Rakkautta & Anarkiaa 2016 – part II

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Second day at the festival after one rest day.

Aloys [2016]

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Another one of those weird films to fill out my schedule. Hadn’t heard of the director, Tobias Nölle, previously, but since this is his first feature film, no wonder.

The story tells about Aloys Adorn (played by Georg Friedrich), a reclusive private detective, who prefers to not meet with people at all. He conducts his business over the phone and films everything, whether targets on the job, or just random events during his daily life. He spends his days on the job and at home watching his endless archive of film he has shot. Also, drinking.

One day he passes out drunk on a bus, and his camera and a case full of films get stolen. This is already disturbing enough, but he starts receiving notes from the thief (played by Tilde von Overbeck), who threatens to reveal Aloys’ films to the world. With the threat the thief manages to lure Aloys into a game of imagination, where the thief tries to pull Aloys out into the world at least in Aloys’ imagination. The game goes on for a while and Aloys is completely pulled into it even generating an infatuation towards the thief, which is too much for the thief.

The plot sounds interesting, but the film fails at pacing. Things mostly develop very slowly, which can be a good thing in capable hands, but Aloys just is not interesting. There’s no inner world to develop in those quiet shots, no charisma to build – Aloys has neither – so it’s just boring. Then occasionally the films shifts a few gears too many and things happen that… you just can’t buy into.

Pacing isn’t the only problem though – the film relies on this character that basically has no inner world or charisma and then it makes you try to watch the world through his eyes. This is nicely supported by camera work and mise-en-scéne, but something is missing. It all adds up to a very bleak film that has problems keeping the viewer attached to itself. I think someone like Cronenberg or Haneke could’ve built a masterpiece out of this setup.

Despite the shortcomings of the film, it has its moments and I enjoyed my time with it.

  • Director: Tobias Nölle
  • Watched on: 18th Sep 2016
  • Watched at: Orion
  • 3/5

Francofonia [2015]

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A film by the legendary Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov. I don’t think I’ve seen anything by him, although he’s been a staple of the festival for a long time and working as a director for even longer.

The film is an essay about Louvre and the near destruction it and the art in its collections faced during the German occupation in WWII. Well, that is the framing – more essentially the film is a rumination on the importance of art as the vessel for preserving human achievement from generation to generation, on how fragile that vessel is, on how art is the most important of all human achievements, and how the people, who’ve sacrificed to save art, are the true heroes of all ages.

I’m always interested in the background for art. Often a piece of art without any context is quite bland – it might be masterful, but seeing it provides no additional elation besides the appreciation of the skill it took to bring the piece to life. Many times it feels like the reason the piece was made, the story of birthing it, the conditions it was made under, the artists intention and place in life – all of these details of the background are more interesting and bring the piece itself to life. Gaining additional insight into all of that is always interesting.

Sokurov’s thoughts don’t fail on this front. Although he proceeds through the film in a rambling manner jumping between places and times quite freely and not bothering with making his thoughts approachable, he provides ample bits of interesting trivia. Those alone would make the film worth seeing, but he also manages to construct a humane defense for art in general. Coming out, I felt strengthened in my belief that there is no endeavor more important than art.

The film also contains gimmickry and self-indulgent ramblings that lead nowhere. This is most likely intentional, since I expect this to be half an exercise to organize his own thoughts on the matter. A sort of journal entry that maybe will end up as a thought piece in some magazine later on, but is currently just an unorganized collection of thoughts mostly on one topic.

Very much recommended, if you share the belief that art is important.

  • Director: Aleksandr Sokurov
  • Watched on: 18th Sep 2016
  • Watched at: Orion
  • 3.5/5

My Golden Days [2015]

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I’ve seen A Christmas Tale [2008] by Arnaud Desplechin previously and loved it. The film recounts the story of one family’s one Christmas. In that film Desplechin shows us a family that is smart and well off, but snarky and with dark humane depths. He shows people, who are smart but struggle, who are successful but make mistakes, who are cultured but fragile – people, who are lovable and feel like life, despite being upper class people often described with less warmth. For me, that is the definitive Christmas film. It tells about a family that stays together despite all the reasons not to. It is bitter and sweet and honest.

