themes, Neo–Rococo, The Russian Style and Orientalism.

Mythological themes and historical scenes

There were two main movements in 19th century Russian art, academic Salon art and realism, which challenged it. The most notable representatives of both movements were educated in the same school, the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, which was established in the 18th century to emulate European art academies. Teaching in the St Petersburg Academy was highly disciplined and followed strict rules; technique was honed to perfection, composition was expected to be meticulous, and classical antiquity was set as the highest ideal.

Academically trained artists favoured mythological themes, but also painted historical scenes and portraits. They celebrated sensual pleasure, were intoxicated by the beauty of both women and nature, and depicted the glamour of Rococo costumes in works that were like scenes from the opera. They idealised both the Russian people and the country's landscapes.

European influences assimilated into national tradition

They often furthered their education in France. Russian artists were frequent visitors to the Paris Salons, where the virtuosi of European academic painting exhibited their work annually. Another popular destination was Italy, whose landscapes and Renaissance art inspired Russian artists. When the Russians subsequently assimilated these European influences into their national tradition, the result was breathtakingly beautiful art.

There are about 160 works by 83 artists. In addition to paintings, sculpture, drawings and watercolours, the exhibition also includes objets d’art, some of which are on loan from the National Museum of Finland."

Featuring artists such as Ivan Kramskoi and Konstantin Makovski, this was a display of traditional high art in the 19th century just before the breakthrough of modernism and the decisive impact of photography (and cinema).

The glossy surface realism is astounding in the portraits, which certainly go deeper than the best photography or cinematography, yet the first impression is often that of glamour photography of the highest order.

A fascinating exhibition, yet with no immortal masterpieces that one would expect to revisit time and again.

Täällä Pohjantähden alla (2009) / Under the North Star

Här under Polstjärnan. FI (c) 2009 Artista Film. P+D+SC: Timo Koivusalo - based on the two first novels (1959, 1960) in the trilogy by Väinö Linna. DP: Pertti Mutanen - scope - digital intermediate. M: Jaakko Kuusisto. "The Akseli And Elina Wedding Waltz" by Heikki Aaltoila. AD: Markku Myllymäki. COST: Leila Jäntti. Make-up and hair: Erja Mikkola. S: Jyrki Luukko, Olli Pärnänen. ED: Jyrki Luukko, Timo Koivusalo. CAST: Ilkka Koivula (Akseli Koskela), Vera Kiiskinen (Elina Koskela), Risto Tuorila (Jussi Koskela), Ritva Jalonen (Alma Koskela), Mikko Nousiainen (Aku Koskela), Tuukka Huttunen (Aleksi Koskela), Mikael Salonen (Akseli Koskela as a boy), Hannu-Pekka Björkman (vicar Salpakari), Jonna Järnefelt (Ellen Salpakari), Antti Luusuaniemi (Ilmari Salpakari), Heikki Nousiainen (tailor Halme), Seela Sella (Emma Halme), Esko Roine (Otto Kivivuori), Sara Paavolainen (Anna Kivivuori), Tapani Kalliomäki (Janne Kivivuori), Niko Saarela (Osku Kivivuori), Tomi Salmela (Anttoo Laurila), Eija Vilpas (Aliina Laurila), Elena Leeve (Elma Laurila), Tom Petäjä (Antti Laurila), Risto Korhonen (Uuno Laurila), Arttu Kapulainen (Arvi Laurila), Juhani Niemelä (Töyry), Leena Suomu (the Mistress of Töyry), Janne Hyytiäinen (Arvo Töyry), Sulevi Peltola (Preeti Leppänen), Tuula Väänänen (Henna Leppänen), Kari Ketonen (Valenti Leppänen), Miia Selin (Aune Leppänen), Göran Schauman (the baron), Eija Nousiainen (the baroness), Oiva Lohtander (Mellola), Juhani Laitala (the master of Yllö), Turkka Mastomäki (Uolevi Yllö), Tapio Liinoja (Ylöstalo), Raimo Grönberg (Hellberg), Jukka Leisti (Elias), Risto Salmi (Vikki Kivioja), Pekka Huotari (Lauri Kivioja), Matti Mäntylä (teacher), Pekka Valkeejärvi (the sheriff), Hannu Kivioja (the storekeeper), Kalevi Haapoja (the old vicar), Kristiina Elstelä (the midwife Priita). 193 min. Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland. Viewed in Bio Bristol, Helsinki, 4 Dec 2009 (day of premiere).

