“Don’t worry, we shall have wonderful dreams, and when we wake up, it’ll be spring.” This is perhaps one of the most poignant quotes from Snufkin, a character from the Moomin stories written by the legendary author and artist Tove Jansson; a message of hope for the challenging times the world finds itself in right now. Selected for the Nordic Competition of the 2021 Göteborg Film Festival is Zadia Bergroth’s biopic drama Tove, a film that explores the extraordinary life of one of Finland’s most beloved creatives.
Coming from an artistic family, Jansson was initially faced with the shadow of her father Viktor’s success as a sculptor. Early on in Bergroth’s film, the subject is determined to make her own mark on the world. However, Tove largely veers into tales of Jansson’s romantic life, and some audiences may be surprised to learn that she was bisexual. Tove follows the subject through her encounters with Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney)and Tuulikki Pietilä (Joanna Haartti), and explores how they shape her hopes, fears and ambitions. Jansson’s formative years were very much an attempt to produce work that would cover her apartment costs, but she eventually became bolder at showing off her true colours. The philosophy of her books is expressed in each scene, along with her kindness and willingness to share her dreams with others.
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Tove shakes off the dust of linear biopic portrayals, and injects a furious burst of energy into such a magical, compelling story. Jansson created a world that is beloved by both Finnish children and adults, whom have long been curious to meet the hippo-esque creatures from Moominland. Bergroth doesn’t just showcase Jansson’s artistic talents in Tove, but digs into her personal relationships and experiences that ultimately shaped her life decisions. One of the most uplifting elements of the film is the pulsing vibrations of gypsy jazz and swing music, with Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” carrying the hopes of post-war Sweden as people dance, drink and feel free.
Pöysti is simply enchanting in Tove, as she captures Jansson’s mysterious and playful nature, and brings to life the spirit of such an iconic and talented artist. Every moment of frustration is felt as Jansson faces rejection after rejection in trying to obtain a grant, her face composed as she congratulates her father for winning another round, before unravelling her despair alone in the studio. More importantly, Pöysti emits passion and joy — the comfort that her character reaps from doodling Moomins. Tove’s Jansson is also enigmatic and alluring in every regard, intensely focused in her work, and unafraid of tangling up with partners in sauna rooms and post-party frolics. This boldness is refreshing in a time when bisexual stories feel forgotten, or are told only in coming-of-age flicks. In addition, Eeva Putro delivers a dazzling performance as Jansson’s closest friend and confidant, Maya Vanni, with Tove showcasing a genuinely profound friendship in which mutual support is equally important as getting totally sloshed at acclaimed art galleries.
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Tove is a tribute to all creatives who pursue their passion projects, and applauds those who are able to break free from bindings. The film spotlights the uplifting thrills of passionate nights and wine-drenched house parties that structured Jansson’s life, and solidly affirms the philosophy behind her creations: kindness.
Elle Haywood (@ellekhaywood) is a freelance film/culture writer, festival juror and submissions reviewer. She is currently an Associate Editor at Take One and studying a Masters at the National Film & Television School. Her work specialises in international festivals focusing on Scandinavia and Western Europe, sociopolitical events and independent filmmaking.