Thursday, January 11, 2018

Nokia Mobile – matkapuhelimen tarina

FI © 2017 Illume Oy. EX: Jouko Aaltonen. P: Marianne Mäkelä. D+SC: Arto Koskinen. CIN: Pini Hellstedt. M: Tapani Rinne. S design: Kimmo Vänttinen. ED: Joona Louhivuori.
    A documentary film.
    Featuring: Akseli Anttila, Taneli Armanto, Ian Broughall, Seppo Haataja, Masoumeh Hasani, Lauri Hirvonen, Johanna Kartila-Malmivaara, Tiiti Kellomäki, Risto Kivipuro, Duncan Lamb, Juha Lakkala, Craig Livingstone, Matti Makkonen, Olli-Pekka Mäkirintala, Eija Mäkirintala, Jorma Nieminen, Mika Ollila, Reijo Paajanen, Annu-Liisa Palmu, Sami Pienimäki, Shetty Ranjeeth, Jyri , Roselius, Mika Röykkee, Tuomas Siekkinen, Ove Strandberg, Olli Talvitie, Kaius Thiel, Minna-Liisa Vesanen, Johannes Väänänen. Featuring in Lauri Hirvonen's archival footage: Juha-Matti Niemelä, Vesa-Matti Paananen, Matti Parkkali, Tero Putkonen, and Kalle Snellman. Voice of Steve Jobs: Alistair Logan.
    Finland 100.
    Premiere nationwide: 29 Sep 2017– distributor: Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus – 2K DCP – 5 Sep 2017: rating 7 – 92 min
    Vimeo screener viewed at home, 11 Jan 2018

Nokia means many things. A community in Finland dating back thousands of years. A company dating back to 1865, growing via mergers and then divided into independent companies producing tyres, rubber boots, etc. The best known Nokia is the company which manufactured radio phones, car phones and mobile phones for fifty years in 1964-2014.

Nokia Mobile, Arto Koskinen's documentary film, covers the saga of the Nokia phone which became a world brand with an almost 40% share of the global market. Every fourth mobile phone was a Nokia. The budget of Nokia was bigger than that of the state of Finland. The hybris was only shattered by the launching of Apple's iPhone in 2007.

Mobile phones had been a luxury product. Nokia made them accessible for everybody and contributed to the emergence of a mobile world. Mobile phones changed human beings to creatures available everywhere and anytime. They changed our relationship to the categories of time and space. The ubiquity of the smartphone also means that often we are not mentally present in our concrete location.

Arto Koskinen is aware of the philosophical implications of the mobile phone phenomenon, but his film is not about them. It is a sober and factual account of the rise and fall of the Nokia mobile phone, told by the people who made it happen. This is not the story of the directors but the inventors, engineers, lawyers and other experts. It is a story of a magnificent teamwork which made Nokia a hub of creativity.

Chapters of the movie include 1) Time of Innovation, 2) Connecting People, 3) On Top of the World, and 4) Disconnecting People.

Much of the fundamental research took place together with official telecommunications agencies, in the course of duty. Such innovation was conducted for instance by Matti Makkonen, one of the fathers of the sms.

A key interviewee is Annu Palmu, a lawyer who tells about the Motorola challenge: their attack against Nokia with their giant patent portfolio.

In 1992 Nokia was having a hard time, but the CEO Jorma Ollila had a vision how it should go. Quality, durability, and user experience became watchwords. In the production process the device was divided into "motor and configuration". Taneli Armanto tells about the Snake videogame which he invented for the mobile phone. Downloadable ringtones are discussed. Reijo Paajanen, father of the Nokia Communicator, is interviewed. The Communicator was a programmable phone. The breakthrough of the internet had not yet taken place. The path was cleared for WLAN, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Things were tested that had been believed technically impossible.

Suddenly the world became connected in mobile phone networks. Nokia had a superior culture of innovation, and it excelled in speed and quality.

Nokia grew fast, and everywhere were cultural shocks. Cultural training was necessary. Innovation meetings took place in the top floor sauna where not only the sauna was taking the mind away from the routine but even more importantly the wide open view from the top terrace. Imagination knew no boundaries. In international teams work did not feel like work. Facing other cultures one had to expand one's mind for instance with the Hindi time concept where same term covers tomorrow and yesterday.

Originally the compensation policy was equal. What mattered was not money but who had the most exciting project. With Nokia's phenomenal boom the executive compensation of call options changed everything. When the directors started to exercise the options they turned to millionaires overnight. A grotesque phenomenon of inequality appeared. And something happened to the heads of the winners. Preconditions for the success had been enabled by heavy investments of the society. Rewards were cashed by a tiny elite while salaries remained modest.

Originally the explicit management policy catchphrase had been "respect for people". The management approach changed into a creation of an atmosphere of fear. The organization was restructured in every quarterly of the year.

Johannes Väänänen tells about his MyOrigo and MyDevice innovations in 2002-2005. He invented a finger-operated touchscreen with auto orientation, a qwerty keyboard, full internet, motion control, and the swipe feature. At Nokia, his proposal was dismissed in five minutes. Steven Jobs gave a peek without saying hello. Then in 2007 "Apple reinvented the phone" with the iPhone, having redeemed Väänänen's MyDevice documents. Väänänen used his personal MyDevice until 2010.

Meanwhile at Nokia, the organization was stuck in the Symbian jungle. Everybody had to make his own little mark in it. As a whole, it made less sense. This led to the development of phones that are no longer durable and need to be charged every day.

Nokia took the iPhone seriously. The mission was to produce in one year an iPhone killer. And Meego was really good, but it was too late. The co-determination talks to fire people started at Perlos, Bochum, Jyväskylä, Salo, Rumania... Dedicated Nokia staff was made to feel like driftwood.

Microsoft people, including Bill Gates, had started visiting from early on. They were given demonstrations of how it all worked. Until it was time to sell the Nokia mobile phone business to Microsoft.

Nokia Mobile the movie belongs to the current trend of the Finnish documentary film in which the subject-matter is strong but cinematic devices are avoided. Even a polemical stand is avoided. The approach is as matter-of-fact as possible.

Besides new interview footage also archival footage from television newscasts and programmes is utilized. Top executives appear in archival footage only. In way of illustration, the film boasts a retrospective of vintage Nokia Mobile Phone advertizing footage from all decades, including a Leningrad Cowboys appearance with the Red Army Choir in the Balalaika Show.

