Anastasia Lapsui’s and Markku Lehmuskallio’s retrospective

The Finn and the Nenets, Markus Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui are an original team as filmmakers as well as in life. The World Film Festival has had in mind for a long time to invite them as the main guests of the yearly retrospective and we are very happy to have them with us this year.

Markku Lehmuskallio’s work as a filmmaker has a life of its own. However, we have chosen not to present it but to concentrate on the team’s productions. Their work is diverse and our retrospective will focus on their cooperation and on its evolution throughout the years, and the experience achieved by different kinds of films.

A peculiar feature of their cooperation is that it encompasses both documentary and feature films, of which some are quite successful internationally too. In this retrospective, we will attempt to give a hint of both genres and to reflect on Lehmuskallio’s and Lapsui’s approach to both. We are limited in our choice of films by the length of their productions, which does not allow us to show an extensive selection of their films. Their cooperation started with documentaries, which was the genre Markus Lehmuskallio had been formerly practicing. Among the many documentaries they have made together, we chose to screen Anna, a documentary about a Nganasan woman. Although the Nenets are the main focus of the team’s interest, they have also been looking at other communities, and not only at Russia’s peoples of the North (which in our selection is represented by the Nganasan, another of Russia’s Arctic communities, whose experiences are different, in some aspects, from that of the Nenets).

The reason why the Nenets are the main focus of their work is easy to understand, as Anastasia herself is a Nenets. She has lived through her people’s harsh experiences in the 20th century. Is it under Anastasia’s impulsion that the team has moved towards feature films? However, at the moment they occupy a significant place in their common productions.

Their first experience will be represented in our retrospective. Seven songs from the tundra is a fragmentary poem composed by seven “songs”, real songs as frames for different stories, each of them representing one aspect of the Nenets’ collective experience. Their voices are plural, sometimes even discordant, and create a multifaceted universe. Poetry is certainly a key-word in this film as well as in all their works; there is poetry in the composition, in the texts, in the camerawork. It is one of the main features of their filmic language, as it was already the basis for Lehmuskallio’s work since the beginning. We cannot show the whole film, and are aware that thus we  lose something important. Nevertheless, we would lose more in ignoring the couple’s first steps in feature filmmaking, which was to become so important in the years to come.

While most of their work is deeply rooted in a recognisable reality, A Bride of the Seventh Heaven explores other paths, turning to a reality of another nature: the imaginary and spiritual one, which is indeed as real as the rest, while perhaps its language is not as universally understandable at first sight. “A Bride of the Seventh Heaven” is an intriguing film, one that leads us into the meanders of the Nenets worldview as it is experienced in their everyday life, and brings it to the surface.

For every Nenets child school is a turning point. Whether the memories are traumatising, as in the case of Anastasia Lapsui (and many other children), or less painful, life changes radically with school: it’s the time of separating from one’s parents, from the tundra, from the reindeer and from movement, and the time of discovering indoor life, immobility, an alien language, unintelligible rules and strange food. The filmmaker’s own experience was referred to in the “song” about school. It has been lately expanded into a whole film, Pudana, Last of the Line.

Both these very different films will be part of the retrospective and work as the material that will help us understand Markus Lehmuskallio’s and Anastasia Lapsui’s view on documentary versus feature films: how their feature films are richly documenting and their documentary films richly poetic, and how this makes us feel that the border between the two is blurred. Still, feature films require directing in another way, as one has to work with actors. Lehmuskallio’s and Lapsui’s actors are all non-professional Nenets who are required to play roles different from the one’s in their own lives. How this work is done and how it has transformed with experience are among the questions we shall discuss with the filmmakers during this retrospective.

Eva Toulouze