At the cinema Cinema

He-Men go to war

Take 300: a mixture of one car commercial/remake director, one sexy ‘graphic novel’ (from the creator of Sin City), spiced up with a few speeches about freedom, and served lukewarm with IMAX-tailored cinematography. The result: a product that even the creators refer to as the ‘300 experience’ rather than calling it a film.

Director Zack Snyder (of Dawn of the Dead-remake fame) remakes Gladiator and Sin City at the same time and casts snarling action figure Gerard Butler as the take-no-shit Leonidas, the king of the Spartans and patron of chiselled abs. And when Snyder expands Frank Miller’s original comic book by adding a political intrigue sub-plot, where limp-wristed liberals do their worst to hinder the brave Spartans from beating the hell out of a force of million Persians lead by the enigmatic Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), it’s hard not to start seeing this as a republican wargasm film. But maybe drawing such conclusions from this film are uncalled for, since 300 is pure entertainment, which does not concern itself with depth.

After such a my critical onslaught, it has to be said that 300 is nonetheless a fast-paced yarn and a stunning visually: every shot is a piece of art, sometimes directly lifted from Miller’s source work and the battle scenes are, at their best, breathtaking. Still, it’s hard to care for any of the two-dimensional characters and the end result is ultimately unsatisfying: this is combat pornography, where you can fast forward the boring bits and watch spears pierce flesh and blood-spattered man-flesh gleam. Which makes watching 300 like watching somebody play a game on a super-charged game console rather than sitting at the cinema.

At the cinema Cinema

A forbidden affair

follows the complicated love-story between
Mikko, a middle-aged professor of literature (Kari Heiskanen) and his star pupil, the quiet, epileptic Sari (Krista Kosonen). Sari’s condition has
caused her to retreat from normal life, while Mikko’s fascination with 19th century
poetry is slowly alienating him from his family and colleagues; that is, until
the kindred spirits meet and begin their forbidden affair. The relationship
naturally causes a lot of friction, but Mikko and Sari manage to stick together
until the world accepts them, at least to some extent.

Visually, Saarela’s film is top-notch: Helsinki, for once, actually
looks like it’s a part of Europe and the
cinematography is captivating, especially when complemented by Tuomas Kantelinen’s beautiful score. Overall
the acting is decent, although Kosonen at times has trouble with the demanding
role, and it shows – luckily Heiskanen is usually there to pick her up. Worse,
the last third of the film gets confusing as a lot of plot lines are
artificially smoothed over (or ignored entirely), making the film seem like it
was wrapped up haphazardly and in a hurry.

{mosimage}It’s not that Suden Vuosi is a bad film, far from it – it’s just that its story
and style once again have difficulties keeping in synch with each other,
resulting in a film that builds up a lot of steam but ultimately falls flat
since the low-key story does not seem to demand such grand, over-the-top
imagery – like a faculty christmas party that looks like a rave (those classic
literature people sure know how to par-tay)
or a dramatically-lighted, erm, poetry lecturer doing push-ups – it’s just completely
out-of-place and silly, Aleksi Mäkelä
style. Somebody please get Saarela an honest-to-god action/thriller film to
direct – I want to see him do the Finnish Last
Boy Scout
, so just give the man a script.

Cinema Features

A turning (Doc) Point for documentaries lovers

Of this year’s two featured countries, the
Danish series focuses on the rise of Danish cinema with the likes of this
year’s esteemed IDFA winners and films from the two generations of Leths, Jørgen, the celebrated film-making
father and Asger, his son – both of
who are also attending the festival this year – while the Viva México! series showcases the past and present of Mexican documentary
film with astounding new titles and rare treats.

Other series include a selection of
brand-new Finnish documentaries (see below), the Winners & Bestsellers series
for, well, bestsellers and winners, an all-encompassing retrospective to the
wonderfully colorful filmography of Oscar-winning (Fog of War) American documentarist, Errol Morris and a whole lot more – go to to get the complete
listings. Fiction is going down – get the facts!