Arto Koskinen's film gives a lot to think about. It documents an exciting chapter in the history of information technology. Its value is likely to grow.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage

Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage. The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, May 2015. Kari Aalto, Conchita Wurst. Photo: J-P Passi. © Mouka Filmi 2017

Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage [Swedish title and international title].
    FI/DK/NO/SE © 2017 Mouka Filmi / Magic Hour Films / Indie Film / Auto Images / Film i Skåne.
    P: Sami Jahnukainen / Mouka Filmi. Co-P: Lise Lense-Møller / Magic Hour Films, Carsten Aanonsen / Indie Film, Lennart Ström & Magnus Gertten / Auto Images, Lisa Nyed / Film i Skåne.
    D+SC: Jukka Kärkkäinen, J-P Passi. Cin: J-P Passi – colour – 1,85:1
    A rock documentary film.
    Featuring: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN) (Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Pertti Kurikka, Toni Välitalo), Niila Suoranta, Jutta Tahvanainen
    M: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, Conny Malmqvist. Soundtrack listing: see beyond the jump break.
    S design: Jørgen Bergsund. S rec: Antti Haikonen. S mix: Tormod Ringnes. ED: Otto Heikola, Riitta Poikselkä. P manager: Juha Löppönen.
    Titles available: Finnish, Swedish, English, Finnish for the hard of hearing. English subtitles by Samuli Kauppila and Marko Pyhähuhta.
    Premiere: 13.10.2017 nationwide, distributor: B-Plan Distribution – 2K DCP – 24.8.2017: rating 7 – 98 min
    A Vimeo screener link viewed at home, 10 Jan 2018.

Jukka Kärkkäinen and J-P Passi directed the rockumentary Kovasikajuttu / The Punk Syndrome in 2012, featuring Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, a punk rock band by Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Pertti Kurikka, and Toni Välitalo. "Four disabled guys form the World's last punk-rock band. They might not conquer the World, but they will achieve something more important – and they will certainly make a fuss" was how the film addressed the viewer.

Kovasikajuttu [untranslatable, means something like "Tough Hog Story"] was an impressive and incredible documentary on the punk rock band. There were the usual features of a rockumentary (training, tour life, giving a concert, visiting the Reeperbahn, even attending the Independence Day celebration of the President of the Republic), but everything was given a new, completely different perspective.

Punk Voyage / Tokasikajuttu [untranslatable again, circa "Second Hog Story"] covers the saga of the band to the finale: their participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, and their final gigs. Kari has a hard time with the pressure of the publicity. Sami is interested in religion and politics. There is a triangle drama of Toni, Niila, and Jutta. Pertti is fed up with the fuss.

The difference, the otherness, the alienness of the protagonists gives the film again an unsettling perspective. Nothing can be taken for granted, and everything is seen in a different light. The viewer cannot take a familiar stand to anything. These guys were not dealt easy cards, but they make the most of their life.

They express themselves in music, and there is a genuine life force in their performances, highlights of which include "Aina mun pitää" ja "Häirikkö Toni". Their interpretation of Devo's "Mongoloid" is memorable. As is the final number in the film, their performance of a Finnish children's nameday favourite, "Putte Possun nimipäivät" ["Porky Pig's Nameday"].

Also otherwise the soundtrack listing is inspired, ranging from a hymn from the Zion's Hymn Songbook to the election anthem of the Finnish Center Party, "Suomi kuntoon" ["Shape Up Finland"]. Sami visits the events in which these songs are heard, and we see also Juha Sipilä, Chairman of the Center Party, who won the election, Sipilä becoming the Prime Minister. Also Laura Branigan's 1980s hit "Self Control" resonates in a special way here.

The film has been shot with a raw cinéma-vérité approach. I keep being amazed at the revelations of intimate and private life that are now accessible for a documentary film. How can you experience a personal crisis in a relationship in front of a documentary camera? Does that not mean that we are now performing even our private life? Does that not spell the end of privacy?

There is an approach of duration, an avoidance of the fast edit, sometimes resulting in scenes which feel slow and redundant.

To sum up, Tokasikajuttu / Punk Voyage is another incredible punk saga, full of irreverent force.


Monday, January 08, 2018

Matka merelle / Journey to the Sea

Matka merelle / Journey to the Sea. Please click on the images to enlarge them.

En resa till havet
    FI © Katharsis Films 2017. P+D+SC: Jouni Hiltunen.
    Cinematography: Jouni Hiltunen – colour – 1:1,85. Additional cinematography: Timo Peltonen, Ville Hiltunen. Microscopic photography: Timo Peltonen, Marjut Räsänen. Underwater photography: Teemu Liakka, Pekka Tuuri, Olli Mustonen, Jouni Hiltunen. Aerial photography: Timo Peltonen, Jouni Hiltunen. Photography on Russian islands: AgitEco Studio Ltd.
    M: Simo Helkala, Markku Kopisto. Singers: Johanna Korhonen, Hilkka-Liisa Vuori. S: Ville Hiltunen, Jouni Hiltunen. ED: Jouni Hiltunen, Anne Lakanen.
    Narrators: Jone Takamäki, Jouni Hiltunen.
    Featuring: Samu Hiltunen (a boy discovering the sea and the beaches), Emil Vahtera (marine biologist at the Environment Institute of the City of Helsinki), Vyacheslav Alekseyev (director of the seal ward of the St. Petersburg Waterworks), Tatu Hokkanen (bird ringer, record holder of sea bird ringing, a specialist of the birds of the Eastern Gulf of Finland), Marja Hokkanen, Verneri Hokkanen (bird ringers in the Eastern Gulf of Finland), Matti Hario (researcher, a prominent bird expert, specializing in birds on the Gulf of Finland), Arno Rautavaara, Markku Hyvärinen, Jukka Haltimo, Eija Mainio, Keijo Ikonen, Harri Malkio, Chinda Nai Chiang (bird ringers on the Aspskär island), Maiju Lehtiniemi (senior researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute on the research vessel Aranda, a specialist in introduced species), Mikael Lindholm, Tommy Ekebom (fishermen), Martti Leinonen (mate on the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace vessel, also a veteran sailor on oil tankers).
    Premiere: 3 March 2017 nationwide – released by B-Plan Distribution – 2K DCP – Swedish subtitles – Finland 100 – MEKU 13.1.2017 – S – 78 min
    Screener link viewed at home, 8 Jan 2018

The wonderful Gulf of Finland, rich in geological history, sealife, and birdlife, is a "mare nostrum" for three countries: Finland, Russia, and Estonia. Jouni Hiltunen's engaging documentary film covers many dimensions: the nature and the culture, the history and the future, the science and the poetry. And the four seasons in a loving look of the cinematography.

