The Punk Queen: Christina of Sweden according to Mika Kaurismäki

in 39th Montreal World Film Festival

by Andrés Nazarala

Nobody ever talks about Mika Kaurismäki without mentioning Aki, although it was Mika who put the family name on the world cinematographic map in 1981 with his great film The Liar (Valehtelija), starring his then unknown younger brother.  This film launched his eclectic film career, whose highlights include the offbeat 1987 comedy Helsinki-Napoli All Night Long (starring Eddie Costantine, Jim Jarmusch, Samuel Fuller and Wim Wenders; the 1991 dark rock and roll film Zombie and the Ghost Train (Zombie ja Kummitusjuna); the 1994 cult documentary Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made, featuring a trip into Brazil1s Mato Grosso with Jim Jarmusch and Samuel Fuller; the 1998 Hollywood comedy L.A. Without a Map with Monte Hellman, Julie Delpy, Vincent Gallo and Joe Dalessandro; and the 2005 Brasileirinho, a charming documentary about the music of Brazil, where he lives since 1992, far from Aki’s cold-vodka-landscapes.            

These different genres and styles make it difficult to find a common denominator for Mika’s filmography, although we can say that exquisite music and black humor are typically present in most of his films. But what could be interpreted as a lack of identity – especially in contrast to the singular and consummate world of his brother – can also be read as a passion for movies and a love for cinematographic challenges. His latest work, The Girl King, part of the World Competition in Montreal, is the living proof of that spirit: a historical film that offers an audacious representation of the youth of Christina of Sweden, which dares to go where Rouben Mamoulian’s Queen Christina (1933, starring Greta Garbo) did not venture, partly because of the strict morals of its time.              

With a script written by Quebecois writer Michel Marc Bouchard, Kaurismäki shows Christina as a lonely leader, trapped behind the bars of hierarchy – she was proclaimed queen at the age of 5 – and an educated woman, who fought for culture and peace, and who fell madly in love with Countess Ebba Sparre. Kaurismäki tell us that this passionate affair, and the subsequent marriage of the woman she loved, triggered Christina’s psychological, physical and moral downfall. In 1654, Christina abdicated her throne in favor of her cousin Charles Gustav. In 1651 she had a nervous breakdown and collapsed. Four years later she announced her conversion to Roman Catholicism. She died in 1689, at 62.              

The cinematographic approach of The Girl King is conventional – we do not see a pair of Converse All Star or listen to new wave music as in Sofia Coppola’s Maria Antoinette – and the narrative is straightforward. Yet Mika injects a raw energy into this story of rebellion, teenage angst and romantic disillusionment. An achievement, made possible thanks to the talented actress Malin Buska, who looks raging and lost like a Janis Joplin on a bad acid trip or a 1600’s royal Frances Farmer. Over hundred and six minutes we watch watch this unique and insubordinate queen sliding on a downward spiral, which Kaurismäki delivers as a franticly dramatic tour de force, leaving us with the feeling that The Girl King is both a pleasant and an unexpected surprise, a punk rock film, dressed in period costumes.  

Edited by Christina Stojanova