December 6, 2008
Song of the Scarlet Flower, 1938
The recurring imagery of turbulent waters in Teuvo Tulio's films reflect a kinship with early Norwegian (and more broadly, Scandinavian) cinema in the use of rugged landscape as a metaphor for the paradoxical nature of the human condition. In Tulio's Song of the Scarlet Flower, a daredevil log ride through the swift currents of a river becomes a metaphoric crossing of the Rubicon for handsome and rakish drifter, Olavi (Kaarlo Oksanen). The brash, coddled son of a well-to-do landowner, Olavi's youth had been spent sowing, then promptly abandoning his proverbial wild oats throughout the countryside: from his first love, Annikki (Mirjam Kuosmanen) who is quickly cast aside when she rejects his sexual advances, to a girl at the fair, Elli (Nora Mäkinen) who, too, is spurned when his parents disapprove of his half-hearted intention to marry her (after being caught together in the servants' quarters), to a dark haired peasant girl (Birgit Nuotio) who is left behind when the lumberjacks leave the village at end of the logging season, to the fair haired Pihlajanterttu (Maire Ranius) whose seduction is vulgarly punctuated with his pre-emptive declaration that she surrender her love to only one other man - her chosen husband - after him. However, the tables are soon turned when the disinherited Olavi, now working as an itinerant lumberjack, falls for the daughter of a prosperous farmer, Kyllikki (Rakel Linnanheimo) against the wishes of her father, and is forced to prove his mettle in order to win her love and, in the process, confront the real and imagined ghosts of his disreputable past. Representing his earliest extant film, Song of the Scarlet Flower reveals Tulio's penchant for kitschy melodrama that converges towards Kenji Mizoguchi's preoccupations in its healthy (albeit heavy handed) dose of social criticism and empowerment. Like Mizoguchi, the marginalized role of women in society also becomes a recurring theme in Tulio's cinema, and in Song of the Scarlet Flower, the glaring dichotomy between the fates of the "fallen" women of Olavi's past and his own redemption serves to reinforce the disparity. It is interesting to note that Olavi's final encounter with his former lovers is marked by Annikki's unexpected visit to his new home as he awaits the birth of his child: in a way, coming to a figurative full circle that reflects an illusive return to innocence.