The film starts on a personal note, the director's own experience of the Gulf of Finland dating back 40 years, now being transmitted to his son Samu. Jouni Hiltunen learned to know a sea of clear water and a rich nature paradise. Today, The Gulf of Finland is one of the most heavily polluted seas in the world.

Much has been done, very prominently in St. Petersburg, but it takes decades for the sea to recover. The mass of plastic garbage is almost overwhelming. A heavy traffic of oil tankers poses a chronic danger, no matter how perfect the safety regulations.

The film is soundly based on current research and scientific knowledge, making this film valuable for education and use in environmental activities. There is a fundamental approach of gravity, but the director avoids a journalistic and propagandistic tone of alarm. We meet true experts, including Martti Hario, Martti Leinonen, Tatu Hokkanen, Vyacheslav Alekseev, Emil Vahtera, and Maiju Lehtiniemi.

The visual concept is strong. Among the key visual motifs is the jellyfish (meduusa in Finnish), an indigenous species which is currently and mysteriously booming in millions, perhaps due to its exceptional adaptability to eutrophication (rehevöityminen in Finnish). I am thinking of Nosferatu, and Professor Bulwer's lessons of almost incorporeal vampire beings.

Another key motif is flocks of birds during migration: millions of barnacle geese (valkoposkihanhi in Finnish) cross the Gulf of Finland on their way to Russia. The bird footage is stunning in this film, from the common eider (haahka) to the sea eagle. The ancient poetry of flying cranes is evoked: in Russia they are a vision of the souls of dead soldiers. Jellyfish footage and silhouettes of birds resting at sunrise is a favourite juxtaposition in the montage (see images above).

The situation with the itämerennorppa (Балтийская кольчатая нерпа) seal is discussed on a visit to St. Petersburg where the endangered species is cared for by Vyacheslav Alekseev. The climate change is making life difficult for this rare animal. Other fauna on display ranges from elk families to snake pits.

Among the endangered species are also fishermen. When the old-timers retire, nobody will follow. "The paradise of my youth I cannot present to my son", states Jouni Hiltunen, but activity pays. The sea eagle was on the verge of extinction, but it was saved. Now it is the little ones who are threatened. The struggle goes on.


Sunday, January 07, 2018

Comrade, Where Are You Today?

Toveri, missä olet nyt?
FI/DE © 2016 Ilanga Films / Making Movies Oy. Year of release: 2017.
    P+D+SC: Kirsi Marie Liimatainen.
    CIN: Yoliswa von Dallwitz, Till Vielrose, Christian Marohl, Hanno Kunow, Marc-Christian Weber. 
    M: Anssi Växby & Lasse Sakara. Songs: "El aparecido" (comp. + lyr. Victor Jara). "Kisällittäret" (comp. Kaj Chydenius) perf. Agit-Prop. End credit song: "Don't Bring Out the Roses". Etc.
    S design: Miguel Caroli. S recording: Jacob Ilgner, Veit Norek, Marco Weichler. S mixing: Silvio Naumann. ED: Jeannette-Maria Giza, Stefanie Kosik, Antti Tuomikoski.
    A documentary film of the class of 1988–1989 at the communist Jugendhochschule Wilhelm-Pieck School in GDR.
    Featuring: (1) Lucia (Lidia) from Bolivia, (2) Esteban (Marcellino) from Chile, (3) Nabil from Lebanon, (4) Ghazwan from Lebanon, (5) in search of Duma = Mateo = Terror = Jacob Simelane = Shadrack Themba Mjiako Ndaba from South Africa.
    Loc: Germany (Bogensee, Berlin), Bolivia, Chile, (Nicaragua: not included in the final cut), Lebanon (Tripoli, Tyre), and South Africa.
    Languages: German, English, Spanish, Arabic, etc.
    Dedication: für meine Grossmutter.
    Finnish premiere: 10 Nov 2017 in Helsinki, Kuopio, Lahti, and Tampere, distributed by Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus, 2K DCP with Finnish subtitles by Liina Härkönen – MEKU K12 – 113 min
    A screener viewed on 7 Jan 2017

Kirsi Liimatainen studied at the communist Jugendhochschule Wilhelm-Pieck in the GDR in 1988–1989, months before the fall of the wall.

Her extraordinary documentary film is first of all a tale of a grand disillusionment. The socialist theory and the socialist practice were two different things. The young students from all over the world had a hard time understanding what a lack of democracy, ubiquitous Stasi surveillance, and a malfunctioning economy had to do with the socialist agenda. From East German comrades they learned that a fall was forthcoming and that there was not going to be a reformation of socialism but a collapse of the system.

The experiment of real socialism was consigned to the waste basket of history.

But the 400 students from 80 countries of the world were a remarkable collection of freedom fighters and resistance activists. Many were persecuted dissidents from military dictatorships of Latin America, apartheid countries of Africa, or war-torn countries of the Middle East. Internationally wanted by secret polices and secret services they only used shifting noms de guerre.

Kirsi Liimatainen does not find information of the students from German archives, not even her own name. But she discovers Lucía from Bolivia who has distanced herself from communism. Lucia is still an activist in a struggle against transnational companies who even tried to privatize water, and a champion for the rights of the people. Socialism was a big lie, and the party dictatorship an utterly false step. Indigenous combat is the thing now. "We can change everything".

In Chile Liimatainen meets Esteban, alias Marcellino. We hear the story of the resistance in Chile after the Pinochet military coup in 1973 and the brutal repression of liberation fighters. We visit the memorial of the victims of the repression of the Pinochet regime. The spirit of Victor Jara is alive.

In Lebanon Liimatainen meets Nabil and Ghazwan. There is no peace in Lebanon, and socialist parties have vanished. All parties are now defined by religion. But old ideals of justice and equality are still valid, there is poverty everywhere, "my principles are in my bones", yet no relevant political structure exists.

The journey proceeds to Johannesburg in search of a former freedom fighter of Nelson Mandela's ANC whom Liimatainen knew by the combat name Duma. Real names are still confidential, and even comrades themselves do not know each other's true identities. But Liimatainen finds out about Duma and his remarkable credentials in the underground struggle before the liberation of Mandela. Duma is dead by now, and Liimatainen visits his grave together with Duma's widow. Although apartheid was abolished, South Africa is still far from the ideals of Duma and Mandela.

Interestingly, both the fall of the wall and the fall of the Pinochet regime took place in 1989, soon followed by the liberation of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

Comrade, Where Are You Today? is an account of "a state which forgot its citizens" and great goals that are still valid: freedom and equality.

