Festival News 2008 - Tampereen 38. elokuvajuhlien verkkolehti

Animated film to heal historical wounds

Mari Lukkari
Jutta Mattsson, photo
Tatu Henttonen, translation

Katariina Lillqvist, Finnish filmmaker.

Filmmaker Katariina Lillqvist marvels cheerfully at the fuss surrounding her new animated film, The Butterfly from Ural.

– My colleagues abroad are all green with envy. Attention of this magnitude for an animated film would not be possible anywhere else. If somebody in Britain lost their temper because of a puppet depicting Queen Elizabeth, people would laugh at them, Lillqvist says smiling.

The media controversy around Lillqvist's film arose already weeks before its premiere at Tampere Film Festival. The film was accused of showing the Finnish national hero General C.G.E. Mannerheim in a degrading light. A scene depicting Mannerheim having a love affair with his manservant was thought to be particularly offensive.

Lillqvist based her story on folk tales told by the working-class inhabitants of Tampere. The "slaughterer general" showing up in these folk tales reflects the views of the defeated side of the Finnish civil war in 1918.

Over the course of the history, open criticism on General Mannerheim has been unwelcome and many people still deem it improper.

Although some have seen The Butterfly from Ural as intentionally re-opening old wounds, the director herself sees her film as an antiseptic ointment. According to Lillqvist, the historical wounds of Tampere have been left open.

– There can be no reconciliation before the wounds have been cleaned, Lillqvist emphasises.

In the wake of the butterfly

News of the film's heated reception reached Lillqvist's colleagues even before they had arrived at Tampere.

– A Japanese colleague of mine had been browsing a Finnish newspaper in the plane and saw my picture, much to her surprise. She knew right away that something was going on.

Animated film gains benefit from the media fuss.

– You can't buy publicity of this magnitude with money. Large audiences are seldom aware of animated films. I hope that a few other films will get their share of the attention in the wake of this film.

If The Butterfly from Ural were a feature film, funding for it would have been very difficult to find. An animated film, however, allows for all the hullabaloo, Lillqvist says.

Scenery in the film The Butterfly from Ural.

Scenery in the film The Butterfly from Ural.

The gay puppet undermines identities

It turned out that some people do not like their hero taken down from the pedestal, even if the hero in question is a puppet, not a person.

– We are going through a time of change here in Finland. Integration with the rest of Europe obscures the Finnish identity and people need to resort to old, traditional institutions, Lillqvist says.

– he myth of the innocent peasant has been broken.

Lillqvist thinks that the controversy around her film also shows the power of tabloids.

– People are content to believe the yellow press. If the tabloids say that my animated film is all about a gay Mannerheim, this is enough for people, even if the film itself barely touches on the topic.

Instead of homosexuality, Lillqvist's purpose was to bring the unspoken history of the civil war into the spotlight. She thinks the defeated side has remained silent for too long. Now it was time to talk.

– I am part of the last generation who has heard these stories with their own ears.

Updated 14 March 2008 15:04