Tuesday 4 December 2018

Defending Cinephilia 2018 (2) - Peter Hourigan finds enthusiasm in Helsinki and Wroclaw

Sometimes where you see a film can be a particular part of the pleasure.  As cinemas have become complexes, usually the films in them have become less than complex. And with one screening room being almost interchangeable with the other boxes in the complex, it’s sometimes difficult to remember where you actually saw a particular film more than a week after the event.
This year I had two specific occasions where it was special where I saw the particular film. In one case, I could probably have not seen it anywhere else, in the other I’ve had many occasions to see it elsewhere since, but that first viewing was wonderful partly because of its location.
'indefatigable' Antti Alanen
This year, en route to Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, I went via Helsinki and Poland.  In Helsinki I caught up with the redoubtable Antti Alanen, indefatigable Finnish cinephile and blogger.  He introduced me to the Orion Cinema in Helsinki, one of Helsinki’s oldest cinemas and home of screenings by the Finnish Cinematheque. Even in June when the programming shifts somewhat to acknowledge that the sun and the long days are probably more attractive to Finns, it’s a rich schedule. The month’s brochure included David Lynch, Jacques Demy, Hitchcock, Godard – and that’s just selecting from one page of the extensive program booklet for the month.
Antti suggested I’d be interested in Näin syntyi nykypäivä…1900-1950. Google suggests this can be read as The Birthplace of the Present…1900-1950, while a Wikipedia auto-translate puts it as This was how the present day was born…1900-1950. It was sponsored by one of the large Finnish media companies and was premiered in January 1951. Using archive newsreel footage, it was basically a public relations film, promoting a newspaper celebrating a major birthday. The film covers the first half of the20th  century, with newsreel footage of events introduced by and incorporating clippings from that newspaper. 
Of course, I could not read the clippings or understand any commentary or dialogue because it was in Finnish.  But many of the events were instantly recognizable – Eisenhower, Mussolini, Roosevelt (F.D. and Eleanor), Stalin, Churchill, Chaplin and so many more from that half century.  What was fascinating was that even though I’ve seen many of these people in archive film clips before, these were from sources new to me.  
In Finland since its debut in 1951, it has been screened several times on TV, and still earns screenings at some Film Festivals.  Its fascination comes from getting an impression of the viewpoint of a different country on events that are we usually see from very different perspectives. World History is more than just what we’re told by Anglo-Saxon writers and filmmakers. It is a tribute to the value of Archives, the wealth of material they hold and how much interest there is in their holdings. 
About a week later I had quite a different experience. I was travelling through Poland. A highlight had been the museum in Gdansk dedicated to the Solidarity Movement, a salutary reminder of the impact of totalitarian regimes, and how they can be resisted.
In Gdansk I was also teased by the poster on the tram stop I used for my BnB. It was for Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War¸ just starting its premiere Polish season after winning the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival one month earlier. So, it was in the cinemas – but this one I didn’t dare try to navigate without sub-titles.
A day or two later, I was in Wroclaw.  There I came across the Kino Nowe Horyzonty – the New Horizons Cinema (right).  This is a cinephile’s dream venue, a cinema complex – with nine different screens.  There is a bookshop – where with guidance I bought several DVDs of Polish films (with EST) that have not made it far into our consciousness, and they were all very satisfying.   And in one of the venues, they were screening Cold War with English sub-titles! 
It was a wonderful experience – (and you can read my still-fresh reaction in an earlier Film Alert post  an earlier Film Alert post)  I am sure that to a degree my enthusiasm was coloured by the experience in seeing it in the country from whose history and politics it had sprung, and with an awareness that it was not just a film about the past, but one with relevance to Poland today.
But just viewing the film was only the start of the riches that flowed from the experience, an example of how the joys of cinephilia often extend way past the actual screening. I was curious to explore what I could of Pawlikowski’s earlier work. I came across some early and fascinating documentaries made for British TV in the early 1990s. 
Pawel Pawlikowski
These showed Pawlikowski’s early interest in some of the faces of totalitarianism. If Cold War looks at a couple of artistic lives navigated life in a repressive state, the documentaries reflect other lives caught up in this world. A descendant of Dostoevsky, now a tram driver, hopes to buy a second hand car when he his name has him invited to the West.  A writer, perhaps  a Russian Bukowski or William Burroughs descends into a delirium while his train journey becomes a metaphor for the Soviet Regime. And when he sets out to get into the mind of one of the nastiest proponents of a repressive regime, Radovan Karadzic, part of his approach is through the future war-criminal’s passion for an epic of Serbian literature. 
This trio also enthused me that it drove me into one of the other aspects of cinephilia – the desire to share my excitement, which I also did through an earlier posting on Film Alert

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