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Translation done by Kate Lambert
Aila, Pohjolan tytär
From: Finnish National Filmography
Source: Kari Uusitalo (ed.), Suomen kansallisfilmografia (The Finnish National Filmography). Helsinki: Finnish Film Archive. Edita 1989-1999. 1951/5
Working title: Arctic Fury
Producers: Erik Blomberg, Michael Powell, Jack Witikka
Director: Jack Witikka
Script: Erik Blomberg, Jack Witikka, John Seabourne
Director of photography: Erik Blomberg
B-photographer: Auvo Mustonen
Sound: Harald Koivikko
Editing: John Seabourne
Set: Jack Witikka
Music: According to the records of the Finnish Composers' International Copyright Bureau, Teosto, the film used only orchestral versions of Jean Sibelius' music as follows:
Concert series Stormen (The Tempest), opus 109,
Prelude, Berceuse, Humoresque, Prelude and Miranda, total 9'06";
the tone poem Barden (The Bard), opus 64, total 6'22";
the tone poem En Saga, opus 9, total 3'37";
4 legends from the Lemminkäinen suite, opus 22, total 5'27";
symphonic fantasia Pohjolan Tytär (Pohjola's daughter), opus 49, total 7'05".
Photographic secretary: Lilli Witikka
Tauno Rova (guide for photographic team)
Narrator: Matti Oravisto
Mirjami Kuosmanen (Aila)
Tapio Rautavaara (Reino)
Hilda Pihjalamäki (Morokka's mother)
Anton Soini (Morokka, Aila's father)
Jalmari Parikka (Shopkeeper)
Tauno Rova (Sami)
Ale Porkka (Sami)
Mogens Wieth (Harm, American writer)
Utsjoki, banks of Tenojoki river, Outakoski (reindeer round-up), Enontekiö: Hetta Norway: banks of Tenojoki river Studio:
Fenno-filmi Oy's studio (Pieni Robertinkatu 12 - 14, Helsinki)
Filmed: March - April 1949, End of Winter 1950, Summer 1950
Film: Black and white
Laboratory: Suomi-Filmi Oy
Sound system: Aga-Baltic
Inspection number: 3465
Inspection date: 11.1.1951
Tax category: Vv (free of tax)
Age limit: 16
Length/duration: 2,100 m/77 mins
Width: 35 mm
Inspection number of trailer: 3468
Inspection date: 18.1.1951
Tax category: 15%
Age limit: S (universal)
Length: 60 m
Width: 35 mm
Distributor: Suomi-Filmi Oy
Premiere Helsinki: 2.3.1951 Gloria
Other key towns: 23.2.1951 Pori (Kino-Palatsi); 25.2.1951, Kuopio (Scala); 2.3.1951 Tampere (Kino-Palatsi); 4.3.1951, Jyväskylä (Elohuvi); 11.3.1951, Lahti (Ilves), Oulu (Aula); 1.12.1954 Vaasa (Ritz) Audience figures: Eki 300 (141/159) Awards: A Jussi award for Erik Blomberg's photography, 1951 Performance rights: Erik Blomberg, Jack Witikka
The narrator of the story introduces himself as American writer Harm, whose surname was formerly Härmä. His parents were born in Finland and after the war he has decided to get to know the land of his forefathers. At the March reindeer round-up '500 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle' he introduces the main characters of his story, the subjects of the 'tragedy which is to develop': Reino is a hunter, originally from the south, while Aila is the daughter of reindeer herder Morokka. There is an erotic and conspiratorial tension between them: Reino is a reindeer thief and Aila is aware of this but has not betrayed him. The morning after the reindeer round-up Aila leaves for a five-day trip. During the journey her sleigh tips over and the reindeer runs away. Trudging through the snow she is caught in a storm and falls. Reino is travelling with his reindeer and when the storm abates finds Aila buried under the snow. He takes Aila to a deserted hut where the girl revives. During the night they become lovers. In the morning men arrive at the hut, headed by Aila's father. Reino is not there and his dog is shot. Aila explains the situation to her father.
A few weeks pass. The writer is a witness to an incident in the village shop: Aila is shopping with her father. Her father wants a good rifle but can't afford it. Reino comes into the shop and trades furs for the rifle. He also chooses a scarf which Aila understands is intended for her.
