Friday, September 26, 2014

(Feed)Back to Nature - AV-arkki 25 Years / Takaisin(kytkentä) luontoon - curator Mika Taanila

AV-arkki is the distribution center of Finnish media art.

AV-arkki and Love & Anarchy at Cinema Andorra and Bar Dubrovnik, 26 Sep 2014
    Word of welcome: Hanna Maria Anttila (AV-arkki, Director)
    A greeting from the Ministry of Education and Culture: Marjo Mäenpää (Director, Department for Art and Cultural Policy, Division for Art)
    Introduction: Mika Taanila (curator of the jubileum show)
    In the presence of the artists Pasi "Sleeping" Myllymäki, Juha van Ingen, Anneli Nygren, Seppo Renvall, Anssi Kasitonni, Maria Duncker, and Maija Blåfield.

AV-arkki juhlii yhdessä Rakkautta ja Anarkiaa festivaalin kanssa 26.9.2014
Andorra klo 19.30 Takaisinkytkentä luontoon - AV-arkin Juhlanäytös, kuratointi Mika TaanilaDubrovnik klo 20:30 vastaanotto kutsuvieraille: Viiden tähden kakkua ja juhlajuomaa. Onnentoivotuksia! Rytmeistä vastaa Dj. President
Dubrovnik klo 22:30 –  Stereo8000 ja Finntengs! (vapaa pääsy)

Suloista punkkia ja sleng teng krebaa – AV-arkki 25 vuotta!

Nyt vietetään AV-arkin 25 v. juhlia!  Mika Taanilan kuratoiman näytöksen jälkeen (tiedot alla) alkaa bileet Dubrovnikissa. Musiikkiohjelmasta vastaa Stereo 8000, punkrokin voimaduo Sahalahdelta sekä tietysti Finntengs! Kaiken takana on Sleng Teng! Vuodesta 2009 maamme kreba- ja kotibileskenessä yleisöä liikuttanut mashup-kollektiivi Finntengs Sound System yhdistää remixeissään suomalaisen musiikin jamaikalaiseen dancehallklassikkoon, Sleng Teng -rytmiin. Ryhmän käsittelyssä saavat kyytiä niin Finnhitsklassikot kuin Porilaisten marssi.

TAKAISIN(KYTKENTÄ) LUONTOON – AV-ARKKI 25 VUOTTA
(FEED)BACK TO NATURE – AV-ARKKI 25 YEARS

It’s gonna rain all night
But we’ll be alright
Under the geodesic dome
Infrared heater, just like home
Sitting in the shade of a rubber tree

– ”Back To Nature”, Fad Gadget (1979)

"Suomalaisen mediataiteen levityskeskus AV-arkki täyttää tänä vuonna kunniakkaat 25 vuotta. AV-arkki tekee merkittävää työtä suomalaisen videotaiteen ja kokeellisen elokuvan esiintuomiseksi kotimaassa ja ulkomailla. Suomessa videotaiteen eräs pysyvistä – kenties kansallisesti leimallinen – kytkentäkaavoista on ollut vetäytyminen luontoon erilaisten elektronisten vempeleiden kera. Urbaanin taiteilijan kompleksinen hyppy toisinaan sähköttömään askeesiin (”alkuperäinen”) ja sieltä takaisin nyky-digitalismiin (”keinotekoinen”) toistuu aaltoliikkeen lailla kuten viikonlopun mökkimatkat suomalaisessa kulttuurissa. Mukana tässä 25-vuotisjuhlanäytöksessä on poliittisia teoksia, muistin pettämistä, luonnonlakien ja manipulaation juhlaa sekä silkkaa absurdismia. Tapiosta Masaan, nature never forgives! Onnea Arkin seuraaville purjehduksille!"

Pasi ”Sleeping” Myllymäki: Sleeping (1982, 1:42Kaitafilmi-pioneeri Myllymäen arvoituksellinen manifesti.“On revittävä silmiä peittävät suomut! On typerää torkkua valtavan ilmaisuvälineen äärellä”, kirjoitti Myllymäki Maanalainen kaitaelokuva -pienlehdessään tästä elokuvasta. “Elokuvaa ei enää pitäisi kokea unena. Ennen katsoja seurasi turvallisesti sivusta mitä elokuvan näyttelijöille tapahtuu. Mutta nyt elokuva tapahtuu katsojille. Suoran elokuvan aikakausi on alkanut.” - AA: Pasi "Sleeping" Myllymäki's legendary 8 mm underground movies have been recently digitized and made available at the AV-arkki distribution catalogue. - The force of this furious movie is still undiminished. - With a flicker approach we face an assault of imagery of eyes, knifes, moving dots, abstract patterns, torn film, scratch aesthetique, and electric colour. There is a bruitist soundtrack and a goofy sense of humour. I was thinking about the film of the year, Godard's Adieu au langage.

Teemu Mäki: Tapio (1990, 11:20Kulutuskritiikkiä 24 vuoden takaa: ”Vuonna 2010 puolet kaikista eläin- ja kasvilajeista kuolee sukupuuttoon – syyttäkää itseänne.” Vimmainen kollaasiteoksen huipentaa amerikkalainen tv-evankelistan hypnoottinen saarna: ”Jumalan ja luonnon välillä on valtava ero: luonto ei anna koskaan anteeksi”. Musiikki: Radiopuhelimet. - AA: It starts like one of the MTV ecological breaks which were quite good at the time. Then it's no holds barred. A businessman shoots his sperm into the exhaust tube of his BMW. A woman recites a scatologial Marquis De Sade monologue. The smoke, the ashes, the fate of the Earth. "Nature never forgives".

Juha van Ingen: (Dis)integrator (1992, 3:55Analogiseen nauhakopiointiin perustuva teos pohjautuu tieteiselokuvaan Kärpänen (The Fly, Kurt Neumann,1958). Materiansiirtokonetta verrataan tv-vastaanottimeen, kunnes kohtaus purkautuu sähköisen kohinan valtamereksi. - AA: Material video art. Both the brief dialogue excerpted and the video work itself are reflections on copying. Now in the age of 3D printers this is less science fiction than then.

Anneli Nygren: Pyykki-teos / Laundry Piece (1992, 3:00Yoko Onon performanssin (1963) suomalaisen ”cover-version” hoitelee fantastinen Orvokki Björkesten. ”Kun haluat viihdyttää vieraitasi, ota pyykkisi ja esittele heille jokaista vaatekappaletta. Miten ja milloin ne likaantuivat ja miksi jne.” - AA: A neo-corny Yoko Ono "remake" of a laundry show which looks like it's shot on vhs.

Seppo Renvall: Tukholman lapset / Children of Stockholm (1995, 2:20Tukholmalaisessa puistossa vietetään intuitiivista vuosijuhlaa ensilumen kunniaksi. Sattuman kauneutta ja ei-verbaalin kerronnan hurmosta. - AA: Three children celebrate the first snow in Stockholm.