There is a lot to think about in this honest, unusual and sober documentary film.



Machines. Please click to enlarge the images.

Machines / Machines
IN/DE/FI © 2016 Jann Pictures / Pallas Film / IV Films Ltd. Year of release: 2017. P: Rahul Jain, Thanassis Karathanos, Iikka Vehkalahti.
    D+SC: Rahul Jain. Cin: Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva – 16:9 HD. Digital colorist: Gregor Pfüller. Sound design: Susmit "Bob" Nath. Re-recording mixer: Adrian Baumeister. Sound mix: Dolby Atmos & 5.1. ED: Yaël Bitton, Rahul Jain.
    A documentary film. Language: Hindi. Loc: Gujarat (India).
    IDFA Competition: 17.11.2016.
    Finnish premiere in Helsinki, Kuopio, Oulu, Tampere, and Turku: 24.2.2017, distributor: Pirkanmaan Elokuvakeskus, 2K DCP with Finnish [and probably Swedish] subtitles – MEKU K7 – 69 min
    Screener link viewed at home, with Finnish subtitles, 7 Jan 2018

Official synopsis (translated from the Filmikamari site): "A visually strong movie about a huge textile factory in Gujarat, India. In the darkness of the labyrinth of the factory, among the dirt and the chemicals the workers are in dire need of sleep. The incessantly pounding machines churn beautiful textiles for the manufacturers of brand clothes. The circumstances are a reminder of a past without trade unions, ethical conditions of work or limitations of working hours."

Official synopsis (from the official website): "Moving through the corridors and bowels of an enormous and disorientating structure, the camera takes the viewer on a descent down to a dehumanized place of physical labor and intense hardship. This gigantic textile factory in Gujarat, India might just as well be the decorum for a 21st century Dante’s Inferno. In his mind-provoking yet intimate portrayal, director Rahul Jain observes the life of the workers, the suffering and the environment they can hardly escape from. With strong visual language, memorable images and carefully selected interviews of the workers themselves, Jain tells a story of inequality, oppression and the huge divide between rich, poor and the perspectives of both."

Director Rahul Jain:

As a five year-old boy I used to roam around in my grandfather’s now-defunct textile mill in Surat, in India’s Gujarat state. It was easy to get lost in the labyrinthine corridors. I was overwhelmed by the machines as a three-feet tall kindergartener. It was this sensation of being minuscule in front of the gigantic processing machines that took me back to a similar factory twenty years later – this time with a camera. I remember in fragments getting lost in the long aisles of printing machines, enjoying the smell of coal in the factory’s boiler rooms maybe because it was forbidden for me to be there in the first place."

"A child’s perspective is motivated by height, but as an adult the depth perception takes over. Seeing the world on an eye-to-eye level basis helped me sort my inclinations well. We forget this in our everyday existential structures because these things are hidden from our immediate field of vision, and I wish to elucidate through the camera this simple eye-to-eye perspective we sometimes choose to not acknowledge. It’s easy to look away from things we that make us uncomfortable so I set out to use cinema as a curatorial device to confront some of these things with a temporal patience."

"Venturing into many factories I have gotten a sense of my class, my identity among the 1.3 billion Indians I share my nationality with. A good fraction of the laborers don’t reveal their stories to me, probably due my association with the owners. But a majority of them are able to open up past our immediate and social differences, revealing the circumstances that lead them here. Young teenagers who joined these factory when I was an infant are now middle-aged adults. Some of them seem to remember me by my first name. I have travelled the world back and forth many times over, as these workers have toiled away their complete existences in these factories of exclusion and alienation."

"Food, housing and fabric are the material necessities of existence. A factory functions within these interests built from a variety of human elements. There is one boss relative to thousands of workers. A lack of unionized labor in a densely populated, quickly accelerating economy leaves room for a lot to be left unseen, deliberate overlooking of a multitude of human beings for the interests of a few. It is not just one factory, it’s a civilizational structure. The systems that allow this to happen are the  ones that needs collective acknowledgement.
” (Rahul Jain, the official website)

AA: Last year, 39 Finnish films had a theatrical premiere according to the statistics of the Finnish Film Foundation (and that is not a complete list: some of the most remarkable, including Kiehumispiste / Boiling Point and Perkele II, are missing). Many of the best included in the list appeared in the cinema for only a brief span. After the premiere week they were moved to difficult and irregular slots.

Machines is one of those most important films that did not get much exposure in the cinemas. It is a documentary film about labour conditions in a huge sweatshop in India. The work shift is 12 hours, and the pay for one shift is 3 USD. Some workers come from far away, and they may work 36 or 48 hours with hardly any rest. The train ride to the factory is 36 hours, and the trains are so full that there is no room to sit. Neither is there any food served on the train. There is a drought that forces families of farmers to send their people to the sweatshops. The workers perhaps do not earn any savings but at least they can feed themselves. Child labour is a norm.

There are no trade unions, and if someone starts to organize, there is a likelihood that the organizer will be murdered on a contract by the factory leaders. There are several interviews with the workers, including ones in favour of organizing. Also factory leaders are interviewed. One of them is skeptical: the more you pay to the workers the less motivated they are to work. The human presence is memorable in this movie about machines.

Rahul Jain's film is visually dynamic and engaging. Long passages evolve in purely visual terms. A roaming camera investigates the circumstances in the big factory with forward and backward tracking shots in a Bazinian approach. This is not a montage film. We see see the beautiful fabrics, the sweat and the steam, and the exhausted bodies of the workers of all ages. The sequences of colour printing are aesthetically engaging, but the film is not about aestheticizing poverty and exploitation.

In the finale a drone shot gives us a general view of Gujarat covered by fog, smoke, dust, and pollution. We land in the middle of a gathering of concerned farmers on the street. They have been interviewed before. Why is nobody doing anything? Machines is a sober film about intolerable conditions of work. The viewer is left with the challenge: something must be done to change this.

The visual quality is good, and the sound design is effective.

Thursday, January 04, 2018


Julieta. The Finnish poster. Adriana Ugarte as the young Julieta, Emma Suárez as the mature Julieta. Please click to enlarge the beautiful images.

Julieta. Adriana Ugarte.

Julieta: three generations. Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) with her daughter, the little Antía, and mother Sara (Susi Sánchez).

Julieta. The adolescent Antía (Priscilla Delgado) and her mother Julieta (Adriana Ugarte).

