Finland’s Enchanted Cinema
Cinema in Finland got to a flying start with a visit from the Lumière company in 1896, and in 1907 fiction film production was finally launched with a great deal of success for the home market, but rarely found international distribution. Before the Kaurismäki phenomenon, Finnish cinema enjoyed its own versatile studio directors and arthouse masters, both relatively unknown outside the country.
In an illustrated talk, film historian and the programmer of Finnish Film Archive Antti Alanen will shed light on one of the most overlooked Nordic national cinemas, which is currently enjoying a boom in audience success, production volume, and versatility.
This talk will accompany a season of 16 classics of Finnish cinema made between 1923 and 2017, and screenings will take place at London Close-Up Film Centre in January 2019. A smaller selection of the titles will be shown at Filmhouse in Edinburgh.
The series focuses on the three great visionaries of Finnish cinema, Nyrki Tapiovaara, Risto Jarva, and Aki Kaurismäki. Also featured is the Erkki Karu, founder of the most longstanding Finnish film company, Suomi-Filmi (celebrating its centenary this year) together with Finnish cinema maverick, Teuvo Tulio, known as the ‘melodrama maestro’. The talk will cover the key achievements of the studio era including the specticualr war film by Edvin Laine, The Unknown Soldier (1955), and Matti Kassila’s ingenious detective story Inspector Palmu’s Error (1960).
SERIES AT THE CLOSE-UP CINEMA LONDON E1
Based on a bittersweet, farcical play about unrequited love by Finland’s first modern novelist and playwright, Aleksis Kivi, The Village Shoemakers captures the defiant lack of self-pity that distinguished Kivi’s literary style. Axel Slangus, later to play the old man in Ingmar Bergman‘s Virgin Spring, gives an unsentimental performance as a brawny bachelor whose bungled attempts at winning the girl of his dreams leave him to the solitude of a whiskey bottle.
The third film by Valentin Vaala and his leading actor, budding director Teuvo Tulio: two young cosmopolitans with a great passion for cinema. Vaala loved Lubitsch, while Tulio was called the Finnish Valentino. The title of the film refers to the Sermon on the Mount: “The path is wide, which leads to damnation.” Vaala designs a cinema of beautiful surfaces: fast cars, elegant costumes, neon lights and jazz
A thriller set in turn-of-the-century Helsinki, Stolen Death uses elements of German expressionism to tell the story of Finnish resistance fighters smuggling arms to overthrow the Tsarist occupiers of Finland. Tapiovaara stresses the divided loyalties of the Finnish bourgeoisie, torn between preserving their privileged economic position and taking a risky stand for an independent Finland
Adapted from a play by novelist Hella Wuolijoki (who initially wrote under a male pseudonym) this is Vlantin Vaala’s pivotal work of the 1930s and the first in a series of five films chronicling the life of a wealthy farm household across decades and generations. Compared to an equally successful series of “provincial comedy-dramas” made by Marcel Pagnol in France, Vaala’s work proves to be visually more adventurous with its camera movements and faster pace
A gorgeous film with all the drama of love, death and new life. This cinematic rural poem is a beautiful adaptation of a novel by F.E. Sillanpää, to date Finland’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, about a bright Finnish summer night. Directed by the masterful Valentin Vaala, the sheer beauty of this film is also in part due to Eino Heino‘s camerawork and Taneli Kuusisto‘s score
Teuvo Tulio, the master of Finnish melodrama, made all his films outside the major companies, including this one, which was filmed in 1943 while the war was ongoing. First presented in late 1944, when the war had ended, this powerful drama works as a metaphor for Finland: the leading female character, a prostitute, is defeated and crushed by life, a shadow of her former self – but she has preserved an ideal image of peace and happiness.
