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Anna-Liisa, Finland 1922

Posted by keith1942 on April 27, 2018

 

This title was screened in the Scandinavian Cinema programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017. It was the only Finnish film and these are relatively rare anyway. It was, for me, the best early Finnish film that I have seen. It was adapted from a popular play by Minna Canth first produced in 1895. The production was from Suomi-Filmi OY, and the comments in the Festival Catalogue notes that,

“Canth was a pioneer of realism on the Finnish stage and a committed participant in the debates on women and the institution of marriage that raged across the Nordic countries in the 1889s and 1890s. Her strong stance against the oppression of women and the poor made her work controversial, but when the film was made, Canth was recognised as the most popular and prolific Finnish-language dramatist. Adapting one of her plays was therefore a logical choice for a film company wanting to make Swedish-style national film based on a distinguished literary work.”

The titular character Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelof) belongs to a well-to-do farming family. She is engaged to a wealthy neighbour Johannes (Emil Autere), But a dark secret from her past disrupts her life and the planned nuptials. Some years earlier she had a brief affair with a labourer on the Kortesuo farm. This resulted in an illegitimate child which she killed. The father, Mikko (Einari Rinne) has moved away but now, affluent after working in a logging firm, is returning and himself wishes to marry Anna-Liisa. He is supported by his mother Husso (Mimmi Lähteenoja) who still lives and works on the farm. Anna-Liisa, not wishing to marry Mikko and attempting to keep her secret is caught in a traumatic series of events.

The drama and the cast are portrayed very effectively. As the conflicts increase the film generates both violence – between Johannes and Mikko – and trauma, between Anna-Liisa and her family. The plot is filled out with flashbacks which present quite lyrical scenes of young romance but also darker events that have an almost noir quality.

The original play was set in interiors at the Kortesuo farm but

“The film effectively opens up the play, moving quite a bit of the action outside and adding little vignettes of Finnish rural life, including a shot of Johannes merging from a sauna and a scene of Mikko among his fellow log-rollers, visualizing an important type in Finnish films, the virile but loutish lumberjack.”

The latter emphasizes the contrast between the two suitors. And the filming emphasises the contrast between interior and exterior. The former were photographed by Kurt Jäger and the latter by S. J. Tenhovaara. This may explain the shooting schedule which was divided between summer and winter. The interiors make effective use of the placing of characters and, at the dark moments, of shadows. The exteriors include a number of lyrical scenes which recall those that grace Swedish films.

Several of these occur in flashbacks which fill out past events in the story. In one such sequence Mikko is sitting on the bank near the logging camp , smoking and remembering. The flashback opens at an open-air dance. Mikko sits on a swing as the sun sets over the nearby lake. Then he and Anna walk down to the a boat on the lake. The scene has a blue tint for evening. They cross the lake and walk into the woods. Cutaway shots how us reeds and trees, a bird in an iris shot and the boat drifting on the water. Mikko and Anna sit beneath a tree and then lay back and embrace. An ellipsis presumably covers coitus. The flashback ends as Mikko rises, returns to the camp and then sets out to make his claim for Anna-Liisa.

Later in the film there is a much darker flashback. This is motivated by Husso reminding Anna,

‘The night you came to me..’

To which Anna replies,

‘I was a child at the time’.

Then the flashback opens in dark night as Anna-Liisa staggers out into the farm. She runs to Husso’s house and knocks on the casement widow. By the time Husso opens the door Anna-Liisa is prone on the ground, she whispers,

‘Help me’.

Then two women go into the woods where the child [we realise it is dead] is buried beneath a tree. The sequence is all chiaroscuro. The flashback ends and Husso comments,

‘No one has a clue’.

There follows an exterior scene where Anna-Liisa attempts suicide but is saved by her father. And then the violent confrontations, with an intense and closely focused interior and the physical conflict between Johannes and Mikko in an exterior.

The working out of the plot in this way develops a powerful drama. The central focus on infanticide is interesting. This occurs in several Swedish films. Several of Victor Sjöström’s films deal with both illegitimacy and cross-class romance: Ingmarssönerna (1919) includes infanticide with the consequent scandal and punishment.

 So I wonder whether there was an influence. As well as the issue of women’s’ oppression the question of sex and illegitimacy appears to have been a potent issue in this period in Scandinavia. Whilst Anna-Liise’s plight is treated sympathetically the story emphasises the moral dimension at that time, Anna-Liisa repents and at the conclusion accepts that she will face punishment for her crime. It is redolent of the morals that when the birth and death of the child becomes public knowledge not one character asks,

“who was the father?”

The film was screened from a DCP, and like the other Scandinavian titles in the programme, this was a transfer of high standard preserving many of the cinematic qualities of the original.

The Catalogue notes included information regarding the restoration and transfer which provide interesting detail.

”A new digital restoration based on a duplicate positive was carried out by KAVI (The National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki) in 2013. The material was scanned at 2K but because of the frame-line issue sin the first-generation material the image had to be scanned twice; the best alternative was selected scene-by-scene. The restoration was conducted using DaVinci Revival and PFClean software programmes. Almost all the scenes have been stabilised, and flicker, dirt, scratches, tears, splices, and all manner of patina have been removed when possible. Contrast has been corrected, and colour has been added according to original model using DaVinci resolve software, the DCP has a colour solution similar to tin ting.”

DaVinci and PF Clean are standard software packages used in the film industry. They offer functions for repair, grain manipulation and colour manipulation, The tinting equivalent in this screening was pretty good and avoided the over-saturation that is often a problem. And whilst the frames were fairly clean they avoided the patina that sometimes arises from repair work. As with other presentations at the Giornate the film was recorded as transferring at 20fps, but I am not sure is this was a definite transfer rate or an equivalent with some step-printing.

The screening also benefited from Gabriel Thibaudeau’s piano accompaniment. He has a lyrical style that was especially pleasing with the visually lyrical sequences in the film.

 

NB The Catalogue notes were the work of Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg and Antii Alanen.

One Response to “Anna-Liisa, Finland 1922”

  1. Janne Wass said

    Thanks for a great post! In the early 20th century the Scandinavian/Nordic art scenes were very closely tied together, directors, writers and actors jumped across borders with ease, as you know, and Swedish films were regularly screened in Helsinki. So it goes without saying that the cinema of Finland was inspired by that of both Sweden and Denmark, with their much larger, more vital and international film scene.

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