Julieta / Julieta.
Un film de Almodóvar.
Espanja 2016. PC: El Deseo S.A. P: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García.
    D+SC: Pedro Almodóvar – based on three short stories (”Chance”, ”Soon”, ”Silence”) by Alice Munro in the collection Runaway (2004), translated into Finnish by Kristina Rikman / Tammi, Keltainen Kirjasto 2005. Synopsis for the short stories from Wikipedia:
    "Chance" – Juliet takes a train trip which leads to an affair.
    "Soon" – Juliet visits her parents with her child Penelope.
    "Silence" – Juliet hopes for news from her adult estranged daughter Penelope.
    DP: Jean-Claude Larrieu – digital – camera: Arri Alexa XT – source: ARRIRAW 2.8K – digital intermediate: 2K – 1,85:1 – colour – released on: 35 mm and D-Cinema.
    PD: Antxón Gómez. AD: Carlos Bodelón. Set dec: Federico García Cambero. SFX: Reyes Abades. VFX: Aleida Collado, Beatriz Gómez, Nestor Quintana. Cost: Sonia Grande. Make-up: Ana López-Puigcerver. Hair: Sergio Pérez. Sculptor: Miquel Navarro. Seascape paintings: Seoane. M: Alberto Iglesias. Song during end credits: ”Si no te vas” es. Chavela Vargas. S: Pelayo Gutiérrez. ED: José Salcedo. Casting: Eva Leira, Yolanda Serrano.
    C: Emma Suárez (Julieta Arcos), Adriana Ugarte (Julieta as a young woman), Michelle Jenner (Bea, Beatriz), Inma Cuesta (Ava), Daniel Grao (Xoan Feijóo), Dario Grandinetti (Lorenzo Gentile), Rossy de Palma (Marian), Susi Sánchez (Sara, Julieta's mother), Pilar Castro (Claudia, Bea's mother), Joaquín Notario (Samuel), Nathalie Poza (Juana), Mariam Bachir (Sanáa), Blanca Parés (Antía, 18 v), Priscilla Delgado (Antía, adolescent), Sara Jiménez (Beatriz, adolescent).
    Loc: Redes (Galicia), Madrid, Andalusia, Aragon, Castilla-La Mancha (Spain).
    Spanish premiere: 8.4.2016. Cannes: 17.5.2016.
    Helsinki premiere: 12.8.2016 Kinopalatsi, Tennispalatsi, distributor: Future Film Oy, 2K DCP, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Sari Selander / Michaela Palmberg – dvd and blu-ray: 2016 Future Film Oy – MEKU K12 – 99 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Pedro Almodóvar), 4 Jan 2018

Having directed four personal films with gravity (Todo sobre mi madre, Hable con ella, Mala educacione, Volver) Pedro Almodóvar expanded his scope in genres of the romantic thriller (Los abrazos rotos) and horror (La piel que habito), and creating a genre mix: comedy, the musical, and the airplane catastrophe film (Los amantes pasajeros).

Julieta is a return to the most profound current in Almodóvar's oeuvre. Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, it is thoroughly reworked into a Spanish story. It does cover a lot of Spanish territory from the South (Andalusia) to the Northwest (a fishing port by the Atlantic in Galicia) and the Northeast (the Pyrenees). Madrid is the central location, and even it is divided into two contrary districts, as Julieta distanciates herself abruptly from the past.

The story covers 32 years of Julieta's life. In the beginning she is 25 which means that she is 57 in the finale. It was essential for Almodóvar to have two actresses interpret Julieta. Adriana Ugarte is Julieta from 25 till 40 while Emma Suárez interprets her from 40 to the present. "I don’t trust the effects of make-up for aging, and it’s almost impossible for a young woman of twenty five to have the presence of someone of fifty. It isn’t a matter of wrinkles, it’s something more profound, the passing of time, on the outside and on the inside." (Almodóvar)

Julieta is a straight drama with no genre trappings or film references. It does have an affinity with the labyrinthine mystery thriller narratives which flourished in Hollywood in the 1940s, as analyzed by David Bordwell in his magisterial study Reinventing Hollywood (2017), and typical for some of Almodóvar's favourite directors such as Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, and Douglas Sirk. But "From the outset I had in mind that Julieta is a drama, not a melodrama, a genre to which I’m partial." (Almodóvar)

The central mystery: why did Antía leave her mother Julieta at age 18? Julieta realizes that she did not know her daughter who had become a stranger to her in many ways. Only in the finale, when Antía loses her own child, she begins to understand the distress of her mother, and there is a way back to a reunion.

In the beginning we meet the young Julieta as a beloved teacher of classic antiquity. She is so popular that there is a throng to her classes. We catch a glimpse of her teaching the Odyssey, the terms of the thalatta and ho pontos, and the story of Calypso. Even in her private circles Julieta entertains with tales of the antiquity. But Julieta retires from professional life to become a wife for the fisherman Xoan by the Atlantic Ocean. One stormy day, after an interchange with Julieta on the topic of Ava, Xoan is shipwrecked and dies.

All his life Xoan had had a non-committed affair with the local sculptor Ava (after Ava Gardner). Ava's intriguing sculptures of the male torso, perhaps inspired by Xoan, are a recurrent motif. When Ava dies later of multiple sclerosis Julieta meets Ava's lover Lorenzo at the funeral, and Lorenzo is transferred to her. In the beginning of the film Julieta is about to move with Lorenzo to Portugal when she meets by chance Bea, Antía's childhood friend, who tells that Antía is alive and a mother of three.

Julieta is a film of visual poetry. It is in itself an Odyssey, a journey in search of lost homes, a journey of self-awareness and a quest of an awareness of others. It unfolds in many landscapes, from the mountains to the Atlantic Ocean (different from the Mediterranean ho pontos).

In classical antiquity the ship was the main vehicle for long distance voyages. Today there are other vehicles, and the central one in Julieta is the train. The dream-like train sequence is worthy of Hitchcock and Lang and brings to mind Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. As the train speeds forward in a snowstorm a branch of a tree hits the window and a raving deer runs wildly by the side.

During the train ride the tragic themes of loss and death are introduced, the love affair of Julieta and Xoan is started, and Antía is conceived.

Xoan is married but his wife is in coma and dies. Julieta's mother Sara has Alzheimer's disease, and after Sara's death Julieta's father marries his maid, and they start a new family. To the same pattern belongs also the life-affirming Ava's dying of MS, and the transference of her lover Lorenzo to Julieta. Till death do us part. And life goes on.

The theme of guilt has never been this strong in an Almodóvar film. More profoundly, it is about conscience, a sense of responsibility even when there is no reason for guilt. When Antía leaves her mother Julieta has a montage flash of three traumatic departures. The elderly man on the train who wanted to talk with her and threw himself under the train. Xoan leaving to the ocean for the last time. And now Antía.

