Love & Anarchy in Helsinki: 5 film reviews

This year Helsinki International Film Festival aka Rakkautta&Anarkiaa hit the city for the 29th time. Its math (probably, the only kind of math my mind can embrace) was impressive: 11 days, 8 movie theatres, over 180 full-length films, over 160 shorts, 500 screenings, almost 60000 visitors.

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Photo: hiff.fi
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Screening at Savoy Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva

Those days were busy. Processing and pondering over what the directors wanted to tell us became everyone’s healthiest habit. I watched five international movies and three Finnish ones, therefore, had eight tiny brain explosions, a few eye rolls, some goosebumps, mute gasps and not so mute giggles. No popcorn.

I am not exactly a professional movie critic. But sitting back in the darkness of the movie theatre (3d row is the best) everyone is entitled to have a humble opinion. Heads up: all the movies were great and the festival program was impeccable. Still, I enjoyed each of them for the different reason:

Ants On a Shrimp (Maurice Dekkers, 2016)

Food doc charged with testosterone

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Photo: hiff.fi

Food documentaries are fun. Food documentaries about the Michelin-starred restaurants are double fun. Food documentary about the Michelin-star restaurant that is also The Best Restaurant in the World 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 AND run by a bunch of handsome, determined, charismatic, tattoed guys is triple  quadruple fun.

If you are not from the North of Europe then Noma might sound to you like a random dissyllable word, nothing more. If you are – then it sounds like a table you’ve been dreaming to book for the past few years. So, kids, once upon a time, Noma’s chef and co-owner, René Redzepi, decided to move the whole restaurant, all its staff and (I assume) trillion of kitchen knives and frying pans all the way from Copenhagen to Tokio. Just for the sake of stepping out of his comfort zone and a healthy challenge. The grande pre-opening madness is what we see on the screen for the next 88 minutes, and, to be honest, this madness is captivating.

Noma’s biggest problem was not Japan or absence of a common language, or even the kitchen in the basement of a skyscraper. It was a complexity of perfection, the curse of being the best and the pressure of matching expectations (if I am correct, from the moment they opened reservations in the Mandarin Oriental 58000 people booked a table instantly). To watch how those guys comb out the local markets, farms and Nagano forests in pursuit of new ingredients, while the clock is ticking, is as exciting as to watch Tolkien’s ring quest.

In the end, Japanese guests get an insanely elaborated tasting menu (like, if Tim Burton had a hand in it), including a black garlic flower shaped as origami, sake rice dessert, monkfish liver toasts and ants on a shrimp (literally). And we get an insightful story about the nature of a team and how to spin failures into victories.

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Great moment when René Redzepi opts for white unripe straweberries, much to the consternation of the local farmer. Photo: hiff.fi
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Entrée: Ants On a Shrimp. Literally. Photo: variety.com

More about my love towards documentaries (the art ones) here.

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies, 2016)

Poetry And The City

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Photo: hiff.fi

Watching a biopic of 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson is like holding one of the petite handbound booklets that she had been creating in the silence of her room. There is nothing of a major scope happening on a screen: a life of a family passing within the walls of a mansion in Amherst, Massachusetts, and yet, there is a quiet rebellion, quiet frustration and yes, a very quiet passion.

Dickinson was a very prolific poet, who got published barely a dozen times while alive. All her story is the story of being trapped by the circumstances (sick mother, the Calvinist doctrine of “the original sin”, own frail health) and deliberately choosing complete physical seclusion from the outside world, only accompanied by her intellectual soulmates – sister Vinnie, brother Austin and his wife Susan. There was a lot of speculation about Dickinson’s lifestyle: a woman in white who talks to the guests from behind the door. Almost as much speculation as it was about her powerful, mantra-sounding, unique poetry after she died and 1800 poems were discovered. Some of them Cynthia Nixon, who portrays Emily Dickinson, reads behind-the-scene.

And speaking of sins, not original, but rather viewer’s sins. Amazing blue eyed Cynthia Nixon has over 70 roles in her filmography, yet, during the first hour “A Quiet Passion” it was so hard not to see Miranda, hear Miranda or think of Miranda Hobbes from HBO series. I just hope that I was not alone, who looked at her character and expected that any second Emily will close her sun umbrella and shoot out something, like: “I drink coffee, have sex, buy pies and enjoy battery operated devices”(c).

It is a horrible thing to confess, I know.