A film print with an obvious digital intermediate look: the colour definition is a bit shabby.

Väinö Linna's historical novel is seminal in Finland as literature and as coming to terms with 70 of the most dramatic years of Finnish history. Importantly, Linna's epic was an act of reconciliation in the 1960s of the White and the Red interpretations of history. The awakening of the national spirit in the 1880s, the working people's fight for justice, the Finnish independence, the Civil War with its atrocities, and the bloody retribution of the Whites are among the themes of the first two volumes covered in this film. The novel is enormously popular, as is the first film adaptation by Edvin Laine (1968, 1970), and there have been many theatre adaptations, as well.

Among my first positive impressions of Koivusalo's film are:

1. I never glanced my watch during the 193 minutes of the film.
2. The film is well edited. There is a full command of the rhythm and the vitality of the epic flow.
3. The visual composition is effective, and to watch the big scope image on the Bio Bristol screen from my favourite first row of the balcony was impressive. Koivusalo and the DP Pertti Mutanen meet the visual challenge of epic cinema.
4. The film is never boring, yet it does not descend to cheap tricks.
5. Daringly, Koivusalo casts Ilkka Koivula with his anti-heroic looks as Akseli Koskela. Koivula is certainly credible as a vigorous settler.
6. The film is well cast, a display of many of Finland's talented contemporary actors.
7. I feel that there is more emphasis on the female roles than in Linna's novel and Laine's film. Vera Kiiskinen, Ritva Jalonen, Sara Paavolainen, et al. are very good.
8. The most poignant is Elena Leeve in her role of Elma Laurila.
9. Heikki Nousiainen carries his central role as tailor Halme splendidly and with conviction.
10. Hannu-Pekka Björkman creates an original interpretation as vicar Salpakari. The contrast of Halme and Salpakari as the central spiritual forces of the epic is well realized.
11. The film faces the terrible themes boldly yet with sophistication. There is no easy way out.
12. An industry insider friend predicted after an industry preview that the film will be a big hit and people will cry. I did not cry during the screening, but I cried the day after, reminiscing the Elma Laurila story.
13. Three days after seeing the film I like it more because of its strong message of fighting for justice.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Ollin oppivuodet (film concert)

Ollis öden och äventyr / The Apprenticeship of Olli. FI 1920. PC: Osakeyhtiö Suomen Filmikuvaamo. EX: Erkki Karu. D+SC: Teuvo Puro – based on the novel by Anni Swan (1919). DP: Frans Ekebom. AD: Carl Fager. CAST: Jussi Snellman (Olli's father), Ertta Virtamo (Olli's mother), Sirkka Puro (Olli as a little boy), Alfred Idström (Olli as a bigger boy), Eero Kilpi (Kaarle), Mimmi Lähteenoja (Matleena), Erkki Karu (shoemaker Simolin), Aarne Nyman (Ränni-Pelle), Hemmo Kallio (shoemaker Jokela), Ester Henriksson (Hillevi, orphan girl), 1900 m /18 fps/ 92 min [probably the most natural speed], /20 fps/ 83 min, /25 fps/ 66 min. Restored version: KAVA (2008, Tuija Söderman). Projected on Digibeta at 25 fps, with restoration credits 68 min.

Restored in 2008 from archival preservation masters guided by a vintage nitrate screening print. - Restored in 2008 by Tuija Söderman. - Preservation copying by Matti Valtavirta, Tuija Söderman, Pentti Mallinen. - Printed in 2008 by Päivi Hurskainen (Finn-Lab Oy).

Cinema concert at Finlandia Hall, Wednesday, 2 Dec 2009.
A new score composed by Harri Vuori.
Performed by RSO (Radio Symphony Orchestra) with 49 players.
Conductor: Anna-Maria Helsing.

YLE (The Finnish Broadcasting Company) and its RSO launched a magnificent project of new scores by modern composers for old Finnish films with Ollin oppivuodet, the first fiction feature film produced in independent Finland. It is also the oldest Finnish feature film that has survived intact. Ollin oppivuodet was an old-fashioned film even for its time. The contemporary masterpieces from Sweden, Germany, The United States... were a far cry from it. Finnish film production was out of step. Yet Ollin oppivuodet is the foundation stone of an uninterrupted development to the present day in Finland.