Erkka Nissinen: Vantaa (2008, 11:50Paluu yksinkertaisten perustarpeiden äärelle. Sarjallisen musiikin säveltäjämestarit Arnold Schönberg ja Karlheinz Stockhausen himoitsevat päivittäisiä jugurttiannoksiaan steriilissä studiopuutarhassa. - AA: An absurdist play realized largely as an animation. Schönberg and Stockhausen yearn for yoghurt.

Anssi Kasitonni: Masa (2009, 10:49Kasitonnin vankilapako-elokuva täyttää genren tiukimmatkin vaatimukset. Masa-marsun ja tämän omistajan (Noora Federley) suunnitelmat joutuvat mittakaavojen ja eriparisten unelmien törmäyskurssille. Alkuteksti: ”The greatest adventure of escape ever told”. - AA: A stop motion animation about Noora's guinea pig, the escape artist, inspired by The Great Escape. Qf. also Chicken Run.

Juha Mäki-Jussila: Äkkiä viime kesänä / Suddenly, Last Summer (2013, 4:17Tennessee Williamsin kuuluisan näytelmän filmatisointiin (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959) perustuva animaatio. Traagisia muistoja harkitaan poistettavaksi lobotomian keinoin. ”Käänteisessä dubbauksessa” Elizabeth Tayloria, Katharine Hepburnia ja Mongtomery Cliftiä esittävät nyt kasvit. Tekijän mukaan teos on ”seurantadokumentti Suomen kesästä, jossa kaikki tapahtuu kovin nopeasti”. - AA: Stop motion animation where Suddenly, Last Summer is acted by plants.

Maria Duncker: Evergreen (2013, 2:38Monipuolisen tekijän hämmästyttävä kunnianosoitus luonnon alkuvoimalle. Musiikki: Tuomo Puranen. ”Liljanlehden väsymätön non-stop tuuletus.” (M.D.) - AA: In a long take and full shot, a view of a garden and the rhythm of the flowers.

Maija Blåfield: Katkelma kultaista aikaa / Fragment of Golden Age (excerpt of a film to be released in 2015) (2015, 4:13Esseistinen lyhytelokuva muistin, taltioinnin ja väärinmuistamisen monimutkaisista vyyhdeistä. Blåfieldin 15 vuoden aikana kuvaama materiaali saa uusia merkityksiä, kun alkuperäinen yhteys on pääsyt unohtumaan tai muuttunut. Katkelma teoksesta, joka saa ensi-iltansa vuonna 2015. - AA: Travel footage of dances, balls, and reindeer, where the foreign characters have been dubbed into Finnish.

Programme note: Mika Taanila

It was great to see  Pasi "Sleeping" Myllymäki and all these artists. Mika Taanila told me after the show that he had been teaching all week at Aalto University. When the news of Peter von Bagh's death hit on Monday 22 September, all teaching stopped. Many started to cry. They decided to watch films all day. Everybody stayed.

Christoph Huber: In Memoriam Peter von Bagh (Österreichisches Filmmuseum)

Peter von Bagh, Helmut Groschup, Michael Glawogger at Isola Cinema in 2010. Photo: Jože Rehberger Ogri.
In memoriam Peter von Bagh
29. August 1943 – 17. September 2014


In tiefer Trauer verabschiedet sich das Österreichische Filmmuseum von einem der letzten Renaissance-Menschen des Kinos: Am 17. September 2014 ist Peter von Bagh nach langer Krankheit 71-jährig verstorben. „He died with his boots on“, schildert sein Freund und Kollege Antti Alanen auf seinem Blog (http://anttialanenfilmdiary.blogspot.fi/2014/09/-remembering-peter-von-bagh.html) den Abschied von einem Menschen, dessen Entdeckerleidenschaft und Forscherdrang sich in einem Werk niederschlugen, dessen Dimensionen kaum zu fassen sind – das Wirken von Peter von Bagh als (Film-)Historiker reicht weit über seine Arbeit als Autor von mehr als 50 Filmen und TV-Serien sowie Dutzenden selbstverfassten Büchern zum Kino hinaus. Als Herausgeber finnischer Übersetzungen handverlesener Klassiker der Literatur und Filmgeschichtsschreibung sowie von zahlreichen Musikveröffentlichungen, als Verfasser vieler Hörspiele, als Vortragender und Kurator, als entscheidender Mitgestalter des Finnischen Filmarchivs und als Mitbegründer wie Leiter diverser Festivals hat Peter von Bagh die finnische Kulturlandschaft entscheidend mitgeprägt und im internationalen Kinogeschehen tiefe Spuren hinterlassen – zuletzt etwa seit 2001 als Kodirektor von „Il Cinema Ritrovato“ in Bologna, wo er Cinephilen immer wieder neue, teils vergessene Kino-Kontinente erschloss.

„Quantity, never quality“, pflegte Von Bagh selbst mit typischem Humor und Bescheidenheit (und unverwechselbarem finnischen Akzent) über seine unglaubliche Produktivität zu scherzen: Das Gegenteil war natürlich der Fall. Hinter seinem jovialen Witz und überschäumendem Enthusiasmus verbargen sich zugleich tiefe Ernsthaftigkeit und ein stupendes Wissen über das Kino – und die Welt, wie sie sich in Filmen spiegelt. Muster-gültig belegt das sein eigenes Werk als Regisseur, mit dem er vor allem – aber nicht nur – Kino und Geschichte Finnlands zutiefst persönlich zum Leben erweckte und dabei stets auf eine Weise von den Dingen erzählte, die weit über den nationalen oder rein filmischen Bezug hinausgingen: Er sah das Kino als ein Medium mit utopischer Kraft, um „an Wahrheiten zu gelangen, zu denen man auf andere Weise nicht vorstoßen kann“.

Diese Wahrheitssuche trieb ihn unermüdlich an: „Wenn du vier unvollendete Projekte hast und nicht weißt, wie du sie zu Ende bringen sollst, beginne ein Neues“, war Von Baghs Motto – vielleicht lag es auch an der erschlagenden Fülle seines Werks, dass seine internationale Entdeckung als einer der Großen des Essayfilms erst verspätet erfolgte, nachdem er schon seit Dekaden als Kritiker, Historiker und Festivalmacher – etwa des legendären Midnight Sun Film Festivals, das er 1986 mit Aki Kaurismäki ins Leben rief – etabliert war. Beginnend mit einer Werkschau beim Film Festival Rotterdam 2012 wurde das Werk Von Baghs endlich in größerem Rahmen außerhalb seiner Heimat entdeckt und gefeiert, in den letzten beiden Jahren folgten weltweit Retrospektiven und Ehrungen.

