Sunday, August 30, 2015

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (in the presence of Peter Greenaway)

Sergei Eisenstein: ¡Que viva México!
NL/MX/FI/BG © 2015 Submarine / Fu Works / Paloma Negra Films S. de R.L. de C.V. / Edith Film / Potemkino. PC: Submarine. In association with: ZDF/ARTE, VPRO, YLE. With the support of: Nollywood, Vrijzinnig Potestantse Radio Omroep. EX: Alejandro Sánchez de la Peña. P: Bruno Flix, San Fu Maltha, Cristina Velasco, Femke Wolting. Co-P: Peter De Maegd, Liisa Penttilä. D+SC: Peter Greenaway. Ass D: Julio Quezada Orozco, Dand Chavez. DP: Reinier van Blummerer. AD: Ana Solares, lavasteet: Hector Iruegas, rakenteet: Laura Fieyro. VFX: Florentijn Boss (Flow VFX). Cost: Brenda Gomez. Makerup: Elena Lopez Carreon, Mari Paz Robles. M dir: Patrick Lemmens. ED: Elmer Leupen. S: Raúl Locatelli (with Jani Hietanen, Tapio Liukkonen, Micke Nyström) Sdrjan Kurpjel (johtava äänileikkaaja), Nick Lowe (apulaisäänileikkaaja). C: Elmer Bäck (Sergei Eisenstein), Luis Alberti (Palomino Cañedo), Maya Zapata (Concepción Cañedo), Lisa Owen (Mary Sinclair), Stelio Savante (Hunter S. Kimbrough), Rasmus Slätis (Grisha Alexandrov), Jakob Öhrman (Edouard Tisse), Raino Ranta (Meyerhold). 105 min
    2K DCP from B-Plan/Bufo with Finnish/Swedish subtitles viewed at Espoo Ciné Closing Gala, with Peter Greenaway, Elmer Bäck, Liisa Penttilä and many crew members at Tapiolasali, Espoon Kulttuurikeskus, 30 Aug 2015

Peter Greenaway is still un enfant terrible of the cinema.

This time he is with Sergei Eisenstein on a rampage in Mexico. Eisenstein is in ecstasy in Mexico. He is intoxicated by the nature, the history, the atavistic rites, and the Day of the Dead, and he loses his virginity with his male guide. These are "the ten days that shook Eisenstein".

I confess I have always loved all the compilations made of Sergei Eisenstein's ¡Que viva México! footage. There are dozens of unforgettable images in them. Greenaway does not show any. He presents his own personal vision of Eisenstein's journey, often in three-way split screen, inspired by Abel Gance's Polyvision. He uses liberally excerpts from Eisenstein's first three features (The Strike, Battleship Potyomkin, and October).

¡Que viva México! belongs in my opinion with The General Line / The Old and the New. In both, Eisenstein went deeper into nature, the countryside, the atavistic life force, fertility, and sexuality. He created unforgettable images of primitive vitality and mortality. He was obsessed with death, as a natural flipside to life. He also went deeper into the origins of religious rites and cults, excited by pantheism.

I cannot relate to Greenaway's vision of Eisenstein. (Many previous Greenaway films I admire, including his experimental work pre-The Draughtsman's Contract.) But I recommend warmly Greenaway's fantastic pressbook introduction to his Eisenstein project (copied onto my previous blog entry).

The visual quality of the DCP was the usual immaculate and polished one. A good instance for a comparison between digital and film would be Eisenstein in Guanajuato and any of the ¡Que viva México! reconstructions in a decent film print. Not forgetting the Garden of Eden sequence with Eisenstein's most joyfully erotic and sexual images. For those interested in Eros in the cinema Greenaway provides prankful explicit full frontal scenes of gay love.

 I had the great pleasure to co-host Greenaway in Espoo and Helsinki during three days and my respect towards him grew by the hour. His enthusiasm was indefatigable, his patience and energy undiminished during long gruelling days full of interviews and presentations. With fans and admirers he was exemplary. At dinnertime he often forgot to eat, so passionate he was in discussions. I look forward to future projects from him.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY JARI SEDERGREN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Peter Greenaway on Eisenstein in Guanajuato (pressbook 2015)

PRESSBOOK: EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO

In 1931, at the height of his artistic powers, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein travels to Mexico to shoot a new film to be titled Que Viva Mexico. Freshly rejected by Hollywood and under increasing pressure to return to Stalinist Russia, Eisenstein arrives at the city of Guanajuato. Chaperoned by his guide Palomino Cañedo, he vulnerably experiences the ties between Eros and Thanatos, sex and death, happy to create their effects in cinema, troubled to suffer them in life. Peter Greenaway’s film explores the mind of a creative genius facing the desires and fears of love, sex and death through ten passionate days that helped shape the rest of the career of one of the greatest masters of Cinema.

Peter Greenaway on
EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO

WHY EISENSTEIN?

I discovered the films of Eisenstein by accident when I was 17 in 1959 in an East London cinema. My first amazement was Eisenstein’s STRIKE, made in 1925 when he was at the absurdly early age of 27.

Back in 1959 I was impatient to see what else I could view of this - at that time to me - unknown filmmaker – just eleven years after his death in 1948, aged 50. I checked up on all the films of his Soviet filmmaker contemporaries and apart from a fascination with the rapid turnover and wide range of Vertov’s visual enthusiasms, Eisenstein was the truly great excitement for me.

I had never seen such serious-purpose early-cinema films before – by contrast the Americans seemed showy and sentimental, the Germans extravagant and unbelievable, the French too self-regarding and literary. Here in Eisenstein was serious purpose and fast-moving self-conscious cinematic intelligence – no film in American early cinema moved as fast – and nowhere was there so many shots – and surprising violence of action and a fascination for violence itself. And a curious use of side-stepping metaphor and associative poetry is involved and embraced – all of which I came later to understand as characteristics of montage, the cinema of comparison - film by association – an “only-connect” -cinema, cinema at long last not a slave of prosaic narrative but hopping and skipping about with serious purpose to run like the human imagination runs, making everything associative till everything past, present and future, old and new, both sides of the wall - like Cubism – which so influenced the contemporary Russian avant-garde in painting – though Malevich said that Eisenstein could never join the Russian avant-garde, he was “too real”. Amazing!  I had found my first cinema hero.

I have run and rerun Eisenstein’s films ever since, consumed everything I could in translation that he wrote and published, followed all the news about him that seeped out of Russia in bouts of unexpected liberated knowledge. I visited his library in Moscow several times with each time a different Russian guide, I went to the sites of his film-making in Odessa and St Petersburg, his place of forced exile in Alma Ata in Kazakhstan, his father’s art nouveau architecture in Riga, asking to sleep in a cold deserted apartment there where he was rumoured to have played as a child. I was not permitted but the concierge gave me an apple from the garden across the street and I ate it in the cold room looking out the window he too may have looked out watching the apple-trees and carthorses.

How about that for empathetic association?

I kept nurturing my Eisenstein enthusiasms from all angles. I bought all the Eisenstein biographies - the good ones and the bad ones - had a London painting exhibition called Eisenstein at the Winter Palace, read the Freud material on da Vinci which fascinated Eisenstein, edited political commercials for the London Labour Party, shouted useless abuse at the London American Embassy over Vietnam, and seemingly argued on both sides of the fence for and against the idea that Soviet cinema was all threadbare Cold War propaganda, East and West, ending with the unsurprising and somewhat hopeless plea to deliver “ a plague on both your houses”. It was both propaganda and was not propaganda - in the way that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling is magnificent propaganda for Catholicism. And indeed why not? Great art is always propaganda for great life. And most cinema frames for low ambition, scary of over-reaching, scary of lèse-majesté, scary of the taunt of high purpose, even scary of considering that cinema is art, scary indeed that the feature film can rival the highest successes of painting and the symphony, the novel and the theatre play. Cinema in 1930 was, and still is, largely throwaway ephemerality unhitched to any programme, conceit or agenda of content or – especially for me –theory of language. Having been trained as a painter – most cinema as compared to painting - is remarkably uninterested in language. It’s largely genre-lead content conceived as illustrated literary, dialogue-directed stories - forever leaving you dissatisfied. Cinema is far too rich a medium to be left merely to the storytellers. Bring on the writers! That’s practically all we hear isn’t it? The syllabus of every film-school. No wonder we have a text-based cinema all over the world. Every film you have ever seen started life with a text. We have a film industry that illustrates text. A cinema of conductors and very rarely composers. Why were, and are, so many people under-selling the medium? 

So you can see why Eisenstein has been so satisfying. Big ideas consciously promoted in a rush of imagery. Intense interest in putting those ideas down as images not as deodorised illustrative texts. Rembrandt said in hopeless hope, “Just because you have eyes does not mean you can see”. Eisenstein says in irony, “ I suffer from too much looking”, and Derrida said with wisdom, ” The image always has the last word”.

There were of course mysteries about Eisenstein – perhaps the largest aesthetic mystery for me was how come the first three great films – Strike, Potemkin and October were unlike the last three great films – Nevsky, Ivan and The Boyar’s Plot?

There was a change of film manufacture between the early and late films for Eisenstein and not just because of Stalin’s vindictiveness, blind-sidedness and general animosity to all that was beneficial. I grew to believe it was because of those years – 1929-1931 – that Eisenstein spent away from Soviet Russia - that the change had taken place. Away from your own country and surroundings you give yourself license to behave differently. Travelling across Russia and then Western Europe and then America, and then Hollywood which Eisenstein was convinced was a country all on its very own, he met every important cultural celebrity alive – he handshaked them all.

