Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fixed Bayonets!

Samuel Fuller's second film on the Korean War, Fixed Bayonets! (1951) was his first studio film, the studio being Twentieth Century-Fox. Fuller was on great terms with Darryl F. Zanuck, Vice President in Charge of Production at Fox. Despite being a big studio production, Fixed Bayonets! is still a low budget film with a personal touch. Like I Shot Jesse James and The Baron of Arizona, this is the story of an anti-hero, a coward, Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) who is afraid to shoot and afraid to lead, yet he becomes the commander of the platoon in charge of desperate rearguard action on a mountain in the winter war of Korea. Revisiting Samuel Fuller's films I watch them less and less as action films and more and more as films about psychology under extreme pressure. Here again the extreme close-ups of the men in mortal danger are very moving. I also realize that Fuller's films are not about action but about ideas dramatized in action. In this film the idea is the dubiosity of heroism. There is a Biblical quality in Fuller's films. He has experienced things, he has something to tell, there is a sense of urgency in the way he tells it, and somehow it all has to do with redemption.

The Finnish writer Väinö Linna wrote the definitive Finnish war novel The Unknown Soldier. Matti Salo was the first to have the insight that American war movies may have had a strong influence on Linna. I don't know if Linna saw Fixed Bayonets!, but it was released in Finland in 1952, just when Linna was writing his novel. Denno's monologue about his fear of shooting has an affinity with Kariluoto in a memorable episode where he fights his own fear in frontline action. There is even a certain affinity of Richard Basehart's performance as Denno with Matti Ranin's interpretation of Kariluoto in the film version of The Unknown Soldier (1955).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Baron of Arizona

The Baron of Arizona (1950), Samuel Fuller's second film, had a bigger budget, a great cinematographer (James Wong Howe), and it is a costume picture, also set in the same Wild West era as I Shot Jesse James. This film is also the story of an anti-hero, this time a legendary swindler, James Addison Reavis, who forged historical documents for years to create himself as "the baron of Arizona". Vincent Price has a great time in the main role tailor-made for him. Lisa Dombrowski in her excellent book on Samuel Fuller's films implies that the change in Reavis is unbelievable. But I think the change is essential. All the time Reavis works untiringly to achieve external success, and when exposed, he loses all and lands in jail. But in the final scene his wife "the Baroness of Arizona", and two accomplices, whom Reavis had also cheated welcome him back. An essential scene of the film is the one where Reavis teaches Sofia what Aristotle said: "Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them." For once, this is not a weird Fullerian high culture reference but an expression of profound conviction. Reavis has lost all external honors but he has planted an indelible sense of dignity in Sofia and those closest to him.

It is evident how much Fuller enjoys telling this tall tale. Although the cinematic discourse is more professional and accomplished than in I Shot Jesse James, thanks to James Wong Howe, there is more passion and drive in Fuller's debut film.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Shot Jesse James

Revisited Samuel Fuller's first film (1949), one of the great debuts in film history. Already remarkable are the relish for storytelling, the sense of urgency, and the passion of the performances. Daring is the focus on the anti-hero and the loser. Not only is Bob Ford (John Ireland) an anti-hero, but he is a coward who shoots his best friend in the back. This is the story of an obsession and of twisted ambition. In his single-minded pursuit Bob Ford loses everything that has value for him. This is also a meta-film: Bob Ford has to hear the famous song written about him and gets even to act himself in the dramatization of his story. Samuel Fuller's great achievement is the psychological complexity and the irresistible psychological drive of the story. Much better than The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lost in Translation

The film of the month at Cinema Orion, selected by the film director Aku Louhimies, was Lost in Translation. The cinema was packed for Sofia Coppola's witty and original study in modern alienation. In his introduction Aku, soon about to visit Tokyo, told that some of his Japanese friends find the film cliché-ridden and patronizing, but others find quite accurate observations in it.

I have visited Tokyo only once, and I think that Lost in Translation tells much about its American characters and hardly anything about the Japanese.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Täällä Pohjantähden alla II / Under the North Star II

Under Polstjärnan II / Under the North Star II. FI (c) 2010 Artista Filmi. D: Timo Koivusalo - based on the novels by Väinö Linna (1959-1963). M excerpts include "Äiti armas lastaan tuuti". Starring: Ilkka Koivula (Akseli), Vera Kiiskinen (Elina), Risto Tuorila (Jussi), Ritva Jalonen (Alma), Sampo Sarkola (Vilho Koskela), Reino Nordin (Eero Koskela), Arttu Kurttila (Voitto Koskela), Anna Lipponen (Kaarina Koskela), Lauri Kukkonen (Juhani Koskela), Hannu-Pekka Björkman (the vicar), Jonna Järnefelt (Ellen), Antti Luusuaniemi (Ilmari Salpakari), Esko Roine (Otto Kivivuori), Sara Paavolainen (Anna Kivivuori), Tapani Kalliomäki (Janne Kivivuori), Jarkko Niemi (Jouko Kivivuori), Sulevi Peltola (Preeti Leppänen), Tuula Väänänen (Henna Leppänen), Miia Selin (Aune Leppänen), Aleksi Lavaste (Valtu Leppänen), Ville Virtanen (Rautajärvi), Miina Turunen (Rautajärvi's wife, a teacher), Risto Salmi (Vikki Kivioja), Pekka Huotari (Lauri Kivioja), Aku Hirviniemi (Aulis Kivioja), Janne Hyytiäinen (Arvo Töyry), Juhani Laitala (the master of Yllö), Turkka Mastomäki (Uolevi Yllö), Jukka Leisti (Elias), Jari Salmi (Siukola), Oiva Lohtander (Mellola), Pekka Valkeejärvi (the sheriff), Aimo Räsänen (Lasse), Tom Petäjä (Antti Laurila), Raimo Grönberg (Hellberg), Harri Rantanen (worker), Teemu Lehtilä (lawyer), Rauno Ahonen (the master of the manor), Hannu Kivioja (shopkeeper), Seela Sella (Emma Halme), Martti Suosalo (surveyor), Raija Pipinen (worker's wife), Markku Huhtamo (the judge), Kari Sorvali (army doctor). 138 min. A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland release with Swedish subtitles by Markus Karjalainen viewed at Bio Rex, 25 Sep 2010

