LOVE IS A TREASURE
(Rakkaus on Aarre)
One of Eija-Liisa Ahtilas exhibitions was named Real Worlds, Invented Characters and that seems to be an overriding theme that runs through her work, especially this and her previous short film Consolation Service (1999) about a wife haunted by an enigmatic apparition of her late husband. The five stories in Love is a Treasure were all taken from interviews with women diagnosed with mental illness and are designed to offer a point-of-view depiction of psychotic episodes. The intense subjectivity of their point-of-view is clearly a theme that is deeply personal to Ahtila. The startling reversals inherent in Ahtilas work are at their most vivid in the Underworld segment. The piece is narrated entirely by an African woman who is hiding under her bed in the belief that assassins have come to get her and even claims to have armed the bed with handles in case they try to lift it off her. The episode is narrated at a pitch of intense calm and it is disconcerting to see that the assassins the narrator believes are coming after her are in fact the nurses in what appears to be a psychiatric institution. It is these startling trompe loeil images and of things seen from the point-of-view of the mad person without any explanation of the subjectivity that makes Ahtilas work so effective.
Ahtila intersperses the real with the casually fantastique, using digital effects to subtly enhance things the pullback from a hospital in Silta Bridge to reveal it is a dolls house sitting on the corner of an empty lot, the house that has been cut open as though it were a dolls house, and the ending of Wind where Marjaana Kuusniemi crawls up the wall of her apartment and sits perched on the roof. The best of the segments is House where Ahtila takes ones breath away with the casualness of her visuals. We see bizarrely startling images like Marjaana Maijala, who in another story might seem a perfectly calm upper middle-class housewife, cowering in her house commenting on how the car is misbehaving whereupon out in the drive we see the car backing and reversing all of its own accord; and then how she mentions it is in the house and quite casually we see a tiny car whiz in a circle around the walls behind her back.
Of the five episodes, only Ground Control, the most overtly genre-identifying, with its heroine hearing secret messages from the UFOs, is the slightest. The digital UFO effects are so-so and the episode is lacking the startling reversals of imagery that the others contain.
Most of Eija-Liisa Ahtilas other film work has all been short films. Her one other full-length film was Where is Where? (2009) about the recollection of a murder, which features Death as one of the characters.