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Thus speaks Wikipedia: "Max Manus (19141996) was a Norwegian
resistance fighter during World War II. He was a pioneer of the
Norwegian resistance movement and was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941.
He escaped to the United Kingdom for training and went back as a
saboteur for the Norwegian Independent Company 1, better known as
Lingekompaniet. He became a specialist in ship sabotage, was famous for
being one of the most brilliant saboteurs during World War II, and
after the war he wrote several books about his adventures." Hmm, sounds
like it was only a question of time before this guy's life story would
be made into a movie!
In its native Norway the film has been highly popular among the public which is not hard to understand considering it is a very traditional and technically well-made war film. The basis of the plot was already summarized in the first paragraph: a volunteered veteran of the Finnish Winter War, Max Manus (Aksel Hennie) is enraged to see his beloved Norway being taken over by the Nazis in the early 1940s and quickly organizes an underground resistance movement with his friends Kolbein, Tallak and Gram (Christian Rubeck, Mats Eldøen and Nicolai Cleve Broch). Ships are sunk and bullets fly but Manus never loses his hope in the face of the enemy, personified in the Gestapo officer Siegfried Fehmer (Ken Duken).
The filmmakers are clearly well aware of the conventions of heroic war movies and utilize them unrestrainedly in the story. The cinematography is pleasantly brownish-yellowish in the interior scenes and creates an atmosphere of old photographs that always suits well movies set in recent history. The exteriors are also filmed beautifully, particularly the short training scenes in Scotland, and the night scenes bask in pretty twilight blue. Unfortunately the professionalism of the production also leads to overt Hollywood-style conventionality of the plot: of course there is a romance (with a woman named Tikken, played by Agnes Kittelsen), of course friends get killed, of course the good are good and the bad are bad. I understand that many of these things actually did happen in real life but since this is not a documentary, they could have been changed a little in order to spice up the tale with something more unexpected than the obvious hero plot.
OK, some of the mine-setting scenes are fairly suspenseful and the story occasionally catches a beautiful sense of melancholy, most notably at the end. In general, the plot is at its most interesting when examining Manus' traumatic Winter War memories and feelings of guilt when his friends and innocent people are punished for his rebellious actions; I wish such inner demons would have been paid more attention at the expense of the Nazis, the obvious enemy. There are also some flat-out clichés in the movie, such as the bad guys being lousy marksmen, and the overly shaky camera during several emotionally charged moments annoyed the heck out of me.
Be that as it may, I am sure there is an audience for Max Manus outside Norway as well. Personally the thin drama plot did not get me hooked very much but friends of traditionally heroic resistance tales should find everything they are looking for in the film. Furthermore, Aksel Hennie in the titular role bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Steve Buscemi never a bad thing! So, go ahead and give it a look if it sounds like your kind of movie; you might end up enjoying it a lot more than I did.
"Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed,
before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot." This quote
from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe begins You, the Living, the currently
latest feature film of the Swedish auteur director Roy Andersson.
Considering how easy it would have been for me to go through all four
of his full-length films made during his decades-spanning career, I now
wonder why I haven't watched any of his work before seeing this one
last night. Well, better late than never, they say, and I'm certainly
happy that I finally decided to give his work a go because I haven't
been this impressed by a movie in a long while.
As mentioned, I haven't seen any of Andersson's previous works, so I cannot tell for sure how closely You, the Living resembles them thematically, but judging from what I've heard, his visual and directorial style has not changed dramatically between this and his previous effort Songs from the Second Floor (2000). This type of bleak, grayish cinematography (here provided by Gustav Danielsson) has often been used to convey a feel of suffocating mundanity; in this case the visuals support Andersson's very long takes and nearly complete lack of camera movement that create stylistic connections to the works of, say, Yasujirô Ozu, Michael Haneke and Jaime Rosales. I know many people do not appreciate such slowness and artificiality but personally I have been a fan of static shots for a long time and think that they allow a special opportunity to present certain calmness and meticulous planning that moving cameras and quick cuts do not allow.