The sequel to Timo Koivusalo's interpretation of Väinö Linna's great novel has received lukewarm reviews but I am very grateful for this film. There have been many high profile drama versions of Linna's novel in the theatres of Finland, and this is obviously a story that is very attractive to actors. Also in this version I enjoyed the interpretations of the actors, so obviously working against the famous roles created by Edvin Laine in his film version 40 years ago. It would be very interesting to see the Laine and Koivusalo versions during the same weekend to appreciate the differences even better.

The biggest difference is the greater prominence given to the women of the story.

The first part of the film climaxed in the terrible Civil War of 1918. The second film moves towards the new white terror of the 1930s when the Finnish extreme right wing attempted a coup inspired by Mussolini and Hitler. Their movement was stopped. The Winter War was the start of the great reconciliation of Finnish society. Timo Koivusalo stages the white terror memorably. The scene where the Koskelas learn about the death of two of their sons in the Winter War is perhaps the most shattering in Finnish literature. Timo Koivusalo rises to the occasion. A bright example among the actors is Anna Lipponen as Kaarina Koskela. The visual quality via digital intermediate is not so hot, and the original music is not very inspired (the best music passage is the "Äiti armas lastaan tuuti" sequence).

I enjoyed the fresh interpretations to the familiar characters and exhanges of dialogue. This story is also an important background to the current discussion about "Finland as the world's best country" (according to Newsweek magazine). It has been a hard way to where we are now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rare Exports

FI / NO / FR / SE (c) 2010 [four companies]. D+SC: Jalmari Helander - based on an idea by Juuso Helander. Starring Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorma Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings, Onni tommila, Peeter Jakobi, Rauno Juvonen. Ilmari Järvenpää. Ca 80 min. In English without subtitles. Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki Film Festival (surprise movie), 24 Sep 2010

In the presence of Jalmari Helander, Petri Jokiranta (P), Mika Orasmaa (DP), Juri Seppä (M), Miska Seppä, Tuomas Seppänen (S).

Great buzz preceded Rare Exports, and it is a great deadpan Christmas parody with comic and horror aspects. It takes place at the Korvatunturi fell, home of Santa Claus. The directorial touch of Jalmari Helander is assured. Rare Exports may be compared with the films of Joe Dante, but Helander's vision is original.

There have been quite a few Lapland films in Finland recently, but Rare Exports is unique. There are those that already rate this as the best Finnish picture of the year.

Tournée

Kiertue / På turné / On Tour. FR (c) 2010 [five companies]. D: Mathieu Amalric. With Mimi Le Meaux, Dirty Martini, Roky Roulette, Kitten on the Keys, Evie Lovelle, Julie Atlas Muz, Mathieu Amalric. 111 min. A Cinema Mondo print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Sylva Lönnberg. Viewed at Bio Rex (Helsinki Film Festival) 24 Sep 2010

Mathieu Amalric pays homage to John Cassavetes (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) playing himself the sleazy manager who brings a troupe of gorgeous American burlesque queens to a tour of French seaside cities such as Le Havre and Rochefort. The authenticity is almost documentary.

The Family Tree

US (c) 2010 Driving Lessons. D: Vivi Friedman. SC: Mark Lisson. CAT: Hope Davis (Bunnie Burnett), Dermot Mulroney (Jack Burnett), Christina Hendricks (Alicia), Max Thieriot (Eric Burnett), Madeline Zima (Mitzi), Chi McBride (Simon), Brittany Robertson (Kelly Burnett), Rachael Leigh Cook (Rackel), Gabrielle Anwar (Nina), Selma Blair (Ms. Delbo), Keith Carradine (Reverend Diggs). 87 min. A Digibeta screened at Helsinki Film Festival, Maxim 2, 24 Sep 2010

In the presence of Vivi Friedman, a Finnish director of films and commercials based at Los Angeles since 2003.

A black comedy about a wildly dysfunctional family with a great cast. Everything changes when the mother of the family (Hope Davis) hits her head during a hot extra-marital session and loses parts of her memory. Not quite successful but I admire Vivi Friedman's bravery in venturing into daring territory.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ito - kilvoittelijan päiväkirja / Ito - A Diary of an Urban Priest

[shown at the Festival with the Finnish title ITO - seitti - kilvoittelijan päiväkirja]. FI/JP © 2008 Millennium Baabel, release year 2010. D+ED: Pirjo Honkasalo. SC: Pirjo Honkasalo, Miika Pölkki. DP: Pirjo Honkasalo, with Marita Hällfors. Featuring: Yoshinobu Fujioka. 111 min. In Japanese with Finnish subtitles. A Cinema Mondo print viewed at Helsinki Film Festival (Bio Rex) 23 Sep 2010
ITO is a part of the Tokyo Modern project by NHK.

In the presence of Pirjo Honkasalo, Yoshinobu Fujioka, Miika Pölkki, Marika Hällfors, Joonas Jyrälä, Miia Nevalainen, Panu Riikonen.

Preceded by a concert by the Buddhist monk Yoshinobu Fujioka.