Julieta is no more guilty than anyone else. But she has a highly developed conscience. Which is why the biggest shock comes at the meditation retreat on the Pyrenees when Julieta learns about Antía's departure and its reasons: a lack of spirituality and faith. Julieta is an especially devoted teacher of literature who can introduce a young generation to the classics in an engrossing way. That has also happened with her daughter, but somewhere she has lost touch with her. But Antía's way with spirituality and faith has also estranged her best friend Bea (while Antia has also distanced herself from what she has begun to see as her "shameful affair" with Bea).

Almost all actors are new to Almodóvar, but Susi Sánchez, who plays Julieta's mother, has acted in two recent films of his. Rossy de Palma is the only true Almodóvar regular. She is Xoan's maid Marian, always volunteering to warn about dangerous consequences. With her interference she makes them happen. She is not Mrs. Danvers but she has a similar function in the narrative. She certainly does not make Julieta feel home. It is a memorable performance.

Julieta is an anti-melodrama. It is a film of spiritual generosity. The greatest and most fundamental factor in Almodóvar's oeuvre is love, love bigger than melodrama. Perhaps the maid Marian and the 18-year-old Antía can be seen as incarnations of melodrama here. There is a connection with the theme of children judging their parents in classic Universal melodramas from Back Street to All That Heaven Allows.

Although there are no meta-filmic scenes here, let's register a blink-and-you-miss-it moment of a background of movie posters in front of a cinema with Winter's Bone, Le Havre and Nader and Simin.

Almodóvar remarks that all his films benefit from being seen again. I do look forward to revisiting Julieta. And read Munro.

Julieta is Almodóvar's second digitally photographed film. The visual quality is rich and warm in the many seasons and milieux of this odyssey of the conscience. Almodóvar is a leading colourist of contemporary art. The bold colour world must not be subdued nor garish. In Julieta it seems just right.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Veljekset von Wright / Bröderna von Wright / Brothers von Wright (exhibition)

Ferdinand von Wright: Forest Landscape from Haminalahti (1880). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen. This magical painting looks profoundly different when examined at close range. God is in the detail. Please do click on the images to enlarge them.

Veljekset von Wright / Bröderna von Wright / Brothers von Wright
    Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, 27.10.2017–25.2.2018
    Over 300 works on display.
    Museum director: Susanna Pettersson.
    Chief curator of the von Wright exhibition: Anne-Marie Pennonen.
    Viewed on 29 December, 2017

The catalogue:
Veljekset von Wright: taide, tiede ja elämä / ed. Erkki Anttonen and Anne-Maria Pennonen; valokuvaus: Hannu Aaltonen, Ainur Nasretdin, Hannu Pakarinen. Helsinki: Ateneumin taidemuseo, 2017. Printed: Helsinki: Libris Oy. 205 p., illustrated; 28 cm; hard cover. Series: Ateneumin julkaisut, 1238-4712; n:o 97. Written by: Anne-Maria Pennonen and 13 others. Art: Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright.
    Three editions: Finnish, Swedish, English.

Official synopsis: "The artist brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright, who lived during the period of the Grand Duchy of Finland, are known as painters of landscapes, still lifes and nature subjects, and as scientific illustrators. This exhibition will introduce new perspectives, as it explores the historical significance of the von Wright brothers for Finnish art, culture and science. Adding a contemporary art angle to the exhibition are the artists Sanna Kannisto and Jussi Heikkilä."

From the official information: "The artist brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright are known as painters of portraits, landscapes, and nature subjects, especially birds, and as creators of scientific illustrations of flora and fauna. New contemporary works by Sanna Kannisto and Jussi Heikkilä will complement this colourful major exhibition. The exhibition is part of the programme celebrating the centenary of Finland's independence.

Scientifically accurate works convey a love of nature

"The von Wright brothers grew up in a manor in Haminalahti, Kuopio. The brothers' interest in nature originated in the hobby of hunting, as practised by their father, Major Henrik Magnus von Wright. Skilled hunters, the brothers began to document the birds they caught. Through watching and painting birds over a long period of time, the brothers gained a wide knowledge of nature. Their works are characterised by detailed scientific accuracy. At the same time, their art conveys a special love of nature. The works reflect the aesthetic values of their time, the 19th century."

"The eldest of the brothers, Magnus (1805–1868), known especially for his landscape paintings, was an influential cultural figure in Helsinki. He worked as a teacher at the University of Helsinki drawing school and as an expert at the Finnish Art Society. Wilhelm (1810–1887) was active mostly in Stockholm and on the island of Orust on the west coast of Sweden. He worked as a scientific illustrator for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The most famous of the brothers is Ferdinand (1822–1906), who was one of the first visual artists in Finland to make a living from art. He enjoyed the longest career of the brothers, and later attained the status of an old master and earned respect from young artists.

A sobering exhibition to make us think about lessons from nature

""The exhibition is in many ways connected to the present. The themes in the von Wright brothers' art are current at a time when the balance between man and nature, as well as the earth's carrying capacity, is becoming critical for our future", says the museum director, Susanna Pettersson."

"This exhibition will introduce new perspectives, as it explores the historical significance of the von Wright brothers for Finnish art, culture and science. The exhibition will feature more than 300 works from the Ateneum collection, and from Finnish and Swedish public and private collections. Exhibits will also include birds stuffed by Magnus von Wright, courtesy of the Finnish Museum of Natural History. The chief curator of the exhibition is Anne-Maria Pennonen. In 2018, the exhibition will travel to the Kuopio Art Museum and the Tikanoja Art Museum in Vaasa."

"The brothers' works will be accompanied by new art by the photographic artist Sanna Kannisto (born 1974) and the conceptual artist Jussi Heikkilä (born 1952). Kannisto photographs nature subjects as still lifes, as she takes the photography studio out into nature. She sees herself as a kind of a collector, adding species, one after another, to her own collection. In his works, Heikkilä comments on the state of the earth and, above all, on the significance of birds as indicators of the state of the environment and the burden on the seas.

Magnus von Wright: View from Katajanokka (1868). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. - This startling landscape of the old Katajanokka is unrecognizable for a contemporary viewer. This part of the city belongs now to the touristic center of Helsinki, but this view is anti-touristic, indeed.

AA: The von Wright brothers were among the founding fathers of the young Finnish art. The youngest of them, Ferdinand, lived until 1906, and during his last decades he was already considered old-fashioned, yet admired and respected as an old master and teacher.

