The Moomins are recognisable in many countries around the world. While watching the anime television series as a child in the early 1990s, I became a fan of Moomintroll and his family. My fascination then developed beyond the programme when I became interested in the original artwork and books by Tove Jansson in my adult years. However, unless you’re a Moomin super fan, Jansson’s name probably doesn’t mean much to you. But for those spellbound by Jansson’s work, Jansson’s native Finland has now made a biopic about how her early relationships influenced her work.
At the start of the film, Tove (Alma Pöysti) decides to move out of her parents’ home due to her father’s condemnation of her work. Unfortunately, this does not resolve Tove’s difficulty establishing herself as an artist, as Tove fails to receive a grant to support her painting, and the bourgeoisie ignores her entirely. However, while Tove is having an affair with Finnish journalist and socialist Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), she begins a relationship with Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), a middle-class avant-garde theatre director. Their bohemian lifestyles see them not only develop affection for each other, but achieve professional success.
Many aspects amalgamate to make Tove a great watch. There are subtle references to how high society controls the world of art (like in many industries), and how conformity often causes people to replicate the work of artists that have come before them. The bourgeoisie often disregards Tove because of her nonconformity.
The design elements of the film also all come together fluidly. For a film about an artist, Tove unsurprisingly features some appealing artistry. The music, costumes, production design, and locations are all artistically gratifying and redolent of post-war Finland.
Pöysti’s performance also fits in with the cordial tone of the film. She perfectly captures the carefree spirit needed for the role and creates a very likeable character. Her expressions are nuanced, and in moments of difficulty the audience feels for her.
Tove might seem conventional to some audiences, but there are distinctive new approaches this film takes within the biopic subgenre. There have been numerous films that feature lesbian lovers. Sometimes these films portray the difficulty the lovers have in pursuing their relationship and overcoming obstacles put in their way. Admittedly, and sadly, there is still prejudice against differing sexual orientations, but it is refreshing to see a same-sex couple that’s untroubled and unchallenged by society. The freedom in Tove and Vivica’s affair initially gives Tove confidence in her work, especially when Vivica shows appreciation for her drawings.
Tove might appear as if it is a standard comforting biopic. However, director Zaida Bergroth does just enough to differentiate it from similar biopics with delightful artistry, while creating a lighthearted but enjoyable film.