The new high profile documentary by Pirjo Honkasalo is the portrait of the former boxer Yoshinobu Fujioka who has become a Buddhist monk. Incredibly, we are taken to personal conversations e.g. with a woman who has murdered her husband. We witness Yoshinobu Fujioka's encounter with his boxing manager - and with his mother, who had abandoned her son to become a Buddhist herself.

There is an explicit digital video look in the movie.

Pirjo Honkasalo said that she prefers no Q & A, expecting people rather go out into the night to contemplate the film themselves. There is a lot to contemplate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Napapiirin sankarit / Lapland Odyssey / [Heroes of the Polar Circle]

FI/IS/SE (c) 2010 Helsinki-Filmi / Ripple World Pictures / Anagram Produktion. P: Aleksi Bardy. D: Dome Karukoski. SC: Pekko Pesonen. DP: Pini Hellstedt. Starring: Jussi Vatanen (Janne), Pamela Tola (Inari), Jasper Pääkkönen, Timo Lavikainen, Kari Ketonen, Miia Nuutila, Melissa Heininen. 92 min. A Sandrew Metronome print with English subtitles by Aretta Vähälä viewed at Helsinki Film Festival (The Finnish Gala), Bio Rex, 22 Sep 2010

In the presence of Dome Karukoski and members of the cast and crew.

A black comedy, an odyssey of three young men in the kaamos (the sunless period) of Lapland, on the road from Ylläs to Rovaniemi.

Many times Janne has promised Inari to acquire a DVR, and if he doesn't succeed tonight, it's the last straw.

The film obviously succeeded perfectly as a comedy (the audience roared with laughter), but I kept focusing on the serious side of the story. This is a story of young men who are unemployed, marginalized, and lonely. Pekko Pesonen and Dome Karukoski make us laugh with them, not at them.

The visual quality has been difficult to achieve as the story is set in the sunless period of Lapland, and there is a special mist from the tunturi (fjeld, hill) landscape. We get to see the Northern lights, too.

Dokumentin ytimessä 53: Urheilun mikrofonimiehet

In the Core of the Documentary 53: The Sportscasters.

Mikrofonimieheksi oppimassa. FI 1939. P: Lauri Pulkkila. D+SC: Tauno Hellevuo. With: Alexis af Enehjelm, Martti Jukola ja Pekka Tiilikainen. 6 min. Digibeta

Jenkkien oppitunti. FI 1946. P: Holger Harrivirta. D+SC: Holger Harrivirta, Martti Jukola. Sportscaster: Martti Jukola. 9 min. Digibeta

Olympian ovella. FI 1952. D: Yrjö Haapanen. SC+sportscaster: Martti Jukola. 10 min. Digibeta

Poikien suosikit. FI 1945. SC+sportscaster: Pekka Tiilikainen. 8 min. Digibeta.

Holmenkollen 1955. FI 1955. D: Olavi Tamminen. Sportscaster: Pekka Tiilikainen. part 1, 10 min. Digibeta.

1966 Suomen Suurkisat kutsuvat. FI 1965. D: Väinö Kolhonen. SC+sportscaster: Pekka Tiilikainen. 9 min. 35 mm.

Suomi-Ruotsi Nya Ullenilla 27.-28.8.1959. FI 1959. SC+sportscaster: Paavo Noponen. 18 min. 35 mm.

SF-katsaus 44. FI 1959. SC+sportscaster: Paavo Noponen. 11 min. 35 mm
Cinema Orion, 22 Sep 2010

Compiled by Ilkka Kippola and Jari Sedergren, a fascinating survey into the great Finnish sportscasters of the cinema in 1939-1959. The legendary men from Martti Jukola to Paavo Noponen were famous from the radio, but here we see them in action.

Meren kasvojen edessä

Inför havets anlete / [In Front of the Face of the Sea]. FI 1926. PC: Komedia-Filmi. P+DP+ED: Kurt Jäger. D+SC: Teuvo Puro - based on the novel by Arvid Mörne (1921). With: Urho Seppälä (Kristoffer, student), Heidi Korhonen (Henrika, Paul's daughter), Axel Slangus (Pauli of Hylkysaari = Wreck Island), Kaarlo Kytö (Pentti, student), Ilmari Unho (Lasse, student), Waldemar Wohlström (the old man), Kerstin Lagus (Renata, Paul's adoptive daughter), Eero Vepsälä (Jaan, a hired hand). 2510 m /22 fps/ 99 min. A print of a new restoration by KAVA (Anna Lehto) viewed at Kino Tulio, 22 Sep 2010

I had seen this film only on vhs in an unreconstructed form before. Now for the first time it made sense. The print has Desmet colour with orange hues and blue for intertitles. (Myself, I prefer black and white. Vintage silent prints were struck from the negative on nitrate stock. That kind of glow is almost impossible to achieve today. But Desmet style tinting is the current trend.)

It is a tragic love story from an island on the high seas. Three sailing students visit the odd outpost called Wreck Island, and Kristoffer falls in love with Henrika. But there is a mystery, and slowly it turns out that Henrika's father Pauli is a scavenger who arranges shipwrecks and collects the loot. The deepest mystery revolves around Renata rescued as a baby from a shipwreck. Growing up Renata had refused to become Pauli's wife...

