Film - Tove

On now at BFI Flare: London LGBTQI+ film festival, Tony Cross declares his love for Tove...

Tove is a Finnish/Swedish film, written by Eeva Putro and directed by Zaida Bergroth, about Tove Jansson, best known in the UK for her Moomin books.

Let us cut to the chase. I loved this film. It may be that it arrived at the perfect time because, a year ago, I was only passing familiar with Tove Jansson. I knew what the Moomins were, but I’d never read a Moomin book. They passed me by as a child and now I am a man. And I have put away childish things. Except, obviously, I haven’t. I discovered Tove Jansson through an excellent podcast about books, called Backlisted. They did an episode about Moominvalley in November. It made her work sound fascinating and her life even more so. Since then, I have read six Tove Jansson books and I have on my shelf, nine books by or about Tove Jansson waiting to be read. I have, if truth be told, fallen a little in love with Tove Jansson. So, you couldn’t have picked a better time for this film to pop up at the BFI Flare Festival.

It tells the story of part of Tove Jansson’s life. Her childhood is alluded to and her sculptor father, Viktor Jansson (played well and without frippery by Wilhelm Enckell), features occasionally. Mainly to be THAT artist father that seems unable to give praise to their artistic child, which sets up a scene near the end of the film that made me cry and wonder how the world of the arts would miss the drama of fathers unable to emotionally connect with their children.

This is not, however, the story of Viktor Jansson, but of Tove. At the beginning of the film, she is trying to find her way as an artist. Played superbly by Alma Pöysti, whose performance is the strong centre to the film it then tells of her life until she meets Tuulikki Pietilä, another artist. Tuulikki Pietilä was, after they first met in 1956, to become the Tove Jansson’s partner until Jansson’s death in 2001. The story only briefly touches on this though at the very end.

Tove Jansson was bisexual. The film also features her relationships, first with Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), a political philosopher and then with Vivica Bandler (Krista Konsonen), a theatre director. There is a lovely scene in a restaurant where after sleeping with Vivica for the first time, Tove tells Atos that: “I have found a new room in an old house…I mean the house of the soul.” Written down it just doesn’t have the – and I’m stealing a phrase from the young. Hi there fellow kids! – feels that it does in the film. These relationships form a key part of the film, but also there is how Tove Jansson found her art and if you have an interest in art then you’ll probably find this film a fascinating watch. The way that the personal affects the art and the need to be an artist affects the personal, which applies to both Tove’s relationship with her lovers and with her father (with his own artistic drive playing into that.)

The film does play around a little with the timeline, which is to be expected. At least from my understanding and it obviously chooses to focus on some parts of her artistic life versus others. You get a sense of her becoming a success as a cartoonist, but that’s never the centre of events. The relationships and the personal are. It is hard to get the balance right with films about artists and I’m sure there are more films to be made about Tove Jansson as artist and there are already documentaries out there.

The centre though are the performances and the trio of central performers - Alma Pöysti*, Shanti Roney, and Krista Konsonen – are all superb. The way they convey their emotions without looking like actors acting is great. The regular reader of my review will have noted how much I love performances where the emotion can be felt without the acting being on show and this is film is packed with them. Weirdly too I found myself thinking I’d seen Krista Konsonen in something else and it was driving me mad until I realised that the 40s and 50s fashion combined with something in her face reminded me of Sean Young as Rachel in Bladerunner.

But I have banged on enough. I loved this film. It manages to tell an interesting story and wears its artistic pretentions lightly whilst allowing actors – particularly Alma Pöysti – to show what they can do.

If you get a chance, see it.

I even love the poster.

* A very weird personal digression. I think Alma Pöysti, based on this, would make a fantastic incarnation of the Doctor. If the BBC were ever to go completely off piste with their recruitment.

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