Gemeinsam mit Olaf Möller hat Peter von Bagh so noch die Schau „Finnland – Der Film“ für das Österreichische Filmmuseum zusammengestellt: eine Passage durch das Kino und die Entwicklung seiner Heimat, begleitet von eigenen Regiearbeiten – und, so wäre es geplant gewesen, seiner unverzichtbaren Präsenz und Intelligenz. Statt der geplanten Gespräche wird sein enger Freund und Mitstreiter Möller nun in den Einführungen die Erinnerung an eine herausragende Figur des Kinos beschwören, Von Baghs Stimme wird nur mehr als Erzähler seiner Filme erklingen: ein Nachhall seiner manchmal ironischen, manchmal melancholischen, immer tiefschürfenden, dialektischen und bereichernden Gedankenwelt. In der Utopie Kino, an die er immer geglaubt hat, ist Peter von Baghs Vermächtnis bewahrt.

„Finnland – Der Film. Mit Peter von Bagh durch das finnische Jahrhundert“:
27. September bis 15. Oktober 2014 im Österreichischen Filmmuseum


Wiedergegeben mit freundlicher Genehmigung vom Österreichischen Filmmuseum.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Peter von Bagh in memoriam (obituary for FIAF)

Peter von Bagh directs Kreivi / The Count (1971)
"If you have four unfinished projects and don't know how to pull them off, start yet another one" (Peter von Bagh).

Peter von Bagh (* 29.8.1943 Helsinki, † 17.9.2014 Helsinki) was a Renaissance Man: film critic and historian, film director and programmer, artistic director of festivals, editor, author (34 books, many of them huge, major works include The History of the Cinema, 1975, 1998 and Chaplin, 2013), book publisher, and impresario of huge theme concerts during four decades. Von Bagh had also a full career on the radio (including a hundred one-hour long features called Films Bigger Than Life, 1984–1993) and television (with award-winning series and programs), and he was a university professor well-known for generations of film and theatre students.

Already as a teenager cinephile comet in the late 1950s Peter von Bagh was getting noticed in his hometown Oulu and the country at large. He started to discover an international network of cinephilic contacts at age 19 when he travelled to a seminar about American cinema in Kiel in 1962, getting acquainted with what would become the Movie circle of cinephiles in Britain.

Peter von Bagh become known in Finland as a serious young man, an angry young man, and an irreverent young man. The most inspired cultural trends in 1950s Finland were rooted in cultural modernism. That was the era when universities were still elite universities, soon to turn into mass universities. Von Bagh wrote about film in the bright and ambitious Ylioppilaslehti (the journal of the Helsinki University students), and Parnasso, the mouthpiece of literary modernism. He lambasted Finnish populist cinema mercilessly. He became known as "the Elitist Peter". He was active on the radio and on television since the early 1960s, always on a serious note, dressed in dark suit and tie.

Von Bagh become a key figure in cultural radicalism as it started to emerge in the early 1960s. His friends included writers, musicians, theatre people, cultural critics, and new wave film makers, most importantly the team of Filminor, a film company established by Risto Jarva and Jaakko Pakkasvirta in 1962.

Von Bagh was active as a critic and historian in newspapers, journals, on the radio and on the television. He was one of the dynamos in the Jyväskylä summer festival, a co-founder of the Filmihullu (Movie Crazy) magazine in 1968, later its editor-in-chief, and the curator of the Finnish Film Archive in 1967–1970 and its film programmer until 1984.

Von Bagh's fellow students of sociology, Pekka Gronow and M. A. Numminen, started to rehabilitate popular music, and not just to épater le bourgeois. Innovative labels such as Love Records were established. Von Bagh's was active in all of this. Numminen was (and still is) the anarchistic central figure of the Finnish Underground movement, inspired by but not copying Americans with happenings, concerts, and films. Von Bagh started his film career with 8 mm underground home movies such as Life in the Finnish Woods (1967). Peter at the Finnish Film Archive was also instrumental in hosting P. Adams Sitney's New American Cinema tour in Finland in 1968, leaving a lasting mark in the Finnish art world.

A critic becoming a film-maker: the nouvelle vague trajectory of Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer and Rivette was also the one for Peter von Bagh who started as a film critic in the late 1950s. In  Finland, Roland af Hällström, Nyrki Tapiovaara, and Jörn Donner had also started as critics, but von Bagh's approach to film-making as a continuation of film criticism was more profoundly meditated, in ways comparable with Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, and Edgardo Cozarinsky.

Having essayed fiction in his early years von Bagh later focused on non-fiction and became a master of the compilation film, a topic on which he also wrote his dissertation (The Mirror Which Had a Memory, 2002). Olaf Möller and von Bagh have divided the compilations into roughly two epochs: the Emile De Antonio epoch without commentary, and the Chris Marker epoch with commentary, and a new level of density and mastery continuing in the 2010s.

The film studio era had ended in Finland in 1962 with the coming of television. The new wave had started in Finland in the 1950s, and von Bagh was a Filminor screenwriter in 1969–1972 for three films directed by Risto Jarva, and Kesäkapina (Summer Rebellion, 1970), directed by Jaakko Pakkasvirta. Kesäkapina was a Brechtian and Godardian film, an original Finnish exercise in the art of collage and compilation.

Of von Bagh's films as a director the earliest officially released films were exercises in satire (Pockpicket, 1968, Joulukuu / December, 1969). He also forayed in an ironical study in cinéma-vérité (Liikemiehen muotokuva / The Portrait of a Businessman, 1970) and participated in a ciné-tract, Vanhan valtaus / The Storming of the Old Student House, in 1968. (The Finnish students stormed their own house.) All this with an irreverent slant.

Peter von Bagh's single fiction feature film Kreivi (1971), which transgresses the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction, co-produced by Filminor and FJ-Filmi (involving Jörn Donner), marked a step in the evolution from "the Elitist Peter" to "the Populist Peter", but it was not a turn from one extreme to another, but rather a widening of perspective, a stage in a constant evolution towards new syntheses. In fact, von Bagh had never been an elitist, as he had always ignored the demarcation lines of elitist and popular cultures.

Disappointed with Kreivi's lack of commercial success von Bagh turned to non-fiction and television and started to create an oeuvre which grew into a work-in-progress about the history of Finnish popular culture, the history of Finland, and the history of Finnish culture. He started with portraits of Finnish legends (the singer Olavi Virta, the runner Paavo Nurmi, the entertainers Reijo Helismaa and Tapio Rautavaara, the actor Tauno Palo). An early synthesis was Sinitaivas / The Blue Sky (1978), about the meaning of entertainment. Vuosi 1952 / The Year 1952 (1980) was another synthesis about a symbolic year of national recovery from WWII. The Suomi-Pop I–V series (1984–1985) extended the view to the history of independent Finland.

Vuosi 1952 also launched von Bagh's "years series" of Finnish history: 1917–1918 (Muisto / Memory) (1987), Vuosi 1939 (1993), and Viimeinen kesä 1944 / The Last Summer 1944 (1992).

The SF Story 1–6 (1991) started von Bagh's project of covering the great Finnish film production companies, inspired by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's Hollywood. It was followed by The Suomi-Filmi Story 1–5 (1993) and The Fennada Story 1–3 (1993). Separate feature films on major film personalities von Bagh dedicated to Armand Lohikoski, and Edvin Laine. Exceptionally distinguished is the three-part documentary on Mikko Niskanen. Relevant here is also Lastuja / Splinters – A Century of an Artistic Family (2011), which includes the story of the Aho & Soldan company, which established the documentary as an art form in Finland.

