Longing for Beauty March 30, 2010

After seeing the film by Stella van Voorst van Beest, called Prisoners of the Ground, it seemed to me that Finland is very far from Estonia. Although Estonia is not so far to the south it is still a full ‘enjoyment’ for our northern neighbours to have such a phenomenon as a polar night depression, and the remedy for it – singing tango in a karaoke bar – as we saw in Stella's film.

Her film was at the same time very funny and very sad. Her subject – the polar night – is a gloomy one; fighting with loneliness in dark winter nights is not easy. At first, I didn't quite understand whether this film was about Finnish tango, the polar night, karaoke or something else; but all together it seems to me to be a film about loneliness. The life stories that unfold in front of the viewer are tragic. The melancholy music of tango brought the film’s message out loud and clear. Finland has a long winter indeed, and longing for the sun and happiness is great. Then again, as it was a documentary, it would have been nice to see, as counterbalance, some of the positive side of Finland, for example the Finnish summer when sun does not go down at all.

I would have liked to see some images from that summer, which is really gorgeous. The 88 minute film concentrated totally on the dark season and only at the very end did summer begin and we saw some yellow rape fields. There was a longing for the sun and the beauty in the cinema hall too. Of course it wasn't a film by a Finnish tourist company, but rather the creation of a filmmaker. It is just that at some moments, I had a similar feeling to that experienced when reading Sami Lotila's stories in the Iltalehti: please, give us a little happiness!

The filmmaker had included a lot of time in the karaoke bars, but it looked somehow quite depressing, as I looked forward to see more beauty specially in the presentation of the tango singing. These places are not all as dark and desperate as they seemed in the film. Whenever I go to Finland, I try to go to some local karaoke bars. I especially recommend one called Satumaa (Fairy land), next to Lasipalatsi [film and media centre, Helsinki]. Despite the desperate image that the film presented of these places, one can meet really nice people there, and of all ages, not only old people. Even professional singers go to karaoke bars to relax.

Tango is the most beloved music style in Finland and has a strong position in society, which also came out nicely in the film. Perhaps the best description of it is given by the owner of one of the Finland's biggest dance halls. He said that Finnish people can dance to any kind of music, but when the orchestra starts playing a tango, there is a sudden change on the dance floor and the real dancing begins. Another interviewee said that she just isn't a friend of quick songs.

After what I have said until now, one might think that I didn't like the film, but this is not true. The film had much to be cheerful about. The greatest value of the film might be that the filmmaker made people talk and open up. This was fantastic! The camera work was also magnificent. Some images were so absurd that it made the viewers laugh, even when it seemed there wasn't much to laugh about. Many things were so tragic that they seemed comical. The image from a courtyard of the red house where a man had made big palm trees was more telling than a million words. This artist had also created many animals to go in his savanna, made out of old pieces of iron and other junk. Despite that fact that it seemed not all of his Moomins are in the valley, I still believe he is a very intelligent and talented man.

By the way, artist's name is Alpo Koivumäki and you can read about him in Finnish, as well as see pictures of his garden, on this web site.

To conclude, I would like to mention that the film had proudly included the lyrics of tangos. Although they might have seemed a bit strange in the English version, those who know a little Finnish could also enjoy that part of the film. It would be interesting to see the film on Estonian television, because Estonian, which is related to Finnish, might communicate the message of the lyrics more precisely.

Mika Keränen