He had met Malevich, Mayakosky, Prokoviev, Shostakovich, Gorky, Pudovkin, Dovzenko, Vertov, and now he was to meet Joyce, Brecht, Cocteau, Shaw, Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, Stroheim, von Sternberg, Flaherty, Palomino Cañedo, Eisenstein’s Mexican guide, teacher of comparative religion, responds to Eisenstein’s curiosity, and through him we learn of the way Mexicans customised the introduction of Christianity to suit their life-style, the varied quality of their rich cuisine, and the predatory Camorrista, the organised Robin Hood style folklore criminals who feed off foreigners. But the imagery of the Mexican community of Guanajuato in the film also tells us a great deal more – its marketplaces, church façades, bell-towers, labyrinthine tunnels, shoe-shiners, whores, itinerant fried-banana-sellers, café culture, noise, music, parched landscapes, hot streets, shaded cemeteries, charnel houses and the tragedy of its frequent mud-slides, and the imported grandeur of its opera-house with its shower-baths, bars and uniformed servants.

Cañedo’s Mexican fascination is his country’s way of the dead, the timing of the All Saints’ Day October 31st celebrations, parading of fiesta skeletons in the presence of children, the ease of Death’s presence in cemeteries, the mummified corpses in the town’s famous museum of the dead all balance Eisenstein’s obsession with Russia’s revolution fervour. Soon, Eisenstein shares Cañedo’s fascination, dressing up in skeleton masks to hilariously evaluate the way he will die, learning to dance with skeletons, parading in children’s fiesta processions, and licking sugared skulls.

Eisenstein arrives in Guanajuato on the 21st of October, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution is on the 25th and ten days are up on the 31st of October when Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead. These are the dates that circumscribe Eisenstein’s love affair and led Eisenstein to say: “These are the ten days that shook Eisenstein. I had to come to Mexico to go to Heaven”.

Chaplin, Stravinsky, Disney, Corbusier, Bunuel, Dietrich, Garbo, Mickey Mouse, Rin-Tin-Tin .... and all those visionaries in Mexico - Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Orozco, Siqueiros, - all those contacts that gave him new perspectives he was unlikely to have back in the winter-dark tenements of Moscow. He was endlessly curious, had an imagination like an elephant sponge (he later bequeathed his brain to the neuro-psychologist Luria) and he was hit hard with emotional traumas of sex and death in Mexico.

“This country is astonishing. The large things in life continually hit you on the head – in the pit of your stomach, in your heart. Nothing can be superficial”.

The fascination with the endless stimulations of sex and death – Eros and Thanatos – the very beginning and the very end – both unknowable to the subject and victim – the non-negotiables – you don’t ask for or agree to the first and you don’t have any say in rejecting the second. Eros and Thanatos sober up your image of yourself, reduce exhibitionism, demand attention to make use of your mortality – and hit Eisenstein hard in Mexico. He never lost track or denied his cinematic intelligence, but I believe abroad, away from Soviet conspiracy and paranoia and all that dialectical materialism which no-one really understood how to define, leave alone how to support - away from the deadening hand of Stalinist Russia, and essentially being alive in the living-in-the-present country that is Mexico, he emotionally matured, learnt cross-identifying empathy and his later films demonstrated as much.

THE MEXICAN ENCOUNTER

Palomino Cañedo, Eisenstein’s Mexican guide, teacher of comparative religion, responds to Eisenstein’s curiosity, and through him we learn of the way Mexicans customised the introduction of Christianity to suit their life-style, the varied quality of their rich cuisine, and the predatory Camorrista, the organised Robin Hood style folklore criminals who feed off foreigners. But the imagery of the Mexican community of Guanajuato in the film also tells us a great deal more – its marketplaces, church façades, bell-towers, labyrinthine tunnels, shoe-shiners, whores, itinerant fried-banana-sellers, café culture, noise, music, parched landscapes, hot streets, shaded cemeteries, charnel houses and the tragedy of its frequent mud-slides, and the imported grandeur of its opera-house with its shower-baths, bars and uniformed servants.

Cañedo’s Mexican fascination is his country’s way of the dead, the timing of the All Saints’ Day October 31st celebrations, parading of fiesta skeletons in the presence of children, the ease of Death’s presence in cemeteries, the mummified corpses in the town’s famous museum of the dead all balance Eisenstein’s obsession with Russia’s revolution fervour. Soon, Eisenstein shares Cañedo’s fascination, dressing up in skeleton masks to hilariously evaluate the way he will die, learning to dance with skeletons, parading in children’s fiesta processions, and licking sugared skulls.

Eisenstein arrives in Guanajuato on the 21st of October, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution is on the 25th and ten days are up on the 31st of October when Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead. These are the dates that circumscribe Eisenstein’s love affair and led Eisenstein to say: “These are the ten days that shook Eisenstein. I had to come to Mexico to go to Heaven”.

In EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO we are not in any way remaking a version of Que Viva Mexico but we have been only too aware of the significance of editing, and we have self-consciously concentrated on making the editing vocabulary noticeable in the service of everything else a film needs. Changes of pace – cutting sequences very fast to parallel Eisenstein’s sometime manic desire to communicate, cutting sequences very slow to parallel the languor of emotional pathos, list-making, contrasting highly dialogue-heavy scenes with sections of dance and very silent landscape shooting. Pairing stills with moving film, and sections of extreme close-up with very architecturally wide dioramas. Thanks to the imaginative use of the Director of Photography, Reinier van Brummelen’s use of the stills camera as well as the movie camera, the film is full of photographic-cinematic cross-links that reference still-photography as well as moving - Muybridge to Ansel Adams, and Man Ray silhouettes back to Eduard Tisse complying with Eisenstein’s demand for under-lighting and back-lighting with the use of grids and perforated shadows and deliberated “moving-paintings”. There is conscious jump-cutting to emphasise agitated discontinuities. And a deliberately crossing of the line to disorientate, using  sections of looking at the same identical material through different visual perspectives, intercutting conventional enough cut-and-paste escapist illusionistic drama with artificially placed speeches to camera. And there is some animation of Eisenstein’s erotic drawings.

There can be no surprise that Guanajuato the location itself - of the film and the film’s title - is a major player in this film.  It was the excitement of that very visual and photogenic location that propelled the whole film into being. There is a great deal of both “visible” and “invisible” green screening such that it is suspected where it is not and is not where it could be expected. Much of this total vocabulary was anticipated. Some of it was not and is the product of long hours in the cutting room with the very imaginative and talented editor Elmer Leupen.

TRUTH OR FICTION?

One of the original intentions of this project was to make a documentary about Eisenstein’s attempt to make the film Que Viva Mexico – intentions that developed into a feature film which nonetheless has a considerable amount of included documentary evidence – stills and film clips of Eisenstein himself, the celebrated cultural figures he met in Russia, Europe, America, Hollywood and Mexico and excerpts from his feature films.

I am always suspicious of the so-called truths officially offered by the documentary. There surely can be no such thing as History, there can only be historians. History is unvisitable.

There is never definitive proof. At best we are victims of the subjective gaze. And, as they say, History is only a branch of literature. He who writes best is the dictator of history. Every documentary has a vested interest which erodes and distorts a belief in any sort of truth - so we transformed those documentary concerns into a feature film where I can hope to get at some verities by you knowing that I am purposefully inventing. This goes someway to explaining why some characteristics of the structure of the form of the film is often as a cinemascope triptych – giving me cinematic screen-space to put the documentary evidence and the reconstructed feature-film evidence generously side by side for your comparison.

And once having invented such a format we necessarily have expanded its usages, for emphasis, for punctuation, for list-making which Eisenstein enjoyed, and ultimately, as with Abel Gance who Eisenstein met and admired, to satisfy the pleasure principle.

We have indeed made quotations from Eisenstein’s cinema itself with excerpts from Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October – the three major montage-heavy films of Eisenstein made in Soviet Russia before his trip to America.

What was fact, what was fiction? Who’s watching? Who was a witness?  Who’s telling? Eisenstein’s travels were well documented. Many people, conscious perhaps of the great man abroad, were writing diaries, keeping journals, sending letters, taking photographs, recording the numerous incidents of his anecdotal life.

It seems Eisenstein was often out of order, behaving badly and not a little self-righteous in his behaviour, perhaps it was the misjudged overreaction of a foreigner, or a famous filmmaker pushing his luck or a man troubled by his lack of foreign success.

The film EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO is full of direct Eisenstein quotations translated from the Russian. “I am a scientific dilettante with encyclopaedic interests”, “It’s the result of too much looking” “Death should always be ready to take a call”. “I need to leave Heaven in a hurry”.  Umberto Eco said translators cannot help but be liars. We put words in the mouths of our heroes which we believe should be there, even if they were not.  The film puts them back in Eisenstein’s mouth to serve our purposes.

What else in the film is true? Obsession with shoes and playing with forks? Could a fascination with bell-ringers be an anticipation of Andrei Rublev?  An excitement with troglodytes? The letter to Stalin from Upton Sinclair is true as is the telegram from Stalin to Sinclair.  The white suit and the red braces are true. Yellow pyjamas need a citation. Very intimate confessional letters to Pera Atasheva can still be read. He wrote, “ Just now I was madly in love for ten days and got everything that I desired. This will probably have huge psychological consequences”. It did.

