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Two young lovers, Anna and Martti, are split apart but are reunited many years later when their lives have changed considerably. Anna is a war widow; Martti a writer, is married, and has five children. Written by
Alexander Lum <email@example.com>
Reminiscence and regret, a masterpiece of Finnish cinema
Literally "The Loveliness and Wretchedness of Human Life", the title of this film might translate more fluidly to English as "Reminiscence and Regret".
Based on the eponymous reminiscences (1945) of the Nobel-winning Finnish author F.E. Sillanpää, this is one of the finest films ever made in Finland. It is unfathomable to this reviewer that this and other films by Kassila (see "Niskavuori" for another of almost the same caliber) have never to my knowledge been distributed internationally -- at least they do not seem ever to have reached the United States. It is remarkable to compare the films that have been so distributed, for instance those of the Kaurismäki brothers, to this and other works of greater substance that have languished in ill-deserved obscurity.
"Reminiscence and Regret" opens with a scene of Matti sitting with his family on a Sunday afternoon in summer, a scene of clench-jawed domestic tranquility forced to the breaking point. The silence and tension are palpable. The creak of a floorboard under a rocking chair is tantamount to a statement. An argument erupts, a row ensues, and in the aftermath, Matti sneaks away -- not for the first time, we gather -- into the white sub-Arctic night for an odyssey of solitude and reminiscence.
Gradually we learn that he married far beneath his station in life, wearing his choice almost as a badge of defiance (or might it be spite?) over the years. As the plot unfolds, we are introduced to the other woman in his youth and we learn about the circumstances, decisions, and misunderstandings that shaped their destinies.
Along the way we are taken on a meticulously authentic tour of Finnish interiors, both architectural and psychological, in an unblinking look at the melancholy and fatalism of Finnish life in the first half of the 1900's.
One can practically smell the countryside, the walls and floors of the homes and hotels, the wine and vodka and rich food of the carousals we witness... I can recall no richer cinematic record of the period and strata of Finnish life into which this film delves. There is a half hilarious, half horrific comic sequence in which we follow the derailing of neighbors sent to fetch the errant Matti back home.
But much of the film concentrates on remembrance and reminiscence as Matti retraces the events, decisions, and external circumstances that led him to the life he has lived and, eventually, to this odyssey of reconsideration.
At the end of the film, one feels that nothing could have transpired differently. Kassila's penchant for understatement and distillation are everywhere evident in "Reminiscence and Regret". This reviewer has not seen enough of his films to know whether this is the culminating masterpiece of his career, but it is certainly one of the culminating masterpieces of Finnish cinema.
One can only hope that "Ihmiselon ihanuus ja kurjuus" will someday be made available to the rest of the world, because it deserves and would easily gain admission to the ranks of international classics.
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