Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Risto Jarva's Time of Roses: Imagining the Finland of the Future in the Late-1960s

TIME OF ROSES / Ruusujen Aika 
(Risto Jarva, Finland, 1969, 108 minutes) 

Much like The Unknown Man of Shandigor, which Deaf Crocodile reissued in 2022, Time of Roses is the kind of stylish euro-whatsit that hasn't been seen enough since its original release to have a significant international reputation (though it did play Cannes and New York in 1970). If that wasn't the case, Risto Jarva's fifth film might be cited, along with Elio Petri's The 10th Victim or Godard's Alphaville, as one of the more imaginative, low-budget science fiction features of the 1960s.

It doesn't help that Time of Roses is Finnish. Beyond Aki Kaurismäki, Finnish film hasn't gotten much of a foothold in the US beyond a few filmmakers, like Mikko Niskanen (Eight Deadly Shots, which plays New York's Film Forum through April 6) and, more recently, Juho Kuosmanen (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, Compartment No. 6).

Jarva starts by introducing characters dressed in retro-futurist garb. The year is 2012. The men look like court jesters with their poplin vests and tights and the women look like Marimekko models with their mod makeup and architectural hairstyles. The furnishings include inflatable chairs and sofas--the kind that would get destroyed in an instant by a stray cigarette or a cat's claws (the film is devoid of both). When these modsters would like a drink or a bite to eat, they simply push a few buttons, and in a matter of minutes: food and beverages magically appear. 

Early on, TV documentarian Raimo Lappalainen (Arto Tuominen, who recalls Jean-Louis Trintignant from some angles) appears in a film in which he explains that Finland's prosperity in the 1960s gave way to a 15-year period of deprivation, but those days are gone. With assistance from Anu (Tarja Markus), a Twiggy-in-the-'60s type, Raimo has been working on a documentary about Saara Turunen, a model who died in a suspicious car accident in 1976. In a sad irony, director and co-writer Jarva would die in a car accident in 1977. 

A trained historian as much as a filmmaker, Raimo questions people who knew Saara, shifting the film into metaphysical mystery territory, more so when he spots Kisse Haavisto, who resembles Saara, at an art exhibit (Ritva Vepsä plays both bright-eyed brunette women). "They could be identical," he tells Anu, "had they lived in similar circumstances." 

Though she works as an engineer, Kisse's life is as glamorous as that of any model, giving Jarva the opportunity to incorporate psychedelic music and dance sequences. Raimo continues to question people who knew Saara, now with Kisse in tow, freaking them out due to the resemblance. 

The two become romantically involved. Jarva films one particularly kaleidoscopic sex scene entirely through a see-through sofa. 

Raimo recruits Kisse to play Saara in re-creations for his documentary, including fashion shoot-like sequences. Though it won't be obvious to most American viewers, Jarva and co-writers Jaakko Pakkasvirta and novelist/TV presenter Peter von Bagh based Raimo on Finnish journalist Veikko Ennala, who lived a life more more dramatic—including several suicide attempts--than anything Raimo experiences.

The relationship hits a snag when the couple catches a nuclear power plant labor leader talking about a strike on TV, using the phrase "time of roses" to describe the better life the workers seek. Kisse is sympathetic, Raimo isn't. When the leader is shot during the live broadcast, he doesn't even react. 

After a re-creation goes wrong, Raimo becomes the villain Jarva suggested from the start, a journalist who claims objectivity and impartiality, all while attempting to control the actress in his film. Even Kisse suspected he was only interested in her due to her resemblance to Saara, though Jarva never confirms her suspicion as definitively as Alfred Hitchcock does in Vertigo vis-à-vis Det. Scottie Ferguson's obsession with Kim Novak's Judy Barton who resembles the late Madeleine Elster. 

According to Jyrki Siukonen (Living in the Future: Revisiting Time of Roses), "Time of Roses still remains the only representative example of serious science fiction film in Finland." (Siukonen also notes that Peter von Bagh wrote his master's thesis on Vertigo.) Despite the pop art trappings, though, it's ultimately a tragedy about male entitlement and journalistic hypocrisy, making it a little less fun than the other sci-fi films of the era. 

If anything, the story could have taken place in 1969, and the gist would have remained much the same, though that wasn't the intention. As von Bagh explains, "The viewer shouldn't have the impression that the attempt here is but to show the problems of our time in another environment, some sort of allegorical arrangement, for then comes the question of why it wasn't set in our own time in the first place." Strictly from a visual standpoint, though, Jarva's approach adds vibrancy to the scenario. 

Vincent Canby summed things up well in his bemused, if somewhat confused review in The New York Times in 1970, "Time of Roses doesn't occupy the mind, but it does offer some amusing fringe benefits." 

Out in late April in a new 4K restoration from Deaf Crocodile, including a limited edition (of 2,000) embossed slipcover. Also available from Vinegar Syndrome. Images: MUBI (Ritva Vepsä), Elitisti (Tarja Markus and Arto Tuominen), Wikiwand (Vepsä and Tuominen), and Risto Jarva (Vepsä).

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