This is a professionally made film but the storytelling and the direction of actors is uninspired, and one could never tell that this film was made during the most exciting period of silent cinema. But for the lover of Finnish cinema this is a delightful discovery.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cosavogliodipiù / What More Do I Want

Kun silmäni mä auki saan / [direct Finnish translation: Mitä haluaisin lisää]. IT 2010. P: Lionello Cerri, Ruth Waldburger. D: Silvio Soldini. SC: Silvio Soldini, Doriana Leondeff, Angelo Carbone. With: Alba Rohrwacher (Anna), Pierfrancesco Favino (Domenico), Teresa Saponangelo (Miriam), Giuseppe Battiston (Alessio). 126 min. A screener dvd with English subtitles by Ian Burley viewed at home, 20 Sep 2010

Silvio Soldini and Lionello Cerri visit Helsinki Film Festival, and I watched their new film on dvd before the Cinema Mondo dinner at the Kabuki restaurant. Soldini's Pane e tulipani (Bread and Tulips) was well received in Finland. Cosavogliodipiù is the secret love story of two grown-up people who are already committed. Anna has a partner and a comfortable life situation. But she has baby fever, and Alessio is not interested in children. When Anna meets Domenico, nothing can stop them, but Domenico is already married with children, and slowly it dawns on Anna that Domenico will not leave his family. Anna is Milanese, and Domenico comes from Southern Italy. The final episode of their affair takes place in Tunis. Silvio Soldini has a great sense of the psychological complexities, he is a fine director of actors, and he finds a fresh angle to this always relevant story. The love scenes are frank and passionate in showing how necessary it is to let the big steam out. There is no ending to this story, the search will go on.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

(Untitled)

US 2009. PC: Parker Film Company, Luber Roklin Entertainment, Bossa Nova Productions. P: Catherine DiNapoli, Matt Luber, Andreas Olavarria. D: Jonathan Parker. SC: Catherine DiNapoli, Jonathan Parker. WITH: Adam Goldberg (Adrian Jacobs), Marley Shelton (Madeleine Gray), Eion Bailey (Josh Jacobs). 96 min. A NonStop Entertainment / Parker Film Company print viewed at Helsinki Film Festival, Maxim 1, 18 Sep 2010

In the presence of Catherine DiNapoli.

A witty satire on the art world of today. The New York gallerist (Marley Shelton) has a passion for creativity but also an understanding for what sells. The modern composer (Adam Goldberg) has creativity, the abstract painter (Eion Bailey) is a great seller... for the offices of doctors and lawyers. An artist's value grows as soon as he is dead. Collectors keep their valuable artworks in storage. A lot of fun from Jonathan Parker and Catherine DiNapoli who clearly love art.

L'Illusionniste

The Illusionist. GB/FR (c) 2010 Django Film Illusionist / Ciné B / France 3 Cinéma. D: Sylvain Chomet. SC: Jacques Tati. AN: Paul Dutton,  Laurent Kircher. 78 min. An Atlantic Film / Pathé International print viewed at Helsinki Film Festival, Bio Rex, 18 Sep 2010

A fine animation based on a posthumous screenplay by Jacques Tati, featuring an ageing professional magician called Tatischeff touring in Scotland. He becomes the custodian of a young girl who finds romance in the town.

This is a film with hardly any dialogue, and it does not need translation.

A stylish, gently melancholy film, a fine Tati homage with affinities to Chaplin's Limelight. The wind, the light and the shadow are central elements in the animation.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

Gainsbourg (Tarina legendasta) / Gainsbourg (Ett legendariskt liv) / Gainsbourg. FR/US (c) 2010 [six companies]. PC: One World Films etc. P: Marc Du Pontavice, Didier Lupfer. D+SC: Joann Sfar - based on his graphic novel (2009). DP: Guillaume Schiffman. PD: Christian Marti. COST: Pascaline Chavanne. M: Serge Gainsbourg. S: Jean Goudier. ED: Maryline Monthieux. CAST: Eric Elmosnino (Serge Gainsbourg), Lucy Gordon (Jane Birkin), Laetitia Casta (Brigitte Bardot), Doug Jones (La Gueule), Anna Mouglalis (Juliette Gréco), Mylène Jampanoi (Bambou), Sara Forestier (France Gall), Kacey Mottet Klein (Lucien Ginsburg), Razvan Vasilescu (Joseph Ginsburg), Dinara Drukarova (Olga Ginsburg), Philippe Katerine (Boris Vian), Deborah Grall (Elisabeth Levizky), Yolande Moreau (Fréhel), Ophélia Kolb (nude model), Claude Chabrol (Gainsbourg's music producer), Joann Sfar (Georges Brassens). 135 min. Released in Finland by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Saliven Gustavson, La Marseillaise lyrics in Finnish by Valter Juva. Helsinki Film Festival Opening Gala at Bio Rex, 16 Sep 2010

I'm not a Serge Gainsbourg or Joann Sfar connoisseur but I liked this film very much. The title "Vie héroïque" is ironic since Gainsbourg was a prominent anti-hero.

This unique biopic creates its own world perhaps inspired by the Bob Dylan -anti-biopic I'm Not There. by Todd Haynes. Gainsbourg the movie is not that radical, but it is interesting to learn that Charlotte Gainsbourg was contacted to portray her father.

Joann Sfar is a new wave comics artist, and Gainsbourg the movie is one of the very best works inspired by comics in the current wave started by Tim Burton's Batman films.

This is the whole life story of Gainsbourg starting during the Occupation. Like Joann Sfar's Le Chat du rabbin comics this story has also a significant Jewish aspect.