It’s true he did not drink or smoke. He did have an undersexed father and an oversexed mother. It is true he tried to meet Freud but did not succeed. He certainly met Frida Kahlo, Jean Cocteau and Brecht and had Becket as a student. He certainly, like Fellini, scribbled and drew and sketched on hotel notepaper, and he often surprises us indeed with his blasphemous erotica.  He enjoyed driving fast cars and accompanied his travels with innumerable books, requisitioning extra transport to carry them. He did have a weak heart and he did die banging on his dacha radiator hoping for help. He recorded as much with his last written words “ At this moment I am having a heart attack. February 10 1948”, making him one of the very few people who could record their own demise.  

And he certainly was the greatest film-director we have ever known.

TRUTH OR FICTION?

One of the original intentions of this project was to make a documentary about Eisenstein’s attempt to make the film Que Viva Mexico – intentions that developed into a feature film which nonetheless has a considerable amount of included documentary evidence – stills and film clips of Eisenstein himself, the celebrated cultural figures he met in Russia, Europe, America, Hollywood and Mexico and excerpts from his feature films.

I am always suspicious of the so-called truths officially offered by the documentary. There surely can be no such thing as History, there can only be historians. History is unvisitable.

There is never definitive proof. At best we are victims of the subjective gaze. And, as they say, History is only a branch of literature. He who writes best is the dictator of history. Every documentary has a vested interest which erodes and distorts a belief in any sort of truth - so we transformed those documentary concerns into a feature film where I can hope to get at some verities by you knowing that I am purposefully inventing. This goes someway to explaining why some characteristics of the structure of the form of the film is often as a cinemascope triptych – giving me cinematic screen-space to put the documentary evidence and the reconstructed feature-film evidence generously side by side for your comparison.

And once having invented such a format we necessarily have expanded its usages, for emphasis, for punctuation, for list-making which Eisenstein enjoyed, and ultimately, as with Abel Gance who Eisenstein met and admired, to satisfy the pleasure principle.

We have indeed made quotations from Eisenstein’s cinema itself with excerpts from Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October – the three major montage-heavy films of Eisenstein made in Soviet Russia before his trip to America. What was fact, what was fiction? Who’s watching? Who was a witness?  Who’s telling? Eisenstein’s travels were well documented. Many people, conscious perhaps of the great man abroad, were writing diaries, keeping journals, sending letters, taking photographs, recording the numerous incidents of his anecdotal life.

CASTING EISENSTEIN

We did not make it so easy for ourselves to find the ideal actor to play Eisenstein, being determined to show on the screen at one and the same time, evidence of the real historical Eisenstein in film and photographs (and there are hundreds of photographs of Eisenstein) alongside a representative Eisenstein played by an actor. I sought to find the actor who would temporarily give me his heart, soul, brain, body and prick in the services of the depiction of a very human, very emotionally and anatomically naked – vomiting, shitting, weeping, fucking, sweating, howling Eisenstein – this was never going to be a hagiography. It was hopefully going to be a recognizable cinematic portrait of ten days in the life of a very great filmmaker but there was to be no worshipful genuflection.

What did we want?

We needed a male actor aged 33. In 1931 Eisenstein was 33. St Augustine said we all go to Heaven aged 33, the age of Alexander and Christ at death. Some say Alexander and Christ were the same person, the first time he came with a sword, the second time disappointingly only with a kiss. Eisenstein knew the ironies. Eisenstein was plump, with, as he says himself, anatomically a big head (you can see that big head he inherited in the photographs of his mother) short arms and short legs and big feet, with a studied shock of wild clownish hair; Eisenstein thought of himself as a clown and dressed accordingly. He was no Adonis and we were trying to cast a non-Adonis in a world of actors who, more often than not, try to be. The chances of finding such a lookalike were slim.

We certainly searched in Russia – surely Eisenstein ought to be a Russian. We travelled to Moscow and St Petersburg. We saw long line-ups of hopeful actors – all along the corridors and back again – forty-seven in St Petersburg - all more or less the same age of 33 and all very eager and willing.  But we were making an English-language film capable of travelling the world. Few Russian actors spoke English well. Most could not speak English at all. This was a script of 70 pages of dialogue for Eisenstein.

He never leaves the screen. Fast-talking, smart, witty, acerbic, wry, comic, petulant, self-depreciating. We spent three days in Moscow doing the same. I saw actors in restaurants, ballrooms, TV studios, theatres, airports, on planes. When I could find good English-speaking Russian actors they had all been trained in America for goofy parts as gangsters and hit men and all had Californian accents. And the chances of them playing a great intellect like Eisenstein who could convincingly speak five languages – Russian, German, French, Spanish, English, and tell a joke in all five languages to make the audience roar with laughter and hold a thousand spectators spellbound in all five languages in the Sorbonne or the Goethe Institute or a London cinema - it was not working out well at all. And then when we did tentatively make a shaky short-list – and hoped to think about fixing an Eisenstein lookalike image – there was the next big problem – nudity and sexual exposure. First they said yes to get the part, and then on discussion they said maybe, and then they said perhaps if we gave them a year to learn English and then when they read the script and realized what was being asked of them - of course they said no. I gave up looking for a Russian Eisenstein.

Then after casting sessions in Rome and then in Copenhagen I began to be more hopeful. I saw brief sections from a Scandinavian TV series featuring Elmer Back. He was Finnish from Helsinki with a Swedish family ancestry. He worked hard long hours in undernourished rehearsal rooms in radical theatre in Berlin, knew about all the vicissitudes of impoverished theatrical life. He had an engaging accent already but immediately demonstrated a Russian accent which convinced me, though I could not vouch for that accent being considered authentic in St Petersburg or Vladivostok. But there are a great many accents in Russia and Eisenstein came from Riga in Latvia and apparently only spoke German till he was five years old (his name after all is German for “ironstone”). We were making an English language film and considering all the absurd and illogical conventions of language in cinema, I believed then we had found a viable solution. I certainly still do. Elmer Back as Eisenstein is very very watchable indeed.   Also – his Berlin theatrical work included partnership with two fellow Scandinavians who were an obvious Tisse and an obvious Alexandrov.

I had finally found my three Russian musketeers.

(Eisenstein in Guanajuato pressbook, 2015)

Danao tiangong – Genju Xiyouji gaibian / Uproar in Heaven / The Monkey King

大闹天宫 – 根据西游记改编 [the title on screen] / [Havoc in Heaven – adapted from Xiyouji (The Journey to the West)] / Da no tien gu / Da nao tian gong / Apinakuningas / Kung Markatta / Apkungen. CN 1961-1965. PC: Shanghai Animation Studio. D: Wan Lai-ming. SC:  Li Ke-ruo, Wan Lai-ming – based on the novel 西遊記 / Xiyouji / The Journey to the West (1505-1582) by Wu Chengen. Cinematography (colour): Wang Shi-rong. Art direction: Chang Kuang-Ju, Chang Cheng-ju. M: Wu Jing-Tshu. Telecast in Finland: 25.3.1979 YLE TV1 - 85 min (Locarno Film Festival 1965) - 117 min (Cannes Film Festival 1981) - (the version viewed today) 111 min
    A Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet print with e-subtitles in Finnish by Otto Pietinen screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Helsinki Festival / Focus on China / Children's Movie Sunday), 30 Aug 2015

Revisited one of the top masterpieces of world animation, created by Wan Lai-ming with his brothers who devoted all their lives to establishing a world class quality to Chinese animation, brilliantly realized here.

The concept of The Monkey King is animation at its most profound. It is a cosmic quest of metamorphoses: the birth of the monkey king from the rock, his descent into the bottom of the sea to obtain the magic wand, and his challenging the kingdom of heaven, destroying the celestial palace in the final conflagration.

Imagination knows no bounds in the psychedelic visions of giant clouds, fires, and smokes, with flying banquets and magic circles. In a key battle the emperor of heaven and the monkey king constantly change forms: a vulture vs. a chick, a stork vs. a fish, a wolf vs. a bird, a tiger vs. a dragon - the monkey even turns into a pagoda. He is imprisoned, chained onto a pole and shot with burning arrows (he snores). He is burned in an oven, but he hatches out from under the crust stronger than ever, turns into a comet, a burning dash, and as the kingdom of heaven crumbles a feast of joy is launched.

This celestial battle of mystical martial arts is full of scenes of pranks and joy amongst the monkeys.

Mr. Otto Pietinen who translated the film for us remarks that it is based on the first chapters of Xiyouji, one of the oldest known Chinese novels. The early chapters of those old novels are usually an account of the genesis of the protagonist. In the novel Buddha himself throws a mountain on Sun Wukong (the monkey king) thus stopping his rampage. Later the monkey king is unearthed and forced to collaborate as a protector to a monk on a pilgrimage to India by installing a circle on his head which shrinks if he tries to revert to his old pranking ways.

The colour is ok and pleasant in this used print of a long version of a film which is usually available in much shorter versions.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON MARKKU LUOTO BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Madonna of the Seven Moons

Seitsemän kuun madonna / Madonnan och zigenaren. GB 1944. PC: Gainsborough Pictures. P: R. J. Minney; R. E. Dearing (associate). D: Arthur Crabtree. SC: Roland Pertwee – based on the novel by Margery Lawrence (1931) (in Finnish 1946 Inga Allén / Gummerus). DP: Jack E. Cox. AD: Andrew Mazzei. Cost: Elizabeth Haffenden. M: Hans May. S: B. C. Sewell. ED: Lito Carruthers. C: Phyllis Calvert (Maddalena / Rosanna), Stewart Granger (Nino), Patricia Roc (Angela), Peter Glenville (Sandro), John Stuart (Giuseppe), Reginald Tate (Ackroyd), Peter Murray-Hill (Logan), Dulcie Gray (Nesta), Alan Haines (Evelyn), Hilda Bayley (Mrs. Fiske), Evelyn Darvell (Millie), Nancy Price (Mama Barucci). Studio: Gainsborough Studios (Islington). Helsinki premiere: 18.1.1946 Kino-Palatsi, distributor: Parvisfilmi Oy – film classification 25947 – K16 – 110 min
    Soundtrack listing: "Rosanna" (uncredited, Hans May, Sonny Miller), Frédéric Chopin: Nocturne No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op. 15, No. 2, arr. Hans May, "Florentin Carnival" ((uncredited, Hans May, Sonny Miller).
    A vintage KAVI print (deposit from Parvisfilmi) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 27 Aug 2015

During WWII British women were models of duty and devotion but when they had a moment to relax they went to see a Gainsborough melodrama of reckless abandon.