Von Bagh's magnum opus is the tv series The Blue Song: The Story of the Arts of Finland. A Cultural History of Independent Finland, 1–12 (2003–2004), which had been preceded by the series Oi kallis Suomenmaa: The Story of Independent Finland 1–8 (1997–1998). Ever since Pockpicket (1968, its motto: "The past is a part of us… and we are on our way to the past… "), von Bagh's films were un recherche du temps perdu, with affinities with the streams of consciousness in Proust, Benjamin, and Marker. His master's thesis von Bagh wrote in 1968 about Vertigo, about the obsession with the hidden past.

The montage principle was central, the art of the collage and compilation was evolving into a personal syntax of the documentary essay. The films were built on multiple levels of associations and interconnections. From the cultural radicalism of the 1960s von Bagh inherited a Brechtian sense of material aesthetics, a philosophy of history, and a passion for dialectics. Coincidentia oppositorum and paradoxes abound. And conflict: von Bagh not only tolerated conflict – he thrived in it. Like John Ford, von Bagh juxtaposed the sublime with the ridiculous. The small and the big, the intimate and the grandiose, the temporary and the eternal clashed with each other in his montage.

But like Godard, von Bagh believed in the continuity in the breaks: "We do not live only in the present. The past with all its memories, events and experiences lives in us". In his dissertation about the compilation film von Bagh states that his films are essentially "studies in Finnish happiness" (already a motto in Kesäkapina). The experience of the war was central. Something had been broken, and a compilation film was a form of vital redemption of something that had been lost. In the background there was a feeling of the presence of death, a cosmic homelessness, and the vital need for reconstruction via the life-affirming power of art.

Peter von Bagh's voice was one of the most recognizable in Finland, acknowledged by awards, imitated by every imitator. In the beginning it was the omniscient voice of the narrator, but with the years it changed into something more confidential.

Von Bagh was a master of the interview. Among his early subjects: Carl Th. Dreyer, Alfred Hitchcock, and Fritz Lang. Among his models, the classic of the American interview, Studs Terkel: "an epic scale, the full impact of a folkloric tradition caught in the present, and an intimate, personal, almost poetic tune", Peter summed up the Terkel legacy. Von Bagh's talking heads were never mere talking heads. Immediately von Bagh established an atmosphere of confidence, an intimate connection with a living human being talking about a vital experience, sometimes for the first time for someone who truly understood. The watch was never glanced at, there was never a hurry, and the interview might last hours. Von Bagh's masterpieces such as Sodankylä Forever and The Blue Song, bringing together voices of people who never met, he called "dialogues conducted in heaven".

Von Bagh never stood still, and Helsinki, Forever (2008) was a turning-point to a new density, to an even more pure and multi-dimensional art of the documentary essay. It was his international breakthrough film, leading to several major international tributes to him, most prominently in the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2012, for which Olaf Möller wrote the first comprehensive essay on Peter von Bagh as a film artist.

As cinephilia can thrive only as a shared experience, an essential part of von Bagh's work was reconstructing cinephilic paradises in the festivals of Sodankylä (Midnight Sun Film Festival) and Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato).

Peter von Bagh died with his boots on. Those were seven league boots.

He was busy to the end with projects of new books and movies, travel plans to introduce retrospectives, and concepts for festival programming. His literary legacy includes unpublished manuscripts for several books, including a 12 volume history of the world cinema.

Unlike Stroheim, Peter owned an authentic "von" prefix, but he loved to be a man of the people and never liked to travel first class. Like Jean Renoir he believed in the spirit of generosity and the aristocracy of the soul. In the Finnish tax paradise he got world class care – just like everybody. I met him a week before he died. He knew what was coming but refused to play the role of the dying man. With a gentle sense of humour he created a jovial atmosphere even in terminal circumstances.

As Peter's death became known, the internet came alive with tributes. The film critic Tarmo Poussu predicted that Peter would be welcomed in heaven by Erich von Stroheim to watch the complete Greed, after which Orson Welles would invite him to see the uncut The Magnificent Ambersons.

Antti Alanen

By permission of FIAF. An edited version of this obituary will be published in #91 of the Journal of Film Preservation at the end of October.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

He ovat paenneet / They Have Escaped

FI/NL © 2014 Helsinki-Filmi / Revolver Amsterdam. P: Aleksi Bardy. D: J-P Valkeapää. SC: J-P Valkeapää, Pilvi Peltola. DP: Pietari Peltola. PD: Markku Pätilä. M: Helge Slikker. S: Micke Nyström. ED: Mervi Junkkonen. C: Teppo Manner, Roosa Söderholm, Petteri Pennilä, Pelle Heikkilä. 102 min
    DCP with English subtitles by Aretta Vähälä from SF Film.
    2K projection at Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Finnish Film Gala at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 23 Sep 201

    Introduced by Pekka Lanerva, Director of the Festival.
    In the presence of J-P Valkeapää who introduced key members of the cast and crew.
    Followed by a Q&A with J-P Valkeapää and Roosa Söderholm hosted by Kalle Kinnunen.

    Before the screening there was a eulogy by Pekka Lanerva and a minute of silence in honour of Peter von Bagh, news of whose death we learned yesterday.

HIFF Catalogue: "A boy and a girl meet at a custody center for troubled youth. The boy has come to serve his obligatory civil service. The girl is one of the youths in custody, and she is constantly in trouble, inside her a fire, a lust for life that can’t be quashed, or controlled. The boy becomes infatuated with the girl. He is a quiet one—a stutterer. But there is a fire inside him as well."

"Rules, laws, punishment, the shackles of the hostile environment with no understanding around them can be broken. They steal a car and flee together. Thus begins a journey with endless escapes."

"They Have Escaped is a film about fragile love, childhood dreams and the violence of reality. It will premiere internationally at Venice Film Festival.
" (HIFF Catalogue)

AA: A nightmare film about two lost young people, a wild girl from the custody center, and a boy trying to rehabilitate himself as a driver there. They escape, they try to find a place where they can discover themselves, but instead they become targets of a horrible chase.

J-P Valkeapää, Teppo Manner and Roosa Söderholm create a powerful atmosphere of existential anxiety. The young people have no place they can call their home. The girl's belongings are packed to boxes from where she can find nothing. The grandmother is no longer spiritually present.

The refuge they find is an expensive hunting lodge on an island. Soon the young ones themselves become game for the hunter, a bit like in The Most Dangerous Game.

There is not really anyone they can depend on, except perhaps the bizarre salesman with racist attitudes.

The entire film is a nightmare, and there are also "a dream within a dream" sequences.

The visual approach is based on a denial of a general view. There are many extreme close-ups, fast edits, and faded colours. There is an overall sense of disorientation and unclear vision.

The vision is of a world that has lost the fullness of colour, a world in which colour is dying.