The film is well cast, and there is genuine respect in its disrespect. I believe Joann Sfar has managed to catch Gainsbourg's vitality, creativity, and his passion for life, of which his experiences as a ladies' man were superficial expressions. This is a sexy film. In Finland, the complete uncut version is being released.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Forza Bastia

FR 2002. PC: Specta Films. D: Jacques Tati, Sophie Tatischeff. SC: Jacques Tati. DP: Yves Agostini, Henri Clairon, Alain Pillet. S: Fabrice Conesa. ED: Rodolphe Molla. Documentary 26 min. Source: Les Films de Mon Oncle. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 14 Sep 2010

Jacques Tati shot documentary footage on the Bastia football team in 1978. The footage was kept at the Corsican film archive. Sophie Tatischeff edited the footage in 2001. This is a film director's notepad on the excitement surrounding a football match and the pouring rain that takes place during it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Helsinki International Film Festival 16-26 Sep 2010

The film buffs of Helsinki have been busy lately studying the Helsinki International Film catalogue. Strong programming forthcoming from next Thursday on at Bio Rex, Maxim, Kinopalatsi, Andorra, Dubrovnik, and Kino Engel - and in our new little Kino Tulio in Sörnäinen equipped with a 4k projector.

Full list of the Festival programme beyond the jump break:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seconds

Tapaus Wilson (tv title 2010) / Tapaus Wilson 714 (cinema title 1967) / Död man lever. USA (c) 1966 Paramount Pictures / Joel Productions / Gibraltar Productions. P: John Frankenheimer, Edward Lewis. D: John Frankenheimer. SC: Lewis John Carlino - based on the novel by David Ely (1963). DP: James Wong Howe - b&w. AD: Ted Haworth. Hair stylist for Salome Jens: Sydney Guilaroff. M: Jerry Goldsmith. S: Joe Edmondson, John Wilkinson. ED: David Newhouse, Ferris Webster. Title designer: Saul Bass. LOC for Tony Wilson's place: John Frankenheimer's own home. CAST: Rock Hudson (Antiochus "Tony" Wilson), Salome Jens (Nora Marcus), John Randolph (Arthur Hamilton), Will Geer (Old Man), Jeff Corey (Mr. Ruby), Richard Anderson (Dr. Innes), Murray Hamilton (Charlie Evans), Karl Swenson (Dr. Morris), Kgigh Dhiegh (Davalo). At 25 fps: 103 min (which means this is the 1996 re-release cut, 107 min at 24 fps). Transmitted by YLE Teema 28 Aug 2010 with Finnish subtitles, viewed from the DVR at home, 11 Sep 2010

Thanks to the tip of Kalle Kinnunen I recorded a rare transmission of this film on the DVR. It was the full 107 min cut that was re-released in 1996. In Finland the original release was also 107 min / 2925 m. If the matter of cutting was about full nudity, Nordic countries have been always nonchalant about that, especially Finland the country of the sauna.

The title Seconds means second incarnations, "reborns".

I saw for the first time properly (I may have seen a dubbed vhs of this long ago) this legendary modern horror and science fiction film. It is an intelligent satire about "a second chance". It belongs to John Frankenheimer's best period. The visual style is experimental and Expressionistic. James Wong Howe uses special lenses, field sizes and angles consistently, and his visual approach is a contemporary counterpart to the German classics of the 1920s (Schatten, Caligari, Waxworks).

Arthur Hamilton the successful banking executive is tired of his life and gets the chance to start a second life as a Bohemian painter on Malibu beach with the face of Rock Hudson (thanks to plastic surgery). On the beach, Rock Hudson meets a woman (Salome Jens) who becomes his girlfriend. Even a Bacchanal is started, with all guests in the nude thronging in a barrel full of grapes to press them with their feet. But then Rock realizes everybody surrounding him are reborns or people on the company payroll.

The most profound sequence of the movie is Rock's return to his original home, where he, unrecognized by his wife, hears for the first time what it was like at the successful businessman's home.

The film proceeds uncompromisingly to its surprise ending. This is not a good date movie. Brian Wilson lost his mental balance when he saw it. But this is a first rate horror and science fiction movie.

Submarino

Submarino / Submarino. DK/SE (c) 2010 Nimbus Film Produktion APS. P: Morten Kaufmann. D: Thomas Vinterberg. SC: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg - based on the novel by Jonas T. Bengtsson (2007). DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen - shot on 16 mm - digital intermediate. PD: Torben Stig Nielsen. COST: Margrethe Rasmussen. M+S: Kristian Eidnes Andersen. ED: Valdís Óskarsdóttir, Andri Steinn. LOC: Copenhagen. CAST: Jakob Cedergren (Nick Torp), Peter Plaugborg (Nick's little brother), Gustav Fischer Kjærulff (Martin Torp), Patricia Schumann (Sofie), Helene Reingaard Neumann (Mona), Morten Rose (Ivan), Kate Kjølbye (Ana). 110 min. A Sandrew Metronome Distribution Finland release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Sophia Beckman-De-La-Riva. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 8, Helsinki, 11 Sep 2010

The story of broken families and abandoned children among the outcasts of the drug scene and the alcoholics of Copenhagen. Two brothers, sons of an alcoholic mother, struggle in extreme circumstances, also with their own self-destructive urges. Nick has been released from prison and covers his unhinged friend Ivan who has killed Nick's girlfriend. Nick's nameless brother becomes a heroin dealer to help support his little son Martin. A dead, gray digital intermediate look. Another depressive counter-image to Happy Denmark created by the country's top film-making talent? Much rather the real secret of happy Denmark is the special care taken of those who are cast out of the happy circle.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Prinsessa

