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: Highlights of Finnish Cinema  ( 9264 )
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The glance that makes holes in the silver screen


« : March 08, 2009, 08:01:28 AM »

Finnish cinema is one of the most insignificant fields in the history of cinema if you look at it in a global scale. No important styles or inventions have ever come from Finland. No international stars and practically only one internationally acclaimed director. It's easy to blame it on the lack of money but probably it is one of the biggest reasons. Since the fall of the studio system (caused mainly by the arrival of television) the number of feature films produced in Finland annually has been around ten. And without benefit from the government the number would probably be zero.  This has lead Finnish cinema to rather minimalistic expression which without a doubt produces a lot of mediocre films but also some gems. In this thread I'll try to present some of these gems - with my knowledge which is no doubt lacking. Updates will surely be irregular and infrequent…




Kahdeksan surmanluotia (1972) "Eight Deadly Shots"

Dir. Mikko Niskanen
Pasi (played by Niskanen himself) is a minor landowner (or yeoman if that's a correct term) with a family of four children and wife. They live in a small house with no running water. Pasi is constantly trying to get a job but every job he can get is periodic, so he and his buddy Reiska distill moonshine to make a couple of extra pennies. The police try to make them stop, naturally. Pasi has an appetite for alcohol and he usually ends up drinking a lot, which makes him violent and he gets a bad reputation which makes his problems even bigger. Everything seems to be going straight to hell and so one evening when he's drunk and aggressive to his family and the police comes to put him in order, he snaps and shoots four police men (with eight bullets). (And no, that's not a spoiler because the ending is revealed in the very beginning.)
   Based on true events that occurred in 1969 and shot over a long period of time in 1970-1971. This realist masterpiece has two layers which are seamlessly tied together. One is documentation a world that was soon to disappear. Actually the film tells about the death of that world and the agony it caused. Finland transformed from a rural society to an industrial society in a relatively short period of time. In the end it meant that the time of minor landowners was gone and the time of intensive farming had come. At the extreme, government paid for farmers for not farming their lands. In the movie Pasi knows there's no future in farming but he can't move to city – mostly because of financial realities but obviously also because he finds that world frightening. Niskanen does great job in portraying the lifestyle of the countryside, with love but not turning his head away from the reality. He documents common characters and social rituals that I find totally believable.
   The second and equally impressive dimension is the character of Pasi and his slow sliding into the desperation which eventually leads to the final tragedy. Niskanen’s performance is the key factor. His personal experiences in that environment are visible in everything he does. He is Pasi. You don't even think about the possibility that he hasn't lived in that shack for the last fifteen years farming his land, taking care of his few cows and reining his horse in waist-high snow. Equally convincing is his transformation into the beaten man whose last desperate act is to shoot at the police. And it is literally a transformation; you can see his physical appearance change over the course of the film.
   Style wise, the film is realistic, documentarian and minimalistic. Many of the actors are amateurs, which is some times visible in a bad way but often causes priceless moments. Although I've been talking about a film, Kahdeksan surmanluotia is technically speaking a four-part mini series all in all running 316 minutes. A 145 min cut was released theatrically but it is unavailable on DVD. Kahdeksan surmanluotia is a very important film in Finnish culture, a classic that has inspired both filmmakers and songwriters. I'd say that as a classic it is surpassed only by Tuntematon sotilas in the minds of Finnish people.   


Selected scenes from the film: http://yle.fi/elavaarkisto/?s=s&g=4&ag=90&t=&a=4432 I hope they work outside of Finland...


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« #1 : March 08, 2009, 12:27:04 PM »

Didn't take long to get to the end of this thread, what?



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« #2 : March 08, 2009, 01:13:00 PM »

Didn't take long to get to the end of this thread, what?
Indeed "what?" What do you mean? That there's only one movie I wrote about? There are more to come as soon as I feel like typing them...


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« #3 : March 08, 2009, 09:57:10 PM »

I'm needling you.



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« #4 : March 09, 2009, 12:09:23 AM »

Is this what I think it is? Unavoidable European fascination with ordinary people of rural background?


Good work, I want to hear more.

