Sunday, June 12, 2011

DocPoint ’11: Helsinki, Forever

Los Angeles has to be the archetypal film noir city, followed closely by New York and London. However, Helsinki can definitely hang in their company. Finland’s capital also supplied striking locations for musicals, historical dramas, and most other genres of note. Peter von Bragh surveys the evolution of Finnish cinema through images of the city of Helsinki on film in the symphonic collage Helsinki, Forever, which screens this afternoon as part of DocPoint’s tenth anniversary celebration tour of New York.

One might argue Forever is as much a history of the city as it is a cinematic highlight reel. There are the requisite clips of early Twentieth Century archival footage, juxtaposed with films shot decades later in the same locations, as well as the occasional paintings from contemporaneous Finnish artists (though frankly, these are not as evocative as the films). Yet, even in the grainy old images, Helsinki’s architecture is quite striking, at times looking like suitable sites for the next Dark Knight film.

Probably the work of Aki Kaurismäki is most frequently represented in Forever, which makes sense considering his international reputation. However, it is Forever’s lesser known films that most capture the imagination. Particularly intriguing are the 1940’s historicals chronicling Finland’s fight for independence from Czarist Russia, which obviously held far deeper significance during the Winter War against the invading Soviet army.

The bottom line for a tribute film like Forever is whether it makes viewers want to see the films it samples. Here the answer should be a clear affirmative. In fact, a fascinating retrospective series could probably be built around Forever, especially for audiences largely unfamiliar with the last eighty years of Finnish narrative cinema (including myself). Von Bragh also captures the sounds of Finnish culture, including jazzy and poppy selections appropriate to the period, along with the sweeping symphonic score.

Forever might sound like a film with rather narrow appeal and maybe it is. Still, it is a classy package filled with suitably impressive images of both Finnish cinema and Helsinki’s landmarks. Recommended for curious world travelers and cineastes, Forever screens this afternoon (6/12) at Scandinavia House.