Juno Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Zaida Bergroth
Writer: Eeva Putro
Cast: Alma Pöysti, Krista Kosonen, Shanti Roney, Joanna Haartii, Robert Enckell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/25/21
Opens: June 3, 2021

Few scenes are as bracing as a winter’s plunge into Lake Isojärvi following a half hour of sweat in a Finnish sauna, but “Tove” does not require that kind of melodrama. “Tove” is directed by Zaida Bergrowth, whose “Maria’s Paradise” deals with an orphan, Salome, a follower of Maria Akerblom, who meets an outsider, begins to have doubts, all of which turns Maria dangerous. Though Tove Jansson (Alma Pöysti), whose biopic is the subject, does not become dangerous, though she reacts viscerally when the love of her life turnd to another. “Tove” is a respectable, focused look at a woman who is now world famous for creating the cartoon characters, or Moomins, who bear the noses of hippopotamuses, who are brought to life on the stage, and who haul Tove up from her penniless early life into fame and fortune.

Bergroth focuses on Tove’s days as a young adult, a rebellious woman with cropped blond hair whose career is natural progression for someone brought up in an artistic family. Her rigid father Viktor Jansson (Robert Enckel), is a sculptor who considers drawings mere distractions, and wants Tove to concentrate on painting, though her mother, Signe Jansson (Kajsa Ernst), a graphic artist, encourages her daughter’s love of drawing.

What better way to spend your time in a bomb shelter during the last year or so of World War 2 than to doodle? You never know how a distraction can lead to a promising career, in Tove’s case, a contract from a top British evening newspaper requiring her to knock out six strips a week and making her a household name in the graphic artists’ community. The film, while illustrating her work copiously, concerns itself principally with her two relationships. One is with Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), a married, socialist member of parliament, with whom she hopes to be able to live a life of individual freedom. As she puts it “life is a wonderful adventure and one should explore all its twists and turns.” This as preface to stripping and heading with her boyfriend to the sauna.

But Atos has competition that he could never overcome. The bisexual Tove finds love at first sight with Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), an upper-class, married woman of wealth who indulges in her passions: directing theater and introducing Tove to the wonders of lesbian sex. Though at one point Tove is furious at Vivica for a slight, causing her to ask Atos to propose, she could never get Vivica out of her mind. Vivica and Tove are professionally compatible as well, when the two collaborate on a play for children. Tove’s characters, Thingumy and Bob, are as inseparable as Tove wishes she and Vivica could be.

Tove is at her most vivacious when the big band sounds of 1952 are on the record player (as I recall my own coming of age during the 1950s, this sounds like the music of Glenn Miller, who appeared at my college prom with his entire group). Tove performs a almost feral series of steps, an emotional release which we see again on 8mm film with the real-life Tove Jansson’s slice of choreographed life.

Director Bergroth herself could remind you of Alma Pöysti: she would need only to give up her long, blond hair for the pixie look of her star performer. The director has no problem recreating the period from 1944 to 1952, as production designer Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth evokes the difference between Tove’s flat with her father’s sculpting full-life figures to the elaborate, lived-in suite that proclaims her wealth. The film ends without our seeing Tove’s most daring political cartoon. The Swedish-language satirical magazine “Garm” highlights her drawing of Adolf Hitler as a crying baby in diapers surrounded by Neville Chamberlain and other European leaders trying to calm the baby down with slices of cake.

“Tove” is Finland’s entry to the 93rd Academy Awards. In Finnish, Swedish, French and English with English subtitles.

102 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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