A SUMMER BY THE RIVER
DIRECTOR: MARKKU POLONEN
COUNTRY: FINLAND 1998
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Kari Sohlberg
MUSIC: Vesa Mäkinen
CAST: Pertti Koivula, Simo Kontio, Esko Nikkari, Peter Franzen, Sulevi Peltola, Vesa Makela, Heikki Kujanpaa, Hannu Virolainen, Ilkka Koivula, Anu Palevaara
SUPER FEATURES: The scenery and the story.
(Seen at the 22nd Portland International Film Festival, in Portland, Oregon)
It's nice when one bumps into a film like this, without knowing what to expect. One comes away relieved that in a Film Festival that sometimes has too many pointed films, there is at least one that is not pointed, as much as it is NICE, and the film has no pretentious to be anything nicer than what it really is. A nice film.
A SUMMER BY THE RIVER, is the story of Tenho and Topi, father and son during one summer when things got specially harsh for them. Tenho's wife died, and he did not have enough money to pay the rent and has to leave for the country, in order to find work for himself and probably the boy. As it turns out, this particular summer is the one that anyone could hope for, and both gain a lot from it. But the life in the country is not easy. Probably the only jobs around are those of lumberjacks, and they do not have it easy in the new place they end up at. Tenho, being a city man most of his life is not exactly liked by all the other lumberjacks, and he is picked on for a long time, until he ends up proving his metal is actually much stronger than some of the others. This finally makes him a member of the group, as the season is coming to an end.
The lumberjacking job is not easy. They have to guide many of the logs as they move downriver. And these crews have their share of problems. Immediately, one man decides that Tenho is a pain and he tries all he can to make Tenho look bad. But Tenho doesn't quit. Pretty soon he is starting to get everyone's respect, as he is not afraid to work a little harder than many of the others. And towards the end of the summer, he has gained the acceptance of the lumberjacks, as they leave for the season, probably to return next year.
Amidst all this, is the young man, who befriends an older lumberjack who acts as an adviser and senior in the crew. It's on his advise that things get done. And Hannes is full of stories, and tales about the woods, and the work. And here we find is the greatest part of this film. Everyone of the lumberjacks gets his five minutes to talk about his story. And what a toot they all are. These, pretty much make the film a lot of fun, and almost make the story secondary, even though all these stories are intrinsically tied to the work that they are doing. It is what made "men" of them, and has allowed them to be selected for yet another summer of work. That Tenho gets hired is a lark, more than anything else. It's the son that the man is after, someone to do the medial small tasks during the summer, and for that the father ends up coming along.
The story goes along rather well, and is getting to be fun the more we sit through the film. And, eventually it has to arrive at a stop. This one here is a town, that happens to dislike the lumberjacks, presumably because they come in taken on the women and often leave with them. One of the town's rich boys decides that it wants to make things worse for the loggers, and he does, but not enough to prevent a party from busting up into one of the most fun things that you will see in a while. The failed musician brought along to entertain the group, finally gets his spot light and he makes the most of it. And Tenho gets the chance to dance with a girl he has met, who has become attracted to him, probably because it is her one chance to get out of the place she is in, if not meet someone else other than those around her, whom she does not like. Her father has her earmarked for the kid that is better off, but she doesn't like him.
A very beautifully shot film, that really brings out the country side in Finland in the summer time, it is also a film that has excellent music all
through out, and very well done moments. One never gets the feeling that the camera is doing better than the actors, or the actors doing better than the scenery. It all fits together nicely.
The most satisfying thing in this film is the excellent direction and care that each character is shown. They are all one of a kind, and their tales
demonstrate it. And the funny stuff is so well balanced into the mix that one will not leave the story or film behind. One will not find many films so well thought out and defined. And this should be a tribute to a director that knows what he is doing and can match all the moments at the right time. We never get a chance to get bored with the logs, or the work. Something is always popping up. Of all these, the old man Hannes is special. His character is so beautifully defined and done, and a tremendous joy to watch and appreciate. Acting rarely touches that kind of smoothness.
A very good film, extremely enjoyable and beautifully done. hard to find faults in this film.
4.5 of 5 GIBLOONS
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