Magic Lantern Goes Nord

I’ve been on the mailing list for Scottish Screen‘s Roughcuts newsletter for several years now, and never really done a lot with it other than occasionally apply for jobs advertised, and covet attending film festivals and screenings that I never get round to attending. Lately however, I’ve been trying to go to more events though mostly I’m thwarted by the short notice on screenings (or screenings that start too early for me to get to without leaving work an hour early), occasionally I’ve even been successful. Having a fondness for short films the Magic Lantern programs at the CCA on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow seemed an obvious choice. I keep forgetting but on Wednesday I managed to get myself along to one of their screenings. The latest screening had a decidedly Nordic feel with films from Swedish, Danish and Finnish directors who are (mostly) better known for their full-length features.

Talk, Lukas Moodysson (Sweden, 1997)

Judging from the discussions during the interval this director was the main draw for many of the audience not having seen the director’s best known work Lilya 4-Ever I can’t comment on how it correponds with that work, but from what I heard from the rest of the audience it wasn’t entirely favourable. However without having that comparison I found the film an enjoyable if uncomfortable experience dealing with what the director describes as “a certain kind of Swedish loneliness”.

These Boots, Aki Kaurismäki (Finland, 1992)

The first of two short films by Aki Kaurismäki, part of his Leningrad Cowboys, series is a strange little film about the history of Finland between 1950 and 1969 seen through the eyes of the (originally fictional, though now real) band The Leningrad Cowboys set to their version of the song from which the film takes its title. I must admit that these were both the initial draw for me in attending and in the end my favourites out of the films shown. Having written about his brother Mika Kaurismäki’s first film The Liar/Valehtelija at the end of last year, I was informed separately by two Finnish friends that for all Mika is better known internationally, Aki was considered the better film-maker in Finland. So I rather wanted to see something by this brother for comparison. These probably weren’t technically the best choices for comparison, but they were quirky and endearing, so I if this is an indication of the rest of his work then I can see why it would form its way into an audience’s affections; they certainly wormed their way into my affections.

Karin’s Face, Ingmar Bergman (Sweden, 1986)

Without doubt the most famous of the directors featured in the screening, the last film of the first half is a highly unusual little film. Made entirely from shots of old still photographs of the directors relatives from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Personally I have a great fondness for photography, so I find old photographs fascinating in their own right, so the attention to little details of objects and the expressions and gestures of people within the images was rather pleasing to my eyes. The film has minimal narrative and the piano soundtrack is equally sparse; the main thread which holds the film together is his mother, the Karin of the title, and her changing face. Initially she seems to have a pretty if rather ordinary face, but as the film continues and little snippets of her personality is revealed, perhaps as a product of the obvious love that has been put into this, she becomes somehow more beautiful, even as her face changes with age. As though the audience is truly seeing through the director’s eyes, seeing how beautiful she remains to him.

Those Were The Days, Aki Kaurismäki (Finland, 1992)

More of a music video than a narrative film but nonetheless entertaining, as the Leningrad Cowboys sing the title song, one of their number attempts to find a bar somewhere in Paris that will not turn away him and his Donkey companion. In the context of the wider screening it was a rather necessary light relief in view of the more serious films that would follow it.

Something Happened, Roy Andersson (Sweden, 1987)

Although at 24 minutes Something Happened is the longest film included in this program, the film begins by telling it audience that it is incomplete, a work in progress never finished. Originally funded by the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare, it was intended to be part of the ongoing debate on the Aids epidemic. Unrelentingly bleak and cynical about life and the establishment, the board withdrew funding, however the film was still released in its permanently incomplete state. Admittedly an intense and determinedly pessimistic about the incompetence and cynicism of the scientific  establishment there are nonetheless some interesting points and some dark (really dark at times) humour.

They Caught the Ferry, Carl Theodor Dreyer (Denmark, 1948)

The earliest of the short films by almost 40 years, They Caught the Ferry can probably be best described as the Danish version of those Public Information Films American and British film makers are so fond of pastiching. A cautionary tale of the dangers of excessive speed at a time when Denmark’s roads had no speed-limits, it follows the tale of a young couple who set off from one Ferry at great speed intending to catch another some 70km away. Along the way they determine to race with a strange black car that also came off the same ferry; one driven by a strangely skeletal figure dressed in black…

The skeletal driver of the other car bears a striking resemblance to Lon Chaney, which added greatly to my own enjoyment of the film (‘enter the dastardly villain bringing doom to the unsuspecting couple!’) as soon as he appeared. Apparently Dreyer wasn’t a fan of the short film form, seeing it only as a means to an end of supporting himself between feature projects.

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