« : March 09, 2009, 12:10:33 AM Tuco the ugly »
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« #5 : July 26, 2009, 02:52:08 AM »

Kolme viisasta miestä (2008) ”Three Wise Men”



Dir. Mika Kaurismäki
It’s Christmas Eve. Matti (Pertti Sveholm) has to take his wife to hospital because she’s going to give birth to a child – but just before the child is born she admits the child is not Matti’s but Erkki’s (Kari Heiskanen) who’s an old friend of Matti’s. Erkki has an incurable tumor in his brain and is going to kill himself as Matti calls him if he’d like to have a drink. Erkki agrees to that. In the hospital Matti meets another old friend, Rauno (Timo Torikka), who has come to Finland to spend Christmas with his son who blames his father for the death of his mother. Rauno joins Matti and Erkki and so three old friends gather together for the first time in a long time.
       They go to an empty karaoke bar to spend the night. At first their conversations are superficial small talk but as the night goes on and glasses keep on emptying they go deeper and deeper and touchy subjects can’t be avoided.
       The making process of this movie was very unusual. The three main actors and the director (who all are friends in real life) met in a bar in a very similar style as the men in this movie and they came up with the idea for the film. The movie was shot with a minimal script which only the director had in his possession – all of the dialogue was improvised and the actors very much created their own characters. The whole movie was shot in one week. But despite the method of making the movie and the many subjects and threads of ideas the final product is very coherent.   
       The main theme is disappointment in past life. All of the men have done mistakes in their lives. The question is whether they can forgive themselves or not. And if they can’t, can they still go on in their lives?
       I saw this last month in the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä where present were Mika Kaurismäki and Timo Torikka. They told that the main inspiration for the film were the films of John Cassavetes. I can’t say anything about that because I haven’t seen a single Cassavetes movie. But what I can say is that this is among the ten best Finnish movies of the 00s and probably among the 50 best movies of the 00s in general. Visually it’s nothing special, naturally, but acting and character development are more than great. And even though the overall tone is dramatic and even sad there are some unbelievably funny scenes – just like in real life.
 
Here's a Q&A with Kaurismäki and Heiskanen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWVcGq0WLic


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« #6 : September 15, 2013, 11:24:19 AM »

Kahdeksan surmanluotia (1972) "Eight Deadly Shots"

Dir. Mikko Niskanen
Pasi (played by Niskanen himself) is a minor landowner (or yeoman if that's a correct term) with a family of four children and wife. They live in a small house with no running water. Pasi is constantly trying to get a job but every job he can get is periodic, so he and his buddy Reiska distill moonshine to make a couple of extra pennies. The police try to make them stop, naturally. Pasi has an appetite for alcohol and he usually ends up drinking a lot, which makes him violent and he gets a bad reputation which makes his problems even bigger. Everything seems to be going straight to hell and so one evening when he's drunk and aggressive to his family and the police comes to put him in order, he snaps and shoots four police men (with eight bullets). (And no, that's not a spoiler because the ending is revealed in the very beginning.)
   Based on true events that occurred in 1969 and shot over a long period of time in 1970-1971. This realist masterpiece has two layers which are seamlessly tied together. One is documentation a world that was soon to disappear. Actually the film tells about the death of that world and the agony it caused. Finland transformed from a rural society to an industrial society in a relatively short period of time. In the end it meant that the time of minor landowners was gone and the time of intensive farming had come. At the extreme, government paid for farmers for not farming their lands. In the movie Pasi knows there's no future in farming but he can't move to city – mostly because of financial realities but obviously also because he finds that world frightening. Niskanen does great job in portraying the lifestyle of the countryside, with love but not turning his head away from the reality. He documents common characters and social rituals that I find totally believable.
   The second and equally impressive dimension is the character of Pasi and his slow sliding into the desperation which eventually leads to the final tragedy. Niskanen’s performance is the key factor. His personal experiences in that environment are visible in everything he does. He is Pasi. You don't even think about the possibility that he hasn't lived in that shack for the last fifteen years farming his land, taking care of his few cows and reining his horse in waist-high snow. Equally convincing is his transformation into the beaten man whose last desperate act is to shoot at the police. And it is literally a transformation; you can see his physical appearance change over the course of the film.
   Style wise, the film is realistic, documentarian and minimalistic. Many of the actors are amateurs, which is some times visible in a bad way but often causes priceless moments. Although I've been talking about a film, Kahdeksan surmanluotia is technically speaking a four-part mini series all in all running 316 minutes. A 145 min cut was released theatrically but it is unavailable on DVD. Kahdeksan surmanluotia is a very important film in Finnish culture, a classic that has inspired both filmmakers and songwriters. I'd say that as a classic it is surpassed only by Tuntematon sotilas in the minds of Finnish people.   