With this background I jumped at the chance to see another Desplechin film. This one is framed in a story about Paul Dédalus (played by Quentin Dolmaire and Mathieu Amalric as the young and old Paul respectively) being apprehended by French officials upon him returning to France. Apparently there’s another Paul Dédalus somewhere and foul play is suspected. From there the film dives into Paul reminiscing about the formative events in his life. There’s three memories of which the first is a quick glance into tumultuous pre-teen years, where Paul threatened her mother with a kitchen knife, the second is about a field trip to Minsk, when Paul “lost” his passport to a jewish family in order to help them escape the USSR, which is also the reason Paul is now questioned, and the third is about the love of Paul’s life during his teens and early adult years. Everything else is just setup and framing for the love story, the golden days of the English title of the film.

Paul was a fragile and very romantic youth and he can’t help but still view his younger self with immense affection. Although he has grown up and generated the usual adult protective shell, underneath, he’s still the teen boy, who fell in love and felt betrayed with the strength only the people still learning to live with their feelings can. He’s the kind of person, who occasionally cries himself to sleep at night, because he can’t reach those depths of feeling anymore. Despite still feeling hurt and angry about how things went, he still yearns for those times with warmth.

The love story itself, between Paul and Esther (played by Lou Roy-Lecollinet) is one of sunshine, bitterness and impossibility. Youthful follies based on false expectations and on the sweetness of bitter disappointment. Except that at some point, the disappointment is only bitter and the damage has been done and you wake up realizing that you are mortal and everything is not possible.

The story is encased in everything that I felt during my teenage years. This is obviously the highlights reel of a life made more interesting for the silver screen, but I could’ve been that boy. I don’t think I am anymore, I don’t think I have such blindness towards the youthful me, but then again, I cried a lot during the film, since it connects on so many levels to some bitter memories I have.

If you didn’t already get it, I consider this a masterpiece. There are just a few tiny structural weaknesses, but those are inconsequential. Desplechin has a way of reaching into things that are bitter and sweet that just twists my soul with absolute warmth and nostalgia.

  • Director: Arnaud Desplechin
  • Original Title: Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse
  • Watched on: 18th Sep 2016
  • Watched at: Korjaamo Kino
  • 5/5

Truman [2015]

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The final step of my festival scheduling process is to fill out the blanks. If there are days, when I’m going to see just one film or there’s a convenient spot between a few already chosen films, I look through the open spots and figure out some film to see in that spot. This was one of those filler movies. Boy, am I glad I chose this one.

The film is a story of two childhood friends meeting up for the first time since forever as old men. There probably were the usual promises of being friends forever no matter what happens in their lives, but as is the case usually, life intervenes. One has remained a successful actor in his childhood neighborhood, while the other has moved all the way to Canada. Julián (played by Ricardo Darín) is dying of cancer, when Tomás (played by Javier Cámara) comes to visit.

The film proceeds to present some too convenient situations that reestablish old childhood bonds and allows the protagonists to figure out, how to be the one, who accepts his friend’s death gracefully and on the other hand, how to die gracefully. On a wider scale, it may be about those eternal bonds, about male friendship forged in the fires of teenage years, but on a smaller scale, it is about telling a story that is filled with a kind of nostalgia for the future – this is the way that those childhood friendships should be fulfilled in the end, this is how we should be allowed to die, everything should be ok in the end.

I just cried and cried during the film at the grace and the moments, when grace failed, but it was still justified. I cried at the friendship and the final gesture with the dog. I cried at pretty much everything. I slightly cringed at the way everything had been built way too conveniently, but then again, if there’s story like this, it will seem way too convenient.

  • Director: Cesc Gay
  • Watched on: 18th Sep 2016
  • Watched at: Kinopalatsi 9
  • 4.5/5

The Clan [2015]

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This was chosen for the premise – the Puccio clan was one of the right wing death squads that operated during the Argentine state sponsored terror years that attempted to purge left wing supporters from the country. The thing that made the Puccio clan exceptional, was that they continued operating after the democratic government had been restored and after processes to compensate victims of the terror had started. At the point democracy was restored, the Puccios obviously lost their main source of income, so they kept at the kidnapping business.

The film tells the story. A successful model family with store keeper father devoted to his kids, an arts teacher mother, who is a home keeping wizard on par with Martha Stewart, and five kids, who are well behaved and liked with promising futures ahead of them.

Except that they kidnapped people, on occasion tortured them slightly, and once ransom had been paid, mostly killed the ransomed people in order to avoid gathering of any sort of evidence.