Ollin oppivuodet had the gala treatment. The premiere with the new score had already taken place last Friday in Hämeenlinna, and the critics had already praised Harri Vuori's full-blooded, rousing atonal score. The conductor Anna-Maria Helsing had a vigorous grip on the orchestra, while keeping an eye on her stop-watch with an extra large display. Harri Vuori plans an independent orchestral version of his composition. His modern atonal composition deserves full attention independently of the film.

Dr. Anu Juva gave an excellent lecture on music for the silent films before the performance. Finland had a thriving music culture also in the cinemas during the silent era.

After the performance there was a warm reception in the presence of the grandchildren of the director Teuvo Puro, whose daughter Sirkka Puro plays the little Olli.

The film Ollin oppivuodet has multiple symbolic value for the Finnish audience, and with the new score it can experience a revival for new generations.

My criticisms of the performance include the screening from video instead of film, and the projection at the overspeed of 25 fps, which made movement look unnatural.

Despite this it was a warm and engrossing evening.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Un secret

A Secret. FR 2007. PC: UGC YM, France 3, Soficinéma 2, Soficinéma 3. D+SC: Claude Miller – based on the novel by Philippe Grimbert (2004). DP: Gérard de Battista. COST: Florie Vaslin. Make-up: Lucía Bretones-Méndez. M: Zbigniew Preisner. ED: Véronique Lange. CAST: Cécile De France (Tania Stirn / Grimbert), Patrick Bruel (Maxime Nathan Grinberg / Grimbert), Ludivine Sagnier (Hannah Golda Stirn / Grinberg), Julie Depardieu (Louise), Valentin Vigourt (François Grimbert at 7), Quentin Dubuis (François Grimbert at 14), Mathieu Amalric (François Grimbert at 37). 105 min. Print: Ministère des Affaires Etrangères et Européennes with English subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 1 December 2009.- Print ok, with a digital intermediate look in the nature scenes. - The story of a shattering quest into the history of three generations of a French Jewish family starting in the 1930s. - Based on the novel of a French psychoanalyst, tracking the impact of severe traumata across generations, the major viewpoint being that of François Grimbert from the 1950s till the 1980s. This is his Bildungsroman, as he learns the terrible secrets from his family's experiences (the first wife and the first son of his father were murdered in the Holocaust), and how his father always saw him as the clumsy, inadequate substitute for the first, brilliant son. - The form of the film is a mosaic. The film moves freely like a person's mind between various periods of time. The edit is pretty quick. - The mosaic quality and the quick edit are somewhat disturbing, as if the story were too heavy to be taken in larger doses. - This is strong and moving material, the actors are excellent, and there is a special gravity in the film that stems probably from the fact that the family of the director Claude Miller (born in 1942) has had to endure a similar tragedy.

Slavoj Žižek: Cinema and Ideology (lecture / live performance)

Slavoj Žižek: Cinema and Ideology (lecture / live performance). Kiasma Theater, Helsinki, 1 Dec 2009. - The house was packed, and there were two extra spaces with monitors and loudspeakers for those who were not able to fit in the theatre. - Žižek was in full swing with his non-stop repartee, full of associations, a modern incarnation of the classical figure of a philosopher who can inspire an audience with his speech. His range is admirable, with associations around the world and through history. He is also very topical, with insight in our cyber-world. - He is amusedly aware of his public image as a showman. His appearances are a kind of an intellectual marketing tour for his books - His articles are stimulating, and the substance of his original thinking is in his serious books, which I have not read, but I know I would love to. - I don't know how much I agree with Žižek, but it feels worthy to respond to his intellectual stimulation and provocation. - Žižek is a prolific writer, and it was interesting to hear that he suffers from a writer's block. This he avoids by conscious self-deception. First he takes notes in full sentences. At a certain point he realizes that he has covered everything. Then he edits his notes, and thus he has accomplished a manuscript by skipping the phase of writing!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Žižek!

US/CA (c) 2005 The Documentary Campaign. P: Lawrence Konner. D: Astra Taylor. DP: Jesse Epstein, Martina Radwan. M: Jeremy Barnes. S+ED: Laura Hanna. LOC: Buenos Aires. In English and Slovenian, with English subtitles. 71 min. A video projection at Kiasma, Helsinki, 1 Dec 2009. - A documentary on "the Elvis of cultural studies" and "the Denis Leary of Slovenia". - With his non stop lecture, which is almost like a stream of consciousness, I find him stimulating company, although I don't always believe in what he's saying.