Selected scenes from the film: http://yle.fi/elavaarkisto/?s=s&g=4&ag=90&t=&a=4432 I hope they work outside of Finland...
A restored presentation of the TV cut is coming to MoMA this fall. Should I go?



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« #7 : September 16, 2013, 02:59:16 AM »

A restored presentation of the TV cut is coming to MoMA this fall. Should I go?
I would. I regard it as the best Finnish film ever made. And I don't think it will be too long for you if there's gonna be an intermission or two.


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« #8 : September 16, 2013, 05:05:08 AM »

Not sure about an intermission. There's also a 2010 film about Niskanen himself on the program, but I might not be able to take both films in one day. It's possible to split the two and see them over two days, so I might do that.



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« #9 : September 16, 2013, 04:09:25 PM »

Not sure about an intermission. There's also a 2010 film about Niskanen himself on the program, but I might not be able to take both films in one day. It's possible to split the two and see them over two days, so I might do that.
I remember that film also being good. It's directed by the film historian and critic Peter von Bagh. He's made some great films. I highly recommend the Sodankylä Forever series and the essay film Helsinki, Forever.


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« #10 : September 17, 2013, 05:09:49 AM »

I remember that film also being good. It's directed by the film historian and critic Peter von Bagh. He's made some great films. I highly recommend the Sodankylä Forever series and the essay film Helsinki, Forever.
Peter von Bagh is actually gonna put in an appearance at one of the showings of Eight Deadly Shots. That's the one to see, eh?



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« #11 : September 17, 2013, 02:04:22 PM »

Peter von Bagh is actually gonna put in an appearance at one of the showings of Eight Deadly Shots. That's the one to see, eh?
Definitely.


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« #12 : October 12, 2013, 06:26:29 PM »

NYT:
Quote
October 11, 2013

Follow the Tracks of the Crime Drama

By MIKE HALE
 
 
It says a lot about the current cultural pre-eminence of television that the Museum of Modern Art is promoting Mikko Niskanen’s “Eight Deadly Shots” — a five-and-a-quarter-hour film made as a mini-series for Finnish TV in 1972 — as a forerunner of “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Killing.”

Apparently that’s a better selling point than the idea that “Eight Deadly Shots” is one of the best Finnish films ever made, a viewpoint that’s been expressed by Finland’s best-known contemporary director, Aki Kaurismaki, and supported in a 2012 survey by YLE (the country’s national broadcaster) that ranked “Shots” fifth among the top 12 Finnish movies.

Whether it’s best considered a work for the small screen or the big screen, “Eight Deadly Shots” (“Kahdeksan Surmanluotia”) will be shown at the Modern from Tuesday to next Sunday as part of the museum’s annual film-preservation series, To Save and Project. It will be accompanied on Saturday by “The Story of Mikko Niskanen,” a three-hour documentary by Peter Von Bagh, a film historian and preservationist who spearheaded the work’s rediscovery.

It’s easy enough to make a connection between “Shots” and the grim, violent, tightly constructed crime shows currently so popular on American television (and sometimes, as in the cases of “The Killing,” “The Bridge” and “Wallander,” adapted from Scandinavian sources). It dramatizes the murder of four police officers by a bitter, drunken farmer, closely tracking an actual event in north-central Finland in 1969. Opening with the shootings — whose consequences are initially depicted only by tracks and indentations in the snow — the series then shifts back in time to show, across four episodes, the events leading up to them.

What it shows isn’t detection and intrigue, however, but simply life: the hardships, backbreaking work and bureaucratic frustrations of the farmer’s life, the consolations of family and nature and the fateful effects of alcohol on rural society in general and the film’s protagonist, Pasi, in particular. The opening of each episode includes a quotation from Vaimo, Pasi’s wife: “Booze was the root of all evil in our family.”

Niskanen, a maverick in Finnish cinema in the 1960s who achieved a surprising commercial success with the 1967 rebellious-youth film “Girl of Finland,” was in a personal and creative funk when the police killings offered inspiration. Commissioned by YLE to make an 80-minute television movie, he produced a 12-hour first edit before delivering the 316-minute mini-series.

Filmed in austere black and white, and largely free of overt sentimentality or moralizing, “Eight Deadly Shots” is a work whose lyrical naturalism and sprawling but precise construction link it to classic traditions of European cinema, both Scandinavian and Eastern European. (Niskanen spent several years studying film in Moscow.) It doesn’t look like anything on TV, but some American viewers will make another connection: to the Swedish director Jan Troell’s great dramas “The Emigrants” and “The New Land,” both released within a year of the broadcast of “Eight Deadly Shots.”