The film keeps very strictly to what is known, probably just building some details to fill in the day to day life of them. It also presents everything in a very calm and everyday manner. This is the humdrum of their life. Breakfast, homework, falling for a girl, football practice, kidnapping, rinse and repeat.

I find it difficult to say an opinion about the film. I like it. It’s interesting. Let’s go with that.

  • Director: Pablo Trapero
  • Original Title: El Clan
  • Watched on: 18th Sep 2016
  • Watched at: Kinopalatsi 1
  • 3.5/5

That was the first Sunday (I missed the closing Sunday).

I felt elated. Although the day ended on a film that doesn’t really lift your spirits, it was a good film. My Golden Days and Truman were very solid efforts, while Aloys played a weird little interesting game that could’ve been gold in more capable hands, and Francofonia was a reminder of the importance of art, which is never bad.

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Change of Pace

I started this blog with some lofty ideas and ideals about highly thought out contemplation on films and other cultural content that I consume. Occasionally on things outside cultural content as well.

Well, as anyone can see, I haven’t been able to produce said content at any meaningful pace. I have a dozen films to write about on my backlog, but I can’t get them done, because I don’t have the time to write about them at length. By the time I get to writing about them, I’ve already forgotten half of the film and half of the thoughts I had about the film to begin with.

I’ve been keeping various journals or memos or something about these sorts of things before this blog. The purpose has been to write just a few words about pretty much everything in order to remember the films I’ve seen and the books I’ve read. Just 5-20 lines most of the time. It was a process to help me remember and it worked fantastically. Sometimes I had more to say than just a summary of the plot and whether I liked it or not. Sometimes I thought I had a nice idea and would have liked to share my notes to others.

I thought about scrapping this blog altogether, but people keep telling me that I seem to have thoughts worth sharing. Most of the time I don’t. Occasionally I think I do. So I’ll keep the blog as it is a convenient combination of a few things:

  • It allows me to keep at my practice of writing a few notes on the cultural products that I consume to help me remember them.
  • It is accessible to others and allows me to advertise the my texts to others, when I feel like I maybe had a point somewhere in there.
  • It allows me to write anywhere, when there’s a quiet moment or an interesting thought.
  • It allows me to write on a multitude of topics without having to find separate appropriate platforms to journal my thoughts on books, films, games, role-playing games, programming, etc.

So there. Blog remains. Hopefully more content on a quicker pace, but shorter write-ups most of the time. I still don’t have much time to spare for this, so we’ll have to see, if I can keep up with this even with the shorter notes…

Rakkautta & Anarkiaa 2016 – part I

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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 [2016]

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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
  • 5/5

The First, the Last [2016]

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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
  • 3/5

Sunset Song [2015]

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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 [2016] 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
  • 3/5

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.

On Dance

I saw the film Mr. Gaga recently, which rekindled my interest in modern dance. Soon afterwards I found myself with a free weekend. Then while I was trying to decide what to do with the weekend, Facebook decided to show me an ad about Tero Saarinen Company‘s 20th year celebratory performance. Must’ve been guidance.

The only guest I saw during the 2016 Love & Anarchy film festival was the director and writer of Mr. Gaga, Tomer Heymann. One of the audience questions was an obvious one – why make a film about Ohad Naharin. Obvious in that it is always asked – the film was well worth being made.

His answer is the reason I watch dance – “I don’t know, how one can live without dance.” There were a lot more words in the full answer, but it boils down to that. He was a 20 something country boy, who hadn’t experienced basically anything that could be called higher culture, when he moved to Tel Aviv. He didn’t know anyone except one aunt, so after some persistent pestering on the aunt’s part, Tomer ended up going to a performance by the Batsheva Dance Company and his life changed.

I wish I did remember the first modern dance performance that I saw, but I don’t. I do remember that there’s been several that have left me gasping for breath for the beauty of them. My life is enriched by the performances and often I find myself in catharsis afterwards. At some point I realized that I wanted more and more of this. I’ve often found myself wondering that at some point most of us lose the ability to move freely. Kids climb and fall and run and jump so effortlessly, while a flight of stairs is a difficult obstacle for me on a bad morning. I guess this is one point on which dancing speaks to me. Recently I’ve had less opportunities to see dance, but that doesn’t make the yearning any less.

