Saturday, December 09, 2017

Strannaya zhenshchina / A Strange Woman



Странная женщина / Strannaja zhenshtshina / Kummallinen nainen. SU 1977. PC: Mosfilm. P: Vladimir Tseitlin. D: Yuli Raizman / Juli Raizman. SC: Yevgeni Gabrilovich / Jevgeni Gabrilovitsh, Juli Raizman. CIN: Naum Ardashnikov. PD: Gennady Myasnikov / Gennadi Mjasnikov. Cost: Vera Romanova. Makeup: I. Kireyeva, T. Tikhomirova. M: Roman Ledenyov / Roman Ledenjov. S: Ekaterina Popova-Evans. ED: Klavdiya Moskvina.
    The only music record at the mother's home: "Мне без валенок беда" (Grigori Ponomarenko, Viktor Dyunin, 1973), known in Finland as "Huopikkaat" .
    C: Irina Kupchenko / Irina Kuptshenko (Yevgeniya / Zhenya Mihaylovna), Yuri Podsolonko / Juri Podsolonko (Andrey Lebedev), Vasiliy Lanovoy / Vasili Lanovoi (Nikolay Andrianov), Oleg Vavilov (Yura Agapov), Antonina Bogdanova (Maty), Svetlana Korkoshko (Viktoriya Anatolievna), Tatyana Govorova / Tatjana Govorova (Tamara), Valeri Todorovski (Volodya), Vera Enjutina, Juri Mazhuga
    The film was not released in Finland. A vintage KAVI Orwocolor 35 mm print deposited by Kosmos-Filmi – 147 min – duration of the screening 145 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Woman in Soviet Film), with e-subtitles in Finnish by Mia Öhman, 9 Dec 2017

In his last three films, A Strange Woman, Private Life, and Time of Desires, Yuli Raizman focused on private life. In A Strange Woman and Time of Desires the protagonists are women, completely different. In A Strange Woman the protagonist is a lawyer, a successful professional. In Time of Desires the protagonist is a social climber who wants to advance via her husband. In Private Life the protagonist is a male bureaucrat who is asked to retire (or gets fired) and discovers that he is a stranger in his own family.

These last three films of Raizman have affinities with classics of Russian literature such as Anton Chekhov. The affinity lies in the talent of observation of small everyday details which convey big issues about the meaning of life.

There is also an Anna Karenina affinity, although the differences are greater than the similarities. Like Anna, Zhenya is a woman of reason, a family woman who suffers from a lack of passionate attention in her life. She has married before she was eighteen, and there is a son in the family. Zhenya leaves her husband to have an affair with Nikolai, but Nikolai is a serious and rational man, not particularly passionate. Like in Anna Karenina, train stations are significant, and the finale takes place at a train station.

Raizman's films provide gratifying roles for actors in performances of psychological depth. Irina Kupchenko was a theatre actress who had had her breakthrough in Andrei Konchalovsky's adaptations of Turgenev (A Nestle of Gentlefolk) and Chekhov (Uncle Vanya). Her performance as Zhenya is rich and complex, showing her as a canny lawyer, legal adviser, and teacher answering legal questions of young people. We meet her as a patient mother to a teenage son, a frustrated wife, and even as a helpless child finding refuge with her own mother. From the lack of love she suffers emotionally and physically and is confined to a sickbed for months. In the second part of the film she receives a young admirer whose contact attemps she rejects kindly and firmly.

Vasili Lanovoy is Irina Kupchenko's real-life husband, and the tenderness in their love scenes is not pretense. Lanovoy's breakthrough role had been as Alov and Naumov's Pavel Korchagin, but his most famous parts were in the big Tolstoy adaptations of the 1960's. He was Anatol Kuragin, Natasha's dashing but fickle suitor, in War and Peace. And he was indeed Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina, reinforcing the connection with A Strange Woman.

In Raizman's approach to human relationships in the contemporary world there are affinities with the Italian modernists, even Antonioni. We have moments of emptiness, silence, embarrassment and alienation. There are temps morts and passages in real time. We even have a long date scene where the other partner fails to appear.

The theme is the destiny of romantic love in the age of cybernetics. Romeo and Juliet, and duels and suicides for love are evoked, but "perhaps we have started to be afraid of great feelings". Burning passion is not appreciated. But "I do not want to be an equal partner", exclaims Zhenya (meaning a love relationship).

The account of the legal world feels credible. In the beginning representatives of a factory meet Zhenya equipped with a bribe, but the older factory representative is a good judge of character and motions his partner to forget about the attempt. There are montage sequences of legal issues (husband has abandoned wife, children don't help elderly parents, a father has bequathed everything to a new young wife and left nothing to the child, disputes about heating in a communal home). We witness legal services in a big city and in a little rural town.

A Strange Woman is a long film, and there is time for digressions which are not necessary for the plot but interesting in themselves. The most funny sequence is Zhenya's long wait on a Moscow railway station with interactions of several characters who never reappear. Another humoristic scene is Zhenya and Nikolai's visit to a huge restaurant filled to capacity where they are seated in the middle of an African table.

The camerawork by Naum Ardashnikov is rich and varied, starting with an elaborate long tracking shot introducing Zhenya's office. We visit many locations, including a tourist trip to Berlin, complete with views of monuments of antiquity at the Pergamon Museum. Views of the rainswept rural town are among the most memorable.

The film ends with a classic Russian farewell sequence at the station. Zhenya returns home to take care of her son Volodya after the death of his Moscow grandmother. But Zhenya's mother notices Yura in a train window – although Zhenya has strictly forbidden him to follow her anymore.

A clean and intact print which has hardly ever been screened before. A somewhat soft and duplicated look, and a slightly drab colour world in a regular 1970s Soviet kind of way.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY MIA ÖHMAN:

Neokonchennaya povest / [Unfinished Story]



Neokonchennaya povest / [Unfinished Story]. The finale. The doctor Yelizaveta Maksimovna (Elina Bystritskaya) helps cure the paralyzed shipbuilder Yuri Yershov (Sergey Bondarchuk).

