Ever-prolific author, festival director and filmmaker Peter von Bagh follows up his expansive docu portraits of his own Midnight Sun Film Festival (“Sodankyla Forever”) and national capital (“Helsinki Forever”) with a similarly poetic and thoughtful memory film about the small Finnish town of Oulu, where he lived from the ages of 5 to 17. Fittingly subtitled “a small movie about Oulu in the 1950s,” Von Bagh’s “Remembrance” evokes similar city-centric essay films by the likes of Chris Marker and Terence Davies in its playful, discursive mashups of personal and civic history, pop-culture fragments and other artists’ renderings. All told, it makes for an exceptionally lovely hour of cinema that should provide a welcome addition to many a festival and cinematheque program.
As in his Helsinki film, Von Bagh draws not just on a treasure trove of archival photos and newsreel footage to tell the story — his story — of Oulu, but also the words of noted writers and poets (including Maati Halli and V.A. Koskenniemi) and the canvases of painters such as Paavo Leinonen and Pentti Koivisto. The result moves freely across such disparate topics as Von Bagh’s early movie memories (the 1948 “Scott of the Antarctic” was the first film he saw, Carol Reed’s “The Man Between” the first film he saw twice), the WWII bombing of the town (which housed Finland’s largest garrison and suffered its greatest per capita losses), Oulu’s bygone days as a thriving port, and its more recent ones as a hub for tech giant Nokia. The associations never feel forced or programmatic, guided by no agenda other than memory and feeling. “Us human beings are but small things on earth,” goes a song lyric heard late in “Remembrance,” which effectively summarizes Von Bagh’s overall disposition — with the caveat that sometimes even small things manage to leave sizable impressions.