As for the obligatory plot description, in this case writing one is difficult since the movie consists of partially overlapping vignettes of ordinary life in a Swedish city rather than a straightforward and easily summarizable story. To me the most remarkable characters include at least a lonely girl named Anna (Jessika Lundberg) who briefly meets her favourite rock star Micke (Eric Bäckman) in a bar and spends the rest of the movie futilely searching for him. Also worth mentioning are a self-pitying woman named Mia (Elisabeth Helander) and a carpenter (Leif Larsson) who recounts one of his terrifying nightmares that we get to witness in an illustrated form along with several other dreams by other characters. These are not the only people we follow during the film but they are the ones I felt closest to, especially Anna, so I will leave the rest of the people to be discovered by new audiences themselves.
The tone of the scenes can be best described as tragicomic; not often does one see such seamless unity of tragedy and comedy within one movie or scene. Awkward silences, wide shots of people who never get too close to each other... there is something very characteristically Nordic about these little snippets of life. Take for example the carpenter's Kafkaesque nightmare that starts tingling in anticipation and advances via laugh-out loud comedy to alienated absurd tragedy all within minutes masterful handling of the audience's emotions! Another highlight and perhaps the most touching part of the whole film is Anna's dream which she presents straight to the camera. The beautiful guitar notes, the rising music and the cheering crowd outside create a wonderfully beautiful image which is only elated by the fact that we already know it is just a dream.
Dreams in general are a major motif in the film; it both starts and ends with one, blurring the borders of bleak reality and mysterious dream logic. Perhaps not surprisingly, the nature of death (and inevitably life) also comes to mind when thinking of important themes examined by the film. We witness a character's unexpected death and the aforementioned Goethe quote has already set the mood rather dark right from the beginning (the quote also ties in with the train scene; note how its destination is marked as Lethe, a river in the Hades of Ancient Greek mythology). Returning closer to regular life, problems in communication are a repeated theme as well. Characters constantly misunderstand, fail to hear or just ignore each other as if they are all blind to the inner similarities between them. An obvious example is the scene where Mia rejects the flowers given to her by a strange man. To some his subsequent reaction could easily come across as heavy-handed and overdone but I think it is a powerful little moment that stands out among many other strong scenes. The scene with the frustrated psychiatrist in particular feels like Andersson talking directly to us by breaking the fourth wall: "Live, don't lament!"
Andersson's use of a traditional hymn, upbeat Dixieland jazz and military marches throughout the film, sometimes lingering softly in the background, sometimes overtly dominating the mood, can often be seen as lightening up the tone but also making everything appear utterly laughable in a way, once again harking back to the excellent sense of tragicomedy that the director utilizes in the film. The jazz score is probably most notably used at the very ending which I would rather not give away, as ambiguous as it is. The final shot truly elevates the story to yet another level: will this be the end for everything? Is it all a collective dream? I am not sure, but I cannot think of a better ending for the movie.
After witnessing such a withdrawn whirlwind of comedy, tragedy, the mundane and the otherworldly, ordinary movies just feel so... ordinary. More knowledgeable audiences may find it plausible to criticize Andersson for excessive repetition or not developing his style actively enough between films (I wouldn't know, having seen only this one) but since I am just trying to capture my own first reaction here, I can only praise this work of art: You, the Living is a wonderful tale of humanity and should be immediately seen by anyone looking for both emotional and entertaining cinematic experiences.
After Kesäillan valssi (1951) proved out to be very successful among
the public, an independent sequel Onnelliset was produced a few years
later, continuing the style of writing a drama story around Oskar
Merikanto's music. Most of the central actors reprise their roles,
notably Eeva-Kaarina Volanen and Leif Wager who play Annina and Lauri
Alanko, the couple from the first movie still happily married with a
young son. They are not completely financially secure, so Lauri agrees
to take up a job of accompanying a famous opera diva named Delia Rosati
(Maaria Eira) on her European tour. Delia's seductive advances toward
Lauri put his faithfulness to Annina to a tough test but the young wife
is not without attention at home either: her friend and employer Veikko
Kuusi (Leo Riuttu) has grown very fond of her and is favoured by
Annina's bourgeois mother.
