Friday, June 15, 2001

Cyclomania

Friends: My 700 bicycle ride to The Midnight Sun Film Festival was rewarded by a bicycle messenger/bicycle racing movie. It was a Finnish feature called "Cyclomania." It is the story of two young messengers who are nearly national caliber racers and their messenger girl friend. They spend at least a third of the movie on their bikes messengering, training and racing. It has already opened in Finland and has yet to hit the film festival circuit. It is easily the best of the six Finnish features I've seen so far, but probably not good enough to find interest beyond those of us devoted to the subject.

I had my own private Q&A with the young director after the screening, as the public Q&A was conducted entirely in Finnish. I was hoping he could tell me about a whole set of European cycling movies I was unaware of. He knew of none. His two favorite bicycling movies were the same as mine--the classic "Breaking Away" and the recent French Canadian messenger movie "Two Seconds." He thought he had exceeded "Two Seconds." In some ways yes, in others no. That movie was strictly about messengering. Cyclomania is only marginally about the messengering and doesn't offer any insights or insults into the profession as "Two Seconds" does.

I had more bicycling movies to offer him than he had for me, including a recent Italian movie on Coppi and the French movie, "The Training of a Champion" from about ten years ago about a racer nearing the end of his career. He said there was no famous Finnish bicycle racer though there have been a few who have ridden as domestiques in the Tour de France. I hope to talk to him again, as with all the Finns I've met, he was most affable and unpretentious and kindly and easy-going.

Yesterday morning's ten a.m. tribute to Sergio Sollima, an 80-year old Italian director who specialized in spaghetti westerns, was conducted only in Italian and Finnish. There was nowhere else to go, so I sat in the theater with about 150 Finns reading and with my ears perking at the occasional mention of John Wayne and Sergio Leone. This morning's tributee in half an hour will be Freddie Francis, an 84-year old English director-cinematographer who has worked on movies ranging from the "French Lieutenant's Wife" to John Houston's "Moulin Rouge" and "The Straight Story," all scheduled to be screened here.

Last night I saw an old horror movie he directed called "Torture Garden." When he introduced it he said it had been so long since he'd seen it he'd have to wait until afterward to talk about it. Tonight D. W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms" from 1919 with live accompaniment will be playing under the Big Top. It is predicted to be the first sell-out in the tent. Of the four or five screenings I've attended in the tent it has yet to be even half-filled. There are less than fifty seats with backs, the rest are just narrow, not even a foot-wide, benches, yet the crowds don't gather early to get the seats. The Finns are proud of their ability to suffer. If they weren't tough, they wouldn't live in this land, they say.

Only once have I been I relegated to the benches. That was only because because I talked to the bicycling director so long. My hundreds of games in the bleachers of Wrigley Field must have conditioned me to such hard sitting, as the bench wasn't as uncomfortable as I feared, even past the midnight hour. But then I've been sitting on nothing more than a bicycle seat for the past week. The ticket prices are little more than four dollars, or a little less, if one buys a twelve pack. I'm still happy to have a press pass letting me in gratis.

The campground I'm at is exactly a kilometer away on the other side of a river that bisects the town. There are only three showers, but never has more than one been in use when I've needed one. With it light 24 hours people tend to stay up late and not rise so early. The town is quite deserted even at 9:30 am. It was quite a novelty to walk out of the tent past midnight last night and see pink clouds illuminated by the sun. One doesn't get tired when it is always light. I could have seen Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder" starting at 12.30 a.m. in 3D under the big top, and put my fatigue theory to a more extreme test, but there were too many programs I didn't wish to doze off in the next day, so I passed on it. I'm sorry to report there are no Kaurismaki films on the schedule from either Aki or Maki. Nor have I detected their influence in any of the Finnish films I've seen so far.

Later, George

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