Against the warnings of her grandmother Aila goes to meet Reino. She takes him a puppy and receives the scarf in return. Reino says he will be leaving to do his work as soon as the snow storm starts. Aila asks him to stop stealing reindeer and declares her love for him.
Aila's father catches Reino red-handed and shoots him but Reino escapes in a sleigh. During the chase Aila's father catches up with Reino who manages to stab him with a knife and escapes to his cottage. Aila finds her father wounded, covers him and rushes to Reino who she also finds wounded and bandages him with her scarf. She returns to her father to find him dead. With the rifle in her hand she skis after Reino who has lost his skis in his flight and is stumbling along the side of the fell, often falling into the snow. Aila catches up with him. With the last of his strength Reino shoots her and she shoots back. Both fall to the ground and remain lying motionless a few metres away from each other.
Due to the participation of Englishman Michael Powell in the production of the film and its intended foreign distribution, Aila - Pohjolan tytär attracted much attention and expectations. Reviews were varied, some surprised, and often contradictory.
'Aila - Pohjolan tytär is an event of a very special quality in the history of Finnish film, perhaps it could even be termed a milestone' began Juha Nevalainen (Ilta Sanomat). 'The film observes a principle which is most natural, original and effective, in that it lets the pictures do the talking. There are very few sound effects in the film and even the music has been used sparingly.'
'Cinematography is all about telling a story with pictures' emphasised O. V-ja (Aamulehti) 'but for the director as well as the actors this presents major, new and surprising difficulties which are clearly visible here, especially when the plot is very simple and straightforward (?) Jack E Witikka's style of direction is long drawn-out and slow, often pictures just for pictures' sake, which considerably prolongs the time it takes for the events to unfold, making great demands of the patience of the audience, especially towards the end when they must start getting bored with the winter landscape. Consequently the result is an excellent anthropological description of Lapland, but it does not allow the events to become a believable tragedy.'
'Above all, Aila is significant for its stunning photography,' agrees P. Ta-vi (Helsingin Sanomat), although he complained that 'the basis of the story itself remains poor and one-dimensional, instead relying on the effect of the setting and the atmosphere itself (?) The film had the potential to become an event which would have interested a wider audience, even in Finland, had the narrative had more pace, better tempo and had the story itself been developed or maybe even expanded to a certain extent.'
Erik Blomberg's skill as a photographer was returned to again and again. 'The strongest parts of the film are the documentary sections which provide a visual, artistic depiction of life and the environment in Lapland,' wrote H. K. (Huvudstadsbladet). 'The introduction is magnificent, absolutely impressive (?) Here Erik Blomberg's camera artistry culminates in several series of pictures with herds of white reindeer against white snow under a sparkling sky.' 'The most bewildering aspect is Witikka's direction,' thought I.E.L (NP). 'Once more events drag themselves along with nightmare-like long-windedness, again and again it jumps over the links which would bind it all together' the photography is the best thing in the film.'
Most reviewers praised the casting and the cast, although some mentioned Mirjami Kuosmanen's 'posing' in some close-up shots. According to O. V-je (Aamulehti). "Mirjami Kuosmanen is lively and has been photographed skilfully, but her low key acting fails to create the atmosphere of a fateful tragedy.' "her unique appearance makes Kuosmanen ideally suited to play Aila' (?) just as Tapio Rautavaara is ideal for the role of Reino the robber hero. His sturdy masculine expressiveness is a particular advantage in conveying these 'unspoken feelings', while similarly Hilda Pihlajamäki's monumental face wordlessly conveys the sense of a wise old woman.' B. Tavi (Helsingin Sanomat).
In 1947 Erik Blomberg had made a short film about Lapland with Eino Mäkinen entitled Porojen parissa, which won that year's Jussi award for short films. Jack Witikka (until 1942 Jakobsson) spent some time in the late 1940s working as head of advertising for Paramount Films' Finnish office and as assistant director at Parvisfilmi. In 1949 he obtained a contract to direct the Finnish Opera and this was the subject on which he directed his first short film Ennen ensi-ilta (1949) - photographed by Erik Blomberg - which won a Jussi award.