The brothers' breakthrough coincided with the breakthrough of photography, yet they continued to work with photorealistic accuracy, and, indeed, photography still had many limitations, and painting and drawing was usually still the best way to produce a faithful visual reproduction of reality. Not least because its ability to render colour in precise nuances.

The brothers portrayed life in scientific detail. When they painted a fish, the number of scales was precisely correct. They were masters and key contributors in legendary foundational complete visual sources of Nordic birds, fish, and butterflies. They also contributed to the first comprehensive visual atlas of Finland's major views.

For Finland and Sweden the brothers von Wright have the same legendary status as Audubon has for the U.S.

My first reaction to many works of the von Wright school is: these are academic illustrations, ultra sharp and ultra bright like early digital cinema, but lifeless, without a feeling of atmosphere, objects captured in bullet time (and indeed the brothers first shot the animal, then painted it), frozen, and airless. They are figurative and representational in a narrow sense: they capture the external surface detail impeccably, but a sense of breathing, blood circulation, and movement is missing, even in the legendary Fighting Capercaillies painting which looks like a reproduction of three stuffed birds, which it is. The fighting spirit is missing. We merely see dead puppets.

In the approach to life we have the Biedermeier approach, idealized and conventional.

Wilhelm von Wright: Merikokki, koiras / Sjökock, hanne / Male Dragonet (1836-1857). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. - Sea creatures like this prove that truth is stranger than fantasy.

But there is more than that. The scientific illustrations are uncanny in their accuracy, new proofs that reality is stranger than fiction. The brothers took care to study both dead and live fish, and they had aquariums in which they could observe the true fabulous colours which they knew start to fade as soon as the fish is dead.

Also the accuracy in the rich detail of the landscapes means that their value keeps growing with time.

Two years ago I visited the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg where it is possible to study masters like Ivan Shishkin, and his magical masterpieces such as The Mast-Tree Grove (1898). Not far from Shishkin's locations, near the Eastern border of Finland, the von Wright brothers painted similar landscapes (Finland, then, also belonged to the Russian Empire).

Ferdinand von Wright's The Forest Landscape from Haminalahti (1880) may look conventional at a distance, but it reveals its treasures when examined at close range. You discover ten animals in their natural habitat. You discover refined textures to convey many kinds of foliage. There is a sense of infinity, of the unfathomable, of the sublime.

Invaluable are Magnus von Wright's Helsinki landscapes. Helsinki was the young capital of Finland (Turku had been the capital when Finland belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden). It was still very agrarian, and the silhouette of the Cathedral of Helsinki is startling in the background of rustical wooden houses. Katajanokka (see photo above), near the Cathedral, now a major tourist area, is revealed to have been a slum.

One of the delights of the exhibition is a reproduction of a Helsinki panorama in the year 1847. It has been mounted as a panorama circle inside which you can step and watch the views as if you were standing on top of the Ullanlinna Observatory Hill. The first railway for person traffic in Helsinki was launched in 1858. In this panorama we can understand the much more central role of ships in Helsinki before the epochal introduction of the railway.

A recurrent detail in many of the von Wright rural landscapes is smoke. Their typical landscape painting shows a view from the top of a hill, everything conveyed in reverent detail. A distant trail of smoke introduces a feeling of life. There is something warm there. A fire is burning. Every day there is a different sticker label for the visitors of the exhibition. My favourite was a couple of weeks ago: a sticker with a trail of smoke.

The brothers were ardent observers of light, colours, and seasons. A strange and attractive feature in Nordic and Russian snowy winter landscapes is a pink hue, faithfully and magically conveyed by the von Wright brothers.

The catalogue to the exhibition covers many aspects of the von Wright brothers: ornithology, landscape painting, the introduction of lithography, the art of colour, and taxidermy. There are case studies of the most famous bird paintings. And there are insights into cultural history: Magnus von Wright was a close collaborator of Zacharias Topelius, both sharing an idealistic view of the Finnish nation. Both also collaborated in the production of the first Finnish opera, King Charles's Hunt, composed by Fredrik Pacius in 1852. The illustrations give a faithful impression of the original colours of the paintings.

Nantti Vonrikti: Taistelevat ankat. Ankallisgalleria / Ferdy von Wren: The Fighting Ducks. National Gallery of Duckburg. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.- Finland is the world's number one country in Donald Duck fandom. Ferdinand von Wright's The Fighting Capercaillies is our painting cliché number one, endlessly parodied and appropriated. Look at Daisy Duck's gloriously bored expression.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ernst Mether-Borgström (centenary exhibition at EMMA)

Ernst Mether-Borgström, Tecumseh, 1966, oil on canvas, Sara Hildénin Säätiö / Sara Hildénin taidemuseo. Image: Yehia Eweis / EMMA. [Tecumseh, 1768–1813, was a Shawnee chief]. Please do click on the images to enlarge them!

Ernst Mether-Borgström, centenary exhibition 21 June 2017–7 January 2018.
Henna Paunu, Chief Curator, EMMA
Hanna Mamia-Walther, Curator of the Ernst Mether Borgström exhibition, EMMA

EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art
The WeeGee Exhibition Centre, Ahertajantie 5, Tapiola, Espoo.
    Visited on 28 Dec 2017.

The catalogue:
Ernst Mether-Borgström. Editor: Tiina Penttilä. Writers: Eeva Ilveskoski, Leena Lindqvist, Hanna Mamia-Walther, Tiina Penttilä, Timo Valjakka. Translator: Markus Sandberg. Espoo: EMMA – Espoon modernin taiteen museo, 2017. Printed: Porvoo: Bookwell Oy. 255 p. illustrated; 26 cm. Series: EMMA – Espoon modernin taiteen museon julkaisuja, ISSN 1796-735X ; 56.
    Two language editions: Swedish and Finnish.

From the official introduction: "On 21 June 2017, two exhibitions open at EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, bridging two artistic periods, modernism and contemporary art."

"The larger of the two exhibitions, Ernst Mether-Borgström’s (1917–1996) 100th anniversary exhibition, is a continuation of a series of exhibitions at EMMA introducing the leading names of Finnish modernism. Mether-Borgström lived and worked in one of the Nallenpolku artists’ atelier homes in Espoo’s Tapiola district and was one of the pioneers of abstract art in Finland. He was a prolific artist who actively exhibited his works in Finland and abroad. Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence, the exhibition adds to the existing image of Finnish modernism by showcasing more than 150 of the artist’s prints, paintings, sculptures, sketches and illustrations. In conjunction with the exhibition, EMMA will be publishing an extensive art book on Mether-Borgström and the exhibition will also feature a biographical video documentary on the artist: I speak to my dog, my dog replies.The exhibition and the book are realised in collaboration with the Mether-Borgström Foundation."