If Kesäillan valssi focused on the beginning of Lauri and Annina's relationship with light little songs and almost comedic atmosphere, the sequel s clearly more mature and serious in its approach to the characters. Like the first film, Onnelliset feels a little divided in the middle: the first half is dedicated to portraying the development of Lauri and Delia's relationship, while the latter half focuses on said relationship's effects on Annina and her family. The pacing is rather slow and big emotions only occasionally bubble up to the surface. There is also some social commentary about the political situation of the early 20th century when Finland was still under the command of the Russian Tsar. I know I criticized Kesäillan valssi for being too lightweight for its own good but here it feels like such a problem has been overcorrected and everything feels too dry and serious. It could also be a good thing though, since all viewers can now choose their favourite of the two movies based on their personal preference between comedy and serenity.
The songs that were one of the driving forces behind Kesäillan valssi appear to have been moved to the side as well in Onnelliset. Now a lot of the melodies are performed by Delia in her concerts which may alienate some viewers because her high-pitched soprano voice may feel too classical to fit in with lighter music. Eeva-Kaarina Volanen gets to sing very little and I was hoping Wager would take the stage more often too. Their best moment is probably their duet of the titular "Onnelliset" which naturally sounds very pretty. However, I must repeat my complaint about Volanen's acting; she still comes across as too joyous and carefree in her role, as if Annina never quite grasps the whole situation. The little girl playing her son Erkki is also totally annoying. Nevertheless, Leif Wager (now with a funny little moustache) and the real-life opera star Maaria Eira are enjoyable to see throughout.
Even though the realistic themes of marital issues, jealousy and guilt are basically a welcomed addition to the "franchise", I do not think they are handled in a very gripping way here after all. The very ending can be called a little lackluster and too easy as well. Still, Merikanto's music, some of the locations and Delia's singing montages are very nice, so Onnelliset is worth seeing if you liked Kesäillan valssi. As a standalone drama it is not among the cream of the crop of Finnish classic cinema though.
Oskar Merikanto (1868-1924) was one of the most beloved Finnish
composers whose works were often more accessible to the general public
than those of his contemporary Jean Sibelius. Perhaps because of this
it was possible to build Hannu Leminen's music-driven drama film
Kesäillan valssi from 1951 almost entirely around Merikanto's famous
compositions, achieving great success among audiences all over the
What we have here is not a biopic: the opening credits specify that the plot is not related to Merikanto's life at all and only utilizes his music throughout. The story is a variation of the old premise of love crossing all obstacles, this time set at the turn of the 20th century. Annina Grahn (the beautiful Eeva-Kaarina Volanen) is an upper class girl who falls in love with her handsome music teacher Lauri Alanko (the singing heartthrob Leif Wager) who responds to her feelings enthusiastically. Of course, her bourgeois family does not approve him due to his meager social status but Annina, having recently turned 21 and thus become an adult, is now old enough to make her own decisions.
The first half of the film is so light in tone that it is difficult to see it as a serious drama at all because it so joyously cherishes the power of romance over anything else. Only during the latter half do dark clouds start gathering in Annina and Lauri's sky of love and the mood begins to develop into a melodrama before returning to a sentimental but kind of sweet ending. The unconvincingness of the dramatic elements can mostly be attributed to Eeva-Kaarina Volanen's performance in the lead role: her love-crazed, neverending smiling in practically all of the scenes does not fit in the serious moments and renders the movie more lightweight than it would otherwise be or was intended to be. Leif Wager, on the other hand, gets to demonstrate his acting talent in somewhat demanding scenes later into the film and handles the role well enough. I would also like to give a shoutout to the folksy Toini Vartiainen and Reino Valkama in supporting roles as Annina's friend Else and the couple's friendly protector Manu respectively.
