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Nyrki Tapiovaara (1911-1940)


Finnish film director, screenwriter, critic, and leftist radical, who made only five films before he was killed at the age of 29 in the Winter War in 1940. Tapiovaara was a great admirer of French films and especially its expressionistic experiments. His most famous work is Varastettu kuolema (1938, The Stolen Death), which played with black and white shadows, and blended Soviet, French and German influences. His last film, Miehen tie (1937, Man's Way) was based on the novel of F.E. Sillanpää, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1939.

"Jos haluaa etsiä tukea väitteelle, että taloudellinen ja yhteiskunnallinen pohjarakenne heijastuu ylös henkisten harrastusten alueelle asti, tieteisiin ja taiteisiin, painaa niiden sekä sisältöön että muotoon oman piirteensä, voi filmin alalta löytää sille käyttökelpoisia todisteita. Filmin omalaatuisen raskas teknillinen kuormitus sitoo sen erikoisen lujasti omaan yhteiskuntaansa ja sen kaupallinen luonne pakoittaa vielä sitä korostamaan niitä puolia itsessään, mitä kulloikin eniten kysytään. Yhteiskunta painaa leimansa filmin sisältöön, se propagoi omaa itseään, se luovuttaa filmille osan omasta joko sairaasta tai terveestä elinvoimastaan ja se ulottaa vaikutuksensa niin pitkälle kuin näyttelijän valintaa saakka." (Nyrki Tapiovaara in 'Filmimaita ja filmi-ihmisiä', in Kirjallisuuslehti 3/1936)

Veikko Nyyrikki (Nyrki) Tapiovaara was born in Hämeenlinna, the son of Kaarlo Juho Vihtori Tapiovaara, a forest officer, and Aino Aleksandra (Gröönroos) Tapiovaara, the daughter of a prosperous farmer. The family had eleven children who all had Kalevalaic names; Nyrki was the third. Aino Aleksandra encouraged her children in their artistic aspirations. Eventually Tapio Tapiovaara (1908-1982), Nyrki's elder brother, become a painter and graphic artist. In Hämeenlinna the family lived in a large house designed by the father of the painter Carl Albert Edelfelt.

Tapiovaara studied at the Lycée of Hämeenlinna. With his brother Tapio he was up to pranks in every way, and was expelled from the school for a year in 1928-29. Tapiovaara was also an eager athlete, whose idol was Paavo Nurmi. Tapiovaara's first published text from 1925 was a report on an athletic competition.

In 1929, Tapiovaara's mother died of cancer; she was forty three. After graduating from the Lycée, Tapiovaara entered in 1930 the University of Helsinki. In the same year he volunteered in the army. When Tapiovaara did not show much progress in his law studies, his father stopped supporting his life in Helsinki and called him back to Hämeenlinna. During this period Tapiovaara became interested in films. He served as a film critic, and worked as a theater director in Helsinki and activist in the first Finnish film club, Projektio. In 1937 he traveled in Sweden, the Soviet Union, and France, and wrote several articles for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and the magazine Elokuva-aitta. His own place as a director he defined somewhere between Hollywood productions and the Soviet films. This third way was, according to Tapiovaara, seen in the works of G.W. Pabst, René Clair, and the English documentary directors.

In the 1930s the political and cultural atmosphere in Finland had a nationalist, right-wing tone. The Communist party was outlawed and the slogan "home, religion and fatherland" dominated the official cultural policy. However, a number of writers and artists followed international trends. During his visit in Stockholm Tapiovaara bought "illegal literature"and was caught at the customs, but no charges were pressed. In 1936-37 Tapiovaara served as chairman of the cultural organization Kiila (Wedge), the most important leftist literary group after the Torch Bearers. Wedge was anti-fascist and more or less Marxists. Tapiovaara also contributed to the Torch Bearers magazine, which he had restored with his brother Tapio, Viljo Kajava, Raoul Palmgren and Erkki Vala. His writings on film theory reveal familiarity with Marxist thought and concepts. In an article from 1936 ('Filmimaita ja filmi-ihmisiä') Tapiovaara views the film production as a part of the superstructure and a reflection of economic and social base.

In 1936, Tapiovaara started to work with a screen adaptation of the novel Juha, written by Juhani Aho. It was not the first adaptation of the book; Mauritz Stiller had filmed the story in 1921, starring Mathias Taube and Jenny Hasselqvist. Tapiovaara's close companion was Heikki Aho, the writer's son. The film, shot mostly in Kuusamo, was produced by Aho & Soldan Björn Soldan was Juhani Aho's illegitimate son from a liaison with Tilly Soldan. A part of the negative was destroyed in a fire. Some reviewers noted that the ending was rather anti-climactic. In the story, a triangle drama, a young woman who has married an older country man, leaves her husband for a seducer.

