Michael Hayward's Blog

Review: "Tove" at VIFF

Michael Hayward

There's a brief film clip at the end of Tove, which plays while the credits roll, showing the real Tove Jansson, dancing outdoors with abandon and smiling at the camera, looking as if she is completely in love with life. In all likelihood the camera was being held by Tuulikki Pietilä, Tove's lifelong partner, and the footage was likely taken on Klovharun, the rocky islet in the outermost archipelago of the Gulf of Finland, where Tove and Tuulikki spent their summers for many years. The path to this idyllic setting, and Tove's contented relationship with Tuulikki, was not without its emotional upheavals and professional disappointments, and it is this tumultuous period which is covered in this 2020 bio-pic of Tove Jansson's life, directed by Zaida Bergroth.

Viewers attracted to Tove will most likely already be fans of Tove Jansson's Moomins, the vaguely hippopotamus-like creatures who featured in nine books for children, published between 1945 and 1970, and in a popular series of comic strips that appeared in newspapers all around the world (the Moomins have also inspired a Finnish theme park, Moomin World). True fans of Tove Jansson and her Moomins, though, will know that Jansson also wrote for adults—short stories, novels, memoirs—all of which are available in English translation, as is a collection of Jansson's letters and a full-length biography, Life, Art, Words, written by Boel Westin.

Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1914, into a family of artists. Her father was a sculptor, and her mother designed postage stamps, among other artistic endeavours. "In my family we always feel sorry for those who aren't artists." Tove herself had ambitions to be a serious painter; the Moomin characters began simply as figures that she drew to amuse herself and her siblings, with the various Moomins based upon family members and friends. But it was the success of the Moomin books, with their air of mild melancholy, and their wisdom, that finally allowed Jansson the freedom to live the independent and creative life that she had long sought.

In the period of Jansson's life covered by Tove we see Jansson struggling to make a name for herself as a painter in post-war Finland, caught up in the bohemian lifestyle of her circle of fellow artists: frequent parties, drinking, dancing to jazz in unheated lofts. She begins a long affair with Atos Wirtanen, a married politician several years her senior; later she becomes enthralled by, and then seduced, by Vivica Bandler, a theatre director, also married. "I believe that life is a wonderful adventure. One should explore all its twists and turns." It is the emotional highs and lows of these two significant loves which form the heart of the film.

The casting and performances in Tove are spot on, with Alma Pöysti playing Tove Jansson, Krista Kosonen as Vivica Bandler, and Shanti Roney as Atos Wirtanen. If you're at all a fan of Tove Jansson's work—or if you'd just like some insights on how best to navigate the ups and downs of a complicated love life—you'll want to catch Tove on the VIFF Connect streaming app, where it is available until August 12th. See here for more information, and to purchase tickets.



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