The FREE! Three for
DocPoint 2007:

Jukka Kärkkäinen:
Tupakkahuone/Smoking Room (2006), 57

Of all the fine Finnish documentaries on
show, FREE! picks out Kärkkäinen’s hauntingly beautiful film
portraying Finns of different ages and in different situations as they reflect
their life in the quiet solitude of a smoking room at work, in a hospital and
on a train. Ascending a simple portrait documentary, Kärkkäinen takes his film
beyond its simple surface, turning the smoking room into a confessional where
the bittersweet collage of life, like the smoke from a cigarette, slowly twists
and turns on itself before dissipating into nothingness. Tupakkahuone is one of the most stunning Finnish documentaries in
years, being simultaneously timeless as well as sharply freeze-framing a moment
in time. All Finnish documentaries are shown with English subtitles.





Errol Morris: Vernon, Florida
(1982), 55 minutes.

{mosimage}Even though the entire Errol Morris retrospective
could be categorized as ‘must-see-cinema’, for sheer absurdity, the pick of the
litter has to be his second film, Vernon, Florida. Focusing
on the eccentric denizens of the titular town, Morris lets the citizens do
their own talking – and the things they talk about truly make Twin Peaks seem not that
far-fetched after all. Among other things, God, the meaning of the word
‘therefore’ and the finer points of turkey hunting are all discussed, making Vernon
the oddest slice of the American Pie on show at this year’s DocPoint. And with Jesus Camp on the menu, that’s not bad
at all.



Juan Carlos Rulfo: In the Pit/En el Hoyo (2006), 85 minutes.

{mosimage}Rulfo’s film follows the lives of a number of construction workers
building a gigantic elevated expressway in Mexíco City, a veritable microcosm revolving
around hard physical labor. The construction site is a place where lives are
lost, deals are made and life discussed in abundance, as Rulfo holds his focus tightly
on the working lives of a few men, almost shutting out the massiveness of the construction
site and the hubbub of the surrounding mega-city. In addition to its wonderful
ambient soundtrack, In the Pit features
breathtaking cinematography, as Rulfo takes his camera on top of the girders
and to the bottom of the pits where his characters work creating an intimate connection
to the nature of work, which is then generously complemented at the end of the
film with a magnificent tracking shot that captures the impossible magnitude of
the project and hammers the film into its context like nothing you’ve ever seen.

DocPoint: 24th-28th
of January in selected theatres around the city, single tickets for €6,
screening cards for 33€/50€.



At the cinema Cinema

Borat: the Comedy of Superiority

{quotes}Part Jackass, part Andy Kaufman, Sacha Baron Cohen is clearly a man who thrives on controversy, but to label him as a low-brow shock comedian is to miss the point.{/quotes} Yes, Borat is outrageous, tasteless and at times unbearably embarrassing to watch, but at the same time, intelligent and above all, pant-pissing, ‘tears-streaming-down your-cheeks’-class funny shit. Nothing is sacred, when Kazakhstan’s "number two reporter" is sent on a cultural fact-finding mission to the most superior nation of them all, the U.S and A.

On the surface level, Cohen’s comedy is based on blatant anti-semitism, misogyny and so on, but the punch line is delivered seemingly spontaneously by the unaware victims of Borat and the unashamed gut-laughter caused by the blatant breaking of convention. And that takes us back to superiority, something that Borat teaches the viewer quite a lot about.

{mosimage}Because of Borat’s bumbling social and physical clumsiness, people get a kick out of dismissing the Kazakhstani reporter as being mostly harmless and therefore must pay the price for their superiority, as Cohen mercilessly exploits all possible cracks their facades. The absurdity of the situations, and the way in which Cohen satirizes the patronizing attitudes which people have against a foreigner and his complete disregard of convention, makes for a type of comedy where the viewer can either writhe uncomfortably out of sympathy or laugh out loud while secretly enjoying a “I’m glad it’s not me” feeling of superiority for the poor victims of Borat’s bizarre deeds. The joke in Borat gets turned around so many times that the full title of the film turns from surface-funny bad English-joke to a very accurate description of the film: After all, the viewer does learn a lot about the American culture, and the nation of Kazakhstan has never in its history enjoyed such international fame – for, even though the Kazakhstani government got very upset, there is no such thing as bad publicity, as Matti Nykänen or Paris Hilton can confirm.