Helene Review – Captivating Story Driven Performances, Resonating

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Helene, featured at the AFI European Union Film Festival, presents the true story of Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck, driven by her passion she paints without hope until life turns and celebrated arrives bringing its own pain.

The film begins with a female, Helene Schjerfbeck, played by Laura Birn, almost without distinction, sitting for an interview. She is reticent and unsure of the reason, her words she believes are empty and without expression or affecting which makes the entire interview pointless.


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From this scene we move into the vast Finnish horizon and narrowing to a painter's studio. Immediately we understand the artist is eccentric and deeply frustrated. Attempting to find inspiration from nature, she is left empty, attempting to paint her own portrait, empty the wellspring is dry. The canvas, blank.

Alone in a ramshackle home with her aging mother, she is at a point of desperation. No longer confident she can earn a living from her art; she is nearly penniless. A knock on the door, unusual in this barren landscape, and two smartly dressed, and clearly out of place, men stand in the doorway.

Their purpose we understand is to purchase her paintings. Without any form of communication, Helene is left without any real feel of the world in Helsinki or other more cosmopolitan regions of Finland and had no idea that her canvasses, dusty and discarded, were treasures in the eyes of the two, an art dealer, Meklari, played by Juhan Ulfsak, and an art critic, Einar Reuter, played by Johannes Holopainen,


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Although she had an exhibition years before, life interrupted her rise with wars and change in cultured appreciation and as the tide turned her older works had caught the eye of both men who decided, as it was 1915, the world was ready, again, for the work of Helene Schjerfbeck.

As her mother watches, adding occasional words of disdain over the quality of the work, Helene is asked to name a price. With limited hesitation she names her price. The art dealer replies, "you'll regret this." And offers a 10% commission on sales. After years of hope, she is beyond the place of dreams and only understands reality. in she becomes celebrated which brings on its own set of pain.

The exhibition is a huge success and when she is presented with $10,000 in a commission check her family gathers around the table to force her into handing it over to her brother, Magnus, played by Eero Aho.


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With her new success she is close to achieving her dreams. Soon she and Einar, the young handsome art critic, become close. He passionately admires of her art. Soon the two are creating memories as they travel away from the shackles of her home, existence, and obligations placed on her by her family and a sense of duty. Einar, even as he is considerable younger, becomes Helene's confidante and, despite their age difference, the unfulfilled love of her life.

Helene, who passionately loves Einar, and even as she is fiercely independent, she is surrounded by those who depend on her financially and work to feed her lies and steal letters and destroy her self-confidence which is extremely fragile. She is also the love interest of her lesbian confident, Helene Westermarck, played by Krista Kosonen, and although Helene doesn't see their friendship as anything more than friendship, it is clear she longs for a more fulfilling relationship.

Based on Rakel Liehu's 2003 novel of the same name, Helene tells the real-life story of celebrated Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck and her star-crossed romance with art critic Einar Reuter, who later became her biographer.


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Helene is mesmerizing from the beginning. Modern and contemporary, Helene resonates with a theme that hasn't diminished with time. Presenting a captivating, shadowy story of motivations, of emotional imprisonment, of destroying hope at all cost to preserve the family's financial means while showcasing this vibrant portrait of a talented, and fiercely determined woman, who longs to have it all. Covering a key period in Schjerfbeck's artistic development as we see her grow more independent, confident, a stronger artist. A must see.

An AFI European Union Film Festival U.S. premiere, also an Official Selection in the 2020 Shanghai International Film Festival and 2020 Lübeck Nordic Film Days, Helene is available to viewers located anywhere in the United States and U.S. Territories via this link. https://afieu.eventive.org/welcome

Year - 2020

Runtime - 122 minutes,

Language – Finnish With English subtitles.

Country - Finland, Estonia.

Director - Antti J. Jokinen.

Screenwriter - Antti J. Jokinen, Marko Leino, from the novel by Rakel Liehun.

Producer - Antti J. Jokinen, Mikko Tenhunen.

Cast - Laura Birn, Johannes Holopainen, Krista Kosonen, Eero Aho, Juhan Ulfsak,

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