The strength of Madonna of the Seven Moons is in its command of the dream mode. Maddalena lives a very quiet life; her daughter Angela considers her a tame mouse. But Maddalena has a dual personality, and for seven months she can turn into the passionate Romani woman Rosanna living with the master thief Nino. As a young girl at nunnery school she has been violated by a Romani man, and her identity has been split into the pious Maddalena and the earthy Rosanna. There is also the question that Angela might be the result of the rape of Maddalena as a girl.

Tables are turned in the 1930s: Angela is a jazz age girl who indulges in dance ("Sandro taught me all the latest steps"), lingerie, and driving with young men. As soon as she returns home she starts to instruct her mother how to dress. When mother disappears to lead her wild, secret life ("I only live when we're together"), Angela spares no effort to find her. Dangerously, she falls into the hands of Nino's brother Sandro. At the last moment mother saves Angela from rape.

It is a lurid story with little regard for plausibility. But the stark images of repression and liberation have an unsettling force. When Nino (Stewart Granger) appears on the balcony at night in the last sequence as Maddalena is dying I'm reminded of the emergence of Dracula in a Hammer horror film. The last shot is a close-up of a cross and a rose. Fundamentally this melodrama is about the mystery of personality: "we know very little about the human mind".

A used but pretty complete print (one minute missing), with rain and splices in changeovers, with enough visually fine passages to give a good enough impression.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON MICHAEL BROOKE (BFI SCREENONLINE) BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Chun feng chen zui de ye wan / Spring Fever

春风沉醉的晚上 / Nuits d’ivresse printanière. CN/FR/HK 2009. PC: Rosem Films, Dream Factory. P: Nain An, Sylvain Bursztejn. D: Lou Ye. Ass D: Zhao Zhiyang. SC: Mei Feng - inspired by the short story "Chunfeng chenzui de wanshang" / "One Spring Night" / "Intoxicating Spring Nights" (1924) by Yu Dafu. DP: Zeng Jan – HD-CAM, 1:1.85. AD: Peng Shaoying. M: Peymen Yazdanian. ED: Robin Weng, Zeng Jian, Florence Bresson. S: Fu Kang. C: Qin Hao (Jiang Cheng), Wu Wei (Wang Bing) Chen Sicheng (Luo Haitao, private detective), Tan Zhuo (Li Jing), Jiang Jiaqi (Lin Xue). The film was not released in Finland – MEKU 2015: K12 – 117 min - DCP viewed 112 min
    2K DCP from Wild Bunch with English subtitles by Natasha Lehrer viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Helsinki Festival / Lou Ye), 27 Aug 2015
    Originally scheduled for two days earlier, there was a switch with Blind Massage.
    The very title is an hommage to the writer Yu Dafu; there is a biography of him called Lost in Spring Breeze.

A story of gay male desire to be compared with Pedro Almodóvar (La ley del deseo), Wong Kar-wai (Happy Together), and Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain). A lurid tale of the vortex of passion where the private detective hired by the wife of a party of the male loving couple is himself drawn into the maelström. 

A movie of moods with recurrent visual motifs (lotuses, rain, oysters) and verses of poems as rhythmic devices ("the rambling lotus on the pond is submerged by leaves"). The Spring Fever book by Yu Dafu is itself an element of the movie.

There are no strong personalities in the narrative. The people are driven by their instincts. Lou Ye is again strong in warm animal sexuality, rather ignoring more intellectual aspects of the characters. Desires are strong, jealousies and bitternesses are devastating, culminating in violent conflicts, attempts at suicides, lethal attacks with blades. The protagonist, his throat slashed but revived from the edge of death, lets himself be tattooed by a huge marvellous image which both highlights and hides the hideous scar on his throat.

There are impressive shots in this movie with longueurs, fumbling in the darkness of the night of desire like the blind masseurs in another movie of the director Lou Ye.

The digital look is adequate to the movie.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY PASI NYYSSÖNEN AFTER THE JUMP BREAK:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fu cheng mi shi / Mystery

浮城谜事 / Fucheng mishi. CN/FR 2012. [Four companies detailed in the copyright notice.] PC: Dream Author Pictures, Les Films du Lendemain. P: Lou Ye, Chen Xi, Kristina Larsen. D: Lou Ye. SC: Mei Feng, Yu Fan, Lou Ye. DP: Zeng Jian - 1:1.85. AD: Peng Shaoy-ing, Du Luxi. Cost: Linlin May. M: Peyman Yazdanian. S: Fu Kang. ED: Simon Jacquet. C: Hao Lei (Lu Jie), Qin Hao (Yongzhao), Qi Xi (Sang Qi), Zu Feng (Ton Mingsong), Zhu Yawn (Qin Yawen), Chang Fangyuan (Xiaomin), Qu Ying (Han Hui). The film was not released in Finland - MEKU 2015: K16 - 99 min
    2K DCP with English subtitles from Wild Bunch viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Lou Ye / Helsinki Festival), 26 Aug 2015

An urban, modern murder thriller about a crime of passion with surprise twists. It starts with a shocking death of a young woman on a motorway in a rainstorm.

It turns out that the successful male protagonist Yongzhao had had an affair with the victim, and he becomes a prime suspect. Gradually we learn more.

Yongzhao's success is based on his wife Lu, and, frustrated at home, he has established a second family with a child. But besides, he starts new affairs with young women. As the two wives learn about the newest lover, they take her to the cliff above the motorway.

And there is a vagabond, a trash collector living on the cliff, who sees all...

"Based on an online diary", Mystery gives us some insight in the cyberworld in New China. Yongzhao is a net addict, a compulsive surfer on dating sites.

We get also some sense of manners and mores among the ultra rich. The callous attitude of the young drivers in the prologue: they kick the corpse of the young woman violently to make sure that she is dead. The father of the driver offers a generous compensation if the matter is settled out of court. Even the vagabond witness can be silenced with money. But it seems that money brings happiness to no one.

The vision is of new urbanity, dominated by cars and motorway junctions. And the cyberworld.

The digital quality is entirely adequate to the vision of the movie.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY PASI NYYSSÖNEN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

VMV 6

VMV 6 poster. Click to enlarge.
FI 1936. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. P+D: Risto Orko. SC: Tauno Tattari, Mika Waltari. DP: Erik Blomberg, Theodor Luts. AD: Ossi Elstelä. Cost: Fiinu Autio. Makeup: Hannes Kuokkanen, Olavi Suominen. M: Pekka Attinen. M director: Jooseppi Rautto. ED: Risto Orko. S: Pertti Kuusela. Arranger: Orvo Saarikivi. C: Regina Linnanheimo (Marja), Joel Rinne (merivartioston pursimies Olavi Manner), Uuno Laakso (romukauppias Lundström), Kerstin Nylander (laulajatar Kerstin Nylander), Martta Kinnunen (Anni), Oke Tuuri (merivartija Haanpää), Kaarlo Kytö (), Uno Wikström (VMV 6:n päällikkö), Axel Slangus (konsuli Wili Dasselheim alias Kiho), Eino Jurkka (Rentun-Matti, salakuljettaja), Hugo Hytönen (Kaaleppi, salakuljettaja), Santeri Karilo (Kivalo, salakuljettaja), Sasu Haapanen (Amerikan-Väiski, salakuljettaja), Vilho Siivola (Juippi, salakuljettaja), Armas Piispanen (Haitari-Jallu, salakuljettaja), Ants Lauter (pirtulaivan kapteeni), Martti Rannema (poika), Valter Tuomi (vuorineuvos J. K. Manner), Eino Hyyrynen (merivartija Hämäläinen).  Helsinki premiere: 17.2.1936 Kino-Palatsi, distributed by Suomi-Filmi – classification A-582 – S – length at classification 3500 m / 128 min - edited for general release to 111 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Regina Linnanheimo Centenary), 26 Aug 2015

We started our Centenary tribute to Regina Linnanheimo via screening the smuggling drama VMV 6, in which she had her second leading role. VMV 6 was also the second film based on a screenplay by Mika Waltari. Importantly, it was the first film photographed by Erik Blomberg.

We had not screened VMV 6 since our tribute to the producer-director Risto Orko in 1986. The years have not been kind to the movie. It is not well directed. Orko has not a grip on the dynamic arch of the movie. He has little understanding of mise-en-scène. He is not a good director of actors. Orko is unfortunately also the editor, and the editing in this movie is very clumsy, indeed. He has little sense of good continuity or the striking cut. What is good in the movie is there despite Orko. Joel Rinne carries the male lead with a sovereign approach. The very young Regina Linnanheimo is good but would have needed strong direction. Erik Blomberg already in his first film proves great visual talent. This film was selected to be shown at Film Society Projektio for a delegation of Swedish guests in 1936, probably thanks to its visual flair.

