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Friday, May 27, 2022

Rooms available in the house of the soul

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Long after she became world famous as the inventor of Moomin, when asked about the origin of her characters, Tove Janson replied, “Although I am a painter at heart, in the early 1940s, during the war, I I felt so desperate that I started writing fairy tales.

It is almost fitting that Finnish director Zaida Bergroth begins her film biography “Tove” with Janson, played by Alma Pöysti, drawing a Moomin figure sitting in a bomb shelter in 1944 and finally walking through war-torn Helsinki.

From the beginning, phrases from the first Moomin book “Moomin’s Long Journey” are heard: “It must have been sometime on an August afternoon when Moomin and Moominmother reached the thickest part of the jungle. (…) Giant flowers grew here and there, giving off a peculiar light, like flickering lamps, and in the distance, little icy green dots moved through the shadows.”

Tove Janson was Finnish and wrote in Swedish

Soon after, Tove, now 30, is seen sitting with her parents, drawing again, and her father says, “It’s not art.” In just a few shots, Bergroth reins in one of the themes of Janson’s life: her conflict of wanting to be primarily a painter, but not being able to leave caricatures and writing behind.

Bergroth traces Janson’s transformation into an artist, primarily in dark, brown, and yellow-tinged images. This was at a time when Tove, who was born in 1914 as the daughter of a sculptor and an illustrator, had found her calling, only without much success or steady income.

The fierceness with which Janson defends himself against his Moomins (“I draw them for money to live on”) is somewhat irritating. When Tove tells the story, he had already written three Moomin books and gained recognition abroad; As a member of the Finnish-Swedish minority, Janson wrote in Swedish, which is why his books were not translated into Finnish until the 1950s.

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However, Janson’s life as an artist and the post-war life of bohemian Finns are only the second clue that Bergroth’s film follows: the focus is on Tove’s relationships with author and politician Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney).

And on the other hand to the theater director Vivica Bandler, who comes from a rich family, and who allows Janson to recognize his sexual orientation. Bandler is one of her great loves. But Wirtanen, although still married, wants to marry Tove. He is still lazy, especially after his first night with Vivica. As he eats, she tells him, “I have discovered a new room in an old house.” And he, irritated: “Ah, do you mean Morocco?” – “No, I mean the inner room. The house of the soul.”

Tove often utters such floaty, metaphorical phrases. The dialogues, based on Eeva Putro’s screenplay, which Tove’s niece Sophie is said to have co-wrote, are among the film’s best qualities.

calming the uncertainty

They give their heroine her own character, sometimes dreamy, in her quest for artistic and sexual self-determination.

Especially since Tove’s language is also reminiscent of the mood of the Moomins books, which is always slightly threatening, despite the comedic nature of the characters. What is perhaps Janson’s most famous joke from the “Winter in the Moomin Valley” volume called: “It’s all very uncertain, and that’s what I find soothing.”

Then it’s back and forth with Vivica Bandler, played in a brilliantly superior way by Krista Kosonen, who goes to Paris, has other love affairs, but also can’t part with Tove, who finds her way more and more.

At the same time, Bergroth subtly sprinkles other Janson biographical milestones in his film: the commissioned job as a mural painter, the Moomin play staged by Bandler in 1948 at the Svenska Teatern in Helsinki, the meeting with a publisher of the ” Evening News” in London, with whom Janson signed a signed deal for weekly comic strips, making her financially independent.

That in the end Tove’s future partner, Tuulikki Pietilä (Joanna Haartti), gets her first appearances and that the difficult relationship with her father after his death is clarified with a touch of kitsch, that’s too good. Neither the stories of the Moomins nor the life of Tove Janson were real fairy tales.


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