Неоконченная повесть / Neokontshennaja povest / ...Ja tarina jatkui / Det var bara början. SU 1955. PC: Lenfilm. D: Friedrich Ermler. SC: Konstantin Isayev / Isajev. CIN: Anatoli Nazarov. AD: Isaak Kaplan, Bella Manevich / Manevitsh. M: Gavriil Popov. ED: E. Mahankova.
     C: Elina Bystritskaya / Elina Bystritskaja (Yelizaveta Maksimovna Muromtseva / Jelizaveta Maksimovna Muromtseva); Sergey Bondarchuk / Sergei Bondartshuk (Yuri Yershov / Juri Jershov); Evgeniy Samoylov / Jevgeni Samoilov (Aleksandr Aganin); Sofiya Giantsintova / Sofija Giatsintova (Anna Konstantinovna Yershova, Yuri's mother); Yevgeni Lebedev / Jevgeni Lebedev (Fyodor Ivanovich / sekretar raikoma / aluekomitean sihteeri).
    Loc: Leningrad.
    Helsinki premiere: 24.8.1956 (Capitol). telecast: 10.3.1960 (TV1). distributor: Kosmos-Filmi Oy. VET 44299 – S – 2640 m / 97 min
    A vintage KAVI Agfacolor 35 mm print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles, 93 min
    Introduced by Susan Ikonen.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Woman in Soviet Film), 9 Dec 2017

In her introduction Susan Ikonen covered, among other things, the Stalin era "doctors' plot" and "Leningrad affair" backgrounds to the film, a huge popular hit with an audience of 30 million. For the contemporary audience it was a rehabilitation story. The name Yelizaveta Maksimovna was typically Jewish, and the actress Elina Bystristskaya was known to be an Ukrainian Jew. She and her parents were decorated heroes of WWII thanks to their contributions in medicine. Unfinished Story was Bystristkaya's breakthrough role, soon followed by her most famous part in Quiet Flows the Don. She then joined the Maly Theatre in Moscow.

Bystritskaya's dignity and authority carry the film. Hers is an excellent performance, restrained yet passionate, sober yet moving.

Unfinished Story is very specifically a Leningrad film, filmed during the four seasons on its distinctive locations, culminating in an allegorical finale which is open to many interpretations.

Doctor Muromtseva is busy both at the clinic and with house calls. There is an air of reality in the account of her schedule. Her most challenging patient is the paralyzed shipbuilder Yuri Yershov (Sergei Bondarchuk). When they are about to fall in love Yershov's mother begs Muromtseva to stay away because Yershov cannot do anything halfway, and to be a disappointment for her would be overwhelming for him. The separation is a bitter ordeal for both, and only when Muromtseva is being criticized for neglecting a patient whose condition is getting worse she feels justified and obliged to meet him, and a successful rehabilitation starts. The glossy and idealized photographs above do not give a fair impression of the film.

Doctor Muromtseva is a fine professional but her work orientation has not changed her to a cold and distant figure. She is a mature personality, at ease with children and old people, with men and women, with workers and architects. Her emotional strength is a major resource in her work as a doctor. She also seems to have endless patience in fielding unwanted male attention.

Yuri Yershov brings to mind the male protagonist of Yuli Raizman's A Lesson in Life which had its premiere in the same year. Both are overbearing authoritarians who do not suffer fools gladly. Yershov is aware of his limitations and rough edges. Among his habits are mirror monologues. With his stick he actually turns a mirror on himself to conduct self-analysis: "when are you going to start to treat people in a more friendly fashion?". Muromtseva and Yershov are very different, but there is a sense that Muromtseva might help Yershov grow as a human being.

Unfinished Story belongs to the films in which music matters. A key scene is a symphony concert at the Saint Petersburg Philharmonia. Tchaikovsky's Pathetic Symphony is being played, and Lauri Piispa reminded us that the conductor is Mark Ermler, the director's son (he is not credited, but this fact has been pointed out by Peter Bagrov in his Ermler essay). The music is a test of character: it brings together two of Yershov's students; it helps Muromtseva judge between her two suitors. There is also an attractive sing-along sequence accompanied by accordeon.

Interestingly, the politruk of the story, the secretary of the regional committee, is portrayed as a negative character, a meddler into people's affairs, and a bad loser as Muromtseva's rejected suitor.

In the discussion after the film interpretations were suggested to the allegorical ending. Perhaps the paralysis is a symbol for the Soviet Union, and maybe a more human approach is a way to a cure.

IMDb claims that Unfinished Story is black-and-white, but we screened our vintage colour print. However, the colour is drab in a regular kind of way.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY SUSAN IKONEN:

Friday, December 08, 2017

Viktor und Viktoria (1933) (2013 FWMS digital transfer)


Viktor und Viktoria (1933). Adolf Wohlbrück, Hilde Hildebrand, Renate Müller, Hermann Thimig, Fritz Odemar

Viktor ja Viktoria / Viktor och Viktoria. DE (Deutsches Reich) 1933. PC: Ufa – Universum Film AG. Herstellungsgruppe: Alfred Zeisler. Produktionsleitung: Eduard Kubat. Aufnahmeleitung: Günther Grau. D: Reinhold Schünzel. Ass D: Kurt Hoffmann. SC: Reinhold Schünzel. CIN: Konstantin Irmen-Tschet. AD: Benno von Arent, Artur Günther. M: Franz Doelle. Lyrics: Bruno Balz. “An einem Tag in Frühling”, “Komm doch ein bisschen mit nach Madrid”, “Man sagt zu einer Dame nicht beim erstenmal ‘Komm mit’”, “Rosen und Liebe”. Choreography: Sabine Ress. S: Fritz Thiery, Walter Tjaden – Tobis-Klangfilm. ED: Arnfried Heyne.
    C: Renate Müller (Susanne Lohr), Hermann Thimig (Viktor Hempel), Adolf Wohlbrück (Robert), Friedel Pisetta (Lilian), Fritz Odemar (Douglas), Hilde Hildebrand (Ellinor), Aribert Wäscher (theatrical agent F. A. Punkertin).
    French parallel version: Georges et Georgette (1933), D: Reinhold Schünzel.
    Helsinki premiere: 15.4.1934 Bio-Bio, distributor: Adams-Filmi Oy – film control: 18354 – K16 – film control length in Finland 2810 m / 103 min – original length 2772 m / 101 min – Filmportal: 2703 m / 99 min
    2K DCP from Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung via Transit Film (2013 digital transfer), 99 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio, 8 Dec 2017.