Risto Orko had taken over Suomi-Filmi from his predecessor Erkki Karu, and in a continuity to Karu, the founder of the Finnish musical, there is also in VMV 6 a dimension of the musical, with a lot of music and singing (see song list beyond the jump break). Unfortunately the sound technology is still quite crude. Both Karu and Orko were sea lovers, which is also evident in this film from the start. There is a great sense of pleasure in shots of the stormy sea and chases between the smugglers and the sea border patrolmen.

Orko had directed the most popular Finnish film so far, Siltalan pehtoori, and VMV 6 is interesting in its approach to popular cinema as a genre cocktail to follow Rick Altman's line of thinking. Although VMV 6 is most fundamentally an action thriller about bootleg liquor smugglers vs. border patrolmen, it has also aspects of the musical, and even of the romantic comedy. There is the usual jungle of misunderstandings between the characters played by Regina Linnanheimo and Joel Rinne. There are even, as was the case in Karu's Meidän poikamme merellä, aspects of the machine montage cinema, probably not inspired by Russians but rather by Germans and Americans.

The cinematography of Erik Blomberg looks gorgeous at its best, in epic scenes of the smuggling operations for instance.

This print has been made from variable sources, partly excellent, partly worn and used.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE FROM THE FINNISH NATIONAL FILMOGRAPHY BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tui na / Blind Massage

推拿  CN/FR 2014. PC: A Shaanxi Culture Industry, Yinhai, Dream Factory, Les Films du Lendemain presentation of a Shaanxi Culture Industry, Les Films du Lendemain production, in collaboration: Zhu Hongbo, Cui Yujie. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) EX: Ye Lou, An Nai, Kristina Larsen, Ling Li. P: Yong Wang.  D: Ye Lou. SC: Ye Lou ja Yingli Ma – based on the novel by Feiyu Bi. DP: Jian Zeng. PD: Johann Johannsson. SFX: Song Liu, Imade Forest. Cost: Dingmu Zhang. M: Lin Zhu. ED: Jinlei Kong, Lin Zhu. S: Kang Fu. C: Guo Xiaodong (Dr. Wang), Huang Lu, Huang Xuan (the masseur Ma Xiao), Lei Zhang (Dr. Wang's girlfriend Kong), Hao Qin (the owner of the massage centre Fuming Sha), Zhihua Wang (the second owner of the massage centre Zongqi Zhang), Huaipeng Mu (Yiguang), Ting Mei (Du Hong), Junjun Huang, Lu Wang (sex worker Mann). 114 min
    2K DCP with English subtitles from Wild Bunch viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Helsinki Festival / Lou Ye), 25 Aug 2015
    (Programme change: as Spring Fever did not arrive on time, we switched screenings with Blind Massage).

Another ensemble piece from Lou Ye, but unlike Summer Palace not a story of epic historical resonance. Blind Massage is an insightful look (wordplay intentional) into the world of the blind. It brings to mind the interesting German Kulturfilm Vom Reiche der Sechs Punkte / Sokeiden maailmasta (1927) in its documentary aspect: how a boy is blinded in a traffic accident, how he attempts suicide, how he learns to orientate via hearing, how blind ones do sport, learn to walk and navigate, and most importantly learn to read and write the Braille (the six points / Sechs Punkte).

The credit titles are not written but read, and there is also confirmed how to pronounce the director's name: [low ye].

It is a saga of the establishment and the demise of a massage centre in Nanking. "The golden age of blind massage" is past, but the new centre is a success. It crumbles because of private troubles among the staff.

Massage itself is hardly seen at all, and the operation is of a strictly professional quality despite the intimate character of the service.

Lou Ye's customary interest in the carnal dimension of life is directed entirely in the private sphere. The blind masseurs are as lusty and earthy characters as all Lou Ye's people. Lou Ye is fascinated by the fact that blind ones cannot appreciate visual beauty.

Repression causes Xiao such anxiety that a fellow masseur introduces him to a sex parlour where he finds release and falls in love with a young female sex worker called Mann. Contrary to expectations, this love is real, and the couple leaves Nanking to live happily thereafter.

The beautiful masseuse has an accident and her wrist is broken incapacitating her. Everybody supports her but she leaves a farewell letter in Braille: "I cannot be a burden any more". This is a final straw, and the centre is discontinued. At the final banquet everybody is unhappy. As in Summer Palace we learn of everyone's stories afterwards. "They forgot about the past".

Like Summer Palace, Blind Massage is a film worth seeing again to fully appreciate the richness of the ensemble.

Visually, the film at times emulates the vision of a person about to go blind: blurred vision, opacity, softness.

The visual quality of the DCP is adequate to the concept of the cinematography.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY JARI SEDERGREN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Film concert Shen nu / The Goddess (2K digital restoration China Film Archive 2014) (Mauri Saarikoski, Marko Puro)

Ruan Lingyu and Li Keng in Shen nu / The Goddess
神女 / Shénnǚ / Shennü / [Jumalatar] / [Gudinnan]. CN 1934. PC: Lianhua Film Company [United Photoplay Service]. P: Tian Minwei. D+SC: Wu Yonggang. DP: Weilie Hong – silent – b&w – 1,37:1. Production manager: Lo Ming-yau. C: Ruan Lingyu (The Goddess), Zhang Zhizhi (Zhang), Li Keng (the son), Tian Jian, Li Junpan, Tang Huaiqiu. Studio: Lianhua Film Company (Shanghai). The film was not theatrically released in Finland - MEKU 13.8.2015 – K7 – [Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 1995: /24 fps/ 77 min] – [Turner Classic Movies: 73 min] – CFA 2014: 82 min
    Digitally restored edition (2014, 2K DCP): Zhongguo Dianying Ziliaoguan / China Film Archive (CFA).
    2K DCP with Chinese / English intertitles from CFA viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Helsinki Festival, Focus on China), 23 Aug 2015
    Film concert with Mauri Saarikoski (violin) and Marko Puro (piano).

Revisited the Ruan Lingyu masterpieced directed by Wu Yonggang.

There is Griffithian simplicity and starkness in the story and the conception. The story could be a regular melodrama but the approach has an artistic grandeur worthy of a Griffith, a Sjöström, and a Borzage.

The single mother who can only support her son via prostitution. Escaping the police she lands into the grip of the pimp Zhang who uses the son to blackmail her.

The son is bullied on the playground and at school. Mean neighbours spread gossip about the mother. Yet the son never loses his spirit. At a school festival he is the joy of all with his poignant song about poverty.

The gossips want the boy evicted from school. In a memorable scene the headmaster has a look at the class. He has to visit the mother about the situation, firmly set to expel the son. But having met the mother, "I cannot dismiss a boy with a mother like you". When he loses against all other teachers he adopts the son himself.

Meanwhile Zhang has discovered mother's money stash with which she has financed her son's school fees. Zhang uses it all to gambling and drinking. There is a final confrontation, and the mother hits Zhang with a bottle, accidentally killing him. She is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Ruan Lingyu and Wu Yonggang's approach to this high melodrama is sober. It is a tragedy of injustice and dignity. It is a drama about maternal love, an universal story about a via dolorosa. There is a pregnant sense of mise-en-scène. There are effective montages of night life.

The digital restoration has been carefully conducted from partly low-contrast, soft and worn source materials.

In the live music Mauri Saarikoski and Marko Puro excelled again (they have previously brought us a Kreutzer Sonata concert and two Russian film concerts). As it proved impossible to organize an authentic Chinese film concert they presented an inspired Western hommage to the dignity of the Chinese spirit, based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Eugene Goossens, Ernest Pingoud, Béla Bartók, Fritz Kreisler, Gustav Mahler (Das Lied von der Erde), Giacomo Puccini, Maurice Ravel, and the traditional Chinese song, "A Maiden's Lament".

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON PAOLO CHERCHI USAI, AND MAURI SAARIKOSKI AND MARKO PURO

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yihe yuan / Summer Palace

颐和园 / Summerpalace [the on-screen translated title] / Une jeunesse chinoise. CN/FR © 2006 Laurel Films, Dream Factory, Rosem Films, Fantasy Pictures. EX: Liu Weixing. P: Fang Li, Nai An, Sylvain Bursztejn. D: Lou Ye. SC: Lou Ye, Mei Feng, Yingli Ma. DP: Hua Qing – 1:1.66. AD: Liu Weixin. Cost: Lu Yue. M: Peymen Yazdanian. ED: Lou Ye, Zeng Jian. S: Fu Kang. M: Peyman Yazdanian. C: Hao Lei (Yu Hong), Guo Xiaodong (Zhou Wei), Hu Ling (Li Ti), Zhang Xianmin (Ruo Gu). The film was not theatrically released in Finland - MEKU 2015 - K16 - 140 min
    A 35 mm print from Cineme with Dutch subtitles and e-subtitles in Finnish by Otto Pietinen viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Helsinki Festival / Lou Ye), 19 Aug 2015

The title of the film refers to the Summer Palace in Beijing (颐和园 / Yiheyuan), an UNESCO World Heritage site, "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value" (UNESCO).

My personal favourite of the five Lou Ye films we screened in our retrospective. A large ensemble piece, an engrossing generation testimony focusing on the year 1989 at Tiananmen Square. In the tragic turning-point the company of students is split all over the world, and we follow their destinies over 15 years.

Summer Palace belongs to the key works of Chinese cinema, and to key testimonies of the cinema about world-historical turning-points. It is an inside story; we feel privileged to have such a passionate look from the inside.

