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Jenni Toikka

Jenni Toikka
A woman starts playing Chopin’s Prelude Op.28 No.2 under another’s gaze : Jenni Toikka clearly references and reworks Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. The camera moves to reframe the pianist, while the music becomes an inner melody. The frame tightens again, and the pianist has become the viewer, listening to the other play: first of many permutations that blur spatial boundaries and switch positions. The film doubles back over itself and starts again. In eight minutes, splits and diffractions multiply into infinity. (Nathan Letoré)

Entretien avec Jenni Toikka

Your film references and reworks a famous scene from Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. How did the project originate?

The work was commissioned as a Visual Overture for the Helsinki Music Hall Media Wall before the concerts of the Philharmonic Orchestra.
At the Music hall media wall the work was screened without sound (this was also one of the criteria for the submitted work), but from the beginning of the process it was clear to me that I would also make a sound version of it.
One of the biggest cinematic influences since my studies has been a few films or scenes by Ingmar Bergman, where I find myself returning whenever I start to process a new work. Nowadays seeing these movies or clips is more of a ritual to get me going. For this context, Bergman’s film Autumn Sonata came to my mind even though it wasn’t familiar to me beforehand. In one of the key scenes in the film, the mother and daughter take turns playing Chopin`s Prelude. Chopin`s composition is a piece that both mother and daughter are familiar with, so they are able to settle into the position of the other as they listen and watch the other play. For me the situation raised questions about the sense of reciprocity, simultaneity and synaesthesia. Could the roles become mixed from viewer and listener to the object of the gaze and listening? When watching the other playing, can you feel your own hands and fingers on the keys?

You choose to build your film around the repetition of a shot, shown unless I’m mistaken with no variation. Why this double structure ?

Yes, you are almost correct, these two shots are the same, except the second is slightly longer, so the ending frame is different.
The primary place where the work is intended to be screened is an important aspect from the beginning of my process. As a visual artist I`ll show my films also in an exhibition situation where the works usually loop. I think this generally has affected my way of thinking about the structure of the work.
For the festival situation I had to choose what would be the best way to show the work. We discussed with dear colleagues of mine and everyone agreed it’s important to show the shot two times to highlight the event and meditative nature of the work. Ville Piippo, my cinematographer, also had a special note. He too preferred a two loop version, because otherwise the cycle will remain open and doesn’t open without a second round and we`ll be left behind Seidi`s back.

You also choose to shoot each scene in one uninterrupted take, despite quite complicated decor switches. Why this decision ?

I’ve been working mainly with film since 2017, and I feel that with it, an idea of authenticity has become even more important to me – meaning, for example, real sets and as few post-digital additions and corrections as possible. Shooting for film has taught me to build the work as ready as possible for the filming situation. This has partly affected my interest in using long shots and the decor switches that take place within them.
Also in my recent works I have used long and solid shots to transfer a sense of real-time nature of a performance or a stage event. In Prelude Op. 28 no 2 the uninterrupted playing and a single shot capture the event in one temporal moment, but as the camera moves and two people change places, time is equally layered.
With a process like this I have found a new way to work with a team. The use of long shots requires practice and fine-tuning the choreography for the shooting situation.
The filming itself has become a performance-like situation, in which each member of the working group has had a certain task and therefore an important role.

Sound of course plays a key role. Could you tell us how you composed the soundtrack with all its layers ?

Kasperi Laine is the sound designer for the film and he was part of the process from the beginning, even when we thought about the silent version. He was also present on the shooting. Kasperi has various experiences working with sound. He has worked in theater, films and is a musician and producer as well. I tried to utilize his multi-talent and creativity not just concerning sound matters, but the whole.
For the film we first thought not to use Chopin’s Prelude played on the piano directly, instead we were interested to design the soundscape otherwise and in this way be more related to the silent version – to use the sound as it would give a feeling of not hearing. However, the sound would transmit the nature of the piece of the music another way, for example using other sounds from the piano (pedals, piano keys…), spatial sounds and characters voices (breath, movement…).
Several tests later, we came to the conclusion that the piano must indeed belong to the soundtrack. Since the title of the film is that particular composition, every musical solution is also reflected in it. For this reason, radical modification of the original music became tricky, as it seemed to comment on or challenge the original and wasn’t our intention in the first place. Also with the help of playing the piano time and performers role shifts were made more noticable.

Interview by Nathan Letoré

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Technical sheet

Finland / 2022 / Colour / 35 mm / 8’

Original version : No Dialogue
Script : Jenni Toikka
Photography : Ville Piippo
Editing : Sampo Siren, Jenni Toikka
Music : Frédéric Chopin
Sound : Kasperi Laine
With : Seidi Haarla, Meri Nenonen
Production : Jenni Toikka
Distribution : Tytti Rantanen (AV-arkki – The Centre for Finnish Media Art).
Filmography : Reel, 2019
Lighthouse, 2019
Circle, 2016
Adaptation, 2009.