TOVE – Review by Martha K Baker

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If you were a big fan of the Moomins but had no idea who created them, Tove will fill in all the blanks. Tove Jansson was an artist and a writer in her public life but also in her private adult life, she started with a man, then with a woman, so the feature film is perfect for Pride month.

For those not familiar with Finnish cartoons — although how could you not be, given that the books have been translated into 50 languages? — the Moomins are arial hippos. There are Moomintroll, Moominmama and -papa, and Sniff and Snuffkin and the Snorkmaiden. They spilled out of the pen of Jansson, the Swedish-speaking daughter of Viktor, a strait-laced Finnish sculptor. He did not believe in her art even before she became famous with her Moomins. She believed that life is a “wondrous adventure.”

Jansson, born in 1914, studied art after the Second World War when artistic expression was freed. Jansson went to parties, smoked, drank, and had an affair with a male politician. Then, she met Vivica Bandler, a theater director who seduced her and reduced her. Jansson worked seriously on her art, but began to sketch the silly creatures who, like her, knew fear, having been scared in bomb shelters. Their stories were tinged with her own.

The Moomins kind of took over, but they gave Jansson financial freedom. The biodoc Tove covers Jansson’s early years, including introduction to her long-time lover, Tuulikki Pietilä, the artist who was the inspiration for Tooticky in the Moomin books. She is played by Joanna Haartti; Krista Kosonen plays Bandler. Alma Pöysti brings Tove Jansson to life incredibly well.

Director Zaida Bergroth works from a script by Eeva Putro to present the life of arguably the most famous Finn. She lights Jansson’s studio to highlight the artist’s blonde hair, and she adds Benny Goodman’s percussive Sing Sing Sing and Glenn Miller’s In the Mood to the early life of Tove Jansson. At the end, Jansson herself dances in a vintage video.

The film Tove is a revealing portrait of the artist as a young woman.

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Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.