A strong libido is a hallmark of Lou Ye's cinema, and nowhere more than here. Summer Palace belongs to the most open statements about high sexuality in the student life in the world cinema. It is here an expression of an irrepressible life force. Lou Ye's is a cinema of desire, about insatiable lust, its consummation depicted in many extended full frontal views.

Summer Palace is a film that needs to be seen more than once. The cast of characters is so large that it is hard to keep count of everything during a single viewing.

Lou Ye is not a master of the mise-en-scène. His approach is naturalistic and spontaneous, fiction set up as if it were non-fiction. Lou Ye is not interested in beautiful images; scenes may be ugly, seemingly shot in available light. Steadicam is a favourite device of the cinematographer.

The print is complete and good, and I feel it does justice to the visual concept of the director and the cinematographer.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY PASI NYYSSÖNEN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Suzhou he / Suzhou River

苏州河 / Su zhou he [the way the Chinese title is transcribed in the opening credits] / Suzhou [Finnish name] / Suzhou [Swedish name in Finland]. CN/DE © 2000 Lou Ye / Dream Factory / Essential Filmproduktion. PC: Essential Filmproduktion GmbH, ZDF, Arte. EX: Yongling Wu. P: Nai An, Philippe Bober. D+SC: Lou Ye. DP: Yu Wang. ED: Karl Riedl. AD: Zhuoyi Li. M: Jörg Lemberg. S: Peijun Zu, Kang Fu, Martin Steyer. Makeup: Xuemin Wang. C: Zhou Xun (Meimei / Moudan), Jia Hongsheng (Mardar), Zhongkai Hua (Lao B.), Anlian Uao (boss), Nai An (Xiao Hong). Helsinki premiere: 6.10.2000 Kino Engel, imported by Cinema Mondo with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Outi Kainulainen / Jens Carp – VET 101895 – K12 – 2260 m / 83 min
    A KAVI print deposited by Cinema Mondo viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Lou Ye, Helsinki Festival), 18 Aug 2015

A grungy vision of life and passion in the turbulence of a rapidly changing country along Suzhou River not too far from Shanghai.

Zhou Xun stars in a dual role as two different women, Meimei and Moudan, and Jia Hongsheng is Mardar, a man obsessed with finding a woman from his past.

Suzhou River has been linked with Vertigo, but rather it belongs to a long continuum of stories of men obsessed with lost love ideals, also including early films such as Yevgeni Bauer's Gryozhy / Daydreams (1915). Unlike Vertigo, Suzhou River is not a Liebestod tragedy, and it is not about the death drive. Unlike some reviewers claim the film is not Hitchcockian. Rather it might resemble the Boileau-Narcejac novel D'entre les morts which takes place during the French Occupation and afterwards: in a society in turmoil people lose their loved ones, identities are unstable, and even names are changed.

I fail to be compelled by Suzhou River. The actors are not very engaging, the cinematography is not exciting, the music fails to move. Yet Suzhou River is not an indifferent achievement. Lou Ye has a true and original vision about a country in a vortex of change where people are uprooted and at loss. Traditional morality has lost its authority, and the law can be powerless. Crime and violence can flourish. There is little love; commercial sex business and drug trade are spreading. Anything goes but there is a general sense of meaninglessness, restlessness, soullessness, drifting without a purpose.

To the strengths of the movie belongs the semi-documentary approch of the cinematography. It is often handheld and subjective which can turn into a mannerism.

Visual quality of the print: the colour is good and the print is complete and in a good condition.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY JARI SEDERGREN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Nebraska

Nebraska / Nebraska. US © 2013 Paramount Pictures. PC: Bona Fide Productions – (in association with) FilmNation Entertainment / Blue Lake Media Fund / Echo Lake Entertainment – Paramount Vantage (presents). P: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa. D: Alexander Payne. SC: Bob Nelson. DP: Phedon Papamichael – Gemini 4:4:4 – kamerat: Arri Alexa M, Arri Alexa Plus 4:3 – Panavision 2,35:1 – digital intermediate 2K – b&w – release: 35 mm and D-Cinema. PD: J. Dennis Washington. AD: Sandy Veneziano. SD: Fontaine Beauchamp Hebb. Cost: Wendy Chuck. Makeup: Robin Fredriksz. Hair: Waldo Sanchez. M: Mark Orton. S: Frank Gaeta – Datasat – Dolby Digital. ED: Kevin Tent. Casting: John Jackson. C: Bruce Dern (Woody Grant), Will Forte (David Grant), June Squibb (Kate Grant), Bob Odenkirk (Ross Grant), Stacy Keach (Ed Pegram), Mary Louise Wilson (aunt Martha), Rance Howard (uncle Ray), Tim Driscoll (Bart), Devin Ratray (Cole), Angela McEwan (Peg Nagy). Loc: Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota (Mount Rushmore National Memorial). Helsinki premiere: 28.2.2014 Kino Engel, Kinopalatsi, released by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Finland, only in 2K DCP with Finnish / Swedish subtitles – MEKU 25.2.2014 – K7 – 115 min
    2K DCP from Park Circus viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alexander Payne), 15 Aug 2015.

Like The Descendants Nebraska is a road movie and a family saga. The token plot is a about taking a demented father to collect his million dollars from a mass mailing company in Lincoln. The actual subject is the son's journey of discovery into an unknown family history.

The father, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an alcoholic. During the key stop of the journey at Woody's home town Hawthorne the driver, the son David (Will Forte) learns something about his dad's background. Dad had fought in Korea and had been shot down. After that he transformed, and the drinking got bad. (Thus even Nebraska can be counted into what Anton Kaes has called shell-shock cinema). Woody has always been a nice and timid guy, used by others; finally he left Hawthorne. Before that the soft Woody had married the tough Kate (June Squibb). David learns to see even his mother in a new light. A revealing turning-point is a scene at Woody's family grave.

The main source of comedy is that the poor relatives at Hawthorne start to believe in Woody's being a millionaire, although David insists on every occasion that he is nothing of the kind. Everybody is already expecting to get his share. Here mom's tough manners sum it up pretty well: "You can all just go fuck yourselves".

The most poignant sequence is the visit to Woody's old homestead. "My dad built this place. I got whipped down here. The barn is still standing".

Nebraska is about waking up from illusions, but it is also about true family affection developing between father and son. In the final sequence David fulfills dad's dream about a pick-up truck and a compressor and leads the inhabitants of Hawthorne to believe that dad has actually become rich.

Where in The Descendants we were treated to lush and lavish colour views of an unknown Hawaii never before seen on film, Nebraska is visually the exact opposite: an arid black-and-white journey through the four states of Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Phedon Papamichael's cinematography is visually of the highest order, and each shot could be hanged on the wall.

Alexander Payne's strong documentary impulse is on display also here. The arid, anti-glamourous views are quietly unsettling.

There are no little children. The grown-up children are gaining weight while sitting glued in front of the television all day.

Nebraska is Alexander Payne's first film that has been shot digitally. The visual quality is ultra sharp. There is a sense of natures mortes in a literal way. The fine texture is on display. Although shot in wide open spaces, there is no sense of air. The digital quality here emphasises a sense of apathy and death.

It is a sign of the times that although Nebraska was released in Finland last year with a high profile, it is no longer accessible in Finland, and we had to book the DCP from England without subtitles. Movies, except Finnish ones, now usually disappear totally from the theatrical distribution in our country after a half a year after the premiere.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON TREVOR JOHNSTON

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jag är Ingrid / Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

Ingrid Bergman - omin sanoin. SE 2015. PC: Mantaray Film. P: Stina Gardell. Assoc. P: Anna Weitz. D: Stig Björkman. SC: Stig Björkman, Stina Gardell, Dominika Daubenbüchel. DP: Malin Korkeasalo. DP Super 8: Eva Dahlgren. M: Michael Nyman. Song: "Filmen om oss" (Eva Dahlgren). ED: Dominika Daubenbüchel. S: Mario Adamson. Head of Archive: Frida Neema Järnbert. Research: Jonas Goldmann. Voice of Ingrid Bergman in quotes: Alicia Vikander. Feat: Isabella Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini, Roberto Rossellini [Jr.], Pia Lindström, Fiorella Mariani, Liv Ullmann, Sigourney Weaver, Jeanine Basinger. Languages: English, Italian, French, Swedish. 114 min
    Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words is produced by Stina Gardell/Mantaray Film in coproduction with  ZDF in collaboration with ARTE, Jonas Gardell Produktion, Spellbound Capital and  Filminvestering in Örebro through Filmregion Stockholm-Mälardalen, SVT, Chimney Pot, Henrik Johnsson, Annica och Bo Uddenäs, YLE and NTR with support by Swedish Film Institute, Creative Europe, Nordisk Film & TV Fond  and The Swedish Arts Grants Committee.    Excerpts from Ingrid Bergman’s private footage / Wesleyan University Cinema Archives
    Swedish premiere 28 Aug 2015.
    Espoo Ciné screening in the presence of Stig Björkman 29 Aug 2015 (Ingrid Bergman's centenary birthday).
    Atlantic Film Finland 2K DCP with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Samuli Kauppi / Mikaela Palmberg, press screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ingrid Bergman) 13 Aug 2015

We are celebrating the centenary of Ingrid Bergman, and having read some Ingrid Bergman biographies in the summer, and most importantly, her autobiography Mitt liv / My Story (see here and here) it was a great pleasure to see Jag är Ingrid, directed by the master Stig Björkman, so faithful to the spirit of its subject that the film is a brilliant and perfect parallel work to Bergman's memoirs.

