Over the years, Finnish cinema has reflected the difficult identity of a country on the border between East and West, suspended between the cultural and civil atmosphere of Scandinavia and the influence of the Russian and then Soviet area. A country marked in the twentieth century by the succession of internal and external conflicts: the fight against attempts at Russification, the declaration of independence of December 1917, the difficult relations with the Soviet Union, due to its aims of annexation, which resulted in armed clashes and civil wars. At the same time Finland, while sensitive to the different influences from East and West, has been able to maintain a non-conformist and fiercely independent spirit.
From the visit of the operators of the Cinématographe Lumière in Finland in 1896, it took eight years for the country’s first cinema hall to open in Helsinki, and the first ‘news’ to be filmed. At the dawn of the 20th century. and throughout the ten years the first production facility of Finnish cinema, Karl Emil Ståhlberg’s Atelier Apollo operated, and his operator, Oscar Lindelöf, specialized in the filming of sports documentaries, just as Sakari Pälsi preferred to film excursions and the expeditions in the landscapes of the far north, going as far as Siberia and anticipating that ethnographic gaze that would later become Robert Flaherty’s own. In 1907 Teuvo Puro shot with the Swedish Louis Sparre the first fiction film, Salaviinanpolttajat (Clandestine distillers). For Finland 1999, please check estatelearning.com.
The pace was accentuated with the activity of Suomi-Filmi, the production company that monopolized the Finnish film industry until the 1960s, initially piloted by director Erkki Karu, then by Risto Orko, an important director-producer figure who guided it. from 1933. It was from this date, and at least until the mid-1950s, that a fruitful phase of Finnish cinema began. The film scene was dominated by Orko and Toivo J. Särkkä, another filmmaker-producer who worked with his own company, founded by Karu, Suomen Filmiteollisuus. Orko, also a brilliant cinematographer, made such comedies as Siltalan pehtoori (1934, The Intendant of Siltala), which was a huge success with the public, and Jääkärin morsian (1938, The infantryman’s wife), building an elegant and ‘golden’ cinematic world reminiscent of that of a filmmaker like Ernst Lubistch. But he also directed, together with Särkkä, Aktivistit (1939, Activists) about a Finnish nationalist subversive group of the turn of the century, a violently anti-Russian film, which was banned after the war, just as the analogue Helmikuun was banned after 1945. posters (1939, The February manifesto) by Särkkä and Yrjö Norta, based on a screenplay by the celebrated writer Mika Waltari, which tells of the struggles of the Finnish nationalist-independence movement. Särkkä, a prolific director who won the favor of the public, produced and often wrote, in the period between 1935 and 1963, 233 feature films of which 49 with his direction, all works of honest craftsmanship, solid writing, often sugary,
Limited to the thirties was the work of a figure who became legendary in the cinema of Finland, that of Nyrki Tapiovaara, who began as a theater critic and director, and, before his untimely death at only twenty-eight years, he made some films, including Juha (1936), the thriller Varastettu kuolema (1937, Morte rubata) and the unfinished Miehen tie (1940, The journey of man), which revealed an unusual creative energy, a strong lyrical and sensual charge, a daring rhythmic treatment and of temporal fragmentation, all qualities that have made him compare to an equally brilliant filmmaker with a short career as Jean Vigo.
War scenarios and an epic representation of war on the one hand, rural life and the feeling of nature on the other are the themes with which Finnish cinema has always measured itself expressively, achieving significant results, as in the celebrated Tuntematon sotilas (1954 ; The Unknown Soldier) by Edvin Laine, from the novel by V. Linna, which stages the tragic nature of the Second World War, following the vicissitudes of a group of soldiers crudely; while Ville Salminen in Evakko (1956, Exile) reconstructs the tragedy of Karelia, the disputed region between Russia and Finland dramatically affected by the events of the conflict, later also recounted in Talvisota (1989, The Winter War) by Pekka Parikka,
The attention to light and the Finnish landscape runs through a whole pastoral tradition of Finnish literature starting from the 19th century, and the novels of writers such as A. Kivi or FE Sillanpää are the basis of numerous films that fall within the conventions, including the melodramatic – sentimental and naturalistic, of this typology. In this context, Valentin Vaala distinguished himself among the directors for his capacity for amiable humor on the model of René Clair or Frank Capra, in films such as Juurakon Hulda (1938, Juurakko’s Hulda) or Gabriel, tule takaisin (1951, Return, Gabriel). The arcane sense of the frozen landscape of Lapland, combined with a story of spell and witchcraft, is at the center of a singular film, awarded in 1953 at the Cannes and Karlovy Vary Festivals, Valkoinen peura (1952, The White Reindeer), directed and photographed by Erik Blomberg. The transposition, made many years later, into the sensual exteriors of a summer in the Finnish countryside of a famous Brechtian play, Herra Puntila ja hänen renkinsä Matti (1979, Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti) by Ralf Långbacka, proved to be curious.. During the 1940s and 1950s, between fifteen and twenty-five titles a year had been made in Finland, and in the following decades, as television took hold, the number of films plummeted to six to twelve a year.. Nonetheless, 113 films were made during the 1960s, but in 1974, in full production crisis, only two were made. The situation only improved in the 1980s,
Between the 1950s and 1960s Matti Kassila directed a series of detective films based on the character of Commissioner Palmu, inspired by Maigret’s Simenonian model, but two of his ‘Bergmanian’ films imbued with dramatic sensuality are more personal: Sininen viikko (1954, Blue Week) and Elokuu (1956, August). Maunu Kurkvaara’s films have been combined with the atmospheres of Michelangelo Antonioni, such as the sophisticated Rakas (1961, Tesoro) and Yksityisalue (1962, Private property). But the Finnish author who, especially in the seventies, in his works took up and developed the lessons of filmmakers such as Bergman or the French ones of the New Wave was Jörn Donner, critic and co-founder with Aitö Makinen of the Suomen elokuva-arkisto (Archive of the film Finnish) in 1957;
In the sixties and seventies the talent of the filmmaker Risto Jarva emerged, too soon crushed by a tragic accident in 1977. He was able to create a very personal, lucid and critical cinema, with a disenchanted and corrosive approach that brought him closer to the Nouvelle vague and the trends that they were linked to this movement in Eastern European cinemas. Films such as Yö vai päivä (1962, Night and day), directed with J. Pakkasvirta, Onnenpeli (1965, Game of luck), Työmiehnen päiväkirja (1967, Diary of a worker) or the science fiction Ruusujen aika (1968, The time of rose) are meditations on the ambiguity of human relationships as well as ruthless analyzes of different social realities. Between the seventies and eighties many directors staged dark atmospheres of alienation, nihilistic variations, acid descriptions of metropolitan environments, disturbing psychological labyrinths, urban intrigues populated by outsiders, apologues steeped in sarcastic pessimism: from Mikko Niskanen, with his work Kahdeksan surmanluotia (1972, Eight deadly blows) on the typically Finnish plague of alcoholism, to Pakkasvirta with the reduction of the obsessive Kafkaesque novel in Linna (1986, Il castello), to the films of Tapio Suominen, Ilkka Järvi-Laturi, Anssi Mänttäri, Pauli Pentti, Pekka Lehto, Lauri Törhönen, Taavi Kassila, Juha Rosma. These are the same atmospheres and the same themes that, with particular flair and personality, characterized the filmography of the authentic revelation-directors of Finnish production in the Eighties and Nineties, Aki Kaurismäki, and his brother Mika: the first declining a world suspended between black despair.