So I went to Helsinki International Film Festival, or Rakkautta & Anarkiaa (Love and Anarchy in English). No news there. This was my 13th time.
I’ve usually seen 2-3 films each day, but this time I spent only four days at the festival. I saw 14 films during the time, which is nice considering my usual quota of 20-25 films. It meant that I crammed more films per day than usual on several days, but even that worked out nicely, since there were break days in between. I survived without festival exhaustion except on the final day.
A few of the still independent cinemas are currently closed for renovations, so the venues changed a bit. This was bad. Kino Savoy was given the role of the new main venue replacing Bio Rex, but it just didn’t work. It’s an old theater hall that hasn’t been in regular use in ages, which means that audio is awful, chairs are torture and bottom of screen is hidden behind people in front of you. I also visited the two separate cinemas in Korjaamo – Kino and Kulmasali. Kino was nice. It’s purpose built for screening films, so it has nice chairs, nice audio and stuff. Surprisingly good considering that it is a plywood cube sitting in the center of the bigger halls in Korjaamo. Kulmasali is regularly used for small scale theater and related performances, which means that it was another disappointment. Missed a few of the new venues mostly due to them being so far away and not being able to make the transition between films in my tight schedule.
I’m currently writing this three months after the festival and I still haven’t seen the festival trailer. I was kind of bummed for not seeing it during the festival despite attending a few single screening films in the bigger venues. I guess the new venues meant that they were constantly behind schedule and had to cut something away. Need to watch the trailer at some point though… there. Watched it. Not my favorite, but not the worst either (2014 will hold that place for a long time to come). Not in the correct mood for further analyzing the piece at this point. Just the first impression – I didn’t find a connection to the festival, films, love or anarchy.
This year the festival felt less… alive. There were several things having an effect on this. The main venues were closed, the replacements were at least partially bad, I didn’t see the trailer, I wasn’t there every day, I wasn’t in the physical ticket queue… But there were also less people, less random talk about films with strangers, less speeches. Hopefully the festival doesn’t start to simmer out. It’s the one event I look forward to each year more than anything.
My first day…
Certain Women 
I’ve been hearing about Kelly Reichardt since her 2006 film Old Joy and all of it excellent. I think a few of her films have been in Finland in R&A, but I’ve missed them thus far. It seems that currently the best cinema coming out of the US is often concentrating on small communities and small people. Giving short peeks into the lives of people, who’ve been left behind. In the films, they are not overtly angry. Something is always simmering below the surface though. Often fiercely independent, but struggling to find the independence in the community that is dwindling and descending into social problems around them. What I’ve heard, places Reichardt strongly into this genre and Certain Women was there as well.
It tells the stories of Laura (Laura Dern), Gina (Michelle Williams) and the unnamed ranch hand (Lily Gladstone, role credited as The Rancher). There’s not too much interleaving in telling the stories, which gives each piece time to develop its own emotional weight. There’s a few interconnections between the stories, but mostly they are inconsequential. Not your garden variety Look How Smartly We Built the Film episodic film then. Which is nice at least here.
Laura is a lawyer, who ends up in a hostage situation with her client and defuses it as best she can. Gina lives in a tent with her husband and daughter. They are purchasing quarried stone off of an elderly acquaintance in order to build a more permanent home. Might seem like a nice story about building your life yourself, living the American dream, but there are problems in the marriage already. Finally, The Rancher spends her days mostly at the ranch, but once a week drives 4 hours to get to an evening class taught by Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart). There’s infatuation maybe even on the part of Elizabeth and a few almost magical moments, but in the end everything falls apart.
All the stories are told with an elegant touch. There’s no bravado, no angles chosen for shock effect or even highlighting, just a complete mastery of letting the story tell itself, letting the actors be the stars and letting everything remain mundane. The hostage situation is resolved through the stupidity of Laura’s client, the marriage doesn’t evolve into a story of building the American dream, but neither does it fall apart, and the ranch hand returns to the ranch alone despite almost finding love.
The delicacy of Reichardt’s touch is just wonderful. I’ll certainly be watching more of her films.
- Director: Kelly Reichardt
- Watched on: 16th Sep 2016
- Watched at: Kinopalatsi 1
The First, the Last 
Also known as Les premiers les derniers. I haven’t heard about the director, Bouli Lanners, or any of his films previously. He has been acting since the 80ies, but directing features only since 2006.
When I pick my Rakkautta & Anarkiaa films, I try to pick some must see films, and fill it out with weirdness. Despite being an excellently curated festival, there’s always a bunch of films that are mediocre at best, but weird mediocre is usually better than normal mediocre.
This was one of those picks. A road movie that has two aging guns for hire running after the cell phone of their employer with Jesus popping in occasionally. Essentially a road movie, where the journey again proves more important than the destination – original is not even reached, but instead replaced by a more essential one.
I don’t really have much to say about this. Pacing is slightly off, atmosphere is close to the one in Certain Women, but not quite. Some hamfisted situations, some small problems here and there. But a solid film nevertheless.
Living is more than breathing.
- Director: Bouli Lanners
- Original Title: Les premiers les derniers
- Watched on: 16th Sep 2016
- Watched at: Kinopalatsi 2
Sunset Song 
Another film by a director (Terence Davies), whose film I’ve heard praised often for a while (since Of Time and the City, 2008). Finally got a chance to see one of his films. A Quiet Passion  was also in the festival program, but I missed that. I’ve got to know Terence Davies for sweeping stories that attempt to tell the story of a larger community. Usually it takes smaller parts of those communities and uses them as representative of the larger. This obviously misses some experiences completely, but apparently he has a knack in picking the things that are at least recognizable to everyone.
This one feels like that. A sweeping story that goes through a quintessentially Scottish experience through the story of one family. It bears certain similarities to the Finnish Seitsemän veljestä, that I’ve never been able to finish.
When I came out of the theater, I felt like the film was great. With the intervening two months I’ve become to like it less and less. I believe that it accurately describes some important portion of the Scottish experience, but I feel that the story is not worth telling. It is a story of domestic violence against women and children, about men breaking down under the then much more prevalent hurtful images of what a man is, about people, who see no escape and probably didn’t have it in reality back at the day.
Maybe I’ve internalized it well enough that this is not how you are a good person, that it isn’t educational. Instead, it only feels like a gory retelling of a story that has been told a million times. Maybe this is a story for the portion of Scotsmen, who have yet to internalize that it is ok to break tradition and do things smartly. Something that makes them go “Oh, that’s exactly my life! But wait, isn’t that kind of stupid? Maybe I should change something…”
I don’t know, how to soften the paragraphs above and still push my point through. In any case, as a film, it is pretty great. Everything is just built wonderfully into a nicely interlocking story that is revealed with all kinds of great technique (not CGI technique, but technical ability in following well established rules of storytelling, pacing, camera angles, settings, acting, scripting etc. to produce a coherent film that feels worth watching – the important kind of technique).
- Director: Terence Davies
- Watched on: 16th Sep 2016
- Watched at: Kinopalatsi 2
So, Certain Women was a positive surprise despite my high expectations, Sunset Song was interesting, but slightly disappointing to see (in part due to very high expectations), and The First, the Last was a slightly forgettable snack in the middle that offered something good nevertheless. Whole day spent in Kinopalatsi, which usually hasn’t been my favorite thing to do in R&A, but turned out to be a good decision what with the quality of Kino Savoy. All in all, a very good festival opening day.