BFI Flare film review: Tove
Katherine McLaughlin | On 24, Mar 2021
Director: Zaida Bergroth
Cast: Alma Pöysti, Robert Enckell, Krista Kosonen, Shanti Roney
Watch Tove online in the UK: BFI Flare
The life of Tove Jansson, renowned Finnish artist, author and creator of the Moomins, is celebrated with parties, booze, dance and dizzying romance in this effervescent biographical drama that focuses on a period of 10 years in her life, post-World War II.
Directed by Zaida Bergroth with a screenplay by Eeva Putro, the film is a portrait of the artist on a sexual and spiritual odyssey. As Jansson (played by the superb Alma Pöysti) engages in affairs with men and women, the viewer is introduced to the key people who inspired some of the most iconic characters in her beloved Moomins books and comic strips.
Those familiar with Jansson’s oeuvre – and one of the main text’s referred to in the film, Comet in Moominland (published in Sweden in 1946 and updated in 1968 with revisions) – will know how much of an impact the Second World War and the rule of Nazi Germany had on her work. Alluded to at the beginning of the film in brief conversations with her sculptor father, Viktor (Robert Enckell), the violence and fear of that time seeped into her illustrations and storytelling. The biopic quickly shades in those details before moving on to an exciting time in Jansson’s 30s and early 40s where she flouted convention, wrestled with her personal and professional identity, experienced rejection and heartache, signed major publishing deals, considered herself a failed artist and met the love of her life: Tuulikki Pietilä, the inspiration for the wise character, Too-ticky, and whom she spent 45 wonderful years with.
For most of the film, however, Jansson is drunk in love with two other people: politician and philosopher Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney) and avant-garde theatre director Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen). Sparks fly between the two women and Kosonen and Pöysti boast a sizzling hot chemistry as they make love, fall out and speak in their own secret language referring to one another as “Tofslan” (“Thingumy”) and “Vifslan” (“Bob”) – two mischievous Moominvalley characters who are famous for hiding away a ravishing red ruby. Pöysti is outstanding throughout, giving her all to the nuances of Jansson as she grows in confidence and displaying an impressive physicality in ecstatic and liberating dance scenes.
Throughout history, letters between lovers and friends have often provided great insight into personal lives, and after meeting Bandler, Jansson confided to a friend: “These last weeks have been like one long dance of rich adventure, tenderness, intensity – an expedition into new domains of great simplicity and beauty.”
Tove brings to life Jansson’s words with its powerful and almost tangible depiction of emotions. Jazz music from Mambo Noir Trio, Josephine Baker and Glenn Miller accompany the electrifying dance pieces, offering an invigorating and fascinating glimpse into Jansson’s life. If there are any misgivings, is that the film’s form could have been pushed even further to avoid standard biopic tropes; still, just like the great woman at its centre, Tove may take a while to find its feet but when it eventually does, it is glorious.
Tove is available to stream at BFI Flare until Sunday 28th March. Book tickets here