Stylised extravagance: A review of Armi Alive!
Screening as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival in Australia
Acclaimed director Jorn Donner (the only Finn to have won an Oscar with Fanny & Alexander) returns with a stylistic portrayal of arguably one of the most stylistic women in Finland – Armi Ratia, the founder of Marimekko and one of Finland’s most known entrepreneurs. Armi Alive! follows a theatre company as they prepare a play about Armi Ratia. The play focuses on Armi’s life between the years 1949 and 1968, where she founds the fashion company and leads it to international success. The particular focus of the film is her internal feelings towards the company – does Marimekko need Armi, or does Armi need Marimekko?
She struggled against her family, against the banks who allegedly wanted to take her money, and against the conventional idea of beauty. At least in the last respect, she had a very sophisticated taste.”
The standout element to the film is the ‘play within a play’ style. While it first comes across as unconventional and unnecessary, I felt that it was used rather well to tell the story the way the director intended. Throughout the film Maria, the leading lady playing Armi, is constantly asked about just who Armi was. This is a question that has puzzled many as Armi’s real life was complex and seldom documented, so using this structure allows for more of an insight into who Armi was. This couldn’t be achieved with a conventional plot, as Donner points out in an interview with Cineuropa, saying that he made the ‘play within a play’ as he didn’t want to make a biopic – “We found a very good actress, Minna Haapkyla […] to play this remarkable woman. In the rehearsal of a play, you are allowed to mix timelines, events, people, whoever you want.”
The films purpose is to ask the audience ‘who is Armi?’ and isn’t a biopic in the conventional sense. The aim of the film is to emphasise the extravagance and show-like features of Armi’s life, and to tell something essential about her life’s work. Overall, the film is as sophisticated as Armi’s taste. This contemporary artistic piece is a unique insight into the life of one of the most sophisticated women in Finland, and the question it poses leaves the audience something to think about.
The film was produced by Helsinki-based production company Bufo and was funded by the Finnish Film Foundation. The film was released in Finnish cinemas on the 20th of March, and had its international premiere at the Goteborg International Film Festival.