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Director Pirjo Honkasalo’s Concrete Night gets its Finnish premiere at Helsinki International Film Festival – Love and Anarchy. John Anderson’s book about the director’s cinematic art is published in Finnish around the same time. In this text Anderson, who is an author and critic, explains why a book about Pirjo Honkasalo was essential.

In order to really appreciate what Pirjo Honkasalo means in terms of world cinema, and to understand how far she exceeds both the reach and the grasp of all but the rarest directors, it’s necessary to have some grasp of world cinema. This is particularly true in the realm of documentary, which is an amorphous and often misunderstood genre.

Pirjo’s films are not journalism, even if they occasionally contain news (as in ‘The Three Rooms of Melancholia”). Pirjo makes art out of “reality,” but the films are primarily art, and the “reality” merely part of the palette.

As she says in our book, she does not shoot a lot of film; as her editor, Niels Pagh Andersen, says in the same book, around the time he worked on “Three Rooms” another filmmaker had given him 1600 hours of footage to work on. Pirjo gave him 16.

If there’s a thing worth capturing, she says, the essence of that thing will reveal itself again. It’s an indication of her absolute control of her medium. The camera does not always have to be running, but Pirjo’s mind – as the discerning viewer can tell from the films – never stops.

You see this same mastery in “Concrete Night,” which makes no concessions to viewer expectations or cinematic conventions and makes its own way through a much-shadowed story in a way that’s dark in its content, but illuminating in its connection to human truth.


Many commercial filmmakers – meaning my compatriots in Hollywood, the enablers of the multiplex mentality – take painstaking care not to provide the viewer with anything he or she doesn’t already expect, or know, or feel comfortable with. Pirjo’s goal is to demolish expectations, which she does quite ruthlessly in “Concrete Night.”

I don’t feel like a foreigner when I look at Pirjo’s films, which is part of what makes her a world-class filmmaker. She is in pursuit of ecstatic truths and aesthetic revelations that transcend nationalities.

Who am I? A writer who lives in New York City, sees about 400 movies a year and has been reviewing films for close to 20 years. I write criticism for various publications including the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Variety, Indiewire and America magazine; I write feature stories for the New York Times and others. Aside from “Merciless Beauty” I’ve written three books, including one on the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang, and one called “I Wake Up Screening,” about what beginning filmmakers can do with their first film. I’m a fan of Finnish cinema. And Finnish sauna.

John Anderson