As mentioned, the film is largely based on Merikanto's music and it is because of this why it feels better than the storytelling alone would suggest. The eponymous waltz is heard several times throughout the film and why not, it is an iconic peace of Finnish culture after all. Other lovely tunes sung by the high-voiced Volanen and the softly crooning Wager include "Oi, muistatko vielä sen virren", "Onnelliset" and "Annina" all beautiful melodies carrying an ambiance from times gone by. Shame about the less than satisfying sound quality on the print I saw!
The story has not enough substance to work properly as a serious drama, so I think it may be better to see Kesäillan valssi as little more than romantic fluff from start to finish. As such it is very watchable and not to be missed by fans of classic love stories in Finnish cinema. In short, "pleasant, melodious, forgettable" is how I feel about the movie after seeing it for the first time.
In 1954 the popular but critically unappreciated series about the
adventures of Pekka Puupää and his short friend Pätkä had come to its
third part and actually surprises me positively even though at this
point it is the only P&P movie I have seen. The director was, of
course, Armand Lohikoski and the titular duo were played by Esa
Pakarinen and Masa Niemi with Siiri Angerkoski in her most iconic role
as Justiina, Pekka's intimidating wife.
This time the famous trio decides to take a train to Lapland after Pätkä sees an advert promising a million marks to whoever captures the Yeti that is rumoured to live in the snowy fells of the North. Planning to use the female charms of Justiina as a bait, Pekka and Pätkä also get unknowingly involved in a love rectangle between two would-be couples: their new train friends Timo Vaski and Katriina Sirkkunen (Olavi Virta and Anneli Sauli) and their skiing guides Irmeli Laavu and Riku Sundman (Tuija Halonen and Åke Lindman).
I am sure it will not come as a surprise to anyone that the plot is not exactly a world-class masterpiece of storytelling but provides many amusing moments along the way. Pätkä's Batman-style climb to Pekka's apartment window, the beautiful snowy scenery in the Lapland skiing scenes and the ridiculously hairy appearance of the lovable Yeti itself (played by Vihtori Välimäki) all work as visual treats but I liked the verbal humour too (such as Pekka's little math joke and Justiina's machine gun dialogue throughout), thanks to Pakarinen and Niemi's irresistible charm as the stars. It is really difficult to imagine anyone else playing these roles, let alone not having Siiri Angerkoski as the motivation for so many of the men's antics. The tale is also tied to its own time by references to things like the Kinsey questionnaire and the legendary radio show host Niilo Tarvajärvi ("Karvajärvi" in this case) that is not a bad thing at all as I have always liked seeing this type of windows to old times.
I don't know how Lumimiehen jäljillä compares to the other movies in the series but it got me interested in seeing more of them. A notable criticism would be that perhaps the Yeti hunting scenes go on a little too long and that there is a sense of underachievement floating around the movie; I mean, it leaves one wondering what the writers could have achieved if they had really spent time on planning the jokes and plot instead of churning out new movies every year. The comedy hangs heavily on the shoulders of the lead actors but they carry it with ease and the supporting actors do a decent job too (especially Anneli Sauli who is always nice to look at in anything). The songs and general mood of silliness have their own appeal in any case, so ultimately I did enjoy the film for what it's worth.
The music-filled 1992 comedy hit Sister Act was a positive surprise
both financially and quality-wise but that does not mean the inevitable
sequel would be any good, of course. Directed by Bill Duke, Sister Act
2: Back in the Habit tries to introduce a few new elements into the
familiar premise, some of them successful, others not.
Some time after the events of the first movie, Deloris Van Cartier (still played by Whoopi Goldberg) has returned to lounge singing and headlines a popular show in Las Vegas. When her old friends from the nun convent pay her a visit and ask her to help them with their work at a financially struggling high school, she cannot let them down and agrees to become the school's new music teacher. The students are unruly, the administrator Mr. Crisp (James Coburn) is uptight and the school is under risk of being closed down but luckily Deloris (a.k.a. Sister Mary Clarence) knows that the power of music is never to be underestimated.
