Bookended by scenes of its heroine dancing with abandon, “Tove” dramatizes a significant decade in the life and career of Tove Jansson, the Finnish artist and writer known for her Moomin characters.
She’s a wildly unconventional free spirit in art and love in this glowing biodrama opening Friday in theaters.
Director Zaida Bergroth, working from a screenplay by Eeva Putro, covers the period of 1945 to 1955, with a brief 1944-set passage introducing us to Tove Jansson (Alma Pöysti). Tove is a petite young Swedish-speaking Helsinki woman sketching illustrations — future Moomins, naturally — in a World War II bomb shelter.
After the war, we see Tove with her bohemian artist family, which includes a respected sculptor father (Robert Enckell) who disapproves of Tove’s unorthodox paintings, which include unusual self-portraits. He regards Tove’s drawings of little creatures with hippo-like faces — she can’t seem to stop doodling them — as “not art.”
At a party filled with artistic and progressive sorts, Tove instigates a trip to the sauna with Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), a married leftist politician. The two conduct their ensuing love affair so openly that Atos’ wife phones Tove’s apartment when she needs to reach her husband.
Tove also has a female lover, Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), a tall, wealthy theater director. The two women undress each other, dance giddily, and call each other Thingumy and Bob — two of the names secretly referencing Tove’s personal life that can be found in Tove’s Moomin stories.
The Moomins become Tove’s ticket to popular success and financial stability. Tove begins writing children’s books and creating comic strips. She collaborates with Vivica on a play.
Tove continues to love Vivica but is deeply hurt by Vivica’s inability to reciprocate.
Despite the appeal of Tove’s Vivica and Atos relationships, the movie over-focuses on Tove’s love life. This shortchanges subjects like Tove’s relationship with her warmhearted graphic-artist mother (Kajsa Ernst), with whom the real-life Tove was reportedly close.
The 1945-55 time frame, meanwhile, excludes potentially compelling subjects from the picture. These include Tove’s brave anti-Hitler wartime illustrations and Tove’s post-Vivica relationship with Tuulikki Pietila (Joanna Haartti), the love of Tove’s life. Both topics are addressed only briefly.
But as conventionally presented biopics go, “Tove” enhances the basic goods. It also contains a terrific protagonist.
Shot on 16mm film, the movie has a warm glow compatible with the heart-filled tone Bergroth sets. The period detail, from shoe styles to crank-up phonographs, also impresses.
Pöysti, a theater actress who portrayed Tove Jansson onstage, triumphs in her first major movie role. She’s completely credible whether Tove (“Life is a wonderful adventure”) is taking a walk in a raging gale, or feeling like a “beautiful dragon” has swept her up (her description of her romance with Vivica), or trying to hide how hurt she feels when Vivica shows up with a new companion.
She also makes us feel we are watching a woman who, with her open sexuality and self-expressiveness, is considerably ahead of her time.
The real Tove Jansson makes an appearance, dancing up a storm, and looking uncannily like Pöysti, in the film’s final moments.
Starring: Alma Pöysti, Krista Kosonen, Shanti Roney, Robert Enckell
Directed by: Zaida Bergroth
Written by: Eeva Putro
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
“Changing the Game” is a moving documentary about transgender teens who are making waves in school sports by asserting their rights to be treated with respect and acceptance.
Director Michael Barnett profiles three such athletes. While noting that transgender youths face enormous challenges — more than 40 percent attempt suicide, the film reports — this is generally an upbeat film celebrating actions and achievements.
Mack Beggs, a transgender Texas boy whose sport is wrestling, wants to wrestle boys, but state policy allows him to wrestle only girls. Mack has the full support of the grandparents who raised him — gun-owning Southern Baptists who defy stereotypes.
Sarah Rose Huckman, a transgender girl, lives with her loving parents and creates makeup-tutorial YouTube videos. As a New Hampshirite, Sarah, a skier, can compete, per her wishes, as a girl. Worried about the future, however, she has become an activist. Her projects include advocating for a transgender-rights bill.
Andraya Yearwood, a transgender Connecticut girl, is a track star racing as a girl. Her mother is immensely proud of her (supportive parents emerge as unsung heroes in the film), and Andraya’s confidence and courage have inspired another girl, Terry Miller, who, like Andraya, is trans and African-American, to join the girls track team.
Barnett also includes opposition voices. Most are parents charging that transgender athletes, like Andraya, have an unfair advantage over cisgender athletes, like their daughters.
Barnett, who sides with the Macks, Sarahs and Andrayas of the world, is less interested in examining the unfair-advantage issue than in asserting that school sports programs should focus less on winning and more on achieving inclusion and helping young people improve as human beings.
He makes a convincing case.
This documentary gives needed visibility to teens who are impressively changing the rules and, through sports, enabling others to believe in themselves. Streaming on Hulu, it is inspiring viewing.
Changing the Game
With: Mack Beggs, Sarah Rose Huckman, Andraya Yearwood, Terry Miller
Directed by: Michael Barnett
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes