Jack Witikka – Aila – Pohjolan tytär AKA Arctic Fury (1951)

A precursor of sorts to The White Reindeer (1952), featuring the same female lead, Mirjami Kuosmanen, and the same cinematographer, Erik Blomberg, who was Kuosmanen’s husband and went on to direct as well as shoot the later film. Disappointment in this film was one of the reasons that led Blomberg and Kuosmanen to make The White Reindeer as an independent production. The film’s nominal producer was Michael Powell, but in fact the production was supervised by John Seabourne (for some reason billed “Jussi” Seabourne in the opening credits), a close friend of Powell’s and the editor of many of the Powell & Pressburger classics of the 1940s. The male lead is played by Tapio Rautavaara, a popular athlete-turned-actor and world champion in javelin throw and archery (suitably enough for a Powell production). Along with the recently deceased Matti Nykänen, Rautavaara was also the only world champion sportsman in Finland to have crafted a successful career as a singer. His singing is not featured in this film, however, which has a score consisting of orchestral pieces by Jean Sibelius (used with the composer’s permission).

Description of the film from the Finnish Film Archive’s page (with some modifications and additions):
Aila – Pohjolan tytär (“Aila – Daughter of the North”) started out as an ambitious production, designed to be the first international success in Finnish cinema. The director of the film was Jack Witikka, who had a background in the theater and opera but had also studied film-making in England. It was there that had got to know Michael Powell and convinced him to be the producer of his first feature film. The film’s working title was Arctic Fury and it was to be set in Finnish Lapland, at that time much more isolated from the rest of the country than it is today – thus practically guaranteeing an uneasy production. The film’s shooting was delayed, many of the actors were changed, and the collaboration between the film’s co-writer, co-producer and cinematographer Erik Blomberg and production supervisor and editor John Seabourne wasn’t too harmonious. In the end the film wasn’t even distributed to the Scandinavian countries, and although Michael Powell received the distribution rights for the rest of the world, he apparently never made use of them.

By the time the film had its premiere late in the winter of 1951, most of the people involved had lost their enthusiasm for it, in particular Erik Blomberg, who later went on to write: “Somehow the film turned out to be a shoddy compromise: neither this nor that. I could see where the film was heading even while the shooting was going on and decided to withdraw from any financial responsibility. I did of course finish the cinematography and Mirjami [Kuosmanen] played her part, but that was it.” Blomberg also said that it was the disappointment in the finished film that led him and Kuosmanen to make The White Reindeer (1952), which turned out to be everything that Aila was meant to be: an artistic triumph and an international success both in cinemas and in the festival circuit.

In spite of Blomberg’s disappointment, the film’s reception in Finland was by no means disastrous. It was criticized for its story and dramaturgy, but also lauded for carrying the story forward mainly with images and music. The film has exceptionally little dialogue, only about 80 lines. Blomberg had already enchanted viewers and critics with the Lapland-themed short films he had made with Eino Mäkinen – Porojen parissa (“With the Reindeer”, 1947), Kultaa ja hiekkaa (“Gold and Sand”, 1948) and Lemmenjoelta (“From Lemmenjoki”, 1948) – and he won the Jussi prize for his cinematography, as he would do a year later for The White Reindeer.

The film’s plot is very simple. Aila, a reindeer herder’s daughter, and Reino, a reindeer thief, are attracted to each other and become secret lovers. Aila’s father catches Reino stealing reindeer and goes after him, resulting in a fight during which Reino stabs him to death. This in turn leads to a confrontation between Aila and Reino, which leaves both of them lying on the crust of snow, just a few feet from each other. Some contemporary critics compared this depiction of mad love to David O. Selznick’s epic western Duel in the Sun (1946), directed by King Vidor. Although the lavish production in blazing Technicolor couldn’t superficially be further away from the small-scale black and white film set in Lapland, the final insane shoot-out between Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones is remarkably similar to the corresponding scene between Reino and Aila. It’s not likely that there was any direct influence, however, as Duel in the Sun didn’t have its premiere in Finland until five years after it was made – coincidentally on the very same date (23 February 1951) as Aila did.

While the story itself is very basic and straightforward, it’s framed in a narrative device that’s somewhat peculiar and can even be described as postmodern. The film is narrated by an external character, an American writer of Finnish origin called Harm (originally Härmä; the voiceover is provided by actor Matti Oravisto, who would go on to narrate another troubled production set in Lapland, Teuvo Tulio’s Sensuela). The narrator doesn’t only tell us what he sees but actually makes up the whole story while observing Aila and Reino and even feels sorry for leading the two characters to such unfortunate situations. The result is a seemingly simple but actually complicated story that makes it impossible to know how much of it is the lovers’ truth (or, indeed, if they actually are lovers) and how much a figment of the sensation-hungry writer’s imagination.

1.31GB | 1 h 11 min | 768×576 | mkv

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Language:Finnish, Sámi
Subtitles:English

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