Sibelius (2003) Poster


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This won't do, Pekko. This won't do.
Filibuster25 September 2003
Just saw the movie today, and marching out of the theatre, I truly felt angry. When a movie is made of a Finnish cultural giant, with considerable budget for a film made in Finland, and the main cast is very good, it is really frustrating that the end result is as pointless as this.

The movie summarizes the life of Jean Sibelius in a 'Greatest Hits' - fashion, skipping from one event in the composer's life to the next, sometimes with gaps of several years between individual scenes. Real drama is given no chance to emerge at any point in the movie. Even as a dramatised biography it fails - a viewer who has no prior knowledge of Sibelius' life will probably be lost and confused. Important cultural figures that affected the composer's life are introduced in large numbers, checklist-style, without deeper character development for any of them. On occasion I even found it difficult to link some of the names to the faces (Armas Järnefelt, Sibelius' brother-in-law, was mentioned several times, but gosh darn, who the hell of the faces up on the screen was it?).

There are numerous subplots and minor characters in the movie which aren't advanced in any way or serve no purpose. E.g. the Austrian countess (Niina Nurminen) who appears in two short scenes, adds nothing to the movie - the character simply does not have enough screen time to contribute anything. In the first scene she meets Sibelius at a dance ball. Near the end of the movie, they meet again many years later, and have a conversation that suggest they were once very close. The viewer is not given a slightest reason to care.

The strongest candidates for a dramatic arc (with the largest amount of screentime devoted to them) are the romance between Aino and Jean, and the Sibelius' creative difficulties due to his immense self-criticism. Neither storyline goes anywhere. An incomprehensible directorial choice is placing Aino's and Jean's wedding scene _immediately_ after a scene where Jean confesses to infidelity to his fiancee. Gee, guess she forgave him then...

On the case of Sibelius' reluctance to accept anything but perfection in his music, we are shown scenes of the master boozing it up with other artists, interspersed with images of Jean tearing out his hair in front of a piano and an empty notation sheet. Even the director has apparently noticed his failure to penetrate Sibelius' creative process by cinematic means, and has decides to condense the artist's dilemma into a single line of expositional dialogue: "It is by my work that I will be later remembered."

The soundtrack employs plenty of Sibelius' music, but generally with a tacked-on feel, as if the director expected the music to create the emotion that is obviously absent in the picture. There are a few high points: for example, the scene where the composer's daughter falls ill in Italy, the finale from the 2nd Symphony has been used to good effect. The scene where Sibelius composes Valse Triste has a good idea behind it ("Can you hear the violins?") but it falls flat on its face due to sheer dramatic clumsiness.

The cast is of highly variable quality. Veteran thespians Heikki Nousiainen and Seela Sella, as old Jean and Aino, manage to squeeze incredible performances out of their unbelievably banal lines. Vesa Vierikko (Kajanus), Kunto Ojansivu (Adolf Paul) and Suosalo (young Sibelius) also conduct themselves well. On the other hand, some of the performances give reason to believe that several actors in minor roles have been recruited from among the director's beer buddies.

Technically the movie is competently made. The costumes and sets are convincing and create the period fairly well. Somewhat disturbing is the prolific use of long shots. I can imagine the director on the set, saying "Let's use a steadycam here and save on editing"! A good example of this is the fight between Jean and his author friend, Adolph Paul. It is mostly in one continuous shot, spinning around the room to give susceptible people motion sickness.

On the whole, Koivusalo has managed to create a biographical movie about Jean Sibelius that tells almost nothing about Jean Sibelius. At no point in the did I feel that the story or the characters were evolving or going anywhere. This is a haphazard collection of mostly unconnected events from the life of the Finnish national composer.
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Where did the sound of music go?
Thulemanden30 March 2011
The movie on my favorite composer was a huge disappointment. I will not repeat the above in detail, but I lacked an image of the grandiosity of the Finnish nature and also the impact the country's history had on the composer.

The center seems to be the family but Sibelius is known as a great composer not a great father to be pictured.

Why was some of the music composed, what was his thoughts and struggles etc? I have read his biography and there is more to tell than he loved his wife all his life and was short of money.

Above, or shall I say beneath all, lay an absolute terrible quality of sound regarding the underlying music, which really is just... underlying, not the main issue.

This is maybe OK for a weekend afternoon on TV but hardly the definitive music film on Sibelius like 'Ameadeus' for Mozart.
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Touching Movie About a Great Composer
lady4praise6 September 2004
This movie is simply fantastic. It is an artistic and wonderfully put together account of Finland's greatest composer of all times.

The criticism given to this movie unfortunately suffers from lack of understanding different ways of telling a story. You have to let go of the preconceived idea of that a movie about a person who really lived (and is a national icon in this case) should be absolutely and 100 % factual and in precise time line. This movie, like most others made of great men & women of the past, is the artistic view of one director. It is not a linear, straightforward, or factual story. From the very first minutes of the movie you can sense that this movie is supposed to be a collection of moments passing by, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. It is like viewing this man's life through slightly misty lenses that reveal only pieces here and there. It won't recite every fact of Sibelius' life nor present everything exactly in the order as it appeared in real life. For such stories, we have the documentary format and books. As the kind of artistic quilt of moments vowen together that this movie is, it is a masterpiece, and a very moving one. When I saw this in the movie theater here in Helsinki and the end texts appeared, the whole movie theater was dead silent. You could see tears in eyes, you sensed the moved atmosphere, you could have heard a needle drop. I have never witnessed anything like that in a movie theater in this country.

The main roles are well cast, especially Miina Turunen as Aino, and the overall settings and colouring are wonderful. Lahti Symphony with Osmo Vanska does an excellent work with the music, as always. Also, thumbs up for Koivusalo for showing a bit of patriotism, which nowadays seems to be drowned in the sea of "globalism". It is good that the youth of today sees how things were only about 100 years ago, and where we come from.

Thank you for a great movie, Mr Koivusalo. The DVD will go from me to all expat relatives and foreign friends!
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A great film about a great man
Miaugimbo5 September 2003
Warning: Spoilers

I just had the honor to see this film at a pre-show in Hämeenlinna, the birthplace of the composer Jean Sibelius. I haven't seen any of Timo Koivusalo's previous films so I didn't know what to expect of this brand new production. What I do know (and love)is the music of Jean Sibelius.

Right from the beginning this beautiful and often overwhelming music is masterfully integrated in the movie, starting with scenes from the composers funeral, jumping backwards in time to childhood memories of the old Sibelius and finaly jumping all the way back to his childhood from which the film proceeds on a linear timeline, although there are more timejumps to the old Sibelius and his wife Aino at selected moments during the film. However, Koivusalo focuses on the life of the young Jean Sibelius, his years as a student in Finland, Berlin and Vienna, his relationship and marriage with Aino and his friendship and comradeship with other famous finnish artists of his time.

The film also shows the political and social changes that occured in Finland in the late 19th and early 20th century, Finlands struggle for independence, the rising national movements and eventually the civil war. Sibelius is seen as a historical figure in Finland. His most famous piece, Finlandia can be seen as a musical expression of the longing for freedom, the love of the land with it's forests and lakes and the rise of the finnish people from swedish and later russian oppression towards becoming an independent nation.

The film does not, however, show a single-sided, idealising or glorifying picture - neither of Finland's history, nor of the great composers personal life. There are several dialogues that give the film additional depth with their wise words, which hopefully will not be lost in the non-finnish versions that may or may not be made. The level of the acting in this film was perhaps the most surprising single element for me. I should say this team of actors have made finnish film history with this performance - there are only few comparable films in the finnish mainstream of recent years.

People that are, in whatever way, interested in Finland, european history Jean Sibelius (obviously), or symphonic music in general should enjoy this one. I would enjoy it even with my eyes closed - simply letting the music do it's magic...
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Historically mostly accurate, but difficult to follow unless you're already familiar with the events
m_j_ellila18 January 2004
Koivusalo's film is historically mostly accurate, but difficult to follow unless you're already familiar with the events.

I have to disagree with the previous reviewer on the portrayal of Reds during the Finnish Civil War. Koivusalo's film doesn't even show the fact that the Reds murdered lots of civilians. Another problem is that the viewer doesn't learn that the Reds actually lost the Finnish Civil War in May 1918. You don't learn Finnish history from this film, you have to know a lot of Finnish history before you can even understand what's actually going on in the film.
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