The play of the choreography, the light hitting the glistening sweaty dancers, the music taking you someplace else, the occasional heavy breathing of the dancers taking you back there, and all the time the dance, the beauty of movement, the beauty of people dancing. I don’t know, how one can live without dance.

The works of Tero Saarinen

I’ve seen some works by Tero Saarinen previously as well and I think I have some idea about his works and style. He is perhaps the most acclaimed Finnish dancer and choreographer in the modern dance scene. In my opinion, his vocabulary is more limited than that of some others, but on the other hand, he reaches depths that I have not witnessed in other Finnish choreographers. That is, I’m slightly conflicted about his work.

His vocabulary is… Not so imaginative. Movement aims towards a controlled impression. There’s not too many surprises, especially after you’ve seen a few of his pieces. His movement does achieve a lightness. In a sense, classical dance aims towards extreme control and lightness, so these are somewhat similar. On the other hand, classical dance aims towards a very classical definition of grace that is somewhat constricting and puts a straight jacket to the lightness. Saarinen’s expression has a generosity to it, a feel of grandeur and freedom that emphasizes the lightness of movement. That is, despite similarities, he achieves something more than just a replication of the vocabulary of classical dance.

Despite the somewhat limited and predictable vocabulary, Saarinen has great aspirations in expression. Being a modernist, feelings of detachment and alienation are featured heavily in his works. Then again, that is one of the leading themes of our times. Individualism brings alienation, while it mostly doesn’t achieve any sort of individual action at all. I’ve seen pieces of modern dance, where the goal only seems to be to present something aesthetic, while Saarinen always ties his pieces to a common experience worth shining a light on.

Could you take some of my weight…?

This piece makes me think that Saarinen is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his vocabulary – he expresses lightness well, so why not talk about heaviness and how that can be eased. This is duet for two males. It talks about isolation and heaviness versus cooperation and lightness.

Considering Saarinen’s strengths, I’m not surprised that I found the parts about heaviness a bit lacking. He is unable to find ways to express heaviness properly. Then again, the bits about lightness lack the contrast from the heaviness. They are very nice as they are, but mirrored against the heaviness, they don’t seem that light.

That being said, I found this piece enchanting to watch. Since there’s only two performers, there’s space for the piece to breathe around them and I could concentrate on even the most minute details. The performers in question, Pekka Louhio and David Scarantino, did an admirable job. Being fully exposed for the duration of the whole piece must be exhausting, but I did not see a bit of hesitation in the performance of either. I liked Scarantino’s ability to express the ideas behind the dance better. Louhio seemed like he was on the edge of his ability and thus had to concentrate more on the technical aspects, while Scarantino seemed like he had more room to dance through the ideas of the piece.

MESH

As a contrast to Could you take…, this is an ensemble piece of nearly two dozen performers. It takes the idea of attempting to be individual and finds only alienation in that. It then shows you that the alienation is not real, since everyone else is trying to be individual in exactly the same manner. This does not bring any solace though, as dealing with your own failures in being individual bring only more alienation. A dark piece exacerbated by Mitsutake Kasai’s role as a complete stranger, who is slowly moving through the scenes in agony all the time.

I was too near to the stage for this piece. With over 20 dancers, I found it hard to form a full picture of what was going on. I found myself mostly concentrating on the dancers that were closest to me. Luckily Saarinen tends to choreograph his scenes off center and many of the highlighted scenes were happening right next to me.

The ensemble consists of Tero Saarinen Company’s regular very skilled dancers combined with students from Theatre Academy of the University of Arts Helsinki and Finnish National Ballet School and Youth Company. The solo pieces during highlights were mostly given to Saarinen’s regulars, but otherwise I was happy to realize that I couldn’t easily distinguish between the students and pros. Some promising dancers coming up the ranks.

In this piece, the limitations of Saarinen’s vocabulary and the dark themes actually form a nice contrast – it emphasizes the distinction between the best face we try to present in public versus the futility that we feel inside. Again, I found the dancing itself slightly predictable, but the piece was extremely enjoyable nevertheless, since Saarinen aspires to express.

Liza, the Fox-Fairy [2015]

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Also known as Liza, a rókatündér by Károly Ujj Mészáros – a director completely unknown to me before this. Saw this at Orion, the theater of the National Audiovisual Institute which primarily manages the Finnish Film Archives.