The movie starts energetically with one of Deloris' Vegas performances that catchily recounts the events of the previous movie. It is also pleasant to see that Wendy Makkena, Kathy Najimy and Maggie Smith return in the roles of Deloris' fellow nuns and that this time there are also monks present among the school's staff. Contrary to the first movie that dealt more with the other nuns, this time the comedy is for the most part based on Deloris' interaction with her new rebellious students who prefer freestyle rapping to gospel choirs. I wonder if rap music had more of a novelty value in mainstream entertainment in 1993 than it does in 2011 because seeing it now, I was left hoping for more actual songs instead of brief sessions of verbal rhyme battles and tough talking.
During the latter half the music finally gets going and we hear fun songs like the funky "Get Up Offa That Thing / Dancing in the Street" and the final choir performances ("Joyful, Joyful") near the end. The end credit version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" performed by various cast members all together belongs among the most entertaining moments of the film as well. However, the movie is not really a musical and should also be judged by merits other than the soundtrack. On this front it is not very successful, in my opinion. The plot is extremely predictable, the noisy kids are annoying and the funniest characters (like the eccentric monks) are not paid enough attention. Fans of Lauryn Hill will surely be interested in her breakthrough performance as a young discouraged singer Rita Watson but I was not too big a fan of the ballads she sings here. More cheery songs like the first movie's "Shout" are what Sister Act 2 would have needed.
Setting the plot in a school makes sure the story does not repeat the first movie's ideas too obviously but I wish they had used the different environment for something less predictable than just another tale of a new teacher cleaning up a rundown school by inspiring troubled kids to believe in themselves. I guess that if you absolutely loved the first movie, there is no reason why you would not like the sequel too (at least moderately) but generally speaking, I do not think Sister Act 2 is very good film. It seriously lacks the will to deviate from the tried and true patterns of comedy conventions and failed to make me laugh or even smile, unlike the original film that featured better songs and antagonists. You might as well save your time and watch the music clips on YouTube or something; the rest is pretty skippable.
Ville Salminen's directorial career spanned from the early 1940s to the
late 70s and included many cheerful comedies like Kaunis Veera (1950),
Oho, sanoi Eemeli (1960) and Kaks' tavallista Lahtista (1960) as well
as some more serious efforts such as Haaviston Leeni (1948) and Irmeli
seitsentoistavuotias (1948). Particularly Kaunis Veera has its place
among the most entertaining Finnish musical comedies ever and the
re-imagining of a fairytale Lumikki ja 7 jätkää from 1953 is not
terrible either, even if not as funny as some other old musicals.
As already mentioned, the plot is a modern take on the old fairytale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The eponymous Snow White is actually a student named Liisa (Raili Mäki) who arrives in the countryside with her friends on a summery day. There are seven lumberjacks working nearby and the girls quickly notice them, especially the handsome Erkki (Heikki Heino) whom they promptly name "the white Tarzan of the North". After Liisa gets lost in the woods and stumbles upon the lumberjacks' house, the gruff men persuade her to become their much-needed hostess. She agrees, noting that together the guys resemble the characters of the famous fairytale: Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey.
The plot itself does not get much out of the old premise; the comedy is mostly based on making faces, pratfalls and exaggerating the characteristics of each dwarf. The movie would not be worth much if it was not for the songs, of which there about 13 or so (quite a few for a 70 minute film). Even though the dancing is anything but skilled, the brisk ditties about lumberjack life and the beauty of romantic love quickly win the viewer over despite the atrociously bad lip-syncing (the songs were actually performed by the vocal group Souvaripojat) and heavy overacting by the "dwarves" and Raili Mäki, as beautiful as she is. My favourite tunes were probably the song where the "dwarves" introduce their new nicknames and the gentle melody they sing when they have finished cleaning up the sauna for Liisa, but none of the other songs are bad either.