Shot in the Arctic Circle’s snowy expanses, Erik Blomberg’s The White Reindeer is a marvel of film fantasy from Finland made in 1952. Pirita, played by the director’s wife, Mirjami Kuosmanen, is a bewitched young woman wed to an often-absent reindeer herder. Longing for affection, she carries out a sacrifice to empower a local shaman’s love potion and becomes cursed, transforming into a white reindeer by night and drinking the blood of local hunters. The White Reindeer blends documentary travelogue with avant-garde experimentation and produces an art house horror film without compare
The most popular film in Finland by a wide margin, The Unknown Soldier is also a cult movie in the strict sense: its dialogue has entered Finnish folklore, although it is often difficult to distinguish whether this originated with the movie or the book by Väinö Linna, which formed the basis for two other adaptations. One of the greatest war films ever made, it is a demonstration of how far Finnish cinema could go when the inspiration was genuine and shared by all involved.
An indisputable classic, and the first adaptation to feature the fictional detective created by the esteemed Finnish author Mika Waltari, best known for his historical books. The story revolves around the murder of a member of upper class, only to reveal a complicated web of blackmail and corruption. Known for its splendid documentary images of Helsinki, the film mixes “elements of comedy with scenes that would fit in more with the most intense of expressionist horror”
Released in the midst of an extremely grey period in the Finnish cinema, The Diary of a Worker was considered a revelation: the film had discovered realism, living people and vital milieu, none of them packaged in the trappings of entertainment; and what is more, Risto Jarva‘s work seemed to approach the standard of the best new European cinema. And it still holds up: its realism is not merely grey naturalism but a multi-levelled depiction in which dream, imagination, memories and various levels of reality converge
A portrait of the renowned Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto by the radical experimental filmmaker Eino Ruutsalo. Shot in the summer of 1972 at Aalto’s experimental house in Muuratsalo the film briefly and accurately covers the growth, development and creativity of the master architect, presenting his most important work.
This story of three down and out characters in search of some kind of freedom, all the while being pursued by a bunch of gangsters, this is the first feature directed by the eldest of the Kaurismäki brothers. Full of Finnish deadpan humour, and at the same time a tender, humane depiction of marginalised wanderers, it features Matti Pellonpää in the leading role, as well as Aki Kaurismäki, who co-scripted the film, playing the cool and troubled Ville Alfa (an homage to Godard’s Alphaville). A playful mishmash of different genres, The Worthless (and its imaginary Finland) is a joy from beginning to end
Aki Kaurismäki regulars Matti Pellonpää and Katja Outinen star in this offbeat yet remarkably touching romantic comedy. Pellonpää plays Nikander, a rubbish collector and would-be entrepreneur who finds his plans for success dashed when his business associate commits suicide. Whilst searching for a job, he meets Ilona, a down-on-her luck cashier in a local supermarket – and, falteringly, a bond begins to develop between them
The greatest film festival (anti)promotional short ever made which explains why Midnight Sun is a unique event for both film buffs in Finland and some of the stellar international talents who attend it and also appear in this hilarious guide to a very Finnish way of showing films
Peter von Bagh‘s international break-through: a portrait of Finland’s capital made with material taken from all eras and sources, with newsreel footage finding a place as easily as scenes from feature films. Certain locales are contemplated throughout the years, if not always in chronological order – as every so often, Von Bagh’s montage follows an emotional logic that questions real historical developments.
After a life of ill health, the young Swiss author Robert Crottet feels a calling to go to the Arctic and meet the people of the North. He is welcomed by the Skolt Sámi – and is mesmerized by the richness of their oral traditions, especially the unique storytelling gift of the lively matriarch Kaisa Gauriloff. After being acknowledged by the forest, he is permitted to record the stories and legends as told by Kaisa. These hypnotizing tales are illustrated with delightful storybook-style animation that intertwine with Robert’s biographical impressions as well as grim historical events around them
Based on Antti Tuuri’s bestselling novel, The Eternal Road tells the untold story of the many thousands of Communist Americans who answered Stalin’s call in the 1930s to build a new society in the USSR based on justice, equality, and freedom. They include Jussi Ketola, an idealistic American with Finnish origins. However, the dream of a paradise is quickly shattered by efforts of control by both fascists and Soviet secret police. Foreigners become seen as undesirable elements, and in time people start disappearing
FINLAND’S ENCHANTED CINEMA | 18 Jan 2019 | Birkbeck Cinema WC1
FILMS SCREENING AT THE CLOSE-UP CENTRE | LONDON E1