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Directory of World Cinema: Finland ed. by Pietari Kääpä (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 85, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 245-247 | 10.1353/scd.2013.0016

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Directory of World Cinema: Finland provides the best single-book treatment of Finnish cinema history currently available in English. The book gives an overview of Finnish cinema’s history and describes the current state of Finnish cinema, balancing critical reviews of specific films with articles that give an overview of Finnish cinema.

The significance of the book is due in part to the work of its editor, Pietari Kääpä as a contributor to Nordic film studies. Kääpä has raised questions about globalization, transnationalism, national cinema, ecocriticism, and the formation of collective identities at Finnish cinema and in so doing has shown the relevance of these questions to this national cinema as well as showing the relevance of Finnish cinema to broader debates in film studies. Kääpä is currently a research fellow at the University of Helsinki working on the project Transnational History of Finnish Cinema. He has published three books since 2010: Ecology and Contemporary Nordic Cinemas (2013), The Cinema of Mika Kaurismäki: Transvergent Cinescapes, Emergent Identities (2012), and The National and Beyond: The Globalisation of Finnish Cinema in the Films of Aki and Mika Kaurismäki (2010). The last is a revision of his Ph.D. dissertation, supervised by Andrew Higson at the University of East Anglia. Kääpä has also edited two books in addition to the one under review, as well as publishing numerous articles.

Directory of World Cinema: Finland is built around the work of early-and mid-career film scholars from Finland, the UK, Japan, China, and the United States, diversifying perspectives on Finnish cinema available in print. The book’s articles and reviews revise and refresh conventional views of Finnish film history and also raise new questions and tackle new topics such as cinema and the environment.

The book is organized as a guide. It includes a section on directors featuring ten articles on Finland’s ten most important filmmakers. It also includes a section on stars and on the cinema industry. The rest of the book is divided into sections defined by-and-large according to genre, each of which includes an introductory essay and ten to twenty reviews of seminal films as well as reviews of some noteworthy non-canonical films. There are sections on silent cinema, war, literary adaptations, social realism, genre cinema, comedy, children’s films, documentary, and cinema and the environment. The book also includes a valuable bibliography, information about learning about Finnish cinema on the web, and even a quiz to test your knowledge. Some such questions one can get right with a guess, for example: More social realism or comedy in the history of Finnish cinema?

Each review includes a synopsis and a critical commentary, the latter usually including a remark about the canonical view of the film. The commentaries generally combine formalist, close readings of the films with historical and cultural materialist analysis that sets each film in dialogue with topical issues and debates of their times. For example, the review of Erik Blomberg’s 1952 classic Valkoinen peura (The White Reindeer), in the section on genre films, analyzes the film’s horror conventions with a thoughtful critique of its patriarchal depiction of its protagonist Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen) and its exoticizing, stereotyping of the Sámi characters in the film. Gender in postwar Finland and postwar Finnish cinema was a site of struggle and historical change, as scholars such as Anu Koivunen have shown and which the entry on Blomberg’s film notes.

In its combination of overview and specificity, Directory of World Cinema: Finland will be an indispensable resource for graduate students with an interest in Nordic cinema as well as for faculty undertaking research and teaching on Nordic cinema but may not be experts on Finnish cinema. For example, the volume will aid in the preparation of readings lists and course syllabi that include Finnish material. It might also be helpful to a librarian who is seeking to build her institution’s Nordic cinema collection. At the same time, Kääpä has encouraged the contributors to advance discussion in ways that will be useful to experts on Finnish cinema. For example, Sanna Karkulehto’s review of Katariina Lillqvist’s puppet...

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