Niskanen (who died of cancer in 1990) opens the film with images of the countryside shot through a windshield, presumably that of the car carrying the policemen to their deaths. The pastoral scenes are dotted with dilapidated, abandoned farm buildings. It’s as if we’re seeing the landscape the poor farmers of “The Emigrants” left behind a century before. Sleighs, hand carts and axes coexist with snowmobiles, backhoes and chain saws.

Niskanen’s central theme is that the farmers who remain have, like those barns and shacks, been abandoned by the postwar welfare state, crippled by taxes and hobbled by land policies that include the conversion of fields back to woods for ecological reasons. Their resentments find a focus in alcohol; the extra income they have traditionally earned by making moonshine is threatened by police crackdowns as the government protects sales at its own liquor stores in faraway towns.

Pasi, played by Niskanen, and his friend Reiska (Paavo Pentikainen) are amiable, often hardworking farmers who are also local ne’er-do-wells, known to traffic in moonshine. Pasi has the additional handicaps of a heart condition and a reputation for falling into dark, drunken rages. Buying supplies — sugar, yeast, oats, malt — on the sly from the local shopkeeper, they retreat to a hidden spot in the woods to cook their booze, then offer samples from bottles hidden in the pockets of their heavy coats, taking frequent nips themselves.

Through a year’s cycle, the walls close in on Pasi, who grovels for temporary jobs as a logger or trench digger and reluctantly cuts and sells the trees from his farm but still can’t keep up with his bills. Periodically his violent depressions drive his wife to pack up the children and flee to a neighbor’s house, and it’s one of those despairing meltdowns that leads to the final spasm of violence.

Niskanen lays all of this out with utter clarity and, belying the film’s length, economy. He uses the space afforded by the mini-series format not for repetition or embellishment but for long, detailed scenes of country life and folkways that feel like a series of revelations.

Drawing on his own rural childhood, he shows us how hay is scythed and stacked, how logs are dragged and rolled into the water, how life pauses when a cow is ready to calve. One poetic and harrowing sequence shows Pasi’s horse — played by an actual Niskanen family animal — stuck in the snow while pulling logs and Pasi’s quietly frantic efforts to free her. (That scene has a caustic echo later in the film in an equally meticulous rendering of Reisa’s tractor being dug out of the snow.) Mixed in with the depictions of labor are droll scenes of a wedding and a community-hall dance, both disrupted by Pasi’s drinking, as well as rhapsodic portrayals of fishing, hunting and hiking that establish the reverence for nature underlying Pasi’s, and Niskanen’s, worldview. Most vital, though, is the presentation of Pasi’s family life, which is notably warm and happy whenever he happens to be sober.

Niskanen, playing out a version of what his own life could have been like if he hadn’t left the countryside, gives a sturdy and moving performance, though you’re left with the feeling that he may be taking it too easy on Pasi, his proletarian antihero — the character’s amiability and anxiousness when he’s sober feel authentic, but his rage when drunk isn’t entirely convincing.

The performance that really anchors the film is that of Tarja-Tuulikki Tarsala as Vaimo, the young and careworn wife who tries to hold farm and family together while sniping at Pasi when he sneaks off with Reisa to make moonshine and staggers home drunk. (About the only time we see Vaimo at rest is in a silent, strained scene after the shootings, when the camera pans around the shellshocked family, beginning and ending on Ms. Tarsala’s anguished face.)

“Eight Deadly Shots,” with its all-encompassing humanism and a deep warmth of spirit despite the bleak circumstances it depicts, could not be more different from the contemporary TV shows to which MoMA would like to link it. If anything, it could be seen as a critique of them and of the culture that celebrates them. There is at least one way, though, in which it was prescient. The second, third and fourth episodes each include a scrolling, printed summary of the previous episode’s plot: “A drunken Pasi brawled at home and broke a window. His wife fled with the children and called the police,” etc.

Forty years ago, Mikko Niskanen was pioneering the “Previously On.”



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« #13 : October 16, 2013, 01:31:24 PM »

Criterion announced today: http://www.criterion.com/films/28086-la-vie-de-boheme



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« #14 : October 17, 2013, 12:34:01 AM »

Criterion announced today: http://www.criterion.com/films/28086-la-vie-de-boheme
Have you seen the film?


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