Finland



POSTWAR CINEMA

Apart from the control executed through the much-resented amusement tax, another means of state interference in the film industry was the grants and awards that were introduced during the latter half of the 1940s. After the establishment of the Finnish Film Foundation in 1969, the state also became a significant part in the production process—indeed, a prerequisite for the existence of a film industry in the country. But far from gaining control as in "totalitarian state propaganda," the establishment of the Foundation was foremost a protectionist move reflecting nationalist sentiments. By the 1960s, the attitudes toward cinema had changed in Nordic countries and to an increasing degree it was perceived as art in its own right. According to common understanding, therefore, the government is responsible for providing support for the artistic development of film as well as for literature and the fine arts.

The Finnish authorities produced newsreels reporting on the current political situation during World War II, and the documentary stock produced by the Finnish Army and now stored in their archives is quite extensive. The government-financed Suomi maksaa (Leistelä, 1951), a report of the nation's efforts to pay the heavy national debts caused by the war against the Soviet Union, was a typical documentary during the late 1940s and 1950s. Finnish people were extremely proud of being the only nation in the post–World War II world that repaid the restoration loans guaranteed by the US government. The film breathes pride and self-confidence, not unlike the documentaries made during the early period of independence.

The disillusionment that followed World War II affected the topics of feature films: light comedies and romantic stories gave way to social dramas depicting the problems of people living in the shadows of urban backyards. Edvin Laine (1905–1989), one of the most significant of the postwar generation of film directors, produced Ristikon varjossa ( Hunting Shadows ) in 1945, and Laitakaupungin laulu in 1948. Laine also directed the most popular Finnish film ever, Tuntematon sotilas ( The Unknown Soldier , 1955), the first realistic account of the war. The commercial success of the film unintentionally contributed to the crisis that ultimately brought about the bankruptcy of Suomen Filmiteollisuus: to avoid paying tax on the millions in profit the film generated, the company invested in too many hastily made new films of lesser quality.

On top of the insecure situation during the 1960s, with increasing production costs and declining film attendance that necessitated closing down movie theaters, the film industry was hit by a strike initiated by the Actors' Union, which was displeased with actors' salaries. The strike did not stop film production, however, but instead, introduced a whole new generation of actors, most notably in Käpy selänalla (1966), directed by Mikko Niskanen (1929–1990) with a script written by Marjaana Mikkola. Women screenwriters are not uncommon in the history of Finnish film: already in the 1920s, plays by dramatists such as Minna Canth (1844–1897) and Maria Jotuni (1880–1943) were adapted into films, and Valentin Vaala's (1909–1976) popular comedies in the 1930s to 1940s were the results of his cooperation with his leading lady, Lea Joutseno (1910–1977), and the writer Kersti Bergroth (1886–1975).

Yet it is hard not to see the history of Finnish cinema as a cavalcade of a handful of men: Risto Orko (1899–2001), the CEO of Suomi-Filmi, and Toivo Särkkä

Aki Kaurismäki's Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) was an international hit.
(1890–1975), the head of Suomen Filmiteollisuus, dominated the country's screens as directors for over thirty years. The first women directors appeared in the early 1960s. Ritva Arvelo (b. 1921) won the state award (an unnamed monetary award) with Kultainen vasikka (1961). Yet another twenty years would pass before women were able to establish themselves in the industry: Tuija-Maija Niskanen (b. 1943), the director of Suuri illusioni ( Grand Illusion , 1985), and Kaisa Rastimo (b. 1961) with her Säädyllinen murhenäytelmä ( A Respectable Tragedy , 1998) are among the most important. One of the most successful women in Finnish cinema since the early 1980s has been Pirjo Honkasalo (b. 1947), whose documentaries Atman (1996) and Melancholian 3 Huonetta ( The3RoomsofMeloncholia , 2004)have received awards at numerous film festivals around the world.

The establishment of the Finnish Film Foundation contributed to structural changes within the industry during the 1970s. The old companies with their complex administration systems disappeared and smaller companies, often managed by the filmmakers themselves, emerged. This was in line with the contemporary view of the film director as auteur with full control over production, including right to the final cut. Such a view brought about a generation of independent film directors writing their own scripts and, like Jörn Donner (b. 1933), establishing their own production companies, Donner, also a well-known author, directed films such as Sixtynine (1969) and Perkele! Kuvia Suomesta (1971), examples of the soft porn wave of the period, whereas Risto Jarva's (1935–1977) productions reflected the era's social criticism with films such as Bensaa suonissa ( Gas in the Veins , 1970) and Jäniksen vuosi ( The Year of the Hare , 1977).

By the end of the millennium yet another significant change had taken place. It was clear that no Nordic country alone could generate the funds needed for the production of a feature film; cooperation was needed between the countries and their respective film institutes and television companies. The result was lengthy fund-raising and decision-making processes whereby only prestigious "heritage"-style productions became possible to realize, such as Talvisota ( The Winter War , Pekka Parikka , 1989) with its painstaking and elaborated mass scenes depicting the battles of the Winter War.

From the 1980s on, the Finnish solution to the situation was provided by another generation of film directors with Aki (b. 1957) and Mika Kaurismäki (b. 1955) in the lead, making-low budget films with small, mobile units. While Mika Kaurismäki has invested in an international career, Aki has stayed in Finland faithful to his austere, stylized, and self-reflexive style in films such as Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö ( The Match Factory Girl , 1990)and Mies vailla menneisyyttä ( The Man Without a Past , 2002). In his films Aki Kaurismäki has tended to scrutinize nostalgic sentiments addressing the popular collective memory of the postwar Finnish generations. Other directors of his generation utilize heightened realism with postmodern tendencies such as split narrative and pastiched characters. Timo Koivusalo's (b. 1963) biopic Rentun ruusu (2001), about the life of popular 1970s protest singer Irwin Goodman, or Pekka Lehto's Tango Kabaree ( Tango Cabaret , 2001), featuring the dancer and celebrity Aira Samulin, are but two examples. Such forms of remembrance have not always ended up as box-office hits, whereas films depicting the wars of independent Finland always seem to manage to cover their costs.

SEE ALSO National Cinema ; World War II

Cowie, Peter. Finnish Cinema . Helsinki: Suomen elokuvasäätiö, 1990.

Hillier, Jim, ed. Cinema in Finland . London: British Film Institute, 1975.

Nestingen, Andrew, and Trevor G. Elkington, eds. Transnational Cinema in a Global North: Nordic Cinema in Transition . Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

Soila, Tytti, ed. The Cinema of Scandinavia . London: Wallflower Press, 2005.

Soila, Tytti, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, and Gunnar Iversen. Nordic National Cinemas . London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

Tytti Soila



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