The visual quality: the limitations of digital have been turned into means of expression.

J-P Valkeapää in the Q+A: - The Snow Queen (1986) by Päivi Hartzell is a favourite. - Bresson is one of the most important, if not the most important one, always a purifying one. - The naivist world of Night of the Hunter impresses me. - Usually I do not like dream sequences.

After the gala we shared a toast to the memory of Peter von Bagh with Russian guests of the Festival, Boris Nelepo, Pavel Miloslavsky, and Xeniya Gapchenko. We talked about Peter's passion for Russian cinema and the fact that Kreivi / The Count (1971) had had its premiere in the very cinema where we had just seen They Have Escaped.

Jon Wengström: Peter von Bagh död

Peter von Bagh. Photo: Bert Carpelan
Den finländske filmaren, författaren, filmkritikern, filmhistorikern och festivalchefen Peter von Bagh avled i onsdags, den 17 september efter en längre tids sjukdom. Han blev 71 år.

Peter var verksam i ett drygt halvsekel, och startade filmtidskrifter, producerade tv- och radioserier om film- och konsthistoria, var chef för det finska filmarkivet, regisserade spelfilmer och dokumentärer, och undervisade på universitetet. Som grundare av Midnight Sun Film Festival i Sodankylä fick han filmare som Chris Marker, Agnès Varda, Francis Ford Coppola, Béla Tarr, Michael Powell, Abbas Kiarostami och Youssef Chahine att besöka den finska lappmarken.

Jag hade förmånen att få samarbeta nära med Peter vid ett flertal tillfällen, efter det att han 2001 utsågs som konstnärlig ledare för världens främsta arkivfestival, Il cinema ritrovato i Bologna. Ingen annan kunde som Peter förena ett encyklopediskt vetande med humor och en brinnande passion, och hans kunskaper om svensk film var häpnadsväckande. Inte bara hade han sett i stort sett allt – han kunde med en mening, eller genom att beskriva en enskild scen, blixtbelysa en film och ge en helt ny mening inte bara åt filmen utan också åt den samtid som filmen speglade.

Peter var verksam in i det sista, och planerade för en ny dokumentärfilm om krigsåret 1943, då han med hjälp av filmcitat ämnade beskriva de nordiska ländernas olika öden. Han hade också tackat ja till att besöka Cinemateket i Stockholm i december, för att bl a presentera filmen Helsinki, Forever (2008), ett rörande porträtt av en stad som uteslutande består av klipp från journalbilder och citat ur spelfilmer. Peters tre senaste tre filmer kommer att visas som planerat i början av december i Filmhuset.

En hel arkivvärld sörjer idag, och Peter kommer att förbli oändligt saknad.

Jon Wengström

(Svenska Filminstitutet, intranet, 22.9.2014, publicerad med Jon Wengströms tillstånd)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Remembering Peter von Bagh (announcement)

Photo: Ari Aalto (Kansalliskirjasto). Click to enlarge.
Peter von Bagh is dead. He died last Wednesday, 17 September 2014, surrounded by his loved ones. He died with his boots on. New films and books were in the making. Retrospectives and trips had been booked.

I had met him a week earlier, and during the long and focused meeting we went through a lot. His energy and wit were undiminished. He knew what was coming, and he faced it soberly. With a gentle sense of humour he created a jovial atmosphere even in terminal circumstances.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wałęsa. Czlowiek z nadziei / Wałęsa. Man of Hope

PL © 2013 Akson Studio SP. / Canal+ Cyfrowy SP. / Narpodowe Centrum Kultury / Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. / Telewizja Polska S.A. P: Michal Koriecinski. D: Andrzej Wajda. SC: Janusz Glowacki. DP: Pawel Edelman. PD: Magdalena Dipont. S: Jacek Hamela. ED: Milenia Fiedler, Grazyna Gradon. C: Robert Więckiewicz (Lech Wałęsa), Agnieszka Grochowska (Danuta Wałęsa), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Nawiślak), Maria Rosaria Omaggio (Oriana Fallaci). Languages: Polish, Italian. 127 min
    DCP with English subtitles from Akson Studio
    Screener dvd viewed at home.
    [vaˈwɛ̃sa]
    First Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) screening at Kino Engel 2, Helsinki, 21 Sep 2014

HIFF Catalogue: Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "At the age of 87, that remarkable Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda has directed a movie with terrific gusto and a first-rate lead performance from Robert Więckiewicz. It’s a full-tilt biopic tribute to the trade-union leader Lech Wałęsa, founder of the Solidarity movement: bullish, cantankerous, with an exasperating charm and the gift of the gab. Wałęsa’s defiance of Poland’s Soviet masters removed the very first brick from the Berlin Wall."

"Wałęsa. Man of Hope is a belated companion piece to his Man of Marble (1977) and Man of Iron (1981), respectively about a Stakhanovite bricklayer and his son in Poland; it discloses now an unexpected trilogy, and somehow suggests, in retrospect, that the heroic »Man» of those first two films really was Wałęsa all along. The almost Napoleonic career of Wałęsa looked at the time like a kind of miracle; Wajda sets out to examine how that miracle came about."

"(…) It’s an invigorating and very enjoyable film from a director who shows no sign of slowing down."
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (HIFF Catalogue)

Wikipedia synopsis: "Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s. Following the bloody aftermath, which remains with Wałęsa, he concentrates on his day-to-day duties. Ten years later, a new uprising occurs and he becomes an unexpected and charismatic leader of Polish dockworkers."

"Wałęsa's leadership role signified the beginning of a new movement that successfully overcame the communist regime of the period, and Wałęsa is pushed into representing the majority of Poland's population. The Soviet Union, previously regarded as too powerful to confront, eventually grants the movement a degree of acceptance. The Polish example of solidarity then caused a domino effect throughout Eastern Europe: people in Eastern Germany followed the Polish example, starting demonstrations for freedom that achieved the German reunification peacefully. The Soviet Union then dissolved alongside Yugoslavia."

"While Europe is reshaped, Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfolds and Poland is on the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Wałęsa is subsequently elected as the first president of the new Polish democracy; but, this is followed by feelings of resentment among the Polish people who start to think that Wałęsa is becoming privileged. Consequently, the Polish people start to seek out ways to diminish Wałęsa's significance, until they finally accomplish their goal through uncovering actions from a past period."
(Wikipedia)

Wikipedia remarks: "Wajda announced his intention to blend real contemporary news material with the fictional content of the film to "give testimony to the truth". The contemporary footage was adapted by superimposing the face of Robert Więckiewicz on Wałęsa's real face. The re-enacted scenes were shot "on location in Gdańsk, including in the historic shipyard and its surroundings, as well as in Warsaw". As Wajda told the Chicago Tribune, the raison d'être of his work was not to entertain the Western world, but to disclose the historic truth for a Polish audience."

