The severe economic depression in Finland during the early 1990s is remembered by many with horror, but it was not the first financial crisis the country has survived. One example of cultural depictions of depression is Mikko Niskanen's 1978 drama Autumn Is to Change It All. Based on a novel by Ilmari Eskola, the film belongs among the last five movies Niskanen ever directed.
The beginning is rather gloomy: people are attending somebody's funeral in small Finnish town. The subsequent story then reveals who the person is and how things have become what they are. The protagonist is a middle-aged bank manager Kalervo Haapanen (director Niskanen) who witnesses the effects of the economic depression first hand in his work: a local metalwork company is closed and the manager runs away with the money leaving the workers with nothing, the impending communal election is causing political scheming among the leaders of the community and Haapanen's personal secrets are becoming more and more difficult to hide from his wife Ella (Tea Ista) and sons Kari and Juha (Kari Heiskanen and Juha Niskanen).
The visuals ooze the 1970s in an oddly nostalgic way ("oddly" because I hadn't been even born yet): eyeglasses and fur hats are big, clothes tacky and office technologies primitive. A lot of the film looks fittingly bleak considering the serious theme, but for example the Midsummer sequences are beautifully photographed. The general tone of the film also evolves throughout the story starting from the sad funeral prologue, moving on to comedic scenes about an important politician's visit to a local school and eventually turning to the wistful ending that brings out a new angle to the first scene.
Niskanen had proved his great acting skills in his masterful 1972 miniseries Eight Deadly Shots and plays the lead role here excellently too. Kalervo Haapanen's love for his young son and the increasing worries become beautifully evident in Niskanen subdued, melancholic performance, but I also liked the young Kari Heiskanen in one of his first film roles. The kid Juha Niskanen (the director's nephew) is mostly good too in his only credited acting performance.
Despite the reportedly negative contemporary reviews that saddened Niskanen, I like Autumn... alright. The melancholic mood is enjoyable and so are the comedic parts, even if at points it feels like they don't quite belong in the same movie. Those who like Niskanen's subsequent film Ajolähtö a.k.a. Gotta Run! (1982) should check this one out too; the realistic and societal tones are somewhat similar in both stories. I also appreciate the movie as a window to the era when it was made, since I always find it interesting to see how the portrayal of life in Finland has changed over the decades.
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