Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pohjalaisia / The Bothnians (Finland, 1925)

A rural melodrama that stood well the test of time. Indeed, the impact it causes nowadays is even bigger than in the past. This film having been made already at a time when Hollywood was at the height of its art in the silent era, reflecting transformations brought by urbanization and progress, this film remains a valuable witness of a way of life gone long ago.
Having been able to build up an unique cultural patrimony, Finland has always had a very characteristic way of life, not being so much similar to its Scandinavian neighbors. Having been part of Russia until late 1910s, back to 1925, they have been an independent country for less than 10 years. Nevertheless, despite their close cultural and political contact with Russia, they got to retain their own culture. As in neighbor countries, most people lived in the countryside and peasants had their own values and beliefs. Regardless of peaceful place, there were a plenty of political conflicts and people had their share of problems.
The film portrays the conflicts of free peasants and Russian rulers. The wounds of their recent Civil War were still very recent and political conflicts and resolution of traumas among country population were still an issue back to 1920s. Russian authorities were also displayed as disrupting the tranquil, honorable and free way of life of Finnish peasants, representing the voice of oppression over those good people, who would not allow their honor to be stained so easily.
Nevertheless, despite all suffering brought by the authorities, we can see the fields, forest and nature represent spaces where the freedom of people could not be taken by anyone. They were spaces were people could feel happy without fear, being directly connected with God, with their values, honor. The interaction with nature as a whole was perfect, almost sacred. This can be reflected even in the beautiful and strong religions ethics of people and in the solidarity among themselves. This is a somehow idealized portrait, even though it's not entirely distant from reality. Just a way to paint reality with a more beautiful paint, but a realistic one somehow.
Somehow we can remember of the "good country people" being so many times portrayed in American life and literature, but with a very important difference. The peasant and rural way of life was already changing little by little in main American cities back to 1920s, while it was much more untouched in Scandinavia at the same decade. Thus, this film, rather than being a reconstruction of a country life that was starting to face, was in fact a witness of how people actually lived. This is something that brings a realism to this film that is impossible to be ignored. The nostalgia it inspires is something that only increases the high emotional impact of the film in the audience.
However, the audience must pay attention to one thing that might be one of weakest points of the film: There are many characters, all of them are important to the development of the story. It's important to pay attention to their names and in some of their personality traits, otherwise it becomes difficult to keep track of the plot.
For non Scandinavian audiences, not only the time references are different, but also cultural references are quite different from what they are used to, which sometimes gives the impression that people are watching a "folkloric" movie.
But, once again, what makes a film like that so special? After all, back to the silent era, in many countries the majority of population lived in the countryside and rural areas. Consequently, rural values were still nationally and culturally valid, opposite to urban values that were considered alien and even somehow wicked. An example this thought can be seen even in the more-urbanized United States in its film Sunrisea song of two humans, directed by F. W. Murnau, which was made in 1927 at the very end of American silent era.
It has been said that urbanization has begun relatively late in Finland in comparison with most Central European countries. So, the production of films emphasizing rural values, considered legitimate among most of population members, was also a way of praising their own national values and at the same time discussing themes that many people would feel related because it was part of their daily lives. We must also not forget that manual work was still very much present in the lives of people in the entire silent era compared with subsequent decades.
Although it is a melodrama in all senses, acting is not very stagy and it is even subtle and natural at some moments, despite some other moments of acting that resemble the stage. However, the performances have a natural effect in the overall, specially in comparison with some films made in Denmark and Russia back to 1910s, which had a much more stagy acting.
All in all, this film stood well the test of time and its appeal just gets bigger. It is a must see, specially when compared with Hollywood films of the same era. Both Scandinavian and American silents are very good and it is very fun to compare them both and see their similarities and differences.

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