Tove (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): The early life of Tove Jansson

“Tove”, which was selected as the Finnish entry for Best International Film Oscar in last year, presents the early life of Tove Jansson, a Swedo-Finnish author and illustrator who has been mainly known for her lovely comic strip featuring the adorable creatures named the Moomins. Although it is more or less than your average biopic, the movie is fairly engaging on the whole thanks to its good direction and enjoyable performances, and you may find yourself interested in getting to know more about Jansson’s life and career.

The story begins in 1944, when Finland was fighting with the Soviet Union while the rest of the world was turned upside down by the World War II. Helsinki, the capital of Finland, has been frequently damaged by air raids, but Jansson, played by Alma Pöysti, continues to pursue her artistic career nonetheless while hoping to be prominent enough to be recognized by her stern father someday, who has incidentally been quite respectable for his acclaimed sculpture works. Although he does not look like regarding her works that highly even after she becomes more independent as an artist, Jansson is not daunted by that at all, and she eventually begins to live apart from her parents after deciding that she really needs her own place where she can focus more on her artistry.

Around that time, Jansson becomes romantically involved with a journalist/politician named Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney). Although Wirtanen is married at present, both Jansson and Wirtanen do not care about that at all while having no illusion about whatever will happen between them next, and Wirtanen later gives Jansson a small but interesting opportunity. His newspaper happens to need a cartoonist who can provide some amusement for children, and Jansson looks like the right person for that, because she has occasionally drawn amusing caricatures including the one satirizing the grim current situation of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Germany.

As her father often disregarded those simple caricatures of hers, Jansson is not particularly serious about what has gradually become her main source of income, but then there comes an important change into her life and career. On one day, she happens to befriend a young playwright/socialite named Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), and it does not take much time for Jansson to become quite attracted to Bandler, who also likes her a lot while also admiring her works a lot. Although she remains to be very close to Wirtanen, Jansson allows herself to get romantically involved with Bandler, and Bandler later suggests to her lover that she should go further with the Moomins and several other cartoon characters of hers.

However, Bandler turns out to be a very lousy lover for Jansson as your typical free spirit. Not long after she goes to Paris alone in the late 1940s, she returns with some other woman, and that certainly hurts Jansson’s feeling a lot, but she chooses to collaborate with Bandler on a play based on the Moomins nonetheless. Although Bandler breaks her heart again, Jansson does her best as the author of the play to the end, and the play turns out to be a smashing success as embraced by both adult and young audiences.

During next several years, Jansson becomes more famous and popular thanks to the Moomins, but her private life remains as complicated as before. While her heart is still attracted to Bandler, Bandler keeps letting down Jansson, and the situation becomes all the more complicated when Wirtanen proposes to Jansson after finally divorcing his wife. He really loves Jansson, and Jansson cares about him a lot, but she cannot help but have doubt on their possible future even after saying yes to his proposal.

As Jansson hesitates between Wirtanen and Bandler, there comes another possibility when she comes to Paris along with her artist friends, who later introduce Jansson to a woman who is evidently interested in getting closer to Jansson. Speaking more with this lady, Jansson becomes more attracted to her, but then she is reminded again that she is not totally free from her relationship with Bandler yet.

Jansson’s eventual decision for her life will probably not surprise you much especially if you know about a certain aspect of her life, but the screenplay by Eava Putro, who also played one of the supporting characters in the film, keeps holding our attention via its sincere and earnest storytelling. In case of one crucial scene which is involved with Jansson’s father, this feels rather clichéd in my humble opinion, but it still feels touching as coupled with enough sincerity, and we can sense how that moment contributes to more artistic/personal growth for Jansson.

As the heart and soul of the film, Pöysti diligently carries the film as required, and she is supported well by several other cast members assembled around her. While Krista Kosonen and Shanti Roney are effective as two very different lovers in Jansson’s life, Robert Enckell and Kajsa Ernst are also fine as Jansson’s parents, and so is Joanna Haartti, who draws our attention as soon as she enters later in the story.

In conclusion, “Tove” may be a bit disappointing for you if you want to see more about the Moomins, but its presentation of Jansson’s early life is still interesting enough to hold our attention at least. Yes, this is predictable and conventional in many aspects, but it did its job as well as intended with care and respect, so I will not complain for now.

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