A touch as light as this is hard to achieve, but Reinhold Schünzel managed it with panache in his string of 1930s hits such as Viktor und Viktoria, Die englische Heirat, Amphitryon and Land der Liebe. The amazing fact is that they were produced during Hitler's reign before Schünzel's exile to Hollywood. Yet nobody can have ignored the subversive quality of Schünzel's work, also including his playing one of the main roles in Die 3-Groschen-Oper.

I knew Viktor und Viktoria only from a home video viewing in the 1980s, and it was a completely different experience now to see it on the screen.

Viktor and Viktoria is a true musical comedy where not only the song and dance numbers are sung but also much of the dialogue is in verse.

The cross-dressing theme is not just a source of superficial jokes but an introduction to more profound insights about sex roles, sexual identity, and in fact the human condition itself.

Since his participation in the 1910s in Richard Oswald's Aufklärungsfilme, including Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others, 1919) Schünzel had privileged access to portrayals of sexual ambivalence and otherness on the screen.

His approach to cross-dressing and sexual metamorphoses belongs to a great tradition that harks back to Shakespeare and Ovid. The 1930s were an interesting decade from this angle. Josef von Sternberg revealed Marlene Dietrich in top hat and tails in Morocco, Rouben Mamoulian made Queen Christina with Greta Garbo, and George Cukor directed Sylvia Scarlett. Valentin Vaala made Sysmäläinen, the most fascinating Finnish cross-dressing saga. In France, Richard Pottier directed Fanfare d'amour, the first adaptation of the story that metamorphosed into Some Like It Hot. Teinosuke Kinugasa directed his first Yukinojo henge films. Of Schünzel's Viktor and Viktoria eight film adaptations have emerged so far.

In a comedy like this everything must run smoothly, and the illusion needs to remain perfect. Schünzel can handle all this: the immaculate performances, the choreography of the musical numbers, the eloquent cinematography. The result is a work of elegance and ambivalence.

The whole ensemble is strong, but more than anything else Viktor und Viktoria is a showcase for the wonderful Renate Müller. She is a great performer who can project gentleness and strength, comedy and sadness, embarrassment and charisma, masculinity and femininity. Her presence is remarkable from the start.

Adolf Wohlbrück (Anton Walbrook) was a veteran of the screen, but like Renate Müller he rose to true stardom with the sound film. His rapport with Müller was so good that Schünzel cast them both next year in Die englische Heirat.

The cinematographer Konstantin Irmen-Tschet had debuted in films of Fritz Lang (Metropolis and Frau im Mond) and Joe May's remarkable Heimkehr. He had shot Liebling der Götter, one of Renate Müller's first sound films. In the year when Viktor und Viktoria was made he also photographed Hitlerjunge Quex.

The digital transfer does justice to the brilliant cinematography.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON THOMAS BRANDLMEIER AND WOLFGANG THEIS:

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Shooting Stars (2015 BFI National Archive restoration with John Altman score)

Shooting Stars. Mae Feather (Annette Benson) loads the rifle with a live cartridge.

GB 1928. PC: British Instructional Films. P: H. Bruce Woolfe. D: A. V. Bramble [and Anthony Asquith, n.c.]. SC: John Orton [and Anthony Asquith, n.c.] – [from a story by Anthony Asquith, n.c.]. CIN: Karl Fischer. AD: Ian Campbell-Gray, Walter Murton.
    C: Annette Benson (Mae Feather), Brian Aherne (Julian Gordon), Donald Calthrop (Andy Wilks), Chili Bouchier (Winnie, bathing beauty), Wally Patch (property man), David Brooks (Turner), Ella Daincourt (Asphodel Smythe, journalist), Tubby Phillips (Fatty), Ian Wilson (reporter), Judd Green (lighting man), Jack Rawl (man).
    The film was not released in Finland – 7080 ft
    Restored: 2015 British Film Institute National Archive, new score by: John Altman, played by: Live Film Orchestra – 102 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema), 7 Dec 2017

Although Anthony Asquith is not credited, Shooting Stars is generally considered his debut feature film as a director and screenwriter, the start of the most amazing period of his career. Shooting Stars, Underground, and A Cottage on Dartmoor are works of cinematic genius.

There is an assured touch in the complex meta-cinematic narrative. Shooting Stars is a triangle drama between film actors: a Western hero (Brian Aherne), Mae Feather "the Sunshine Girl" (Annette Benson) and the Chaplinesque comedian Andy Wilks (Donald Calthrop). We start on the set of a romantic Western called Prairie Love and switch to the set of a slapstick comedy which is being produced on the next floor of the same studio hall. Mae is married to the Western hero but falls in love with the comedian. Andy the comedian receives the key to her home, but there is a chain of misunderstandings, and everything is exposed. In an impulsive moment Mae loads a rifle with a live cartridge, but thanks to another chain of misunderstandings it is taken to the comedy floor.

The register is rich. There is a documentary approach (affectionate observations of film production, the unmasking of illusions, candid camera moments on the beach, the genuine delight of the children observing the production of the comedy). There is comedy (and not only in the comedy-in-the-film). There is parody (in the spoof of the romantic Western). There is drama (the triangle is a serious matter). There is tragedy. Finally there is a sense of existentialism, a cosmic solitude for both Mae and Julian who fail to confront each other in the finale. Mae walks away in the dark corridor, we see her silhouette at the exit, and the door closes on her.

Shooting Stars was produced during the final, golden years of the silent era, and Asquith displays mastery of the moving camera crane perhaps influenced by Murnau and his ace cinematographers. He knows how to make a point with a close-up (the key, the bullet) and how to expressively use a long shot (of the studio space, of the beach exteriors). He knows about eyeline matches, expressive looks, and the power of the sustained close-up of a human face. He understands mirrors and looks exchanged through them. He understands about taking aim (with binoculars, with guns, with cameras in the films-in-the film).

The touch seems light at first, but there is gravity as soon as there is a mutual realization between the three about what is going on. The change is especially startling in Mae, and Benson conveys her profound shock memorably.

Shooting Stars was Donald Calthrop's comeback film, and he would soon appear also in five Hitchcock films (Blackmail, Elstree Calling, Juno and the Paycock, Murder!, and Number Seventeen).

John Altman's jazz score works very well, indeed.

