HELSINKI, FOREVER (A City Symphony)

An unexpected gift arrives in the mail: a subtitled preview of Peter von Bagh’s fabulous and rather Markeresque documentary (2008)—a lovely city symphony which is also a history of Helsinki (and incidentally, Finland, Finnish cinema, and Finnish pop music) recounted with film clips and paintings by three voices (two male, one of them von Bagh’s, and one female—each one reciting what seems to be a slightly different style of poetic and essayistic discourse). There are no chapter divisions on this DVD, and the continuity is more often geographical than chronological, although there’s also a lot of leaping about spatially as well as temporally. At separate stages we’re introduced to the best-ever Finnish camera movement and the best Finnish musical, are invited to browse diverse neighborhoods and eras (and to ponder contrasts in populations and divorce rates), and are finally forced to admit that a surprising amount of very striking film footage has emerged from this country and city.

Peter von Bagh—prolific film critic, film historian, and professor, onetime director of the Finnish Film Archive and current artistic director of two unique film festivals, the Midnight Sun Film Festival (held in Sodankyl√§, above the Arctic Circle, during what amounts to one very long day in the summer, when there’s no night) and Il Cinema Ritrovato (held soon afterwards, in Bologna)—is the man who convinced me to purchase my first multiregional VCR in the early 80s. So he has a lot to answer for, including my DVD column in Cinema Scope—the most recent of which I’ve just turned in. I’m sorry that my online Finnish isn’t good enough to fathom when (or if) it might be possible for you to order Helsinki, Ikuisesti on a commercial disc or see it at a festival; but you should watch out for it whenever or however it comes your way. [2/20/09]

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