THE FINE ART OF FINNISH MELANCHOLY - The Reykjavik Grapevine

THE FINE ART OF FINNISH MELANCHOLY

THE FINE ART OF FINNISH MELANCHOLY

Published August 6, 2004

And despite Icelands latitude being right in the centre of Finland, the climate is somewhat different. Whereas Finns have to deal with long, cold, monotonous winters, which lead to a lot of introspection followed by depression, Icelanders have to deal with endless amounts of wind and rain more likely to result in frustration. Perhaps this explains why Icelanders always try to deny their melancholy, telling each other they are always “hress” and “í stuði,” whereas the Finns celebrate theirs.
A wonderful example of the latter is Arto Paasilinna´s book Glorious Mass Suicide, about a group of rejects who travel through Finland on a bus with the aim of driving off a cliff on the Arctic coast. They then turn around and decide to drown themselves off Portugal instead.
The book does not at first glance seem as if it would lend itself to dramatisation, but this is the ambitious task embarked upon by the newly founded thespian group Landsleikur. For a play that mostly takes place on a bus, the production is imaginative, particularly with the utilisation of a multi-purpose black box that is often the centrepiece of amusing scene changes, such as the drunk metamorphosing into a statue. The dramatisation quite sensibly cuts the journey down, ending in Norway, and staging off bus highlights. The humour is stressed, as it should be for a cast this young, and is mostly funny if occasionally laboured. However, a mistake is made in keeping the original ages of the protagonists. One has to overcome the obvious inconsistency of the middle aged characters of the text and the 20 year olds on stage. Making the characters younger would bypass this as well as broach the dark subject of teenage suicide. Still, you can´t fault a cast for its age, all actors play various characters and Karl Ágúst Þorbergsson particularly shines as Colonel Hermanni. For their parts the actors took lessons in Finnish tango, and the tango music that sets the atmosphere is a particular joy. In a melancholy sort of way, of course. The tango in Argentina celebrates sensuality, but in Finland it seems to celebrate sadness. That´s something we Icelanders should do more often.
Glorious Mass Suicide is on tour.

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