Prinsessan / The Princess. FI (c) 2010 Art Films. P: Arto Halonen, Alf Hemming. D: Arto Halonen. SC: Pirjo Toikka, Arto Halonen, Paavo Westerberg. DP: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen - shot on 35 mm - digital intermediate - 2,35:1. AD: Jukka Uusitalo. COST: Ritva Muikku. Make-up: Kata Launonen, Riikka Virtanen. M: Tuomas Kantelinen. A song central to the story: "Caro mio ben" (Giuseppe Giordani). S: Antti Koukonen, Samuli Pullinen, Heikki Innanen. ED: Tuuli Kuittinen. CAST: Katja Küttner = Katja Kukkola (Anna Svedholm née Lappalainen, "The Princess"), Krista Kosonen (Christina, Baroness von Heyroth), Samuli Edelmann (Dr. Grotenfelt), Peter Franzén (Saastamoinen, the war veteran), Pirkka-Pekka Petelius (Kuronen, "the provost"), Paavo Westerberg (Dr. Lonka), Antti Litja (Senior Physician Soininen), Irma Junnilainen (senior nurse Packalén), Paula Vesala (nurse Elsa), Pertti Koivula (lobotomy surgeon), Tapio Liinoja (bank manager Granqvist), Ulla Tapaninen (Iso-Iita). 104 min. Released by Sandrew Metronome Distribution Finland with Swedish subtitles by Markus Karjalainen. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 10 Sep 2010 (day of premiere)

This fiction film is based on a true story, and simultaneously with the film a book on the same person was released, Ilkka Raitasuo and Terhi Siltala: Kellokosken prinsessa [The Princess of Kellokoski]. Helsinki: Like Kustannus, 2010.

The Princess may be the only mental patient in the world to whom a statue has been erected on the virtue of his existence as a mental patient. The statue is on the yard of the Kellokoski psychiatric hospital. Anna Lappalainen (1896-1988) fell ill in the 1930s and soon developed a delusion of grandeur: she was a Princess born in the Buckingham palace, carried to Lapland by a raven.

Following the story of the Princess we witness varying experimental treatments used in the development of psychiatric medicine: straitjackets, freezing showers, mind-altering drugs, electric shocks, and even lobotomy.

The Princess remained immune to the treatments and lived her life in the Princess mode: magnanimous, generous, positive, loving, all sunshine.

Glen Gabbard and Krin Gabbard state in their excellent histories of psychiatry and cinema that save for a brief exceptional period from the late 1950s to the early 1960s cinema films have usually portrayed mental health experts in gross caricature, as characters more in need of treatment than their patients. The stereotypical example is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with its Nurse Ratched vs. patient McMurphy antagonism. Since the 1960s balanced views of psychiatrists etc. have been more likely to be seen on television than in cinema films.

Arto Halonen's film seems to start in the familiar stereotypical fashion with hideous psychiatrists who seem to lack elemental everyday talent in psychology. There are even aspects of the mad doctor who relishes in humiliating and hurting their patients. But this is just the starting-point. The film is also a sketch of the development of psychiatric treatments towards the modern methods in dealing with the terra incognita of the disturbed human mind.

This film is interesting because it raises fundamental questions about life and the roles we are playing.

Katja Küttner (Katja Kukkola) carries the difficult and fascinating main role. Samuli Edelmann has the thankless role of the stereotyped doctor Grotenfelt without any redeeming features.

Krista Kosonen stands out as the real blue-blooded patient. Pirkka-Pekka Petelius is memorable as "the provost" whose counter-sermon at the church is more profound than the actual priest's liturgy. He sacrifices himself by receiving lobotomy instead of the Princess and becomes a vegetable. Peter Franzén as the mentally disturbed veteran is a reminder of the casualties of the Second World War. Tapio Liinoja portrays the bank manager who has the wisdom of providing The Princess with a checkbook of toy money with which she brings a lot of joy to the whole Kellokoski community and inspires even actual business.

I like the ending of this film. The Princess wakes up and states "I am Anna Lappalainen". Dr. Grotenfelt hears in his mind "Caro mio ben", the signature song of the real Baroness and "the Princess of the hearts".

Although The Princess has been shot on film, there is unfortunately a heavy digital intermediate look. I miss the warmth of colour and light.

The screening was well attended, and the audience was tangibly moved.

PS. In the Cinema and Psyche symposium 15-16 Oct, 2010, I asked from the cinema audience full with specialists of mental health about their views on the Princess. There was little reaction, and of course I should have understood that the doctor's professional confidentiality remains forever. But I sensed that the professionals were offended by the caricature "Dr. Grotenfelt" (no counterpart in reality) and the rosy shades through with the Princess was portrayed (she was not the talented singer heard in the film, and so on).

PS 31 Oct 2010. Probably Prinsessa finally also falls to the typical caricature mode as identified by the Gabbards. The doctor is demonized and the patient idealized. In such a reversal there is something fundamentally lucrative to a cinema film (but not to a tv movie).

Thursday, September 09, 2010

La caduta degli dei

Six important events simultaneously, and I decided to catch three of them.

The Under a Cinematic Sky – 25 years of films in Sodankylä photo exhibition was opened at the Virka Gallery at the Helsinki City Hall (10.9.–10.10.2010). There are also dvd and film projections there at the very address where Finland's first cinema screening took place 114 years ago. The City Hall was then the Hotel Seurahuone with the Finnish equivalent of the Grand Café, and that's where the Lumière company premiered in Finland. The film directors Anssi Mänttäri and Mika Kaurismäki opened the Sodankylä exhibition with a funny dialogue on how the Midnight Film Festival got started 25 years ago.

The Rautakirja media company celebrated their Centenary at the Tennis Palace multiplex with a thousand guests and the CEO Timo Mänty giving a speech. Rautakirja is the number one player nationally in kiosks (R-kioski) and cinemas (Finnkino), and a leading player in bookstores (Suomalainen Kirjakauppa). Starting their second century Rautakirja seems to be firmly on the path of success.

