Tove

It’s been quite fashionable lately to make a movie about someone who was a secret lesbian. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen one at every single TIFF I’ve ever attended, and I’m happy to say that despite the enormous hurdles of 2020, this year was no exception. But not all closet lesbians are created equal. Stories can be shared, truth can be told, but not all of them are worth of the screen, nor are they necessarily compelling once they’re there.

You know what I’m about to say. It’s 1944 in Helsinki. The end of the war means an injection of creative and perhaps even personal freedom for painter Tove Jansson (Alma Pöysti), who at this time still introduces herself as the pale shadow of her famous father’s talent. She’s painting a lot but paintings don’t pay the rent (and believe me, she’s tried).

At the same lunch where she confesses to her lover Atos (Shanti Roney) that she’s just slept with a woman, he convinces her to illustrate a comic strip for his unprofitable socialist newspaper. It would be worth a bit of coin, and as a bonus, would annoy her father. She doesn’t need much more convincing than that. Atos is surprisingly complacent about the other bit of news, and he’s not about to chuck out their friendship over it, even as the relationship between Tove and Vivica (Krista Kosonen) deepens. Vivica is a bit of a wondering soul though, and perhaps not courageous enough to return Tove’s love, so she leaves for Paris, and she leaves Tove to her art.

You may or may not know that Tove Jonsson’s little cartoons, based on some intimate moments between herself and Vivica, as well as the stories she told to soothe scared children in the bomb shelters, were turned into the beloved Moomin books. What was meant as a bit of side work to support her serious art eventually meant financial freedom and acclaim. Which are hardly consolation prizes for unrequited love.

Despite what may sound like a life worth commemorating, I found Tove to be painfully dull. The story did not compel me, and amounted to little more than plucky little lesbians dancing. The only reason I kept watching at all was Alma Pöysti’s beguiling screen presence. Unfortunately, though Tove may have led a remarkable life, director Zaida Bergroth seems to have drained it of its vital life force. Long before Instagram, Tove struggled with the discrepancy between reality and expectation. She made compromises personally and professionally; she had regrets and broken hearts. She disappointed some, and delighted others. Sometimes the ordinary feels extraordinary in the right director’s hands. Tove is still looking for hers.

3 thoughts on “Tove

  1. Apelles

    I haven’t seen this movie but I can imagine as it has seems to have a made for Nexflix quality to it, where a movie is made about a controversial subject such as lesbian couple and is completely stripped of all the elements that may offend a mainstream audience. I was genuinely surprised that Netflix added One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest as this movie seems to harsh for the Netflix. I’m talking about Netflix as it seems to be dominating film making throughout the world and it’s anodyne formula seems to have a tremendous influence as embodied by this film here -Tove.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s