So we have Liza, who’s been alone for all her life. She has this idea that, when she turns 30, she’ll meet the love of her life at her favorite restaurant – slightly desperate dreamer that she is… Unfortunately that makes her (not really) imaginary friend angry. Instead of love, Liza finds potential lovers dropping dead like flies. The police get involved thinking that Liza must be behind the deaths. The sergeant assigned to the case does his job, but following Liza around predictably makes him fall in love with her. It takes a while, but finally Liza reciprocates and they break the curse. Nobody dies anymore.

Romantic comedy is a genre that I usually avoid with a passion. I don’t think I really realized that Liza, the Fox-Fairy is one, when I decided to watch it. When I found myself with an unexpected few extra hours at hand and noticed that it was playing at Orion, I headed there without second thought. I originally considered this for my program during last year’s Love & Anarchy Film Festival, but in the end it barely missed the cut, so I didn’t give it a second thought, although I’ve forgotten why I was originally intrigued by the film.

Comedies are difficult to start with. Add romance and usually these films start with a few laughs, then run out of jokes, and introduce something that should engage the average viewer – romance. Unfortunately, the romance is usually half-assed at best. There’s no charisma, no chemistry, no ideas. It’s just something to carry the film to full feature length. Once the romance is done (yes, they do get each other), they end with a few more jokes and hope that the audience remembers the jokes… The pattern is so prevalent, that I can’t really figure out, who wants to see more than two of these.

Appears that this style of film can be given a better treatment. After seeing the film my first thought about why this one got romantic comedy right, was that this is a comedy, so it manages the non-comedic bits by doing them over the top. That’s getting it backwards though. The integrity of the characters or the story is never compromised for comedic reasons. Instead the comedy is in seeing the events from the outside. Ok, there’s some scenes that are there purely for the comedy, but they are handled delicately in order to keep everything intact. You get a story that is by itself very touching, the characters have chemistry and the romance is built with time, care and loving – but it’s presented in a quirky manner reminiscent of the likes of Wes Anderson, and Takashi Miike’s earlier pieces that were still infused with mind boggling associations and lacking polish. Despite being quirky, this avoids the traps of the American indie films – it’s more than its quirks.

  • Director: Károly Ujj Mészáros
  • Original Title: Liza, a rókatündér
  • Watched on: August or Septempber 2016
  • Watched at: Orion
  • 5/5

 

Recently I Have Been Mostly RPGing…

Unsurprisingly, my Great Adventure Game Project has not progressed as expected. Long story short, my little personal time has been spent on table top RPGs recently. The thing I have done for this project is that I spent some amount of Zorkmids on GoG summer sales and now I have pretty much a complete library of games for the project. Now I just need to find the time for playing them…

I have very little time for me time projects altogether and right after getting excited about adventure games, I got excited about table top RPGs again… What can I say, I’m easily inspired – too bad I don’t have the time to follow up on all of the inspirations.

A friend of mine set up an RPG discussion channel and I found some other general RPG communities as well, so I’ve been engulfed in inspiring table top RPG discussion. As a result, I’ve been getting up to speed on what has happened in the scene, since I was previously active.

As a result of the inspirations, I signed up with a Pathfinder game rolled by the GM. Some nicely grim and Lovecraftian elements to it. Maybe some dozen sessions done by now. The first big arch is going to be finished next session. Probably should see, where we head after that during the session as well. Been most excellent just to get to play a bit.

Rise of the Runelords

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As a result of not finding more games to sign up with immediately, I also ended up rolling up a Pathfinder campaign of my own. I haven’t been GMing in nearly 20 years, so I decided to go easy on myself and go with ready made stuff instead of rolling up my own. As I was pretty familiar with the rules having signed up for a campaign a few months earlier, as there’s an endless amount of ready made stuff for it, and as there must be a reason for its success, it was an easy decision to go with Pathfinder. After some browsing of the adventure paths, I noticed that the Rise of the Runelords adventure path had been re-released as an anniversary edition. One hardcover edition, way cheaper than buying the six piece paths individually, still in print, adventure path is still regarded as one of the better ones released by Paizo – another easy decision.