The Helsinki Festival was concluded last Sunday, and the staff and the collaborators had a party at the Dubrovnik Lounge at the Corona Bar. The first edition of Erik Söderblom, a well known conductor and theatre director, as the director of Finland's greatest festival, was a success. As for the cinema programming, we keep showing repeat screenings of Tati and Visconti at Cinema Orion.

To finish the evening I sampled Visconti's La caduta degli dei (in its English version The Damned) at Cinema Orion. I remember my first reaction to the film was that I felt distanced by the decadence. I felt the reality of the birth of the Nazi nation was strong enough material, and the themes of incest, pedophilia, and cross-dressing were distractions. I still feel the film is flawed because of this. The realistic aspects are impressive enough. Helmut Griem's presenting the Gestapo archives to Ingrid Thulin now brings to mind The Life of Others and the Gestapo-Stasi continuity. The staging of the SA party leading to the Night of the Long Knives seems convincing. Visconti the realist can portray both the upper class and the SA beer-hall mentality vividly. - The full colour in the old print was still intact.

Jani, rest in peace

Yesterday the news spread that Jani, the protagonist of Reindeerspotting, is dead.

Reindeerspotting is a tough, compelling and poignant documentary film about a drug addict from Rovaniemi, one of the most Northern cities of the world. It has been exceptionally popular in the national cinema release, the most popular Finnish documentary film of the recent decades.

Reindeerspotting is a first-person narrative of Jani, who seemed profoundly lost. We viewers were moved and concerned whether he could find terra firma.

We hear now that Jani went to Far East at the time of the premiere of Reindeerspotting. He never came back. I for one would be interested to hear the follow-up story on what went wrong.

In Sweden, Stefan Jarl even directed a documentary trilogy following a group of outcasts of society over the years, also dealing with the drug scene (Dom kallar oss mods / They Call Us Misfits, 1968, Ett anständigt liv / A Decent Life, 1979, and the surprise ending Det sociala arvet / Generation to Generation, 1993).

Saturday, September 04, 2010

New essays by Antti Nylén

Antti Nylén: Halun ja epäluulon esseet [Essays of Desire and Suspicion]. Turku: Savukeidas 2010

Antti Nylén (*1973) is one of the most interesting Finnish contemporary authors, well-known as a Catholic dandy, his format of choice being the essay. Nylén is also a translator of Baudelaire, Flaubert, Huysmans, Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, and Colin MacInnes. Cinema Orion Nylén has visited memorably as a lecturer on "Ecriture and Robert Bresson", and one can sense his special affinity with Bresson's film Le Diable, probablement. A week ago Nylén published his second collection of essays with topics covering Nico, Morrissey, the Pope as "an European intellectual", great technical devices of yesterday, and vegetarianism. Tipped by Mika Taanila I bought my copy as soon as I could and read it by the next day. I don't share Nylén's approaches or ways of thinking, but his level of reflection is stimulating and original.

One chapter is devoted to Robert Bresson and Cinema Orion, and the cover image of the book is from Au hasard, Balthazar. Nylén is a great Bressonian in this curiously Bressonian land of ours (Finland being one of the original Protestant countries). Myself, consciously Godless since the day I was forced to think about those matters at Sunday school when I was six, I have always put Bresson on the pantheon of cinema in the way J.S. Bach is on the pantheon of music. And unquestionably the art of both is inconceivable without profound religiosity.

Antti Nylén's chapter is also a praise to Cinema Orion where he has had his deepest Bresson experiences. Words like his are to us behind the programming reminders of why we exist. Nylén seems to be concerned that the future of cinematheques might be threatened, but there is no reason for that. Our attendance is good, and young audiences keep discovering us. We are currently enjoying the co-existence of all generations of cinephiles alive. Many of those who started to follow the Helsinki cinematheque screenings in 1957 are still around, but there are also the very young ones now discovering the classics for the first time. I don't see why a similar demand wouldn't exist three generations from now, the young generation of today being the veterans then. Think about the Sistine Chapel: Michelangelo's frescoes are easily available for examination in books and on the internet, but people will always also want to see the real thing. I hear the place is always packed.

Although it's great that almost all Bresson films are available on dvd, a true Robert Bresson experience can only be the cinema projection. In Finland we were blessed by the fact that Mr. Aito Mäkinen (also the founder of the Finnish Film Archive) saw to it that Robert Bresson's films were released and distributed in prints with a brilliant definition of light.

When Antti Nylén refers to "old scratchy prints" at Orion he is not being completely fair. The honest truth is that our range of prints is extremely varied. We screen both the latest, most immaculate prints fresh from the lab - and, undeniably, also old scratchy ones.

The newness of a print may sometimes be a mixed blessing. The new print may be several generations removed from the camera negative, and the definition of light may be mediocre. An old print may be struck directly from the negative (the more uncommercial the film the higher the probability) and have an incomparable visual quality. Yes, there are scratches, but there are scratches also on the varnish surface of Mona Lisa. One might digitally restore Mona Lisa without scratches, but it would not be the real thing, and we would feel it. Look beyond the scratches of the vintage film print and see the amazing original visual texture designed by the director, the cameraman, the lab experts, and the editor. It is almost impossible to recreate even if we would have new prints struck from the original negative.