"Głowacki assured journalists that his script was not meant to be an apotheosis, but instead showed Wałęsa "as a man of flesh and blood, a leader of great strength but also someone who has his weaknesses". The screenwriter was significantly affected upon discovering that Wajda sought to pursue the same approach and consequently "thought it would be an interesting project"."
(Wikipedia remarks)

"Nie chcę, ale muszę" ("I don’t want to, but I have to") - Lech Wałęsa's motto

Andrzej Wajda has been for 60 years a versatile director. He has been a Romantic, Expressionist, and Baroque visionary. He has been a director of epic works covering centuries of Polish history - also of contemporary history.

The Man of Marble belongs to the films that have changed the world. It was the harbinger of the final thaw in the Eastern bloc, before glasnost and perestroika, leading to the fall of the wall, and the entire so-called real existing socialism, because the system was then too corrupt to be reformed. Wajda was together with Krzysztof Kieslowski the main founder of the Polish school of moral concern in the cinema of the 1970s.

The Man of Iron was a sequel to The Man of Marble, and Wajda's Danton was a companion piece, reflecting contemporary Polish reality so much that Frenchmen had a hard time recognizing their history in it. Everybody understood that Gérard Depardieu really played Lech Wałęsa. And Wojciech Pszoniak was Wojciech Jaruzelski as Robespierre.

Wałęsa. Man of Hope is a logical continuation to those three films. Its strengths include a lot of fascinating documentary material. Its problems include an inclusion of fake documentary material, undermining the power of the real thing. Its weaknesses include the casting. One need only think about Gérard Depardieu to understand what charisma is - a charisma with all too human contradictions and weaknesses. I don't feel that Robert Więckiewicz believes in himself as Wałęsa. Daringly, there is also authentic documentary footage of Wałęsa, showing the true compelling person.

The structure resembles The Man of Marble which in turn reflected Citizen Kane and Rashomon. Here the journalistic quest, again by a female investigating journalist, is conducted by Oriana Fallaci. We see the Wałęsa story - the story of Solidarność - as flashbacks. It is a good structure for an epic story that proceeds in leaps and bounds. The difference to The Man of Marble is that here there is only one interviewee, Wałęsa himself.

The funny running joke: the Typhus sign at the Wałęsa family door when there are too many visitors.

The pop soundtrack feels out of place.

Le meraviglie / The Wonders

IT/DE/CH 2014. P: Carlo Cresto-Dina, Karl Baumgartner, Tiziana Soudani, Michael Weber. D+SC: Alice Rohrwacher. DP: Hélène Louvart. PD: Emita Frigato. M: Piero Crucitti. S: Christophe Giovannoni. ED: Marco Spoletini. C: Alexandra LUNGU - Gelsomina, Sam LOUVYCK - Gelsomina's father, Alba ROHRWACHER - Angelica, Sabine TIMOTEO - Coco, Luis HUILCA - Martin, Monica BELLUCCI - Milly Catena. Languages: Italian, French, German. 111 min.
    A DCP with English subtitles from Match Factory.
    Screener dvd viewed at home.
    First Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) screening at Kinopalatsi, Helsinki, 21 Sep 2014.

The HIFF Catalogue: Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter: "Wise beyond its years, like the teenage protag Gelsomina, The Wonders (Le meraviglie) is a wistful but no-tears swan song recounting the disappearance of traditional rural lifestyle in Italy. It’s also the story of an inexperienced country girl looking to bust out of her family’s limited horizons as bee-keepers and honey-makers (…)."

"The tone hovers mysteriously between dream and reality and Rohrwacher pins the film on stark and striking images, like the haunting one of bees crawling over the expressionless face of a young woman."

"[I]n a dilapidated old stone farmhouse, live Gelsomina aka Gelsi (Maria Alexandra Lungu) with her parents, her aunt and three younger sisters. Her stern German father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) is determined to keep the modern world far away from his family, but rather inevitably his little band of outsiders ends up in an anachronistic clash with the encroaching »real» world."

"(…) Cinematographer Helene Louvart boldly opts for a realistic look that doesn’t hide the ugliness of peasant life in all its poverty, cloudy skies and mud."
Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter (The HIFF Catalogue)

Cannes 2014: "Nothing will be the same at the end of this summer for Gelsomina and her three younger sisters. She is the designated heir of the strange, secluded kingdom that her father constructed around them to protect his family from “the end of the world”. An extraordinary summer, when the strict rules that hold the family together, are beginning to break: in part due to the arrival of Martin, a German boy on a youth rehabilitation program, and in part the local community’s participation in a TV competition for big prizes “Village Wonders”, presented by the mysterious Milly Catena." Cannes 2014

Like Alice Rohrwacher's wonderful debut feature film Corpo celeste, Le meraviglie starts with a light in the darkness.

In Corpo celeste, the Bildungsroman was related to confirmation, to the process of spiritual education into adult womanhood provided by the Catholic Church.

In Le meraviglie the frame of reference is the family bee farm which hovers on the brink of catastrophe but all problems are solved in the last instance - almost miraculously, maybe.

At the same time, there is the loud commercial television programme about Village Wonders being produced. Ancient rites from Etruscan times are evoked.

Tradition and modernity clash mercilessly. Miraculously, again, a sense of wonder emerges in many instances.

There are those for whom there are no wonders. And there are those for whom there are wonders everywhere. Alice Rohrwacher belongs to the latter category.

Rohrwacher has an original insight in imagery. She is a poet who is spellbound both by things extraordinary (a camel in the yard) and ordinary (toil at the bee farm). There are aspects of the Platonic cave in the final shots. And maybe allusions to cave paintings beyond history.

We are a mystery to ourselves, and share a common destiny with bees, who are a barometer of the state of the earth. Like Markus Imhoof (More Than Honey, 2012), Alice Rohrwacher comes from a beekeeping family. There is a special tender approach in the documentary scenes of the process of the modernization of beekeeping.

The young actors are compelling and believable, and Rohrwacher elicits an untypical performance from Monica Bellucci, now for once liberated from the look of us ogling males.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Maidan

Майдан. NL/UA © Atoms & Void 2014. P: Maria Baker, Sergei Loznitsa. D+SC: Sergei Loznitsa. DP: Sergei Loznitsa, Serhiy Stefan Stetsenko, Mykhailo Yelchev. S: Vladimir Golovnitzky. ED: Danielius Kokanauskis, Sergei Loznitsa. Language: Ukrainian. 131 min
    A documentary about the events at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square, Kiev, Ukraine, during the winter 2013-2014.
    A DCP with English subtitles from Atoms & Void.
    A screener dvd-r viewed at home.
    First Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 20 Sep 2014.

The HIFF Catalogue: Jay Weissberg, Variety: "In contrast with most documentaries made in the wake of an historic event, Maidan will last beyond the current Ukrainian upheaval to stand as compelling witness and a model response to a seminal moment too fresh to be fully processed. Kiev-raised Sergei Loznitsa uses almost exclusively fixed master shots filmed from December 2013 to February 2014, capturing in an emotionally gripping, minimalist way the protest’s trajectory from euphoric to besieged."

