Sunday, August 29, 2004

Tango movies

Here are two tango-related movies, both directed by Aki Kaurismäki:Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö (Match Factory Girl), 1990, stars Kati Outinen as a young girl who has a rotten job in a match factory, supporting her useless parents. She goes to a dance where Reijo Taipale sings the classic Finnish tango Satumaa. The words are on the lines of "there's a beautiful fantasy land far away, and I can't get to it." Nobody asks her to dance. Later she meets a chap, who gets her pregnant, then doesn't want to know. Everything goes downhill from there. At the end, when her world, such as it is, is completely destroyed, Olavi Virta, generally regarded as Finland's Carlos Gardel, sings Kuinka saatoitkaan? (How could you?). "You've destoyed the flower of love with your hard eyes and chilly smile." A depressing film. Industrial archaeology buffs will enjoy the shots of old matchmaking machinery. You can see I'm struggling to be positive here.

Mies vailla menneisyyttä (Man without a Past), 2002, is much more uplifting. Markku Peltola stars as a man who loses his memory after a vicious mugging. He is befriended by a poor family who live in what appears to be an abandoned container. But with no name, and worse still no social security number, he cannot find a job. Fortunately the Salvation Army helps him, and he even finds love, with Kati Outinen. Their awkward, almost silent courtship (they are Finns after all) is a delight. The tango comes in when he decides the Salvation Army band needs to update its repertoire with something more modern - such as tango. They play Pieni sydän (Little Heart). Veteran tango star Annikki Tähti sings that the human heart is a small object, but it can hold huge quantities of love, passion, etc.

Tangos appear as background music in some of Kaurismäki's other films, such as Varjoja paratiisissa (Colours of Paradise), a romance between a dustman and a checkout girl (Matti Pellonpää and Kati Outinen).

Two films by Aku Louhimies have tango episodes. Levottomat (Restless) has the shortest ever at about 28 seconds (1 hr 36 min 43 sec into the film), with a tango played at a wedding party. This is rudely interrupted when it is discovered that the hero, played by Mikko Nousiainen, has been bonking not only the bride but also the vicar (who is a woman, in case you were wondering). The director's wife, Laura Malmivaara, also stars as the hero's long-suffering girlfriend.

Laura Malmivaara also stars in Kuutamolla (By Moonlight) as a married woman who still carries a torch for a tango dancer she once met in Buenos Aires. Deleted scene 16 "Rome and Buenos Aires" is longer, better, and has more tango content than the sequence actually used in the film.

I once said that I had seen a non-subtitled version of Tango Kabaree and that I found it utterly incomprehensible. It is now available on DVD with English subtitles.

It has been described as Finland's answer to "Moulin Rouge". Both are set in theatres, and both have tall, slim, beautiful, red-haired heroines. Both are surreal, one more so than the other.
Directed by Pekka Lehto in 2001, the film tells of an impresario, played by Martti Suosalo, who wishes to produce a show "Tango Kabaree" on the life of dancer and model Aira Samulin, still at the top at the age of 73. Aira is successful and well-loved, but there have been much sadness in her life as well. Her father was killed during the war, her little sister died in infancy, the family home was overrun by Russians, her daughter (played by the real-life Pirjo Samulin) has a mental illness - but the impresario wants to cut all this out and concentrate on the happy stuff. Naturally Aira is not pleased at the sanitisation of her life.There is plenty I don't understand. Why is there an antique steam train in modern Helsinki? Who's the scruffy guy in the stovepipe hat? What's the significance of the giant fibreglass seahorses? Not an awful lot of tango music - there is probably just as much 1970's disco. Recommended for those who like things a bit weird.

All these films are Finnish language with English subtitles.


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