After some prep time and finding a group, we’ve now played through two sessions. I’m still finding my feet and so are my players, but thus far fun has been had. During the next session the story is shifting gears and the first major action of the campaign will be encountered. As this is D&D based stuff, the campaign is very combat oriented – down shifting happens only rarely and for short times. But railroading and high octane action is easy enough to GM, and as there are a few newbies in my group of players, it should be nice for them to get into as well.

Ropecon

Also went to Ropecon – a big Finnish non-electronic gaming event… or a scene event… Not sure, what it should be called and not sure, if it’s the biggest, but to me, it is the one and only gaming event of the year in Finland. I was able to attend only on Friday, but what a nice day it was.

Unlike most of my Ropecons, this time my schedule was very tight. After getting in, I headed straight for the table top RGP sign up desk to sign up for Fate Core Combat Academy GMed by Petri Leinonen. Got to do a bit of history by spending the first “etuilulippu” (priority ticket) in the history of Ropecon. Everyone was given one for the whole weekend to pick a game to attend with priority over others. I was going to attend only this one game, so obviously I used my ticket to make sure I got to the game. The game itself was an introduction to the Fate Core mechanics using a heavily railroaded scenario designed to introduce the mechanics one by one in a Star Wars setting. Petri has been running the scenario several times prior to Ropecon, but due to scheduling conflicts, I missed all the sessions previously. This time I got in and it was a fun ride. Unfortunately the game started some 20 minutes late due to the time it took to sign up people for all the games starting at the same time and as a result, we missed the ending of the scenario. That obviously was not the point of the session, but would’ve been nice to see, how things ended up, as even with this kind of rules heavy, story light session, Fate Core manages to set up exciting things in capable hands. It’s easy to fall into character and into the scenes of the story. It’s easy to be dramatic and to find usable things to do in all scenes with all characters. Had immense fun and got exactly what I was looking for – my mind is now racing with ideas about campaigns I could run with the system. Firefly and Star Wars are the top candidates for now, but we’ll see, when I’ll get to those. I’d like to start by getting the scenario material from Petri and trying to run that introductory scenario by myself, so I can use the scenario as a sort of Fate Core GM Academy for myself.

That took me well into the evening. After a quick snack break I headed to Roolipelaajan peruskoulu: Kaaoksen ja järjestyksen välissä (Roleplaying 101: Between Chaos and Order), a lecture held by Sanna Koulu and Pekka Hänninen. Basically they were going through what a player can do in various table top RPG games to make the game more interesting and fun for everyone. Basically the message was to introduce some order in chaotic games (sandbox settings) and to introduce some chaos in ordered games (amusement park rides). The things discussed have been bubbling somewhere in the back of my consciousness, but I’ve never really got them out into the open and under more scrutiny. Again my head went racing forwards. Some thoughts about steering my players towards some direction in the campaign I’m GMing and on the other hand some thoughts about improving my game in the campaign I’m playing in.

Altogether two nice inspiring bits of program. At that point I should’ve headed to sleep according to my regular schedule, but with all the thoughts racing through my head and with a lot of friends heading to the bar, I went for a few beers to relax and to meet up with people I see far too rarely. The new venue worked very well. Oxygen didn’t run out and despite the venue not being as intimate and as atmospheric, it still felt like Ropecon. Got to get to know the layout of the location a bit better, before I’ll feel at home there, but that shouldn’t be a big issue. The only complaint I have is that the table top RPG room assigned to Fate Core Combat Academy, there were over half a dozen other games running and the acoustics was not up to that – I spent a lot of time concentrating on blocking out all the phrases drifting to my ears from the other tables and we had to use a lot of voice to hear each other in our own table. That should be easy to fix though and altogether I have no wish for Ropecon to return to Dipoli after this first year in Messukeskus.

The Book that Sparked this Blog – Suuret seikkailupelit

So, I guess the first real post should be about the book that made me put up this blog in the first place – Suuret seikkailupelit.

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Suuret seikkailupelit by Juho Kuorikoski

Look how pretty it is. Just looking at the cover takes me back to dozens and dozens of warm childhood memories.