"The protests that began in December, following Yanukovych’s unpopular rejection of closer EU ties, began peacefully, as crowds in the square demonstrated their solidarity (…)."

"The atmosphere changes drastically after Jan 19 and the introduction of repressive anti-protest laws. (…) Tensions escalate as a water cannon is introduced, and then live ammo. (…) Loznitsa’s fixed positions immerse audiences in the commotion, making us eyewitnesses to the shifting tensions and providing a chilling immediacy often lacking in common reportage (superb sound editing also helps). When announcements from the stage exhort doctors and medics to make themselves known, there’s no need to actually see the speaker, since the importance lies in the myriad sensations that build within each shot."
Jay Weissberg, Variety (The HIFF Catalogue)

The HIFF Catalogue: "Sergei Loznitsa is a director born in the Soviet Union (in current Belarus) in 1964. Loznitsa has graduated from the Kiev Polytechnic Institute and he has worked as a scientist specialized in cybernetics. He also has a degree in filmmaking after studying at the Russian State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. Loznitsa has been directing documentaries since 1996.
    Filmography: Maidan (2014), Bridges of Sarajevo (2014), In the Fog (2012), My Joy (2010), Severnyy svet (2008), Sweet Sixties (2008), Revue (2008), Blockade (2006), Landscape (2003), The Settlement (2002).
(The HIFF Catalogue)

Cannes pressbook 2014: "MAIDAN chronicles a civil uprising which took place in Kiev (Ukraine) in the winter of 2013/14.The film follows the progress of the revolution: from peaceful rallies, half a million strong, in the Maidan square, to the bloody street battles between the protestors and riot police. MAIDAN is a portrait of an awakening nation, rediscovering its identity. Director Sergei Loznitsa rises above current political issues and looks at the nature of the popular uprising as a social, cultural and philosophical phenomenon. A powerful mix of enthusiasm, heroic struggle, terror, courage, aspiration, people's solidarity, folk culture, passion and self-sacrifice, MAIDAN is a stunning cinematic canvas combining classical film making style and documentary urgency." (Cannes pressbook 2014)

A record of a revolution. The Ukrainian revolution of 2014 was recorded in extenso by the master documentarist Sergei Loznitsa, in full awareness of the significance of what was going on. In December 2013 Loznitsa interrupted everything that he was doing and went to Maidan, the central square of Kiev. The result is this account of the revolution until the collapse of the Yanukovich government.

There is a majestic, epic quality in this movie, often filmed in long takes and long shots. As much as possible it is realized as a straight record, without comments, and without montage interpretations. We need to see the full picture.

It is an account of "we have had enough": of a government based on corruption and, literally, crime. It is a record of the ascent of self-respect, pride and courage. There is no way going back to slavery and oppression.

Although Loznitsa's movie records the development from a peaceful demonstration to violence inflicted by the powers-that-be, there is also always a sense of a fundamental tranquillity, an assured sense that the final victory is ours. "Heroes never die". This attitude also brings to mind Alexander Dovzhenko, the great poet of Ukrainian cinema.

There are memorable images of many kinds: building barricades, establishing canteens, mobile phones used as torches by the peaceful crowd.

In sociology, there are essential distinctions between a crowd, a mass, and a mob. Here we see the formation of a noble, self-disciplined revolutionary crowd.

There are no cinematographic records (not even fictional) of Finland's revolutions of November 1905 (see the image of the general strike on the town square of Tampere in November 1905) and March 1917. While watching Maidan I was thinking that the jubilant, liberated spirit in Finland must have been like this in those glorious months.

A Story of Children and Film

GB 2013. P: Adam Dawtrey, Mary Bell. D+SC: Mark Cousins. DP: Marc Bénoliel. ED: Timo Langer. Non-fiction. 101 min
    DCP from The Festival Agency
    Screener dvd viewed at home
    First festival screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 20 Sep 2014

HIFF Catalogue, quoting Peter Debruge (Variety): "Having paved the way two years ago with his 15-hour cine essay The Story of Film (and before that, the handsome coffeetable volume of the same name), film critic-cum-director Mark Cousins returns with a 100-minute companion piece focused entirely on the depiction of kids onscreen, a (…) captivating spinoff A Story of Children and Film. This latest collage of film clips and personal footage shares the earlier project’s principal virtue – namely, its capacity to enrich casual moviegoers’ way of consuming cinema – as well as its harmless little idiosyncrasies."

"One part evangelist for the noble cause of humanist cinema, the other part giddy teenager itching to share the most esoteric selections on his iPod playlist, Cousins seizes this opportunity to introduce auds to some of his favorite international films and filmmakers, (…) using the common thread of children to tie everything together."

"Cousins appeals to his audience’s sense of poetry, not logic, offering the slenderest of connections between films. (…) [He] includes less of the canon than one might expect, creating room for discovery. Even the most dedicated cinephile is sure to come away with one or two new titles to add to the old Netflix queue." Peter Debruge, Variety quoted in the HIFF Catalogue

"Movies are like kids. Kids are like movies." This is the thesis of Mark Cousins in his new work, in which he contemplates the vision of Vincent Van Gogh, stays at home with the kids of his sister, wanders about the landscapes of the United Kingdom, and launches a chain of cinematic associations around themes of - the child's look (the look on a child's face) - class - performance - viewpoint - the joy of destruction - adventure - loss - the flight of the balloon - and dreaming.

This is an approach essential to all artistic creativity: seeing everything anew and taking nothing for granted. But a further thesis of Cousins is that no art has loved children more than film.

This film is an essay based on a montage of clips across the history of the cinema everywhere around the world. Cousins is delighted to make discoveries and display clips from India, Iran, Burkina Faso, and Albania, always worthwhile, always too little known in the West. He is equally delighted to juxtapose them with obvious examples like E.T., The Kid, and Les quatre cents coups. A concrete result is that I realize that I need to see more Iranian films such as Willow and the Wind and The Boot, and the work of the Albanian artist Xhanfise Keko.

Another concrete result is that the film inspires me to create lists of my own, perhaps more obvious selections such as - I bambini ci guardano - Ladri di biciclette - Por primera vez - Seryozha - Pojat - Astrid Lindgren films in Sweden - Jacques Feyder's Gribiche and Crainquebille (both with Jean Forest) - the many child stars of the early cinema, often with special series of their own, starting perhaps with the Willy series at Éclair - continuing in the Our Gang series - the cinema of independent Finland starting with Ollin oppivuodet - Det stora äventyret - Treasure Island and Jackie Cooper - not forgetting Freddie Bartholomew - street child stories staring with Putyovka v zhizn and Wild Boys of the Road - Gerhard Lamprecht and Die Unehelichen - the Holocaust stories: The Search, Unszere Kinder, Au revoir les enfants - Louisiana Story - Goodbye My Lady - Fritz Lang: M - Alice in den Städten - the contemporary child soldier stories - Bimal Roy: Do bigha zamin / Two Acres of Land - Germania anno zero - Maurice Tourneur: The Blue Bird - Herbert Brenon: Peter Pan - the Mary Pickford phenomenon (masterpieces still too little known) (but Mary Pickford was a grown-up who became a star by playing a child) - The Window - The Man Who Knew Too Much - Pocahontas - Jungle Book - Little Red Devils - The Three Godfathers - Trois hommes et un couffin - The Fallen Idol - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Henry Spofford III). --- Obviously, Cousins has left out Umarete wa mita keredo / I Was Born, But... and selected other great Japanese films from the 1930s. --- He has selected Katok i skripka and not Ivanovo detstvo from Tarkovsky.

