Review: ‘Hella W.’

The life of one of the most fascinating femmes of the 20th century looks lush, but is otherwise sadly short-changed in Finnish biopic "Hella W."

The life of one of the most fascinating femmes of the 20th century looks lush, but is otherwise sadly short-changed in Finnish biopic “Hella W.” Writer-director-producer Juha Wuolijoki (“Christmas Story”) has boiled down the eventful, complex life of his great-aunt, Hella Wuolijoki, the left-wing politico, thinker and writer, to an overly brisk and reductive series of highlights. Neat $915,000 home B.O. won’t be replicated offshore.

Active in Finland, the Estonian-born Wuolijoki (Tiina Weckstrom, steely) amassed great wealth with her business savvy, remained a political lefty and was an intellectual who expressed her first-wave feminist ideas through stories and plays (frequently later adapted for the screen) under a male pseudonym. Many of the major events are mentioned, including her dramatic 1943 trial for treason, but the 78-minute pic has no time to explore her persona’s many contradictions or sketch a wider view of society that could have shown, by contrast, how exceptionally ahead of her time Wuolijoki was. Though the drama remains small and choppy, the old-fashioned score, lensing, production design and costumes are impressive. After WWII, Wuolijoki was also head of Finnish state broadcaster YLE, which co-produced this docu.

Hella W.

Finland

Production

A Sandrew Metronome Finland Oy release of a Snapper Films presentation and production, in association with Amrion, YLE. (International sales: Film Sharks Intl., Buenos Aires.) Produced by Juha Wuolijoki. Executive producer, Joseph Scarpinito. Co-producer, Riina Sildos. Directed by Juha Wuolijoki. Screenplay, Outi Nyytaja, Wuolijoki.

Crew

Camera (B&W/color, widescreen, 35mm-to-HD), Peter Flinckenberg; editor, Harri Ylonen; music, Panu Aaltio; production designer, Kari Kankaanpaa; costume designer, Anu Pirila. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 15, 2011. Running time: 78 MIN.

With

Tiina Weckstrom, Hannu-Pekka Bjorkman, Matleena Kuusniemi, Maria Heiskanen, Antti Litja, Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Svante Martin, Petri Manninen. (Finnish, Estonian, Swedish, Russian, English dialogue)
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