Enter the Void

Enter the Void / Enter the Void. FR / DE / IT (c) 2009 [several companies]. EX: Suzanne Girard. P: Pierre Buffin, Olivier Delbosc, Vincent Maraval, Marc Missonnier, Gaspar Noé. D: Gaspar Noé. SC: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Gaspar Noé. DP: Benoît Debie. PD: Jean-André Carrière, Kikuo Ohta. COST: Nicoletta Massone. Visual effects team: large. Digital artists: many. M: Thomas Bangalter. S: Ken Yasumoto. ED: Marc Boucrot, Gaspar Noé. LOC: Tokyo, Montréal. CAST: Nathaniel Brown (Oscar), Paz de la Huerta (Linda), Cyril Roy (Alex), Olly Alexander (Victor), Masato Tanno (Mario), Ed Spear (Bruno), Emily Alyn Lind (Little Linda), Jesse Kuhn (Tito). 161 min. Finnish duration 140 min. Original in English. A Cinema Mondo release with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Arto Vartiainen / Sophia Beckman-De-La-Riva. Viewed at Tennispalatsi 9, Helsinki, 4 Sep 2010

Heavy digital video look in psychedelic - experimental - video art style.

It was impressive to experience a contemporary underground movie in the grandest commercial movie palace of Finland. This is one of the psychedelic films inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Gaspar Noé's film is a relentless vision of "une saison en enfer", the story of a doomed brother and sister, Oscar and Linda, whose parents have died in a freak car accident, and who are now young adults living as a drug dealer and a stripper [corrected] in Tokyo. An informer betrays Oscar, he dies at the outset, and the film can be seen as his death dream.

The visual approach is extraordinary. There is an emphasis on extreme high angle shots. We watch from the sky or the ceiling and see much of the goings-on from a bird's-eye-viewpoint (qf. the gas station explosion in The Birds!). Gaspar Noé favours "impossible" tracking shots that seem to follow ventilation ducts or something similar.

This is extreme cinema about life on the edge, also on the edge of losing dignity. The absence of detail in the digital video imagery supports that vision. Among the main milieux are the drug addicts' club called the Void and the striptease club [corrected] named Sex Money Power. After the cremation of Oscar [corrected] we follow Linda who aborts her baby conceived with her manager [corrected]. The horror imagery continues in the love hotel sequence near the end. Explicit sex is portrayed as garish, denatured and deranged, until we see the happy face of Linda. Gaspar Noé proceeds beyond regular hard core pornography (but into imagery familiar from sex anime) as we follow the penis entering inside Linda and witness the ejaculation Lennart Nilsson style. The film ends in happy childbirth.

A lot of the imagery is familiar from psychedelia, including the white light and the disappearance of the figurative image. This is not a film that is meant to be liked.

PS 6 Sep 2010 thank you for the corrections, Anonymous! I made four revisions to my remarks thanks to you. - I agree with you that Linda is legally and officially a striptease artist, the place is a striptease club not a brothel, and her boss is officially her manager, not her pimp.

Vesku

Vesku / Vesku / Vesku from Finland. FI 2010. PC: Marianna Films. P+D: Mika Kaurismäki. SC: Pete Eklund, Mika Kaurismäki. DP: Tahvo Hirvonen, Jari Mutikainen - HD Post. M: songs interpreted by Vesa-Matti Loiri. Lyrics: poems of Eino Leino, composed by Perttu Hietanen. S: Joonas Jyrälä. ED: Jukka Nykänen. LOC: Inari (Lapland). Featuring: Vesa-Matti Loiri and Lily Loiri (mother), Jenni Loiri and Joonas Loiri (children), Ukko Toljander and Sampo Toljander (children), Kalle Holmberg (theatre director), Perttu Hietanen (composer), Hannele Lauri, Lenita Airisto, Marita Hakala, and Stina Toljander (loved ones), Esko Salminen (actor), Risto Meronen (boxer), Aulikki Oksanen (poet). 109 min. Released by FS Film on 3 Sep 2010, screened without subtitles in 35 mm at Kino-Palatsi 7, Helsinki, 4 Sep 2010

A documentary portrait on Vesa-Matti Loiri (*1945), Finnish theatre actor, tv actor, film actor, sportsman, singer, flautist, comedian, star, and celebrity.

Loiri has had a strong and unique presence in Finnish public life since 1962. He has declined to write his memoirs. Instead he has confided to Mika Kaurismäki in this candid documentary portrait. Mika has also gained the confidence of Vesku's children and four loves of his life.

Loiri is a great performer in completely different media. Currently he is most admired as a live singer. His theatre performances are legendary. He is a tv actor and comedian also remembered because of his commercials. And he is a first-rate film actor. Loiri has a special insight in projection: he knows how to magnify in live performances, he knows how to create gross caricatures for television, and he knows how to understate in a cinema film. It is a challenge to capture Loiri's scope of projection in a documentary portrait, and the viewer has to keep adjusting to the range of excerpts from different media.

Also as a comedian Loiri's scope is wide: from subtle humour to gross-out. The versatility of the excerpts is impressive. I would have appreciated more samples of Loiri's subtle cinema acting. He's better than can be seen in the evidence of this documentary portrait.

The film gets more personal and gripping towards the end, after the live performance at Province Rock (Seinäjoki) in 2009. One of Vesku's children died in a car accident; the distress is always insurmountable. By the fireside Vesku tells about a profound dream he had shared with his late son. He reflects on the encounter with a wolf on his yard in his Lapland home. He reminisces about his own encounter with death as a goalkeeper with two broken shinbones. He had a dream where he balanced on the wall between life and death and felt the pull to the other side, but then he heard the question "have you measured up yet?". He woke up, "and my active consciousness started then and there".

An intimate look into a charismatic artist, one of the Finnish artists we can call shamans (there are even connections with Leif Segerstam), also dealing with the curse of fame, not forgetting troubles with health, and facing the question of the sell-out (because of well-paid commercial projects Vesku did not always pursue his theatrical career as ambitiously as he could have). Most importantly, the film conveys the one hundred percent cordial and dedicated personality of Vesku. In Finnish, he is called a "heittäytyjä", one who throws himself to the task completely and fearlessly.

Variable visual quality: digital video and compilation quality.