I know this type of movies are not really meant to be watched for the plot or some kind of deep underlying message but the noisy comedy style of Lumikki ja 7 jätkää starts getting a little tiresome before the end (a prime example would be the constant loud sneezing by Pentti Irjala). This is why I am not giving the movie more stars for now; however, I stress that the songs are lovely and numerous. Had I not seen so many truly wonderful foreign musical gems, I would have liked this one more for sure.
Military farces were a very popular type of comedy cinema in the 1950s
and many movies were produced to poke fun at stereotypical behaviour of
officers and the rigid rules of life in the barracks. One earlier
example of the genre is Ossi Elstelä's musically titled
Serenaadiluutnantti from the late 1940s.
The plot is borderline non-existent and the story is mainly built around catchy songs and stereotypical characters doing what they always do: two traveling performers named Oinas and Holopainen (Henry Theel and Ossi Elstelä) accidentally end up in an Army base after boarding a wrong bus. Penniless and without a much better place to go, they decide to spend a few days posing as recruits in order to enjoy the free food and accommodation. Of course, their immediate superior Staff Sergeant Mäkimies (Kalle Viherpuu) is a raging but gullible hard-ass, the women in the barracks (Sinikka Koskela and Siiri Angerkoski) cause some romantic tension and the laid-back "recruits" manage to play pranks and avoid any kind of work like professionals.
The good-voiced star singer Henry Theel and the chubby Savo-speaking Ossi Elstelä do their parts well, even though the plot hardly calls for master-class actors. The songs are pretty fun and by far the best part of the movie, especially near the beginning during the variety show that features some flashy acrobatic dancing, Theel telling jokes in a little girl's voice and the legendary children's favourite Markus-setä as a host. In fact, they really should have saved the show scene for the ending, since the ordinary schlagers that we hear later on do not have the same exhilarating effect as the dancing and juggling. Another option, of course, would have been to fill the whole runtime with numbers like that instead of spending it with unimaginative bumbling and romantic misunderstandings.
As a big fan of movie musicals I just cannot give the film a rating of less than five stars out of ten but I must note that if it was not for the songs, there really would not be much to see. Well, the natural folksy charisma of Elstelä and Angerkoski is pretty alright and the movie seems to understand its meager status since the runtime has been limited to mere 75 minutes. To close the review with a last sentence mini-summary of my thoughts: musical fans may enjoy this one; others may just as well skip it.
The Birdcage (1996), Reinas (2005), The Wedding Banquet (1993), Law of
Desire (1987)... many good films have been made about gay people's
relationships with each other and their straight friends and families.
Ella Lemhagen's 2008 drama-comedy Patrik 1,5 is the first film I have
seen from the director but joins the above movies in the category of
watchable gay comedies.
The plot goes as follows: Göran and Sven Skoogh (Gustaf Skarsgård and Torkel Petersson) are a happily married gay couple who have recently moved into an idyllic new suburb and are anxious to adopt a baby. However, they find their dream difficult to realize since no foreign country is willing to give a child to a gay couple and suitable Swedish babies are difficult to find. They are overjoyed upon hearing that an orphaned 18-month old baby has become available for adoption but are dismayed when their baby Patrik turns out to be a 15-year old homophobic delinquent (Thomas Ljungman) due to a typographical error in the adoption documents.
With a premise like this, one could expect the story to be a sappy tale of overcoming prejudices which carries a laughably obvious message like "gays are people too" but luckily that is not the whole point of Patrik 1,5. Sure, Sven and Göran do encounter homophobia, ranging from kids calling them names to the neighbours "forgetting" to send them an invitation to a house party, but ultimately the story focuses much more on the characters' relationships with each other, be they gay or not. In fact, the movie does not find it necessary at all to specifically point out that it is OK to be gay as it goes without saying right from the start. A less subtle film could have been built entirely around stereotypes like effeminate clothing, lispy voices and giggly flamboyancy but the couple in Patrik 1,5 is completely ordinary and very likable (if also a bit generic and unmemorable, like average people are) the film laughs with them, not at them. A downside would be that in its quest for ordinariness, the film does not differ very much from many other movies about parenthood.