I actually asked my fiancee for Juho Kuorikoski’s earlier book – Sinivalkoinen pelikirja. I wasn’t even aware of Suuret seikkailupelit at that point. Sinivalkoinen pelikirja had run out from the bookstore, but the sales people there remembered the other book by the same author. My fiancee picked that up, despite being worried that I didn’t want that one, because I hadn’t asked for it. I am very happy for the Finnish gaming industry due to its recent success and the history does interest me, but my two favorite genres are adventure games and role-playing games. Both are underrepresented in Finnish gaming industry, so the book would’ve been just a nice curio read for me. Suuret seikkailupelit on the hand touches the deepest parts of my love for games, so my fiancee’s worries were very much unfounded. Best Christmas present in a long while. If Juho ever writes a book about the history of computer and video role-playing games, I’ll throw my money at the screen, if it helps me to have the book in my hands faster. A book about storytelling in games in general would be nice too – that’s the thing that adventure and role-playing games have in common. Just a few hints.

I remember playing some early King’s Quest and Police Quest games and Black Cauldron as a child on our first computer. Me and my brother didn’t know English very well, so we had a dictionary at hand. Still we ended up progressing through trial and error until we found the correct responses at certain situations without fully understanding what was happening or why something worked and something didn’t. A bit later we had Zak McKracken, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade and King’s Quest V. Our English skills had improved a bit, but at least I still didn’t understand all the events happening on screen. Despite the language barrier, we still spent endless hours on those games. I’m not sure, if we ever finished any of them except Indiana Jones. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that, when I fire up Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade again, all the actions required to finish the game will come from muscle memory.

In any case, those games and the feeling I had playing them have been burnt into my memory very deeply and encountering them again after a few decades brought me to tears. After bringing me to tears, I realized how many other great games were done during those times and even earlier with Infocom and Legend Entertainment. I’ve missed most of them, so as I said in my earlier post, I decided to fill in the gaps and play through the history of adventure games. Thus was sparked The Great Adventure Game Project and this blog.

For a long time we had the situation that our computer didn’t run the newer games. I ended up missing the latter part of the Sierra and LucasArts golden era except for a game here and another there that I played with some friends on their computers. Mostly I wasn’t able to finish them. I picked up on adventure games a again, when Telltale Games came into the scene. I’ve played a bit of Sam & Max and a bit more of The Walking Dead. Again, the book revealed to me that I’ve only scraped the surface though.

But I digress – I was supposed to write more about the book. It is difficult without mentioning the feelings that it brought up in me, but with that now behind me, I’ll try and say a few words about the book.

The book is divided into four parts:

  1. Text based adventure games and early graphical ones
  2. The golden era of graphical adventures
  3. The death of the genre
  4. The resurrection

The only thing about this structure that bothers me, is that although many of the text based adventures are given their own subsection, those subsections are not listed in the table of contents, so going back to check up on a single title is a bit difficult. I can understand that their handling is more cursory than for the rest of the sections and titles. They were put out by just a few companies and gaming was smaller back then. Many of the titles are out of release and can be only found in the murky abandon ware corners of the Internet – I bet even Juho had a hard time getting to know the titles from that era. The rest of the structure nicely supports the narratives that Juho builds. This occasionally brings slight confusion, because he breaks chronology in favor of the narrative structure. Luckily, I like stories more than chronology.

Juho has done an amazing job digging up the original designers and developers of the games and contacting them for interviews. He’s interviewed 40 people for the book, a few of them several times. The stories and feeling that the developers tell are the most interesting part of the book. Anyone can go and experience the games themselves, but it’s more difficult to find out the stories around the games – why did they get made, who were the people that affected them, why were some design choices made, where’d they get the ideas, etc. I like to read about the things surrounding the cultural products that I like, and Juho does simply an amazing job in bringing the industry and people around the games into life.

Reading the book took me first to my childhood memories of hours and hours spent exploring wonderful worlds and stories and then to the realization that there’s a lot more of those. Going through the games that I haven’t played, took me on introductory journeys into the adventures that I can still experience. Last but not least there was also the story of the industry and people in the industry – who doesn’t like a story of rise and fall and rise again, just look at Hollywood films and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a different story.

If you are into adventure games and can read Finnish, I urge you to buy the book and read it. I don’t remember that a book that has taken me so deep into my own memories and then into new exciting worlds in a long while, and it isn’t even fiction.

Besides, buying the book will give Juho more resources and motivation to write more of these. He just finished the crowd funding project for his forthcoming third non-fiction book about games, X-Com. There is not too much Finnish language books on gaming, so his one man project to fill that gap is commendable. Besides, he writes with a very readable tone that is both entertaining and informative.