"“The exhibition reveals a sensitive aesthete and a master of colour, whose infinite ability to reinvent himself and breadth of talent we wanted to present in a unique way, while making full use of the WeeGee building’s architecture and EMMA’s spacious exhibition rooms. The concrete structures of the WeeGee building and Mether-Borgström’s use of colour create a fascinating dialogue, which is superbly complemented by Sarah Morris’ exhibition,” says Hanna Mamia-Walther, the curator of the exhibition."

"“Finland has a strong modernist tradition, which is particularly well-presented in EMMA through the architecture of Aarno Ruusuvuori and the Tapio Wirkkala and Rut Bryk collections. Another strong thread running through Finnish tradition is geometric abstraction, illustrated by Lars-Gunnar Nordström’s exhibition a year ago and the new Ernst Mether-Borgström retrospective. Sarah Morris’ exhibition sits extremely well within this framework. Morris nods to the legacy of the 1950s and 1960s, but without nostalgia and with a sharp focus on the contemporary. She is showing what the impact of modernist tradition is in our time and proves that the potential of geometric abstraction is by no means exhausted,” says Timo Valjakka, the curator of the exhibition."

"EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art is one of Finland’s central art museums. Located in Tapiola, Espoo, EMMA’s collection and exhibition programme profiles Finnish and international modernism, contemporary art as well as design. EMMA’s exhibition spaces – the largest in Finland – are situated in the architecturally impressive WeeGee building designed by Professor Aarno Ruusuvuori. The modern architecture adds to the experience-focused presentation of the changing exhibitions and permanent collections of EMMA, the Saastamoinen Foundation and Tapio Wirkkala Rut Bryk Foundation." From the official introduction

Ernst Mether-Borgström, Nappipeli, 1961, oil on canvas, Kansallisgalleria / Ateneumin taidemuseo, Ernst ja Eila Mether-Borgströmin kokoelma. Photo: Hannu Aaltonen.

AA: The Western Metro from Helsinki to our Western neighbour city Espoo was opened last month, on 18 November 2017, an instant hit and a cause for spontaneous celebrations. Today it's our turn to have a test drive. The target is EMMA, the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, next to the Tapiola station. The Tapiola district itself is a creature of Modernism, built in the 1950s and the 1960s as a Garden City.

There are several exhibitions at EMMA, but I am here only for Ernst Mether-Borgström (1917–1996), an artist active during seven decades, belonging to the Swedish-speaking intelligentsia of Finland. He was also known by the acronym EMB.

EMMA has a profile of magnificent exhibitions of key Finnish modernists such as Nubben / Lars-Gunnar Nordström (1924–2014) two years ago. Nubben was a painter, graphic artist, sculptor, designer, and jazz collector, and for a while in 1949 he shared an atelier in Paris with EMB.

Like Nubben, EMB was highly versatile. His passion was for abstract and constructivist art, but it was impossible to make a living in Finland with that. Thus Ernst Mether-Borgström, a talented and prolific draughtsman, worked at advertising agencies and as a magazine illustrator. He also designed book covers. Here I learn that the covers of two book favourites of my childhood were painted by EMB: Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It makes sense that EMB loved the outdoors, dogs, boats, and fishing. The holiday paradise of him and his wife was the Korpholm / Korppiholma island in Gustavs / Kustavi on the southwestern coast of Finland.

Mether-Borgström also painted landscapes, but by the middle of the 1960s he gave them up, realizing that it was overwhelming to focus both on landscapes and abstract art. He still made a living painting portraits, although he hated them. He was one of the leading portrait painters, and in fact, very good in conveying character, but generally with a traditional approach. None of his conventional portraits are included in the exhibition, but there is a striking sample in the catalogue, the portrait of Heikki Waris, minister and professor of social policy, from 1962, personal and memorable.

EMB was a master in many techniques. He created watercolours, pencil drawings, etchings and lithographs. He painted in oil, gouache, and acrylic paint. The silk-screen method was a revelation in the 1940s for advertizing and print clothing design for instance at Marimekko (apparently EMB introduced Maija Isola and Armi Ratia to each other). The silk-screen was crucial for Nubben and influenced EMB very much, although he started to create his own silk-screens only in the late 1960s.

Watching this retrospective I can understand the inspiration of the silk-screen for Mether-Borgström, but there is something a bit too slick and facile in his silk-screens seen today. The resistance of the material in Mether-Borgström's oil paintings and gouaches makes the result seem more exciting and rewarding. I have a slight aversion towards acrylic paintings (I sense a fundamental irony and a sense of caricature in them), but I was surprised to discover that I liked EMB's acrylic paintings almost as much as his gouaches and oils.

Mether-Borgström was inspired by the great tradition of abstract art, especially by Malevich and Kandinsky. He dedicated works to Gris, Miró, and Klee. He loved Van Gogh, Magnelli, Calder, Herbin, Vasarely, Arp, Mondrian, Braque, and Picasso. But he was not a copycat, not an imitator. These pioneers merely showed the general way: they opened new spaces of expression.

Artists hate "isms", but Mether-Borgström has been defined as a concretist, a leading one in Finland, together with Birger Carlstedt, Nubben, and Sam Vanni. With EMB concretism means that the colour and the form are facts of existence, facts of life, concrete realities. They are not means of expressing some other substance. They are the substance.

Unlike Nubben, Mether-Borgström did not care too much about theory, geometry, calculation, and precision. Most of all EMB loved colour. His art was colour art emerging from his own dream world, his unconscious.

His abstract works have an organic quality. They go to the foundations of our sense for nature. The earth, the sea, the elements, the seasons, the sunlight are of the essence. His colours are facts of life, and artworks are created to be a part of lived human environment.

Since the 1960s EMB created art for public spaces, including monuments such as the modernist sculpture The Shipwrecked in 1995, one of his last works. Among his inspirations was the art of the Native Americans such as totem poles. Also railway semaphores fascinated Mether-Borgström, and some of his sculptures are crossbred totem poles and semaphores.

Mether-Borgström had a social mission in his art: a spiritual mission, to elevate and enrich the lived space of the home and the community.

At the same time he was a vocal spokesman of pure art. Art is at its most powerful as abstract art, as a school of the spirit and of the senses, pushing us to the limits of our capacities, to elevate us, and to help us to make the most of our mind. Mether-Borgström was articulate in this, as documented in his "Seven Theses" originally published at his exhibition at Galerie Artek in 1977 and reprinted in the current catalogue.