Sog.: dal racconto Lihamylly di Runar Schildt. Scen.: Erik Blomberg, Eino Mäkinen, Matti Kurjensaari. F.: Olavi Gunnari, Erik Blomberg. M.: Erik Blomberg, Nyrki Tapiovaara. Scgf.: Kaarlo Oksanen, Ilmari Tapiovaara. Mus.: George de Godzinsky. Int.: Tuulikki Paananen (Manja), Ilmari Mänty [Ralph Enckell] (Robert Hedman), Santeri Karilo (Jonni Claesson), Annie Mörk (signora Johansson), Bertha Lindberg (madre di Robert), Hertta Leistén (la zia), Gabriel Tossu (calzolaio), Jalmari Parikka (guardiano della prigione), Aku Peltonen (guardiano dell’obitorio). Prod.: Erik Blomberg. DCP 4K. D.: 104’. Bn.
Arguably, the three most original spirits in the history of Finnish cinema are Nyrki Tapiovaara, Risto Jarva, and Aki Kaurismäki. During his short career Tapiovaara mastered both all-Finnish subjects and modernist musical satires. Varastettu kuolema was his most ambitious film, an irreverent resistance thriller displaying a youthful rebel spirit. Tapiovaara’s register was open to experimental influences from French, German and Soviet cinema to dadaism (Entr’acte) and surrealism (Un chien andalou), all reworked with panache.
The film is based on a short story by Runar Schildt on the taboo subject of Finland’s 1918 civil war, but the narrative was transferred to the time of the Russian-Japanese war leading to the revolutionary year of 1905. At the time Finland belonged to the Russian Empire, and in Varastettu kuolema we follow freedom activists operating a clandestine printing press and smuggling weapons for the armed resistance.
In 1954 the film was re-released in a cut-back 90-minute version that privileged the main plot. When it was restored to its original 102-minute length in 2017, a wealth of lost bizarre details and humorous digressions emerged. While the thriller plot is not lacking in suspense, romance and espionage, Tapiovaara as a storyteller is not terribly compelling here. Instead, Varastettu kuolema is driven by wit, mood, and an irresistible joy in the cinema.
The final escape to freedom at sea is symbolic on many levels, including as a vision of liberation from a repressive atmosphere in which Finland’s first film society had been closed after harassment from the secret police.
The female lead, the wonderful Tuulikki Paananen, an American citizen, had to return to Hollywood after World War II broke out. Behind the pseudonym Ilmari Mänty was Ralph Enckell, Finland’s future UN Ambassador during the Cold War. The producer-cinematographer Erik Blomberg was in an early stage of a long and distinguished film career – while Nyrki Tapiovaara himself died in the frontline of the Winter War in 1940.