Although the overall mood and "message" of the film are thoroughly sympathetic, its basis as a feel-good dramedy lessens the effect of the serious drama plot regarding Göran's suspicions of Sven not being the right guy for him after all. More masculine than his partner, Sven is not free of prejudices himself and acts in a very hostile manner toward Patrik who always comes across as more scared than tough (even surprisingly so, being a convicted delinquent and all). When the focus is subsequently turned to the budding friendship of Göran and Patrik, the gay theme becomes secondary and the film plays out like any family drama of a sullen kid opening up in a loving family. Cheesiness is not entirely avoided although the actors do a very good job throughout, particularly Skarsgård and Petersson as the lead couple.
Besides the cheese, other complaints about the movie could include things like occasionally overly shaky camera work and the somewhat underdeveloped character of Sven's daughter Isabell (Amanda Davin). The hostilities between the super-friendly Göran and the secretly sensitive Patrik also dissolve unrealistically quickly but I guess they wanted to keep the mood on the lighter side after all so wallowing in past traumas could not be paid too much attention. Nonetheless, I liked Lemhagen's film alright and greatly prefer it to, for instance, the Adam Sandler comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) that wanted both to make fun of gays and promote their acceptance at the same time. In the end, Patrik 1,5 is certainly a movie about more than just gay issues and can be recommend to anyone looking for a positive little tale of family relationships.
The coastal city of Kotka seems to have quite a groovy town in the
1950s Finland, at least if we are to believe Keisarikunta, Pekka
Mandart's 2004 movie based on certain real-life musicians who once
jammed in a small local restaurant called Fennia. The songs surely are
fun but I think a meatier story would have definitely been needed to
raise the movie into the truly memorable class.
The protagonist is an aspiring drummer named Rempo (Mikko Leppilampi) who humbly works in a menial job to help his girlfriend Aila (Maria Ylipää) to reach her dream of opening a beauty salon of her own. However, Rempo's old musician buddies persuade him to take all of his savings and buy a restaurant instead so that the band could start regularly performing again and perhaps make good money on the side. Despite his newfound musician lifestyle, Rempo is torn between his loyalty to the band and love of Aila who has now relocated to Helsinki, thoroughly disappointed in him.
As mentioned, the jazzy, bluesy and rocking song numbers are all very swinging and highly entertaining, plus the guys of the band and their friends are decently played by actors like Mikko Nousiainen (the ambitious bandleader Olli), Tuomas Uusitalo (the chubby guitarist Kinkku) and Petteri Summanen (Heiskanen, a boxer-turn-doorman with a speech defect). Notable is also the atmospheric cinematography by the experienced Kari Sohlberg with tones of yellow, brown and even green that make the whole movie resemble old photographs of the era. Very nice!
Considering the visual and aural quality of Keisarikunta, it is too bad the characters and the plot itself are so thin that it is difficult to actually care about them much. Seeing how dedicated he is to her later on, Rempo's decision to let Aila down by spending their savings just like that feels poorly motivated and the couple's romance is very basic and ordinary love story material to begin with. Additionally, I think the beautiful Maria Ylipää does not really get enough screen time to show her full potential in her role. Though I understand the movie was never meant to be a larger-than-life melodrama, I dare to claim that some more substance can justifiably be demanded since the film does not go merely for laughs but is also labeled as a drama.
For the most part it is probably better to see Keisarikunta as a lightweight buddy movie and a portrayal of the old pals' last summer together. The guys' banter and occasional quarreling is ultimately more interesting and entertaining than the romance, especially thanks to Tuomas Uusitalo as the jovial and talented Kinkku. Likewise, I must repeat that the songs are very nice, so the movie can be called an adequately watchable little flick, just not worth going out of one's way to find it.
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