The Finnish selection in A Story of Children and Film is from the non-fiction official travelogue Finlandia (1922) by Erkki Karu - a screening print of which has not existed since generations (we were not able to screen Finlandia in our extensive Erkki Karu retrospective this year), although a reconstruction is now being planned. The unassembled footage of the film has survived. It has been preserved and made available for viewing, and Peter von Bagh selected for Helsinki Forever the clip that Cousins uses here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tombouctou: le chagrin des oiseaux / Timbuktu

MR/FR 2014. P: Sylvie Pialat. D: Abderrahmane Sissako. SC: Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall. DP: Sofiane El Fani. PD: Sébastien Birchler. M: Amine Bouhafa. S: Philippe Welsh. ED: Nadia Ben Rachid. C: Ahmed Ibrahim dit Pino, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri, Fatoumata Diawara. In Arabic, French, tamasheq. 100 min.
    DCP with English subtitles from Le Pacte
    Screener dvd viewed at home.
    © 2014 Les Films du Worso / Dune Vision / Arches Films / ARTE France Cinéma / Orange Studio. Visa d'exploitation 138.089. Dépot Légal 2013.
    First Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 19 Sep 2014

HIFF Catalogue: Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "Abderrahmane Sissako’s passionate and visually beautiful film Timbuktu is a cry from the heart – with all the more moral authority for being expressed with such grace and such care. It is a portrait of the country of his childhood, Mali, and in particular the city of Timbuktu, whose rich and humane traditions are being trampled, as Sissako sees it, by fanatical jihadists, often from outside the country. The story revolves around the death of a cow, affectionately named “GPS” – an appropriate symbol for a country that has lost its way."

"These Islamist zealots are banning innocent pleasures such as music and football, and throwing themselves with cold relish into lashings and stonings for adultery. The new puritans appal the local imam, who has long upheld the existing traditions of a benevolent and tolerant Islam (…)."

"Sissako creates an interrelated series of characters and tableaux giving us scenes from the life of a traumatised nation, historically torn apart and prone to failures in communication between its three languages: Touareg, Arabic and French. At the centre of this is the tragic story of one family: a herdsman Kidane, his wife Satima and their 12-year-old daughter. Kidane angrily confronts a fisherman who has killed his cow, with tragic results."
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (HIFF Catalogue)

Like Férid Boughedir in Halk-el-wad / A Summer in La Goulette, Abderrahmane Sissako creates a vision of generous and life-affirming tradition of Muslim life.

But unlike in that movie, the focus here is primarily on the intolerant, fanatical, and violent fundamentalism. First a young deer is slaughtered, then ancient images of indigenous worship are destroyed. I have a special interest in the prohibition of the image. Religious image ban and iconoclasm belongs to the themes of Timbuktu. First, images are crushed. Then, people.

Women's hair has to be covered, football is forbidden... there is no end to the bans. The oppression of women by the reactionary rebels is a major issue in this story. Transgressions are punished with whiplashes in the mildest cases, by executions by stoning in graver instances.

Sissako displays a fine judgement in his approach, balancing views of a harmonious approach to life with vicious eruptions of fundamentalist violence.

An epic, tragic, haunting movie. Sissako has an assured artistic sense in his mise-en-scène and in the cinematography by Sofiane El Fani in scope - both in impressive long shots and in tender close-ups. They know how to use silhouettes and reflections effectively in long shots. The score by Amine Bouhafa is beautiful.

Ida

PL/DK 2013. P: Erik Abraham, Piotr Dziecliol, Ewa Puszczynska. D: Paweł Pawlikowski. SC: Paweł Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz. DP: Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski. PD: Katarzyna Sobanska, M: Kristian Selin Eidnes Andersen. Marcel Slawinski. S: Miroslaw Makowski. ED: Jaroslaw Kaminski. C: Agata Kulesza (aunt Wanda), Agata Trzebuchowska (Anna / Ida Lebenstein), Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski. 80 min
    DCP with English subtitles from Portobello Film Sales
    Screener dvd viewed at home
    M: W. A. Mozart: the Jupiter symphony. John Coltrane: "Naima", "Equinox". J. S. Bach (a theme also familiar from Tarkovsky). Black and white in Academy.
    Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) first screening at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 19 Sep 2014

HIFF Catalogue: Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "Paweł Pawlikowski has returned with an arresting period movie from the heart of postwar Poland – and from his own heart, too. Every moment of Ida feels intensely personal. It is a small gem, tender and bleak, funny and sad, superbly photographed in luminous monochrome: a sort of neo-new wave movie with something of the classic Polish film school and something of Truffaut, but also deadpan flecks of Béla Tarr and Aki Kaurismäki."

"It is the early 1960s, but in the freezing countryside of central Europe it could as well be the 1860s or 1760s. Newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska plays Anna, a novice nun about to take her final vows in a convent where she was left on the doorstep as a baby in 1945 by persons unknown. But Anna has one surviving relative, (…) [who] turns out to be her aunt, tremendously played by Agata Kulesza: a worldly hard-drinking woman who lives on her own, and who is evidently something of an embarrassment to the authorities."

"Drunken, bleary Wanda reveals the truth to her niece: Anna’s first name is Ida and she is Jewish. Now Ida and Wanda – the oddest of couples making the most daunting of road trips – must set out to discover what happened to Ida’s parents during the war."
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (HIFF Catalogue)

A stark personal journey into what the Germans call Vergangenheitsbewältigung - dealing with the past. As Peter Bradshaw states above, there are connections with the Polish new wave films of the late 1950s and the early 1960 - Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Roman Polanski, and their contemporaries.

We are taken to a country village, to a restaurant where pop and jazz are being played, and to a deathbed victim at a hospital. "Why am I not here?", asks Anna / Ida, when a grave of Holocaust victims is opened. She was tiny, not dark, not circumscised, left into the custody of a priest, and taken to a convent.

Aunt Wanda had been known in the 1950s as "Red Wanda", the prosecutor against the "enemies of the people" during the Stalin era.

What is the impact on Anna / Ida of the revelation of her true identity remains a mystery. But after their journey is finished, Wanda jumps out of the window while Mozart's Jupiter symphony is playing. Anna makes a plunge into life, dressing as Wanda, tasting a drink, spending a night with a jazz player, and walking on towards us, back in the habit, while J. S. Bach is playing and the image fades into black.

A touching tribute by Pawel Pawlikowski to a moment of freedom in the Poland of his youth in 1962 when many roads seemed to open.