Saturday, 10 July 2010

If You Love - ponderings on musical drama

Yesterday I bought a DVD copy of Neil Hardwick's musical "If You Love". A friend of mine, with whom I shared formative years at Birch Village, where a great part of the film was cast, recommended the film to me. I didn't remember to go and see it at the movies. Now it entered my life at the point when I am writing my own multicultural drama. Glad I saw it, glad to have shared it with a local of that landscape- but I also have some critical comments to make:

1. Starting from the obvious: the film openly criticizes, in my opinion in a classical leftist way, the contemporary polarisation of class divides in Finnish society, and plays on old leftist classics, such as the key tune "If You Love". It really tries to make some political points, but fails to convince anyone, when you read from the cover that it's been sponsored by Hesburger, Oriflame, National Lottery etc. The presence of the sponsors in the film was too obvious, leaving the viewer with very little imagination to fill the gaps.

2. I felt empowered by the way Hardwick sees Birch Village. His way of playing with the locality was one of the strongest points of the film. I believe it's a continuing prose poem to a landscape that rarely gets positive attention in the media. I used to live for two years in one of the monstrous towers the film portrays (the red student house, not the Blue Gazebo), but as the scenes have been filmed on sunny summer days, they really don't bring the worst out of the "hoods". There's a lot of light and hope in the imageries. If compared to some other recent films and TV series depicting Finnish suburban life (Jari Tervo's Mogadishu Avenue, Johanna Vuoksenmaa's Nousukausi), this film doesn't exoticize the "hoods" or make them look more miserable than they are in real life. Hardwick actually humanizes Birch Village. But upon doing this, I believe he uses very conventional methods that point out towards middle-class tastes and values. There is an artsy red-haired auntie living in the Blue Gazebo of Birch Village, but when the film shows her apartment from the inside, it looks rather like a posh loft apartment in Eira. In real life, Birch Village apartments do have grey plastic floors and worn-out beige cupboards. I would have preferred to see a bit more of the council house aesthetics in the film. (The African restaurant scene was, on the other hand, the most beautiful scene in the whole film, and the only passage where I truly enjoyed the stylicization. I would love all our suburbs to have restaurants like that!)

3. A lot of the dancing was just crap. No need to explain this any further.

4. The history of Finnish pop/rock music appeals to Finnish audiences, but very little to the "Mamus" who have not lived here long enough to witness that history. Because the film has a strong multicultural theme, I would have wanted the film to show more of the multicultural realities of the people. In this case, it would have required some further studies on Nigerian aesthetics. If the people in the film have real Nigerian names, then there should have been more cultural details. The love couple's meeting remains now a bit shallow. In real life, people discuss the cultural differences in vivid details, and these discussions can be empowering.

5. I also felt that there were too many songs, introduced in a chaotic and haphazard manner. My favorite musical scene was Afia's performance of Eppu Normaali's "Joka päivä ja joka ikinen yö" on a typical Birch Village playground. That scene spoke to me deeply. It showed the possibilities of hybridity, performed in a creative manner. A lot of the other music and dance acts left me cold.

6. There is a big difference between commercial films and artsy films. Kaurismäki films mainly employ character actors, who may not be the prettiest and sleekest in physical appearance. "If you love" employed many kinds of actors, some of whom shone out with their outstanding personality (for instance, Mervi the single mother nurse), but others were cast only on the basis of good looks (Ada, the main character). The migrant actors definitely beat many of the Finnish ones. Ada and her blonde friends were a great disappointment. Tony (Chike Ohanwe) was promising in his debut in the film world, and I would love to see him in a completely different role in the future. Romantic Romeo role is not the ideal role for him. He is too talented to play that kind of role.He would do better in a more ironic role.

7. I would like to know how much Hardwick has been watching Bollywood films as of late, and how much of that tradition he thinks he has introduced to the Finnish cast. I see a very strong Bollywood component in the film, and cannot compare it with any other experiences of watching (European) musicals. But then, in Bollywood there's a certain degree of professionalism, which was absent in this film. I was very puzzled about the genre, and cannot yet say if the puzzlement is positive or negative. 

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