The visual quality of the restoration is beautiful and refined. I was relieved and grateful to see a silent film restoration in glorious black and white, having suffered from too many restorations with oppressive digital tinting simulations. I like the sense of air and light and being able to see the glimpse in the eyes of the characters.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE FROM SIMON MCCALLUM:

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Tuntematon sotilas / The Unknown Soldier (1955) (2017 KAVI digital restoration in 4K)


Tuntematon sotilas (1955). The pre-credit sequence.

Okänd soldat. FI 1955. PC: Suomen Filmiteollisuus Oy. EX: T. J. Särkkä. D: Edvin Laine. SC: Juha Nevalainen – based on the novel (1954) by Väinö Linna. CIN: Pentti Unho and Osmo Harkimo (first billed), and Olavi Tuomi and Olavi Ruuhonen (second billed). AD: Aarre Koivisto. SFX: Arvo Murtokallio ja Arvi Järvinen (räjäytysryhmä). Cost: Helena Hänninen. Makeup: William Reunanen.
    M: Ahti Sonninen. Theme music: Jean Sibelius: Finlandia. Hymn (old hymn book number 170): "Jumala ompi linnamme" / "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (Martin Luther, 1529). Full music track listing: see beyond the jump break.
    ED: Armas Vallasvuo, Osmo Harkimo. S: Kurt Vilja, Taisto Lindegren, Yrjö Saari, Kaarlo Nissilä.
    C: Reino Tolvanen (Rokka), Heikki Savolainen (Hietanen), Veikko Sinisalo (Lahtinen), Leo Riuttu (Vanhala), Kaarlo Halttunen (Rahikainen), Kosti Klemelä (Koskela), Jussi Jurkka (Lammio), Åke Lindman (Lehto), Tauno Palo (Sarastie), Kale Teuronen (Suen Tassu), Matti Ranin (Kariluoto), Olavi Ahonen (Riitaoja), Pentti Siimes (Määttä), Tarmo Manni (Honkajoki), Mikko Niskanen (Mielonen), Vilho Siivola (Mäkilä). Aulis Tynkkynen (the man to the right from Rokka in Rokka's first dugout scene).
    Helsinki premiere: 23.12. 1955 Rex, Ritz, Tuulensuu – first telecast: 7.12. 1967, 6.1. 1973, 19.10. 1979 2.5. 1992; YLETV2: 13.1. 1985, 6.2. 2002, 6.12. 2003, 6.12. 2004 – VET A-6031 – K16 – 4950 m / 181 min
    Helsinki screen premiere of the 2017 KAVI digital restoration in 4K, 177 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Independence Day, Centenary of Finnish Independence, Masters of Finnish Cinematography), 6 Dec 2017

The Unknown Soldier (Edvin Laine, 1955) is one of my three favourite Finnish films, together with Loviisa (Valentin Vaala) and The Eight Deadly Shots (Mikko Niskanen, the long version).

It is the most popular film in Finland by a wide margin. It is also a cult movie in the strict sense: it has acquired a life of its own, and its quotations have become a part of folklore, although it is often difficult to distinguish whether they stem from the movie or the book. It has been much written about, theme numbers of newspapers and magazines have been dedicated to it, and books have been published about it. Distinguished essays and articles have been written about it. There would also be a demand for a full-length critical monograph, perhaps in the format of the BFI Film Classics.

Among the contemporary critics, the primus inter pares Jerker A. Eriksson found The Unknown Soldier the best war film of all, a judgment which he holds to this day. Eriksson compared it with Roberto Rossellini's Paisà, as did Peter von Bagh who I believe preferred Paisà.

The most widely repeated critical reservation about the film has been that the actors are too old for their parts. It was Edvin Laine's conscious decision to cast the film thus according to his memoir books. As much as possible he wanted to cast men who were themselves war veterans. Only ten years had passed since the end of the Second World War. Everyone in the cast knew how it had been, and one can sense it. The same decision was made by Raymond Bernard in The Wooden Crosses (1931), the most powerful film about the First World War.

Many of the actors were stalwarts of the Finnish National Theatre who brought their stage mannerisms even to this film. But this can be done sloppily or shrewdly, and the same challenge was overcome in the The Wooden Crosses. These veteran actors knew how to project, and they were instantly recognizable, which was of great advantage in this multi-character study with dozens of characters, some of which we hardly get to know before they are wiped off. It is one of the paradoxes of the actor that theatrical mannerisms do not prevent a performance from being deeply moving.

A third major critical remark, increasingly voiced today, is that the approach is too much that of a military farce, "Pekka ja Pätkä toisessa maailmansodassa" (in English that would be something like "Abbott and Costello in the Second World War"). My first comment to that would be that the same would go to the original Väinö Linna novel, as well.

The novel and the Edvin Laine adaptation have a humoristic approach. They are full of jokes and parodies. Nothing is holy in the soldiers' dialogue. They spoof Finnish patriotic slogans, Soviet propaganda announcements, and pathetic song lyrics with equal abandon. For me that is the highest aspect of realism in the story. Everyone is aware of mortality and the transience of life. Each second may be the last. Joy of life is in high regard. Humour is essential. The closer one is to death the more joy is valued. Amazingly, Linna's novel ends with the sentence: "Aika velikultia" [untranslatable but to the effect of "Jolly good fellows"].

The last time I experienced The Unknown Soldier was six years ago, at the Töölö Hospital, formerly known as the Mannerheim Hospital or the Red Cross Hospital, originally built as a military hospital. I had just been transferred from the emergency room to the ward of the most seriously injured. Many of us were living the last days of our lives. Nobody was complaining. There were screams of agony, yet everybody was in high spirits. I spent the Independence Day of 2011 there. I don't watch television, and neither did I then, but through the curtain I heard The Unknown Soldier, I lived it with everybody else, and did a sing-along in the "Elämää juoksuhaudoissa" ["Life in the Trenches"] sequence. There was no psychological boundary between the movie and us. We shared the survival story, fighting for our lives. The humour was the most important factor that made the movie real for us.

