First of all, props to the BBFC for giving Tove a 12A certificate. This Finnish biopic has more nudity and sexuality in it than just about any 12A film I’ve seen, and so what? Who cares if there’s a nipple here or a merkin there? Certainly not our nation’s ‘classifiers’, so that’s great.
Don’t be misled, though. The life of Tove Jansson – the creator of the famed Moomins– has not been turned into some erotic drama. However, in telling her life from 1944 to the mid-1950s, director Zaida Bergroth does place an emphasis on Jansson’s open relationships with men and women, which are portrayed with an intimate, sexual energy.
Her first relationship is with Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), a married politician and intellectual. They cut different figures on face value, but their bohemian liberalism is shared, although there are traces of jealousy when Jansson falls for Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), an “upper class girl pretending to be a theatre director”.
Wealthy and well connected, Bandler encourages Jansson to pursue her Moomin characters, which she doodles on scrap paper in her spare time. Soon, the Moomins have their own theatre production, much to the grudging respect of Jansson’s father, a reactionary type who sneers at his daughter’s whimsical style.
The performances are well calibrated, whether it is Bandler’s haughty promiscuity, Wirtanen’s puzzled formality or Jansson’s classic free-spiritedness. It’s well shot, too, with Linda Wassberg’s camera hanging on its subjects with a loose naturalism not unlike the Nordic style of Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier. Then there’s the costume design, which is full of plush detail reflecting the bourgeois circles that Jansson tumbles through in her carefree way.
However, despite the care and craft that has gone into this film, it could never be more than a three star picture because the stakes are just too low. Tove Jansson was interesting in the way she embodied the bohemian lifestyle, free in her sexuality and consumed by creativity. But beyond her unorthodoxies of sexuality and artistry, Jansson seems to have been an agreeable character with a long and healthy life, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to a biopic.
Tove is in cinemas now.