BFI Flare Festival 2021: Tove

Another film that I was especially keen to watch at this year’s BFI Flare Festival was Tove, a biopic about Tove Jansson who is known as the creator, author and illustrator of the Moomin book series. Directed by Zaida Bergroth from a screenplay, written by Eeva Putro, the film follows Tove (Alma Pöysti) and her life before and during her success as an artist. Her turbulent career as a traditional artist and her reluctance to follow in her father’s footsteps brings in a lot of initial problems. A chance encounter with aristocratic theatre director Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen) at a gallery opening sparked a love affair between the two women and a friendship that would last through their lifetime. Tove was entered by Finland for the Best International Film Award at the upcoming Academy Awards but sadly did not make the shortlist. This is such a shame as it is a very strong film that deserves to have a wide audience.

Zaida Bergroth’s direction is brilliantly as we become immersed into Jansson’s world at the end of the Second World War. With sole focus on Jansson, there are no scenes in which she doesn’t grace the screen ensuring that the audience really is seeing the world through her eyes. The screenplay by Putro is beautifully paced and gives an in depth glance into one of Finland’s famous figures. Tove is a film that doesn’t force the events to happen to its protagonist but simply let them happen naturally as the film unfolds. Feeling natural and authentic, the minimalistic approach has sprinkles of absurd moments such as the first moment of the film where we see Tove dancing to jazz music by herself. This film paints the perfect picture of an author who has inspired and captivated many throughout the world.

Alma Pöysti’s performance as Jansson is fantastic and reminded me a lot of Marion Cotillard’s performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose in that she drives the film and elevates the whole experience. Pöysti is captivating from the very first second you see her onscreen to the last thanks to her layered characterisation that showcases her inner conflicts with both her art and personal life. There is no doubt that Jansson was most comfortable when able to express herself how she wants and so she surrounds herself with the people and art that are going to allow her to do this. Blasting jazz music and working tirelessly on her Moomin universe, Jansson seemed to be an otherworldly creature and Pöysti pulls this off. Pöysti doesn’t overplay the character nor does she force the emotions to come to the surface. What makes her performance so special and unique to watch

Krista Kosonen is great in support as Vivica Bandler, the woman who stole Jansson’s heart. Initially paying for Tove’s services to design a party invitation, the relationship between the two women quickly evolves to a romance that becomes turbulent over the years. Kosonen is a great onscreen partner for Pöysti and the scenes between them are filled with tension and chemistry. Whereas Tove is more introverted and working endlessly on being accepted by the City as a certified artist, Vivica is extroverted and confident in herself. Initiating the relationship with Jansson, Bandler’s portrayal is one of manipulation and mixed signals as Jansson doesn’t know what to expect when she next sees her. Kosonen portrays Bandler as hard to read and unpredictable and the status of their relationship propels the film’s events forward as they work together on adapting the Moomins for the stage.

One thing that stood out to me in this film was the score and soundtrack. The original score composed by Matti Bye is beautiful and unpredictable and reminded me a lot of Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread. Bye’s score works so well as it reflects the turbulence and conflict Tove is feeling and rises it to the surface. The classical sound contrasts with the soundtrack choices which contains a lot of jazz music. This chaotic mix of classical and jazz only serves to highlight Jansson’s own position as a child of prominent, traditional artists whilst also remaining progressive in her style and refusing to conform who live to the expectations set out for her.

Overall, Tove is an exceptional film that does a great job of showing Tove’s struggle to be seen in an industry that is dominated by men that also rely on the traditional aesthetics. Tove is often known for her work on the Moomins and while this aspect is shown in the film, the central focus relies on Tove as a person first. Pöysti’s performance is fantastic and should be discussed widely as it is a true tour de force. She becomes Jansson and pulls it off with ease that we forget we are even watching a biopic.

Tove is showing at this year’s BFI Flare Festival.

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