Edvin Laine was usually a hack director but when he focused on something he could be great. His greatest originality was in a homegrown approach to epic storytelling, also epic theatre in the Brechtian sense which he had internalized as a champion director of the plays of Hella Wuolijoki, a Brechtian playwright. Laine could do Aristotelian drama but, as here, also anti-Aristotelian narrative. There is no conventional identification structure, no dramatic arch, no anagnorisis, no peripeteia. This is a story of defeat in war but also a victory of the spirit. A portrait of a society in microcosm. A story of a machine-gun company grows into a story of war, a story of Finland, and a story of something universal (with themes such as the conflict between those who know and the superiors who don't, and vignettes such as the young ones who get a lesson in life too fast).

This is a war film that covers all stages of warfare: attack, trench warfare, and retreat. It introduces memorably all basic types: heroes, cowards, daredevils, responsible ones, jesters, silent ones, and clowns. It dramatizes classic models of leadership: by inner authority (Koskela) and by formal discipline (Lammio). In world cinema a comparison could be made with Fort Apache, the characters of Kirby York (John Wayne) and Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). The Unknown Soldier also paints the portrait of the Finnish soldier who may ignore formal discipline but is a fearless fighter. In this there is an affinity with Herodotus's account of Hellenic warriors in Thermopylai, facing a tenfold enemy. They were fighting of their own free will, not in awe of their superiors. A comedy revelation is the drinking party on Mannerheim's birthday. Everybody gets drunk, but while the officers are singing "Horst Wessel", the soldiers sing "The March of the Red Guards"; both with a parodic angle.

When a critical monograph on Edvin Laine's The Unknown Soldier is written a good theme would be that of vision. Accurate and up-to-date vision is a matter of life and death. A profoundly cinematic theme, fully grasped by Edvin Laine and his ace cinematographers.

The cinematography of such a story is extremely challenging and, when successful, extremely rewarding, as can be seen in all three film adaptations. There are the four seasons with their differences. There are several night scenes, difficult to light.

The last time I saw this film on screen was 12 years ago during the last re-release of the movie as a film print; it had a commercial run at Tennispalatsi, distributed by Finnkino. The film print had been struck from the camera negative but it did not look like it. It looked like it had been prepared in haste, and there were issues of light definition and contrast all through the print.

Today the film looked better than ever, and the visual quality of the 4K DCP does justice to the cinematography, scanned from the camera negative. The contrast looks perfect, and there is fine soft detail in the landscapes. The official filmography duration is 181 min, but I have never seen a screening that long, and in today's 177 minutes everything was included, also the complete music before and after the images – and a shot that had been missing for a long time of a clenched fist in a cart carrying corpses in the finale.

There was applause after this our Centenary of Finnish Independence screening.

With Aku Louhimies's Unknown Soldier (2017) in fresh memory I realized now that the two adaptations are even more different than I had thought. There are naturally emphases common to both, most importantly the "kaveria ei jätetä" ("never abandon your buddy") ethos dramatized in the blinded Hietanen's burning ambulance scene and in Rokka carrying his best friend Susi on his shoulders across the river, although he is dangerously wounded, too.

PS. 8 Dec 2017. The soundtrack is a fascinating montage. Besides the Ahti Sonninen score and the Sibelius anthem there are Sunday school favourites ("Musta Saara"), hymns ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"), country market fair ditties ("Polle, polle, älä aisalles"), prison songs ("Hurjan pojan koti"), a White Guard anthem ("Kuularuiskumarssi"), Nazi tunes ("Erika"), Finnish marches ("Muistoja Pohjolasta"), "Kalinka" by the Red Army Choir, and parodied wartime hits ("Vartiossa"). Ahti Sonninen in his score quotes liberally from the anthems of Finnish provinces, but also from the State Anthem of the Soviet Union.

The soundtrack is more than a potpourri. When Rokka first meets Lammio the radio is on and the coloratura Miliza Korjus is singing "Warum" ("Why") composed by Theo Mackeben to the poem of Goethe, the theme song of The Student of Prague. And when the rookie Hauhia is killed by a Soviet sharpshooter music is playing in the dugout: Rahikainen is over-involved in a sing-along contest with A. Aimo's interpretation of "Elämää juoksuhaudoissa". Edvin Laine catches the accurate pitch of disparity in scenes like these. There is something comparable to John Ford in his sense of the gravity of death and the absurdity of the life force.

"Music matters": this is also understood by Koskela who orders the soldiers to drop everything unnecessary. But there will be room for music instruments.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON SIGHT AND SOUND (AUTUMN 1958) AND JERKER A. ERIKSSON (PARNASSO 1956):

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Wuthering Heights (1939)


Wuthering Heights (1939). Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Catherine (Merle Oberon).
   
Humiseva harju / Stormvindar (FI) / Svindlande höjder (SE). US 1939. P: Samuel Goldwyn / United Artists. D: William Wyler. SC: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur – based on the novel (1847) by Emily Brontë. DP: Gregg Toland. M: Alfred Newman. AD: James Basevi. Cost: Omar Kiam. ED: Daniel Mandell.
    C: Merle Oberon (Catherine Earnshaw), Laurence Olivier (Heathcliff), David Niven (Edgar Linton), Flora Robson (Ellen Dean), Donald Crisp (Dr. Kenneth), Hugh Williams (Hindley Earnshaw), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Isabella Linton), Leo G. Carroll (Joseph), Miles Mander (Lockwood), Cecil Kellaway (Earnshaw), Rex Downing (Heathcliff as a child), Sarita Wooton (Cathy as a child), Douglas Scott (Hindley as a child), Mme Alice Ehlers (musician), Romaine Callender (Robert), Helena Grant (Miss Hudkins).
    Helsinki premiere: 30.9.1955 Savoy, first distributor: RKO – tv: 28.3.1980 YLE TV2 – vhs: 1990 Kielipalvelu – VET 42144 – K12 – 2850 m / 103 min
    A KAVI 35 mm print deposited by Adams-Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    Viewed at Vaahterasali, Lahti, 3 Dec 2017.

I was asked to introduce Wuthering Heights in our film series in the city of Lahti and stayed to see the movie again.

Revisited William Wyler's adaptation of Emily Brontë's 1847 Gothic novel, a story of l'amour fou loved by Surrealists, a love story across class boundaries, between a foundling rescued from the gutter and a daughter of a wealthy farm. A story of love, hate, revenge, and death. And love beyond death.

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote the original screenplay in 1935. They cut Brontë's novel in half and removed the story of the second generation. The story of love and hate was transformed more decisively in the direction of a romantic love story. John Huston, Wyler's lifelong friend, shaped the final form of the screenplay and the dialogue. Samuel Goldwyn added the final image.

