The UCLA Film Archive's "Shadows in Paradise: Films From Finland 1948-1992" opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. in UCLA's Melnitz Theater with a bombshell of a movie, Jari Halonen's "Back to the U.S.S.R.," which has already received the kind of sharply divided responses that were accorded the New Zealand film "Sweetie." Although the film's references are likely to confound all but Finns--or those expert on Finnish history and society--it is clear that with Halonen we're in the presence of a genuinely original sensibility and a truly anarchic spirit.
Halonen plunges us into the tragicomic despair of a fiery, red-bearded young radical (Jormma Tommila), a dislodged union shop steward, the last communist in his village, a man whose cause as well as his marriage has collapsed. Failing in his attempt to hang himself, he finds himself on a drunken spree, tilting at windmills, with a new sidekick, none other than Lenin (Taisto Reimaluoto)--or his ghost--who turns out to be the wimpiest vampire of all time. Halonen, who's been labeled both a rightist and a leftist, seems to see present-day capitalist Finland as withering to the soul but also the communist dream as a betrayal.
Rauni Mollberg's far more accessible 1990 "Friends, Comrades" (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.) is a stunning epic-scale social satire tracing the relentlessly upwardly mobile career of an unflappable, urbane nickel mine tycoon (Estonian actor Mikk Mikever, whose resemblance to Sean Connery is uncanny), whom we meet on his 50th birthday, just before the outbreak of World War II. He collects medals from the Russians as well as Hitler and lives on into the modern era to deal just as triumphantly with the emerging nations.
Mollberg curses such relentless greed and exploitation of the land and of its people, yet even the deterioration of the tycoon's once-happy marriage ultimately does not faze the tycoon. "Friends, Comrades" is not nearly as conventional as it sounds and in fact has the kind of visual bravura we associate with Andrzej Wajda and Orson Welles. It will be followed by another Mollberg film, the 1980 "Milka," dealing with the spiritual and sexual awakening of a young woman.
Finland's best-known filmmakers are the droll Mika and Aki Kaurismaki; Mika's 1989 "Cha, Cha, Cha," about a man who inherits a million but doesn't want it, screens Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by Aki's bold and contemporary reworking of Shakespeare, the 1987 "Hamlet Goes Into Business," which was shown locally twice in 1989 (and which has some of the same concerns as "Friends, Comrades"). Aki's unprepossessing Hamlet (Pirkka-Pekka Petelius) is the bulky, middle-aged son of a Helsinki industrial paper and shipping tycoon who is poisoned by his brother, who would reduce the once-mighty family concern to turning out rubber ducks.
There's nothing noble about this lethal family and its deadly machinations, but its plight and fate have considerable political implications both for life in Finland and that country's minor position in world trade. Shot in striking high-contrast black-and-white like a classic film noir, the picture is set largely in the family's vast, castle-like mansion, as isolated as Elsinore, and it has a darkly humorous, dryly outrageous tone.
Resourceful: The American Cinematheque's "Not of This Earth--A Weekend With Roger Corman in Person" at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., calls attention, through a judicious and diverse selection of some of his best work, to Corman the gifted, always audacious, endlessly resourceful filmmaker rather than Corman the discoverer of major talent--although plenty of his proteges are expected to be on hand. Fittingly, the tribute begins Friday at 7 p.m. with "The Intruder" (1961), arguably Corman's best, most serious film, a chilling, suspenseful tale of bigotry, based on an actual incident and starring William Shatner.
Among the gems are a Poe double feature, "The Raven" (1963), with Jack Nicholson, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, at once funny and scary, and the elegant, Cocteau-like "Tomb of Ligeia" (1964) with Vincent Price (Saturday at 7 p.m.). There's a dynamite gangster double feature, "Machine Gun Kelly" (1958), in which Charles Bronson plays the most uptight, insecure but deadly gangster since Cagney in "White Heat," and the raucous "Bloody Mama" (1970) with Shelley Winters, Don Stroud, Bruce Dern and Robert DeNiro (Sunday at 7 p.m.).
Other films: "The Trip" (1967), a '60s time capsule written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern and Susan Strasberg (Sunday at 3 p.m.); the original, shot-in-two-days "Little Shop of Horrors" (1960) featuring Jack Nicholson (Sunday at 5 p.m.); and two double features composed of early, lesser-known Cormans, "A Bucket of Blood" and "The Undead" (Friday at 8:45 p.m.) and "Not of This Earth" and "Creature From the Haunted Sea" (Saturday at 10 p.m.).
Information: (213) 466-FILM.