What was it like to make the film Helene?
‘A film is always a study and research project for the cinematographer and for the whole artistic group, and each film is a study of its own. We explored the protagonist’s documented life through literature and archives. We visited the Ateneum art museum to learn about Helene Schjerfbeck’s painting techniques with the help of the conservators and others familiar with her art. We studied the history of the era – customs, events, clothing, social conditions and other related topics.
The film Helene is a really rich combination of technical and concrete craftsmanship as well as artistic and conceptual design. All this is connected by teamwork and the importance of communication.’
What was special about it to you?
‘There were several special things. The first thing that comes to my mind is the thoroughness with which each unit became acquainted with the subject of the film. The protagonist Laura Birn, for example, learned Schjerfbeck's painting technique with the guidance of an artist. The pre-planning was done carefully and the filming was also rehearsed in advance at the final filming locations.
Another distinctive feature is the use of time during the filming period, since we primarily tell the story through visualization, not through dialogue. Each day, we focused on how to convey the subtext of each scene — that is, what the scene actually tells the viewer, what emotion it conveys — through visualization. An image was not allowed to be mere information. It is noteworthy, that all of this is not normally possible with the visualization of domestic films today.
All too often the scenes and eventually the whole movie are just ‘recorded’ because the work rhythm is too fierce for deep thinking. Not at all because the filmmakers would not be able to visualize more deeply. In this film, we, for once, had time to hone our images and take a really thorough look at our work with the director and the rest of the artistic group.’
How do you like the film now that it is finished?
‘Several filmmakers use the obsolete phrase ‘only after filming the film do I know how it should have been filmed’. This is partly true, but since this really applies to all creative work, one could also say that ‘with my professional experience and artistic vision at the time, the film became a reflection of what my inner world is like’.
I do like this film a lot, its restraint, peaceful narrative, and the ethereal pictorial narrative. I also understand very well those for whom the film appears in a completely different light. We didn’t make the film to please the mainstream, but to adapt the narrative to depict the world as we imagined the protagonist to have experienced it.
An artist, who depicts the world around her with such aesthetics that Schjerfbeck portrayed in her paintings, does not see and experience what she sees in the same way as many of us. Yet in her reduction, she managed to crystallize something that still makes the viewer identify with the world of paintings. Helene managed to open the gate to a deeper subconscious, and our job as filmmakers was to try to express this – not just to carry on the story line.’