Kiki, Love to Love (Paco León, 2016)

All well that ends with fiesta

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Photo:hiff.fi

Seemingly ordinary people with ordinary lifes, tiring jobs, kids, dogs and morning coffee have fetishes. All kinds of fetishes.

Like a master of ceremonies, Paco León introduces us to “dacryphilia” – pleasure from the tears and sobbing, “eliphilia” – sexual arousal by high-quality fabrics, “somnophilia” – a sleeping princess syndrom , “polyamory” – desire for intimate relationship with more than one partner, “harpaxophilia” – being turned on by life threatening situations, and “dendrophilia” – let’s call it a tree hugging. Sounds like a taboo and no-go, right? And that is precisely, why all the main characters feel like the outcasts and just watch how their lives and relationships slip through the fingers.

But its Spain, after all. Emotional, gesticulative, with street fiestas and spontaneous heart-to-heart conversations. So yes, you feel a bit of tears and lots of empathy, but most of the screen time…you just smile. The cast is amazing, the soundtrack makes you want to kick off your shoes and dance off head. What’s more, it feels like a glass of fruity sangria on a hot-hot-hot day in Madrid. Refreshing, slightly intoxicant and relieving, ’cause, hey, it seems like everyone has skeletons in their bedroom closets. And in “Kiki, Love to Love” all those skeletons come out and get a chance to live happily ever after.

Bottoms up to a perfect world!

Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2016)

How to become a Poet: instruction manual

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Photo: hiff.fi

Poets should be a bit hungry, occasionally homeless and permanently agitated. Young Alejandro Jodorowsky, portrayed in this movie by his son – Adan Jodorowsly, runs away from parental narrow-mindness and walks the streets of 1950s Santiago with a black scarf around his neck and Pierrot melancholy in his eyes. His life takes a sudden turn after in a Cafe Iris – Chilean capital also had its mini Montmarte – he meets a woman in a leopard coat, with flame-coloured hair and yellow breasts. Stella Diaz Varín feeds on fried empanadas and litres of beer and becomes his muse in an unusual way: by unintentionally making Alejandro understand that the poet should not become anyone’s mirror. Even hers.

If you ever watched Jodorowsky or read Jodorowsky before, then you (like me) might have expected “Endless Poetry” with a certain tension in the area of heart and stomach. False fears, ’cause as the critics put it “this movie is the most accessible movie the director has ever made”. Second it. This is a visually saturated film, with too many shots worth putting in a frame, including the Cafe Iris ambiance or the final scene of departing to Paris. Of course, there are Taro cards, little men, surreal deaths, disturbing sex scenes and political critique – that was expected. But there is also certain tenderness and warmth of human contact, and this is something new. To me, it explained an applause after the final credits.

The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016)

South Korean visual stew. Caution: spicy

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Photo: hiff.fi

A short prelude: I read Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith” – the book that inspired the movie. Watched “Fingersmith” BBC mini-series (2005). In other words, I knew the plot and, oh boy, how I envied those who did not! So, absolutely no spoilers below.

“The Handmaiden” is beautiful, disturbing, occasionally funny and consistently refined, if one can put all these adjectives in the same sentence. Comparing to the original, everything here is a bit over the top: would it be sex, or cruelty, or jealousy. With the help of some no-nonsense budget the notorious genius of modern South Korean movie-making, Park Chan-wook, teleported all the characters from Briar and London to the 1930s colonial Korea. He also alternated the book plot and omitted a big deal that just made the whole story more dense, more steamy and more spicy, like one of the Korean traditional stews. My personal “thank you” goes to Park for casting a debutant Kim Tae-ri – a South Korean version of Susan, whom he chose among 1500 candidates. She is charming beyond definition.

To me, this interpretation of a Victorian-set drama is superior to the original: the book becomes painfully slow-paced after Part 1. The BBC mini-series adopt the same rythm. But with “The Handmaiden”, even if the plot looses its tightness – you just sit back and watch. Watch the perfect porcelain face of Lady Hideko, the cherry tree swinging its branches, the lights going on and off in the windows of a labyrinth-like mansion, the emerald green dress, the white grain of rice. And the remaining tension you can scoop with a tea spoon and savour, like a custard tart. In London manner.

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Photo: hiff.fi

All in all: Love & Anarchy, you rock, you love and you rebel! Your Christian name defines you perfectly…

Ksenia Kosheleva / Ксения Кошелева

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