Yet this is not a film adaptation of those memoirs but based on Ingrid Bergman's own extensive archives. She apparently kept everything. She wrote letters, she kept a diary, and she was always photographing and filming in narrow gauge formats. Made in full collaboration with Bergman's four children this is an authorized and confidential film biography, a work of high independent value.

We see little previously known footage. Instead, there is a wealth of private footage and photograph material, plus interview footage made for the movie. Based on Bergman's writings it is told in the first person singular.

This is a story of a confident international star who, however, said that she was a sad child, very lonely, inventing characters. It was also sad for her to be an only child, which is why she wanted several of her own. Combining career and motherhood was not a problem for her. Life was there to be lived in full. And yet, "Jag tillhör denna låtsasvärld av film och teater" / "I belong to this make-believe world of film and theatre".

"Nobody is a prophet in her own land. The criticism at home was worse than anywhere else." On the other hand, "I don't want any roots".

Alfred Hitchcock found that Bergman took film more seriously than life and taught her to lighten up. My two favourite clips here are Alfred Hitchcock interviewing Bergman at Heathrow and Cary Grant's humoristic Academy Award acceptance speech for Ingrid for Anastasia. Isabella Rossellini comments on how Jean Renoir taught Bergman about film in general. She also remarks that Bergman "didn't like to work with father". Like in all the books, also here the episode of Autumn Sonata has a very special value as a late turning-point where Ingrid for the first time saw how others saw her on set.

Of the private life one of the most moving episodes here as in the biographies are Bergman's devotion to Isabella when she had scoliosis as a child.

The film is multi-lingual, and we hear Bergman speaking Swedish, English, French, German, and Italian.

In the age of laserdiscs, dvd's, blu-rays and classic movie channels there is a wealth of fine biographical documentaries on films and film-makers. Jag är Ingrid rises to the league of the very best of them. An indispensable source and achievement for lovers and students of Ingrid Bergman.

The visual quality is often high considering that this is a compilation film from many different sources.

It was a great pleasure to meet Stig Björkman visiting Espoo and Helsinki on Ingrid Bergman's birthday, incorporating the best kind of film historical understanding in Sweden, keeping its noble heritage of cinematic excellence. I look forward to more from him.

PRESS BOOK INFORMATION BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Mielensäpahoittaja / The Grump



Kverulanten.  FI 2014. PC: Solar Films Inc. Oy. P: Markus Selin, Jukka Helle. D: Dome Karukoski. SC: Dome Karukoski, Tuomas Kyrö - based on characters created by Tuomas Kyrö. DP: Pini Hellstedt - all digital - colour - 2,35:1. AD: Betsy Ångerman-Engström. SFX: Konsta Mannerheimo, Raine Toikkanen. Cost: Anna Vilppunen. Makeup: Kata Launonen. M: Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. ED: Harri Ylönen. S: Tuomas Klaavo.
    C: Antti Litja (Mielensäpahoittaja), Petra Frey (Emäntä), Mari Perankoski (Miniä), Iikka Forss (Poika), Viktor Drevitski (Sergei), Bruno A. Puolakainen (Tarasenko), Alina Tomnikov (Ljudmila), Janne Reinikainen (Tohtori Kiminkinen), Timo Lavikainen (taksinkuljettaja), Kari Ketonen (Sakke Intonen), Mikko Neuvonen (Stinde), Nelly Hristova (kaupan kassa), Sulevi Peltola (potilas Helminen), Matti Rönkä (uutistenlukija), Hanna Karlsson (Mia, lapsenlapsi), Ronja Porthan (Melissa, lapsenlapsi), Lenita Susi (Mirkku, lapsenlapsi),  Rosa Autio (kahvilan myyjä), Emilia Suoperä (kahvilan myyjä), Maria Loikala (hampurilaisravintolan myyjä), Sirkka Rautiainen (parkkipirkko), Minna Koskela (naapuri), Jukka Helle (postinjakaja), Evgenia Podymalkina (ravintolan esiintyjä), Mihail Vasiljev (ravintolan esiintyjä), Atso Akkanen (tarjoilija), Jonni Karvosenoja (Mielensäpahoittaja lapsena), Ville-Veikko Niemelä (Mielensäpahoittaja nuorena), Mikko Marttala (Mielensäpahoittaja keski-ikäisenä).
    Helsinki premiere: 5.9.2014, distributed by: Oy Nordisk Film Ab – MEKU 2014 – S – 104 min
    A 2K DCP from Nordisk Film Finland viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Antti Litja), 5 Aug 2015

The official synopsis: "The Grump is a man from the past. A man who knows that everything used to be better in the old days. Pretty much everything that's been done after 1953 has managed to ruin The Grump's day. Our story unfolds as The Grump takes a fall from his basement steps, hurting his ankle. He has to spend a weekend in Helsinki to attend physiotherapy. The Grump doesn't like this for four reasons: 1) He has to take a taxi. 2) He can't take daily care of his wife, an Alzheimer patient. 3) He is unable to drive, which means he might have to sit in a car with a female driver. 4) He has to spend time with his family. The daughter-in-law is a career woman, not keen to spend time with The Grump when he comes to the city, either. Her boss has given her the task to look after Russian businessmen supposed to close a major deal over the weekend. It doesn't make her any happier when The Grump decides to help with the deal. Then The Grump has to face his useless son to become the father he never was...  " (Solar Films)

Our tribute to the talented Finnish New Wave actor Antti Litja ended with his recent hit film The Grump, based on a popular character created by the writer Tuomas Kyrö and already impersonated previously by Antti Litja in other media, originally and memorably on the radio.

The story has affinities with the classics of Leo McCarey (Make Way for Tomorrow) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story), but in this comedy the generation clash is more merciless and extreme. The 80+ The Grump is a figure of the past and a target of comedy, but while we laugh at him we realize that he is also an embodiment of the future shock, the extreme change that has happened during a lifetime in Finland and elsewhere. It is a story of modernization and urbanization, universally relevant.

I was also thinking about another New Wave actor, Jack Nicholson, and his performance in About Schmidt. Also he plays a character who plans to spend his retirement days with his wife. His wife dies; The Grump's wife has Alzheimer's disease. "In old age we were supposed to have time for each other". "I was expecting us to live together to the end".

The obvious and well-known comedy catchphrases of Tuomas Kyrö's The Grump stories are repeated quickly in the beginning. The audience would be expecting them anyway. But the film gets deeper. It is about how gender roles have changed profoundly in one generation. It is about a basic naive trust in the neighbour that The Grump still has but for which he gets abused in the city.

The Grump stories are a parody of the "it was all better in the past", "the good old days" mentality. The original Finnish title Mielensäpahoittaja is difficult to translate. It means someone whose dominant character is to take offense. The recurrent phrase in the stories is "kyllä minä niin mieleni pahoitin... ", "I was so offended by... ", followed by a remark about a major or trivial change in life, such as Finnish success in sports, a changed anchorman in the newscast, or new technology in banks. "The first one is always the best", finds the Grump.

A major recurrent figure in the contemporary Finnish cinema of the last decades is The Harridan. This time it is Mari Perankoski's turn to impersonate her. Her husband, the grump's son, is a wimp. The characters start as caricatures but grow in complexity, thanks to the talent of the writer-screenwriter, the director Dome Karukoski, and the actors. There is something Molièrian or Balzacian in the way in which the characters are introduced by a single dominant trait, and in the way a richness of life is revealed in them.

A great performance by Antti Litja.

Visual quality: no problem with the digital quality in interiors, urban scenes, and shots of people; nature footage fails to convince (especially the colour), and the manipulated flashbacks look tricky.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY JOONA HAUTANIEMI:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Zezowate szczęście / Bad Luck / Cross-Eyed Luck

Poster design: Roman Cieślewicz. Galeria Grafiki i Plakatu. Click to enlarge.
Kierosilmäinen onni / Lyckan är en räv / Olycksfågeln (SE). PL 1959. PC: Zespół Filmowy Kamera / Studio Filmowe Kadr. P: Wilhelm Hollender. D: Andrzej Munk. SC: Jerzy Stefan Stawiński. DP: Jerzy Lipman, Krzysztof Winiewicz. AD: Jan Grandys. M: Jan Krenz. Song: "Kriegsgefangenenpost" (M: Andrzej Markowski, L: Andrzej Nowicki), perf. Slawa Przybylska. ED: Jadwiga Zajiček. C: Bogumił Kobiela (Jan Piszczyk), Maria Ciesielska (Basia), Helena Dąbrowska (Wychówna), Barbara Kwiatkowska (Jola), Krystyna Karkowska (Wrona-Wrońska, Joli), Barbara Połomska (Zosia), Irena Stalończyk (Irena Kropaczyńska), Tadeuz Bartosik (Wąsik), Henryk. Bąk (director), Aleksander Dzwonkowski, Tadeusz. Janczar, Stanisław Jaworski, Andrzej Krasicki (Witold Kropaczyński), Wojciech Lityński, Kazimierz. Opaliński, Jerzy Pichelski, Adam Pawlikowski, Wojciech Siemion (Józef Kacpersk), Jan Tadeusz Stanisławski. Helsinki premiere: 2.11.1962 Astra, released by: Suomi-Filmi – VET 62862 – S – 3100 m / 114 min
    A vintage KAVI print (deposit from Suomi-Filmi) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion (Pawlikowski's Poland), Helsinki, 4 Aug 2015

Revisited an irreverent satire set in the bitterest and the most tragic decades of Polish history - from the late 1930s till approximately the present day when the film was made, based on the text of Andrzej Munk's trusted screenwriter Jerzy Stefan Stawiński.