There were two major stages in Wyler's early career. In 1925–1935 he was a contract director at Universal, making 28 routine westerns and then more ambitious features including The Shakedown, Hell's Heroes, and A House Divided. In 1935–1946 he had a contract with Samuel Goldwyn for whom he directed These Three, Dodsworth, Come and Get It (with Hawks), Dead End, Wuthering Heights, The Westerner, The Little Foxes, and The Best Years of Our Lives.

After Goldwyn Wyler freelanced, directing quality films (The Heiress, his masterpiece), an Audrey Hepburn breakthrough film (Roman Holiday) and some of the hugest blockbusters of all time (Ben-Hur, Funny Girl). To the end Wyler was happy to make controversial films such as The Children's Hour (on love between women) and The Liberation of L. B. Jones (on racism).

Laurence Olivier had acted in films since 1930 (he is quite agreeable in The Yellow Ticket, for instance), but Heathcliff was his breakthrough role in films. Olivier clashed with Wyler during the production but was grateful for the rest of his life for the insight he learned about film acting (and gave an interesting performance later for Wyler in Carrie).

Merle Oberon was an Alexander Korda protégée, his star whom he married in 1939. She was provided with high profile roles including Anna Boleyn (The Private Life of Henry VIII) and Messalina (I, Claudius).

Gregg Toland was the trusted cinematographer in Wyler's Goldwyn period. Next year he would launch his deep focus aesthetique in The Long Voyage Home, followed by Citizen Kane and Wyler's The Little Foxes. Those films, together with Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu, were crucial for André Bazin's vision of true continuity in contrast to the montage school of the cinema.

1939 is widely regarded as the greatest year in the history of the cinema. It was the year of the revival of the A Western (John Ford's Stagecoach and a dozen more), Young Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Only Angels Have Wings, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, and in France, La Règle du jeu, Le Jour se lève, and La Fin du jour, and in Japan, Kenji Mizoguchi's Zangiku monogatari.

In his private life, Wyler was experiencing the great love of his life. He had divorced from Margaret Sullavan and had had a passionate affair with Bette Davis whom he had launched to a new level of stardom in Jezebel and whom he would direct also in The Letter and The Little Foxes, but Davis was not interested in becoming a housewife. Wyler frequented the home of his best friend, the great producer-agent Paul Kohner. They had entered the Universal Studios in 1920, both at the age of 18. Wyler loved the family atmosphere of the Kohners and asked Paul to introduce him to a nice girl. When Wyler was directing an orchestra sequence featuring Jascha Heifetz he made a deep impression to an aspiring actress, Margaret Tallichet, and this was the beginning of a lifelong marriage. Their first child was called Catherine. After the premiere of Wuthering Heights, Catherine became the third popular name for babies.

***

In my opinion this film adaptation of Wuthering Heights is fundamentally miscast. Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon make a valiant effort to live their parts in this Gothic romance of doomed love, and it is an instance of movie magic that the end result works this well. Laurence Olivier is an anti-romantic actor, at his natural best in sober roles, as the voice of reason, or as a ruler or authority figure. He has an innate presence of authority and command. It is fascinating to observe him as Heathcliff but impossible to really believe him.

Olivier's next Hollywood role was in Rebecca based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Both Wuthering Heights and Rebecca are based on Gothic novels by British lady writers. As Maxim de Winter Olivier was much more in character than as Heathcliff.

Merle Oberon's performance is a brilliant case of star acting, which can be truly moving, but it also means an external approach to a role which could call forth shattering moments of passion.

The Wyler film I had seen most recently is A House Divided, a family saga set on a stormy island in the Pacific Ocean. Produced by Universal Pictures, it has affinities with the Gothic approach of the Universal horror films. As does Wuthering Heights. Walter Huston's performance in A House Divided has much of the irresistible, shattering power that is missing from Olivier's Heathcliff study.

I do not object to Samuel Goldwyn's addition of the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine walking towards their magic kingdom at Peniston Craig. The ghost ending was popular in the 1930s, from Frank Borzage's Three Comrades to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. Not forgetting Abel Gance's J'accuse.

Our print looks a generation or so too much duplicated, still watchable, but the definition of light is a bit off, missing the perfect contrast that one can guess was Toland's aim.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON MICHAEL A. ANDEREGG:

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Joulumaa



Joulumaa. Oiva (Martti Suosalo), Milka Ahlroth (Helena), Tuure (Eero Ritala), Ulli (Mari Rantasila), Unna (Anna Paavilainen),and Malva (Irmeli-Unelma Hyde, her back turned). Photo: Sami Kuokkainen © Helsinki-filmi Oy.

Jullandet. FI © 2017 Helsinki-filmi Oy. EX: Aleksi Bardy, Annika Sucksdorff, Dome Karukoski. P: Miia Haavisto. D+SC: Inari Niemi. CIN: Sari Aaltonen. AD: Heini Erving. Cost: Sari Suominen. Makeup: Hanna Minkkinen. M: Joel Melasniemi. S: Mikko Mäkelä. ED: Hanna Kuirinlahti.
    Theme song: "Etsin kunnes löydän sun" ("Oasis", comp. Salvatore Cutugno & Pasquale Losito, lyr. Vito Pallavicini, 1976, Finnish lyr. Chrisse Johansson), perf. Markku Aro.
    C: Milka Ahlroth (Helena), Mari Rantasila (Ulli), Anna Paavilainen (Unna), Martti Suosalo (Oiva), Irmeli-Unelma Hyde (Malva), Samuli Niittymäki (Asser), Julia Lappalainen (Sofia), Eero Ritala (Tuure), Tommi Korpela (Harri), Eino Heiskanen (Henri), Niina Koponen (Ivana).
    Distributor: Oy Nordisk Film Ab, DCP with Swedish subtitles by Jani Kyllönen, premiere 1 Dec 2017.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 2 Dec 2017.

Joulumaa [Christmas Land] is Inari Niemi's third theatrical feature film. Robin (2012) was non-fiction, an affectionate fan film of the 14 year old pop star Robin Packalen, recorded in real time during his rise to fame; although I do not belong to the target audience I like this film and admire Niemi's talent in catching the rapport between the star and his audience. Kesäkaverit / Summertime (2014) was a humoristic rhapsody of three young women working as summer waitresses at the holiday paradise of Hanko.

