Toronto International Film Festival is off to a great start with Zaida Bergroth‘s ‘Tove‘, a biography on Tove Jansson’s life, showing both her personal relationships and the creation of the popular Moomin books.

Helsinki, 1944. The end of the war brings a new sense of artistic and social freedom for painter Tove Jansson (Alma Pöysti – ‘Flowers of Evil‘). Modern art, dizzying parties and an open relationship with a married politician don’t really stroke with the more ideal ways of living her strict sculptor father had in mind. Tove desires artistic and personal freedom more than anything, but after falling head over heels for the irresistible theatre director Vivica (Krista Kosonen – ‘Helene‘), she comes to the realisation that the unrequited love, whether it may be from her father or the new woman in her life, throws everything out of balance.

Bergroth (‘Maria’s Paradise‘) and writers Eeva Putro and Jarno Elonen take a more nuanced direction, focusing on Tove’s artistic and personal exploration, instead of relying on the same old tricks most biographies tend to reach for. Tove is mostly known for the popular Moomin stories, and we get to see how this side project takes on a life of its own. She finds comfort in her melancholic, haunting tales, as if it works as some type of escapism. What Tove likes to call “scrawl”, suddenly became a major success, and with international fame and financial freedom on the horizon, these once called “scribbles” turn out to be more important than Tove would’ve ever expected.

The post-WWII setting is turned to life with some grand set and costume design, with Matti Bye‘s magical score capturing the emotional ups and downs in Tove’s life. Pöysti gives us the vulnerable raw emotions in such a natural way, it seems impossible to have cast a different actor in the role. The love Tove has for Vivica is holding her back from truly being the free woman she’s always claimed to be, and it’s in these heartbreaking moments where the cast and director truly shine.

The scenes in which Tove bares it all, connecting with a loved one, are captured in the most tasteful and romantic way by Bergroth. Instead of showing what goes on in these most private events, she chooses to avoid unnecessary clichés and rather goes for the build-up, which is just as intimate. ‘Tove‘ is in ways comparable to Todd Haynes’ 2015 drama ‘Carol‘. The same sense of desire finds a balance with Bergroth’s own vision.

Linda Wassberg‘s cinematography and Samu Heikkilä‘s editing contribute to the creative framing, giving the film a more authentic look, while never letting go of the loneliness that grows stronger with each frame, letting this feeling linger on while the credits roll. ‘Tove‘ is a captivating first-class drama about a world-renowned talent in search of her own identity, love and freedom.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Tove’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 9, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 100 min.

PRODUCTION: A Nordisk Film release of a Helsinki-Filmi production. Producers: Aleksi Bardy, Andrea Reuter. Executive producers: Dome Karukoski, Tine Klint, Miira Paasilinna.

CREW: Director: Zaida Bergroth. Screenplay/story: Eeva Putro, Jarno Elonen. Editor: Samu Heikkilä. Cinematography: Linda Wassberg. Music: Matti Bye.

WITH: Alma Pöysti, Krista Kosonen, Shanti Roney, Joanna Haartti, Kajsa Ernst, Robert Enckell, Eeva Putro.

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