In 1948 Witikka accepted British film producer and director Michael Powell's invitation to find out about the British filmmaking industry. In winter 1950 Witikka persuaded Powell to promise to be one of the producers of his first feature-length film, a drama set in Lapland, once more to be photographed by Blomberg. Powell helped him to obtain cameras and got Dane Mogens Wieth to join the cast and the Englishman John Seabourne to supervise production and edit the film.
'Without Powell's support this project would never have got off the ground,' said Witikka in December 1991.
The film was filmed in Lapland in March - April 1949 and in the early spring of 1950. In 1949 the cast included Eino Jurkka and Sakari Jurkka. However, the former was unable to remain in Lapland until the end of filming and so was replaced the following winter by Anton Soini. The final version did not include either of the two.
The script, entitled Arctic Fury, was written jointly by Witikka and Blomberg and was modified during filming. The first version had almost no lines for the cast and even the final version contains only 80 speeches. The name of the female lead was changed from Leila to Aila and the family's surname from Erkkilä to Morokka, while the name of the male lead switched from Antti to Reino. The narrator was an entirely new addition in the form of an American writer (Mogens Wieth) whose narrative voice-over was performed by Matti Oravisto. John Seabourne (known as 'Jussi' in Finland) was also involved in amending the final script.
Seabourne was Michael Powell's long-time friend and colleague of whom Powell wrote in his autobiography A Life in Movies (1986) 'John was the most talkative'. BIG QUOTE ABOUT SEABOURNE' up to " lucky the young arrogant director who had Seabourne at his side'
Erik Blomberg talked about his own experience in 1981 (Filmihullu 1/1981). 'Seabourne wasn't on the same wavelength as the rest of us on the project and he was a considerable hindrance and somehow the film became a miserable compromise, not one thing or the other. I noticed the way things were going even during filming and managed to pull out of any financial responsibility for it. Of course I completed the photography right to the end and Mirjami performed her part to the end but that was all' Then it was left to Seabourne and Witikka to finish it off. Although Seabourne was the nicest man in the world, he did manage to wreck that film. A man who is not financially responsible for anything turns up, he's supposed to edit the film and he says "not enough material" According to him he couldn't make anything out of the material that he himself was involved in filming. Well, whatever, because nothing really came of this, we decided to make our own Lapland film, which was Valkoinen peura.'
The soundtrack used Jean Sibelius' music with the permission of the composer himself. When applying for tax-free status for the film Jack Witikka emphasised that Aila - Pohjolan Tytär was 'a serious attempt to create a basis for Finnish film to conquer the international film market.' The intention was to use the help of Michael Powell to get the exotic film world-wide distribution. However, global success remained a dream. This was a 'film in which the director's aims exceeded his abilities', as Witikka said in 1960. It is probable that on viewing the film Powell shared this opinion, which meant the end of Witikka's plan to produce his next film, to be set in a Spanish fishing village, in co-operation with Powell and his colleague Emeric Pressburger. Witikka's career in film continued three years later with Mä oksalla ylimmällä (1954).
The role of Aila was performed by Erik Blomberg's wife Mirjami Kuosmanen. Her grandmother was played by 84 year-old veteran actress Hilda Pihlajamäki who died a few months after the film was completed. The final scene bears similarities with the end of King Vidor and David O. Selznick's Western melodrama Duel in the Sun (1946).
Blomberg's photography won a Jussi award for photographer of the year.
The final name of the film was taken from Sibelius' symphonic fantasia which was used on the soundtrack. The names listed as submitting the trailer for inspection were Jack E. Witikka and the director of the Finnish Opera (Oiva) Soini, then Witikka's father-in-law.
Aila - Pohjolan tytär's audience figures remained significantly below the average for the year. The film has never been shown on television.
Under contract the Nordic rights were held by Blomberg and Witikka with Powell receiving the other world-wide rights. However, the film has never been shown in any other Nordic country. Witikka has no information about other distribution.
Film crew in front of a campfire in early spring 1949. Tauno Rova on left.
Photographer Erik Blomberg (left) and director Jack Witikka. The camera is a Sinclair.
Aila, Pohjolan Tytär (Mirjami Kuosmanen) and hunter Reino (Tapio Rautavaara).
Aila (Mirjami Kuosmanen) in the final scene of the film