A point of comparison might be commedia all'italiana with its utter anti-heroism in accounts of Fascism and WWII.

But Bad Luck is more absurd and grotesque. There are aspects in the beginning that bring to mind Polanski and the Theatre of the Absurd. The grotesque dimension harks back to the extreme exaggeration of the French and Italian farces of the early cinema, such as André Deed / Cretinetti. Besides, there is trick photography and time lapse imagery.

Bad Luck is a daring and ambitious film, made with devotion. The overdone style is difficult, the tempo often breathless.

The trouble for me here is the casting. In commedia dell'italiana there was usually a splendid cast of master comedians who would attack the grimmest story with a healthy appetite. I was even thinking what Charles Chaplin might have done with this. I failed to relate to the talented Bogumił Kobiela in this role, and the film started to drag for me, but with a different casting it might have worked better.

There is much to like. A favourite of mine is the sequence where a young Slawa Przybylska sings "Kriegsgefangenenpost". It can be found on YouTube.

The visual quality of the vintage print is uneven. There are good passages from which one can judge how it all should look like, but often it is fair, not brilliant.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BASED ON MARKKU TUULI

Au hasard Balthazar / Balthazar

Balthazar / Balthazar (Swedish name in Finland) / Min vän Balthazar (Swedish name in Sweden).  FR/SE 1966. PC: Argos Films / Parc Film / Athos Films / Svenska Filminstitutet / Svensk Filmindustri. P: Mag Bodard. D+SC: Robert Bresson. DP: Ghislain Cloquet - black and white - 1,66:1. AD: Pierre Charbonnier. M: Franz Schubert: Klaviersonate Nr. 20 (D. 959), A-Dur, Andantino in fis-Moll, perf. Jean-Noël Barbier. Add. M: Jean Wiener. ED: Raymond Lamy. S: Antoine Archimbaud, Jacques Carrère. C: Anne Wiazemsky (Marie), François Lafarge (Gérard), Philippe Asselin (le maître d'école, Marie's father), Nathalie Joyaut (Marie's mother), Walter Green (Jacques), Jean-Claude Guilbert (the vagabond Arnold), Marie-Claire Frémont (la boulangère), François Sullerot (le boulanger), Jean-Joël Barbier (le doyen), Jean Rémignard (notary), Pierre Klossowsky (grain merchant), Jacques Sorbets (le capitaine de gendarmerie), Tord Paag (Louis), Rémy Brozeck (Marcel), Mylène Weyergans (nurse), Guy Renault, Myléne Weyergans, Gilles Sandier, Guy Bréjac (veterinarian), Sven Frostenson, Roger Fjellstrom (blousons noirs). A body double for Anne Wiazemsky appears in the nude scene. Loc: 21.7.1965 – 28.2.1966 Versailles region: Guyancourt village; Swiss Alps stand for the Pyrenees (bad weather prevented shooting on the actual location). Helsinki premiere: 15.9.1967 [the old ] Orion, released by: Suomi-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles – telecast: 27.2.1978 MTV1 – VET 75177 – K16 – 2625 m / 95 min
    The title of the film: "Au hasard Balthazar est la devise des comtes des Baux-de-Provence qu se disaient descendants du roi mage Balthazar" (L'Avant-Scène Cinéma, Janvier/février 1992). It is also a wordplay [o a.zaʁ bal.ta.zaʁ]. It means several things, among others in English: Balthazar at Random, and in Finnish: Sattumoisin Balthazar. My French is not good but I imagine the title means also At the Mercy of Chance / Sattuman huomaan, Balthazar.
    A KAVI print (a vintage Suomi-Filmi deposit) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Robert Bresson), 4 August 2015

Revisited Au hasard Balthazar, a turning-point in Robert Bresson's oeuvre. After a series of films about a quest for grace, Balthazar opens to a world where grace is hard to find.

Balthazar is about the fall from grace.

Balthazar is connected to Bresson's following film, Mouchette, and also to his final films, Le Diable, probablement, and L'Argent. They are about a world and a generation that seem to have lost spirituality. But Bresson's look is deeply spiritual.

Bresson's view on the external forms of the Church is reserved. Gérard sings piously in the Church choir, but he is a young man without a conscience. On his dying bed Marie's desillusioned father turns his back on the priest. Yet Balthazar is rich in religious imagery.

The account of reality in Balthazar is broader and richer than in Bresson's previous films which were much more tightly focused on the protagonist. Like L'Argent, Balthazar is a Querschnitt film. In L'Argent, money is "connecting people". In Balthazar it is the donkey.

The donkey's way is followed in seven stages: the birth and the happy childhood, the boulangerie, the vagabond, the circus, the mill, the contraband, and the death by the stray gunshot by the border guard. They are like the seven stages of life by Shakespeare, or perhaps like stages of the Calvary.

We are judged by the way by which we treat the weakest. Balthazar is tortured by fire at his tail. He is beaten. He is let freeze in the winter. At old age, he is forced to operate a heavy millstone. He is carrying smuggler's goods when the border patrol shoots him.

On the other hand, there is the brief happy childhood. Balthazar is caressed by Marie. He is saved from execution by Arnold who takes him to a health spa and revives him. He becomes "the sharpest brain of the century" at the circus where he solves difficult mathematical problems. (Shades of "the ingenious horse" in The Man Without Qualities). Towards the end he plays a notable role in a holy procession.

The parallel story is about Marie. Of the loss of the happiness of childhood she never recovers. Her father sacrifices everything to a property he does not own, turning from teacher to farmer, and is disappointed bitterly, fatally, lethally. Marie is estranged from her childhood boyfriend of the rich owner family. Instead, she is drawn to the company of the amoral and criminal Gérard, a man without a conscience. Marie is corrupted and demoralized.

Besides the several episodes, there are several continuities to reckon with: Balthazar's story, Marie's story, the story of the land, and so on.

It all makes sense, but there is a lot to digest, and instead of telling the story like in a classic novel, Bresson presents it in an elliptical way, with sharp cuts. A favourite device in Balthazar is that one thing is being foreseen, and in the next shot we see the opposite taking place.

Balthazar is a film that needs to be revisited. One of the best films ever made, it has always moved me deeply. It was a long time in the making. It is simple and sharp and full of mysteries.

The vintage print is complete, the visual quality uneven. In the beginning the image quality is less than perfect. (Can the first reel have been reduplicated at least partly due to wear?) Soon it becomes quite good. Ghislain Cloquet's lighting concept is refined, difficult and special, and in this print it can be appreciated. There are the regular signs of wear in the changeovers.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BASED ON GILLES JACOB

Citizen Ruth

Kansalainen Ruth / Citizen Ruth. US © 1996 Miramax. PC: Independent Pictures / Miramax. P: Cathy Konrad, Cary Woods. D: Alexander Payne. SC: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor. DP: James Glennon – negative: 35 mm – 1,85:1 – colour (FotoKem) – prints: FotoKem Laboratory, Burbank (CA). PD: Jane Ann Stewart. SD: Lisa Denker. Cost: Tom McKinley. Makeup: Angela Moos. Hair: Marsha Lewis. M: Rolfe Kent. S: Harry Cohen – Dolby. ED: Kevin Tent. Casting: Lisa Beach. C: Laura Dern (Ruth Stoops), Swoosie Kurtz (Diane Siegler), Kurtwood Smith (Norm Stoney), Mary Kay Place (Gail Stoney), Kelly Preston (Rachel), M. C. Gainey (Harlan), Kenneth Mars (Dr. Charlie Rollins), David Graf (Judge Richter), Kathleen Noone (nurse Pat), Tippi Hedren (Jessica Weiss), Burt Reynolds (Blaine Gibbons), Lance Rome (Ricky, Ruth's lover), Jim Kalal (Tony Stoops), Alicia Witt (Cheryl Stoney), Diane Ladd (Ruth's mother, n.c.). Loc: Council Bluffs (Iowa), Omaha (Nebraska). Not theatrically released in Finland – tv: 6.10.2000 Yle TV1 – 2941 m / 106 min
    A Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet print of a Triangelfilm import with Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alexander Payne), 4 August 2015

Alexander Payne's debut feature film is already a terrific accomplishment, a satire which unfolds with an assured touch in a narrative with ample potential to offend everybody. Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor immediately reach a high level of satire and wit, to be compared with Lubitsch, Wilder, and especially Sturges (The Miracle of Morgan's Creek). The constantly surprising Citizen Ruth and Election belong to the great accomplishments of American film satire.

The performances are impeccable. Laura Dern creates bravely a protagonist without glamour and without redeeming qualities.

Among my favourite sequences: - Ruth as the house-guest spends hours in the bath-tub while her foster family gets bored waiting for her to appear for dinner - the nasty teenage daughter finds in Ruth a soulmate - the son's construction set of Noah's Ark only interests Ruth for the glue.

The visual devices are interesting, including subjective views, even fly vision, straight overhead shots (the chicken dinner), and upside down views.

The film exaggerates the combat between the pro-choice and pro-life camps, but this is no facile satire of religious fundamentalism. With mothers like Ruth on the loose, the arguments for pro-choice might seem to weigh heavier. We might smile at the religious families and their constant hymn-singing, but their contribution and message seems more substantial than Ruth's rampage.
 
The print is clean and complete, the visual quality: the regular slightly duped or speed-printed look, getting better towards the later reels.

OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BASED ON ROGER EBERT BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK