Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eija-Liisa Ahtila 35 mm film screenings 16.2.2012 in Helsinki

In Artova Kino 16.2.2012 On Thursday 18:00

Artova Kino, Arcadan iso sali (Jan-Magnus Janssonin aukio 1, Helsinki 55).
Tram 6, Buses to Arabia, Helsinki /

Eija-Liisa Ahtila:

Me/We, Okay, Gray (1993)

"Originally shown on Finnish television in the breaks between mainstream
programmes, these three short films consider issues of identity, sex, control
and the boundaries of the ego. At first glance, they resemble TV commercials,
with their snappy dialogue and swift visual techniques - jump-cut editing,
camera movements replicating the protagonist's pacing. However, their
disconcerting emotional territory is far from the upbeat world of advertising.

Me/We features the archetypal nuclear family, whose story is told by the father. He begins by addressing the camera directly. As the plot unravels, other members of the family start to embody his voice, and it becomes unclear who is speaking or whose story we are watching.

In Okay a solitary woman strides up and down her room, as if incarcerated,
analysing the frustrations and desires of her sexual relationship with a man,
who is not revealed on screen. The voice of the character switches gender,
consequently blurring the meaning of the narrative.

More collective anxieties and catastrophes are considered in Gray. Three women discuss the chain of events connected with a nuclear disaster as they descend in an industrial elevator towards a watery chamber. Their conversation may refer either to an impending calamity, or the onslaught of foreign influences on their own language and culture."

Tänään / Today (1996)

"Today is the study of the relationship between a father and daughter. Pivoting on the accidental death of the man's father, it is told in short episodes from the viewpoint of three different characters. (...)

In the first section, a teenage girl repeatedly throws a ball in her backyard,
whilst explaining, in unsentimental detail, the circumstances of her
grandfather's death. Her monologue is punctuated by the anguished cries of her grieving father.

In the second part, entitled Vera, an old woman moves around a darkened
apartment, espousing her views on society and its inherent problems. The
identity of Vera is left ambiguous. She might be the elderly man's widow, the
girl's grandmother or perhaps the girl herself, now an old woman.

In the third segment, Dad, the scene and nature of the accident are revealed.
The drama is conveyed by the bereaved father, who discusses his relationship
with both his daughter and his own dead father, expressing his feelings of
inadequacy. As with much of Ahtila's work, the viewer is implicated in the
story: in addressing the camera directly, the characters speak to the viewer,
as if engaging us in the conversation."

Where is Where? (2008)

"A true piece of Cubist cinema, Ahtila — who has been amassing an interesting body of short, brilliantly filmed pieces through the decade, mainly centered on female characters — manages to conjoin the bruising and true tragedy of two Algerian Arab boys who killed their French playmate during the Algerian war of independence with a Finnish poet (played with compact energy by Aki Kaurismaki’s favorite, Kati Outinen) ferreting out the essence of the event in poetic terms across the decades and across continents. Ahtila is onto something important, and may have created a true breakthrough for a new kind of narrative cinema by breaking up the screen into four equal and conjoined frames. Unlike the multi-split-screen images of a film like Mike Figgis’ failed experiments, Timecode (2000) and Hotel (2001), in which the viewer’s eye nearly or totally shut down from the sheer information overload of six or ten or twenty actions happening without a cut simultaneously, or the briefer split screens of multiple scenes periodically during episodes of 24, scenes in Where Is Where? naturally unfold one by one, with multiple views of a scene (the poet working at home in her study or taking a dip in an adjacent lake at dawn, or the boys’ murder) expanding the depth and dimensions of the setting and exchanges instead of frantically bifurcating multiple scenes into a single viewing timeframe. For Ahtila, the multiplicity of split-screen cinema is an opportunity to expand within scenes rather than stack them up in a pile; darned if at times she doesn’t actually re-create some of the effect of Cinerama, with two adjacent frames combining for a panoramic shot, echoing Cinerama’s optical joining of multiple lenses for a super widescreen aspect ratio. Dialogue scenes no longer require standard cross-cutting, but instead preserve each actors’ face on screen for the viewer to consider as long or as briefly as you wish; a particularly powerful use of this occurs late, when both boys are separately interrogated by a trio of doctors and supervising adults about the morality and motivations for their confessed crime, so that each frame is taken up with close-ups of the four characters locked in a profound and emotionally taxing exchange. Ahtila elegantly grasps Cubism’s principle of fracturing perspective, and has found a cinematic means for it. It doesn’t stop there: she marries it to montage, so that as one scene and location shifts into another (Finland to Algeria, and back again), the shift happens frame by frame, sometimes so invisibly that the eye is caught short at the magical transference.

This is, importantly, not a visual trick, but the substance of the film’s theme
of universal responsibility and guilt. The poet’s sense of a terrible
event—introduced to her by none other than Death made up to look like Bergman’s cloaked guy in The Seventh Seal (1957) — gradually unfolds for her as a visual phenomenon (first, as a troop of French soldiers literally stomps through her study en route to their massacre of an Arab village’s male population) and then as a matter of words. For as visually layered and wrapped as the film is,

Ahtila’s concern for the value and purpose of words is just as important:
Often, the poet and Mr. Death talk about words as things (she tells him at one
point, “I will put the words into a room and watch what happens,” which she
does by then describing an Algerian scene that she experiences in suspended
time). Another scene, which again flirts with, and avoids being absurd by
parodying Bergman (this time, Winter Light [1962]), involves the poet and her
female priest debating the value of guilt and forgiveness. The difference
between Ahtila and Bergman (who is by leagues the lesser filmaker) is that
Bergman positions the conversation as theatre; Ahtila expands it into a
cosmically funny episode of pure cinema, capped by the priest levitating and
following the poet out of her office, as if she were the devil. (Later, the
levitating priest re-appears dressed in red.) If the symbolism sounds arch on
paper, the ultimate impact of Where Is Where? on screen (as a multi-screen
installation, which is the work’s other form presented in gallery spaces, I
can’t say) is profound as a demonstration of how grand formal exploration can be woven into the fabric of great historical and moral notions, hinged to
something that starts in drama and poetry, and then moves beyond both, into
what can be termed new cinema."

(format 35 mm film copy)

Duration of the screening: 70 min. / language: finnish / subtitled: english / K7

Free entrance ! Tervetuloa !

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