Joulumaa is a companion piece to Kesäkaverit. Instead of a summer holiday we have a Christmas holiday. Instead of three young women we have three mature women. Instead of sunshine we have the gray light of December. Instead of fun and games there is fatigue and disappointment.

It is a story about dream and reality. Unna (Anna Paavilainen) and Tuure (Eero Ritala) are a young urban couple attempting an alternative lifestyle in the countryside: farming and running a bed-and-breakfast.

Helena (Milka Ahlroth) is alone: her husband Harri (Tommi Korpela) has left her a year ago to live with a young woman. She tries to keep patient, but her best friend, the single and life-affirming Ulli (Mari Rantasila) cajoles her out of her seclusion to spend an "old time Christmas" in the countryside.

Nothing goes according to plan. Despite the valiant effort of Unna and Tuure their alternative life is going nowhere. They have a daughter, Malva (Irmeli-Unelma Hyde) and they are toiling to get another baby, to the point that they are starting to hate sex. Until in the finale, to Tuure's dismay, Unna reveals that she has been taking the pill all the time. She has realized that she is not the mother type after all; "I seem to lack the bond with the child that Tuure always has". Meeting her former designer friends at a night out at a bar Unna changes to her natural, vital self.

Helena seems to have been totally dependent on her life with Harri. Now that their daughter is away, living her own life, she finds herself in a void, helpless and confused. She has even forgotten how to drive ("I cannot control my foot and my hand simultaneously"). Another holiday guest, Oiva (Martti Suosalo), turns out to be helpful both in jobs vital to the farm and driving lessons to Helena. After a night with Oiva Helena looks serene and happy, shedding her depressed habitus. Then Harri, too, appears at the farm. His new girlfriend Elisa has left.

Ulli seems to be enjoying her single life. She has no reason to envy her married friends Unna and Helena.

Strengths of the movie include the lively ensemble scenes at the Christmas dinner table (see image above), at the women's sauna, and at the "girls' night out" at the bar.

Among the fun details is the 5-year-old Malva's music taste: she selects 1970s pop hits from the jukebox in her room. The magnificent pop anthem "Etsin kunnes löydän sun" ["I'll Search Till I Find You"] sung by Markku Aro grows to a theme song of the movie. The Finnish arrangement is superior to the Italian-French original by Salvatore Cutugno, Pasquale Losito, and Vito Pallavicini and benefits from being played at full volume at the cinema blasters.

The characters are interesting and the cast is strong. Joulumaa is a multi-character study, not a story-driven film. It would have benefitted from a slightly stronger angle or focus in the screenplay.

It is always a challenge to shoot in the natural light of December when there is no sun and snow. The contrast to the warmth of the scope frame of Kesäkaverit is marked.

DATA FROM THE PRESS KIT AND ELONET BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Oktyabr / October (2012 sonorized restoration from Filmmuseum München, Edmund Meisel score conducted by Frank Strobel)




Октябрь / Lokakuu / Oktober [Ottobre] (Sovkino – SU 1928) D, SC: Sergei M. Eisenstein, Grigori V. Alexandrov; DP: Eduard K. Tisse, asst. Vladimir Popov, Vladimir S. Nilsen; AD: Vasili I. Kovrigin; ass D: Maxim Strauch, Mikhail Gomorov, Ilya Trauberg; M for cinema orchestra: Edmund Meisel; C: Vasili N. Nikandrov (Lenin), Nikolai Popov (Kerensky), Boris N. Livanov (Tereshchenko, a minister in the Provisional Government), Sokolov (Vladimir A. Antonov-Ovseyenko), Nikolai I. Podvolsky (himself), Lyashchenko (Konovalov), Chibisov (Skobelev), Mikholev (Kishkin), Smelsky (Verderevsky), Ognev (himself – the sailor who fired the signal from the “Aurora”), Eduard K. Tisse (a German officer), Leningrad workers, Red Army soldiers, sailors from the Baltic Fleet of the Red Navy; filmed: 1927; first private screenings: 14 + 23.1.1928, Moscow; première: 14.3.1928; orig. l: 9317 ft. / 2800 m; 35 mm, 2882 m, 124' (20 fps);
    Sonorized 2K DCP with English subtitles from Filmmuseum München – the 2012 restoration supervised by Stefan Drössler for ARTE – the original Edmund Meisel score orchestrated by Bernd Thewes – Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester conducted by Frank Strobel – 124 min (with overture and final credits)
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (History of the Cinema, Centenary of the Russian Revolution), 30 Nov 2017

I saw this 2012 restoration of October for the first time and also heard the Edmund Meisel score for the first time. I have had access to the dvd but I can be patient when I think that there will be a chance to see a movie on screen.

October has a powerful general drive, but it is also full of baroque digressions. The overall structure and the total impact of the movie made the best sense for me in this screening, thanks to the contribution of the music. There is a musical dynamics to the film itself: fast action sequences alternate with those of rest, relaxation, sadness, even depression. Among other things, October is an essay in the philosophy of time, and music helps make better sense of it.

I blogged about October's The Canon Revisited screening in Pordenone in 2015 when an Österreichisches Filmmuseum print was shown instead of this restoration which everybody was expecting.

Not wanting to repeat observations of 2015 I merely list scenes I was especially impressed by today:
– scenes of suffering, hunger, and winter
– the epic staging at the Finland Station
– the First Machine Gun Battalion
– Lenin's hideaway after the July Days: a straw hut by a foggy lake
– the ecstasy of the dance scenes
– the montage of world clocks

October is a grandiose film, a disturbing piece of epic poetry. It is marred by a caricature approach to the dramatis personae, weakening even Bolshevik figures (Nikandrov as Lenin). The overdone propaganda agenda diminishes the work. In classics of the antiquity, starting with the Iliad, the opponent was never ridiculed.

October is a visually magnificent work of camera art, full of challenging night sequences and montages.

This version is engrossing because of the happy marriage of image and music. It suffers slightly from a visual quality which is quite watchable but not yet the best possible.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY PETER VON BAGH BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Armomurhaaja / Euthanizer



Euthanizer (Swedish title in Finland). FI © 2017 It's Alive Films Oy. P: Teemu Nikki, Jani Pösö. D+SC: Teemu Nikki. CIN: Sari Aaltonen. AD+Cost: Sari Aaltonen, Teemu Nikki. M: Timo Kaukolampi, Tuomo Puranen. "Sua lemmin kuin järjetön mä oisin" / "(I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons" (comp. William Best, lyr. William Best or Ivory Watson, 1945, Finnish lyr. Olavi Virta, 1947) perf. Olavi Virta (1947). S: Sami Kiiski. ED: Teemu Nikki.
    C: Matti Onnismaa (Veijo), Jari Virman (Petri), Hannamaija Nikander (Lotta), Heikki Nousiainen (Martti), Pihla Penttinen (Ojala), Jouko Puolanto (Vatanen), Santtu Karvonen (fisherman), Alina Tomnikov (Elisa), Ilari Johansson (Simo), Rami Rusinen (Tuomas), Olli Rahkonen (Antti), Juha Lehti (Elisa's father), Anssi Niemi (Temppu), Joel Hirvonen (Jomppe), Petri Puttonen (doctor), Petri Tiihonen (motorist), Jyry Koistinen (child 1), Erin Hedberg (child 2).
    Released by Scanbox Entertainment Finland Oy / Finnkino Oy. English subtitles: Liina Härkönen. Swedish subtitles: Ditte Kronström. DCP. Day of premiere: 24 Nov 2017. 84 min
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, 30 Nov 2017

Steve Gravestock (Toronto International Film Festival, 2017): "The carefully balanced (albeit deranged) life of a freelance, black-market pet euthanizer begins to come apart at the seams in this loopy exploitation-movie throwback from Finland, which evokes the brazen psychological insights and aesthetic brio of such grungy genre classics as Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter and Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To."

"Anyone raised on the exploitation movies of Roger Corman or Larry Cohen will respond immediately and affectionately to the polished grunge of The Euthanizer. Even the uninitiated will find themselves charmed by Teemu Nikki's disturbing and hilarious third feature."

"Veijo, played by Finnish character actor Matti Onnismaa in his first starring role, runs a black-market operation euthanizing people's ailing — and sometimes just unwanted — pets. It's not a wealthy region, and the local veterinarian charges far more than most can afford. Each commission also comes with a brutal lecture, as Veijo spills over with Old Testament–style indignation about what shoddy and appalling people his patrons are."

"From the outset, it's clear that our hero has dark secrets, but it's only when he meets a young nurse (who tends to his catatonic father) and a seedy garage mechanic (who's mixed up with a vicious gang of neo-Nazis) that Veijo's carefully balanced, albeit deranged, life begins to show cracks."

"What crawls out when things really start to fall apart would, to paraphrase Bill Lee, make an ambulance attendant puke. Propelled by vibrant, B-movie enthusiasm, The Euthanizer offers the brazen psychological insights and aesthetic brio of classic exploitation movies like Cockfighter or God Told Me To.
" Steve Gravestock (Toronto International Film Festival, 2017, Scandinavian Horror, Mystery + Thriller)

"Teemu Nikki was born in Sysmä, Finland. He has directed numerous shorts, music videos, and commercials, and made his feature debut with Simo Times Three (2012), followed up by Lovemilla (2015), based on the popular Finnish TV dramedy of the same name. The Euthanizer (2017) is his latest film." (TIFF)

AA: Teemu Nikki is at his best in The Euthanizer, a genuinely original movie. The little story of a local freelancing pet euthanizer grows into many directions with many kinds of resonances.

The most important of which is: the way we treat animals is a revelation about who we are. This is actually one of the oldest insights in the history of fiction film. D. W. Griffith established a cliché by showing at the start of his films the good guy petting a dog and the villain kicking a dog. Erich von Stroheim parodied him at the start of The Merry Widow by showing the villain getting mad at pigs and the good guy being amused by them. Last Sunday we screened Teuvo Puro's Anna-Liisa where people are constantly interacting with animals like it used to be over millennia before our still very recent urbanization.

The Euthanizer is a saga of our estrangement from nature, and paradoxically, the euthanizer is the greatest animal-lover of all. He ends the suffering of the animals as quickly and painlessly as possible. Very often Veijo, as the euthanizer is called, gives a sermon or lecture to his customers before performing his service. These sermons are very tough stuff, indeed. I am not an expert and would be interested to know whether all the facts given about cats for instance are correct.

The Euthanizer is Teemu Nikki's third theatrical feature film. About 18 years ago I learned to know him as one of the most prominent music video directors of Finland. I have not yet seen Lovemilla (2015) but found Nikki's debut feature film Simo Times Three (2012) interesting. Also Nikki's short fiction such as Fantasy (2016: the story of Pizza Fantasy) has been of high quality.

Some of Nikki's familiar themes re-emerge in The Euthanizer. Petri (Jari Virman) is a thief whose web of lies at his job, at his home, and among his neo-Nazi friends grows into an impossible mess from which he cannot escape. In Simo Times Three there were two scoundrels who were finally quite exhausted by having to carry the burden of a growing thicket of lies.

In Simo Times Three the burglars had slogans similar to True Finns when they stole paintings: "only national romanticism, no postmodernism", they quipped. Now this theme has grown more sinister, and the guys are violent and racist extremists.

Teemu Nikki has a fine bite and a high intensity in his story-telling. His film is constantly surprising with fresh insights and observations. Nikki is a good action director.

My main disappointment is the conclusion. The mystery of the euthanizer is a horrible childhood trauma which he cannot overcome. In the finale there is an extreme turn to the theme of retribution. This is of course the received tradition in action movies.

I would have expected a more original conclusion to an original story. Teemu Nikki is very good in portraying a guy hopelessly entangled in lies. That angle would have provided interesting alternatives to a genuinely startling ending in this memorable tale.

Matti Onnismaa is a trusted actor in the Finnish theatre, television and cinema. The IMDb lists 151 film and television credits for him; internationally he is best known for Aki Kaurismäki roles. In his first leading role in a theatrical feature he provides great presence and rock solid authenticity. This is acting with little nuances and an absolute sense of timing. The surface is hard as a rock, but the sensitivity is always evident.

In this competently shot film the visual quality is not of the highest definition. But this is a character-driven, not a visually driven film, and the characters are compelling.