SFIFF offers an all-too-rare opportunity to appreciate Finnish cinema
With its portrait of a well-intentioned but reckless, none-too-bright, alcoholic, eventually suicidal and family-endangering character — one that, by the way, the imprisoned real-life model found painfully accurate when Niskanen showed him the film — the black and white film finds pathos in protagonist Pasi's steady march toward disaster. He's too weak to save himself, yet a society in which a small-time farmer can no longer support his loved ones is as much to blame for his downfall as the hooch brewed in a tub in the forest.
The supporting performances (many cast with nonprofessional residents from the shooting locations) can be amateurish at times, but Niskanen's own central turn is pretty epic. So is the drama he ekes from the minutiae of rural life — a scene of Pasi coaxing his stuck horse out of a snow drift takes on an urgency that could only be earned by a movie that's made clear just how few resources (animal, vegetable or mineral) this family has.
Expected to be an 80-minute feature, Shots instead wound up being a TV miniseries. (It was later edited down to a two and a half hour feature that's considered inferior.) It was wildly praised by everyone, even the country's president. But the much-married, restless Niskanen never experienced such success again, gradually falling into depression and self-pity as various ventures failed to put him back on top. As von Bagh's own three-hour TV documentary about the late artist makes clear, he was a very complicated man. But no doubt in Finland, like everywhere else, the really creative people are usually a little bit mad.
MEL NOVIKOFF AWARD: AN AFTERNOON WITH PETER VON BAGH
May 4, 3pm, $14–$15
EIGHT DEADLY SHOTS
May 5, noon; May 7, 12:15pm (includes 10-minute intermission), $10–$15
1881 Post, SF
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
April 25-May 9, most shows $10-15
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