Monday, 12 November 2012

Best Finnish Films of All Time

The Finnish national broadcasting service YLE recently asked a number of film journalists and bloggers to pick their favorite Finnish films - including yours truly. The results came back today. According to the professionals, the best Finnish film of all time is the 1960 crime/mystery Komisario Palmun erehdys ("Inspector Palmu is mistaken"). The whole list as following (the link takes to each film's IMDb page:
  1. Komisario Palmun erehdys (1960, Director: Matti Kassila)
  2. Drifting Clouds (Kauas pilvet karkaavat, 1996. D: Aki Kaurismäki)
  3. The White Reindeer (Valkoinen peura, 1952. D: Erik Blomberg)
  4. The Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon sotilas, 1955. D: Edvin Laine)
  5. Eight Deadly Shots (Kahdeksan surmanluotia, 1972. D: MIkko Niskanen)
  6. The Man Without a Past (Mies vailla menneisyyttä, 2002. D: Aki Kaurismäki); Frozen Land (Paha maa, 2005. D: Aki Louhimies)
  7. The Year of the Hare (Jäniksen vuosi, 1977. D: Risto Jarva)
  8. Sensuela (1973, D: Teuvo Tulio)
  9. Calamari Union (1985, D: Aki Kaurismäki); The Earth is a Sinful Song (Maa on syntinen laulu, 1973. D: Rauni Mollberg); The Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon sotilas, remake, 1985, D: Rauni Mollberg)
Inspector Palmu inspecting a suspect.
Now, as it is when national heritage is concerned, this list woke some heated discussions. Commenters attacked the "elitist" critics choices, even though reader polls have raised more or less the same films to the top, excluding several popular comedies. Among the critics themselves, the most controversial has been the position of Sensuela in the 9th place. Personally, it's my favorite Finnish film ever made and I'd rather watch that again than just about any of the other fims mentioned in this post. Yet I can't with good conscience compare its unintentional humour, misguided nostalgia and fashion choices or camp humor with some films that are actually well-made. It is an unforgettable film experience all the same, so every critic has had every bit the right to vote for it.

Personally, I think all of the films listed are good, or even great. To truly know Finnish cinema, one should watch each and every one of them (although there's two I've missed, myself. I won't tell you, which). Yet if one would want to list the truly best films Finland has ever made, I personally prefer to pick leftfield choices, films that dared to break norms and did not reach for the wide audience acceptance. Thus Mollberg's version of the Unknown soldier is the only one I picked myself. Here's my list, as well as a few words on why I made each pick. The list is in chronological order.

1. Käpy selän alla (1966, D: Mikko Niskanen)

One of the very few new wave films made in that time period. But Niskanen's film isn't tedious or pretentious, it showcases a group of young people out camping in the wild, who run into relationship problems with each other. It is ponderous and silly at the same time, sexy and awkward, beautifully shot, perfectly acted and very smartly realized. The basic ideas behind the film are grim as the grave:
"If being young is this difficult, however can we survive growing old".

2. Naisenkuvia (1970, D: Jörn Donner)

I wrote about this in the last Finnish cult movies post. Back then I wrote:

"(Jörn Donner) is willing to parody himself, his inflated ego and obsession to beautiful women and sex. Naisenkuvia is not only a razor-sharp, ponderous film, and a good time machine to the turn of the swinging 60's and 70's, but it's also hilarious as all hell."

"The film is a challenge against censorship, for the free expression of everyone, however they might want to express themselves."

3. Crime and Punishment (Rikos ja rangaistus, 1983. D: Aki Kaurismäki)

The obligatory Kaurismäki. There are several of his films I could've picked, but I have a soft spot for this Dostoyevsky adaptation, that transforms the story to then-modern day Helsinki. And it's the best way my home town has been pictured on film before or since. The homely camera shots just lick up the streets and transform the quiet city into a character of its own, not judging, not commenting, just watching our main protagonist.

It is also the first feature-length fictional movie Kaurismäki made, so it's benefits also include allowing the auteur to develop his trademark laconic style, which is used to full effect here. You don't need melodrama, overacting or loads of dialogue to tell a story. Stone-faced, half-silent Finns allow you to adapt the story in your head, just like in a great novel.

4. The Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon sotilas, 1985. D: Rauni Mollberg)

The original 1955 Independence Day classic is too nationalistic for my tastes, and does little more than adapt Väinö Linna's book as it is written. It's not a bad film by any means, but over-emphasized in these sort of lists.

For a truly harrowing experience, Mollberg's remake, a more realistic vision of WWII raging in the Finnish forests, packs a lot more power. Mollberg brilliantly directs a cast of mostly amateurs, teenagers who perfectly encapsulate the futility of war, wasting away a generation before their prime. The book's name also finally gets its due by the horrific final image of dead bodies being loaded into a carriage.  

5. Back to the USSR (Takaisin ryssiin 1992, O: Jari Halonen)

We Finns have had a disturbing history living next to the Soviet Union, and it's politics have influenced us more than we care to admit. It's fall in particular took us off balance. A truly provocative satire by master teaser Halonen perfectly encapsulates the difficulty for any attempt towards Socialism in an agricultural capitalist country. Back in April 2011 I wrote:

"The anarchistic fim has been made with a pittance, but with so much imagination and inventiveness that it turns its downsides to its benefits. Thus the main village is built with shoddy houses that can fall apart in the middle of shenanigans. There's mud and filth everywhere and the society where everyone is bourgeoise can't be seen as any sort of ideal anyway. But communism is hardly a remedy."

Of course, being who I am, those five films weren't enough for me. So I also wrote out five bubbling underers. These were The Diary of A Worker (1967),  The Wedding Waltz (1988), Feast by the Sea (1963), It is written in the stars, Inspector Palmu (1962) and Sensuela, of course.

The list only took fictional films, which torpedoed some of the utmost worthy candidates chances to be crowned the Best Finnish Fim of All Time. I picked five noteworthy documentaries for Twitter. These were Yksinteoin, Reindeerspotting: Escape From Santa Land, Perkele! Images From Finland, The 3 Rooms of Melancholia, and Kovasikajuttu.

Only in recent years have I begun to appreciate the Finnish film legacy more. Our movie history is by no means as impressive as with the Danes or the Swedes, but there certainly is a lot of interesting stuff out there. I find it troublesome that so little of it circulates our TV screenings often, but luckily there are a few festivals and screenings at the National Film Archives that remedy the situation. Rest assured, this listing has taught me a lot of interesting new Finnish films to chack out and I intend to do so by Independence day (December 6th) with another installment of Finnish Cult Movies. Now, I'm off to watch Numbskull Emptybrook.

Yle's news about the matter (in finnish)

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