After finishing Juha Tapiovaara travelled to Paris, where he reported for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat on exhibitions of the 1937 Paris World's Fair, arguing that modern art, embodied in the work of Pablo Picasso, is never in peace with itself or the surrounding world. Tapiovaara's next film, Varastettu kuolema (The Stolen Death), which shows the influnce of René Clair, was photographed by Erik Blomberg. Loosely based on Runar Schildt's short story, 'Lihamylly,' set during the Civil War, a period still a taboo in Finnish cinema, it told about underground independence fighters of the early 20th century, in the year 1904. The Stolen Death received mixed reviews one critic considered its "decadent style of photography" alien to the Finnish spirit. In one of its most impressive scenes the two lovers, Robert and Manja, run through a yard full of clothes hanging out to dry. The characters speak Finnish, Swedish, Russian, and English without subtexts.

Kaksi Vihtoria (Two Victors), a satire about the petty bourgeoisie, was based on Tatu Pekkarinen's popular play, inspired by George McManus' comic strip Bringing Up Father. The production company, Eloseppo-yhtiö, needed money to finance other projects, and shot the film in a month. Vihtori Rantamo (Eino Jurkka) is a businessman and upstart, who is under the thumb of his wife, Klaara. When she travels to country, Vihtori starts drinking and goes to restaurant with his friend, whose name is also Vihtori. The restaurant sequence records popular variety entertainment of the era from music to imitation of pigs, and from Can Can Dance to the popular Lambert Walk. Sulamit, composed by Matti Jurva, is heard twice in the film. Mirjami Kuosmanen's performance of the song is one of its highlights.

Herra Lahtinen lähtee lipettiin (Mr. Lahtinen Slouches off) was a socially critical comedy, made under the influence of Gustav Machaty's Extacy (1932), one of the most famous silent Czech films of the era. At its time Extacy's camerawork was praised superb, but it is perhaps best remembered for its sequence in which the young Hedy Kiesler (later Hedy Lamarr) rushes through the woods completely nude. In Tapiovaara's work Mr. Lahtinen, an office employee, rebels against boredom and starts to search for the lost song of joy. Only 43 minutes has remained from the footage of the film. Miehen tie (Man's Way) was Tapiovaara's fifth and last film. The protagonist is a farmer, Paavo, whose wife dies and his life then goes downhill. Eventually Paavo overcomes his troubles and marries his early love, Alma. The film was completed by Hugo Hytönen after Tapiovaara's death. He disappeared on February 29, 1940 during the Winter war between Finland and the Soviet Union, on a reconnaissance mission in Tohmajärvi. His patrol came under small-arms fire in Suojärvi, and while the others were retreating he kept on shooting the advancing enemy. After being hit he, continued shooting.

For further reading: Lavean tien sankarit by Kari Uusitalo (1975); Nyrki Tapiovaaran tie by Sakari Toiviainen (1986); Suomalaisen elokuvan kultainen kirja by Peter von Bagh (1992); Kotomaan koko kuva: kirjoituksia elokuvasta ja 1930-luvun sosiaalihistoriasta, ed. by Elina Katainen (1993); Från Runar Schildts novell "Köttkvarnen" till filmen Den stulna döden: en adaptations tillkomst och tidsnivåer by Henrik Rosenberg (1995); Suomen kansallisfilmografia 2, ed. by Kari Uusitalo (1995); Drifting Shadows by Peter von Bagh (1999); Romaanihenkilön muodonmuutoksia: kuusi kirjoitusta henkilökuvauksesta, ed. by Pirjo Lyytikäinen and Päivi Tonteri (2003); Yksitoista Tapiovaaraa by Matti Rinne (2008)


  • Juha, 1937 - screenplay by Heikki Aho, Björn Soldan, N.T., based on Juhani Aho's novel Juha, starring Irma Seikkula, Hannes Närhi, Walle Saukko, Tuulikki Paananen.
  • Varastettu kuolema, 1938 (The Stolen Death) - screenplay by Eino Mäkinen, Erik Blombrg, Matti Kurjensaari - based on Runar Schildt's short story 'Köttkvarn' (1919), starring Tuulikki Paananen, Ilmari Mänty alias Ralph Enckell, Santeri Karilo, Annie Mörk
  • Kaksi Vihtoria, 1939 (Two Henpecked Husbands / Two Victors) - screenplay by N.T. and Erik Blomberg, based on Tatu Pekkarinen's play Klaara ja hänen Vihtorinsa, starring Eino Jurkka, Arvi Tuomi, Annie Mörk, Sointu Kouvo, Helmeri Kaski
  • Herra Lahtinen lähtee lipettiin, 1939 (Mr. Lahtinen Slouches Off) - screenplay by N.T. and Ralf Parland, based on Kjeld Abell's play Melodin der blev vaek (1935), starring Fritz-Hugo Backman, Märtha Jaatinen, Hertta Leistén, Lauri Korpela
  • Miehen tie, 1940 (Man's Way) - screenplay by F.E. Sillanpää and N.T., based on Sillanpää's novel Miehen tie (1932), starring Gunnar Hiilloskorpi, Mirjami Kuosmanen, Hugo Hytönen, Helvi Järvelänen

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