Live photo by artist Lasse Hallstrom – The Hollywood Reporter

Like most art lovers, prolific director Lasse Hallström hadn’t heard of prolific painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) until recently. Af Klint was ignored, frustrated, sidelined, and overlooked during her life, but with the exception of a four-year period, she never stopped creating. She took painting beyond representational still lifes and landscapes into the anonymous realm of abstraction, several years before Wassily Kandinsky claimed the mantle of that innovative leap. Her work was kept in storage for 20 years after her death, on her instructions, and none of it was sold.

What a (market-free) discovery for the groundbreaking artist, starting with a landmark 2013 exhibition that wowed museum-goers in Stockholm before traveling to seven other European cities and New York. Halina Dirkka 2019 movie beyond the visible, the first feature-length documentary on af Klint, explores the breadth and depth of her legacy from an editorial art history perspective no less than galvanic. in HilmaHallström delves into the fiery, sometimes chaotic personal story as well as celebrating, in a captivating and immersive way, the unique fusion of nature and the spiritual mystery that drove it.


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Lively and sensual.

Place: Palm Springs International Film Festival (Modern Masters)
Throw: Lena Olin, Tora Hallstrom, Kathryn Chalke, Jazzy De Lesser, Lily Cole, Rebecca Calder, Maeve Dermody, Anna Björk, Martin Wallstrom, Tom & Lashe
Director and screenwriter: Lasse Hallstrom

1 hour 54 minutes

The English-language drama (Hallström couldn’t find funding for a film about fellow Swede in their native language), which had its North American premiere at the Palm Springs festival, is set for release in April by Juno Films, and looks destined for a warm art-house welcome.

I can’t pinpoint when I first became aware of af Klint’s work – perhaps it was Olivier Assayas’ moody hoot Personal shopper —but I remember the sense of recognition evoked by her vibrant abstract images, reconnecting, via clicking and clicking deadlines, with timeless, boundless language. Writer-director Hallstrom was pointed Clint’s way by his wife, actress Lena Olin, and the movie they’ve made together is a family project, at the center of which is the stellar debut performance by the couple’s daughter, Tora Hallstrom. (It’s a promising reinvention, too; as a teenager, she makes two brief appearances in her father’s features, but even HilmaShe was in the financial world.)

Tora Hallström, who plays the title character for decades, embodies the perennial outsider he looks up to, whether in her family, at school, in society or, crucially, in the world of fine art — and big business. (Refreshingly, her aging is subtly alluded to, rather than emphasized in the overly visual way many films do, but at key narrative turns the passing of the years can be more noticeable.) energy. The film is bookended by strong scenes of Olin as the elder Hilma, kept away, as she has been all her life, by men of status and money. To them she is “charming”, beyond understanding, and though there is a deep stress in her eyes, there is also an unquenchable hunger as she takes in the simple beauty of the trees that line a city street.

Hallström traces Hilma’s birth as a convention-defying artist to the death in her childhood of her beloved younger sister (Emi Tjernström). Together they explored the island of Adelso, where their ancestral land was owned by their maritime family, if not a large sum of money, and an aristocratic name. For Hilma, their investigations of the natural world and her paintings of flowers and shells are a matter of science rather than decoration. “Art is a tool in my research,” she tells the skeptical panel of men who interview her for admission to the Art Academy, where female students must use a separate entrance at the back of the building.

She is determined to create a map of the world that includes the physical and the invisible. Her attention to both realities has vivid kinetic life in the film, thanks to Ragna Jorming’s expressive camerawork, Jon Ekstrand’s evocative score, the sensitive pulse of Dino Jonsäter’s editing and the rich, evocative palette of Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth’s production design and Flore Vauvillé’s costumes. All of this was orchestrated with heart and soul by Hallström, and remarkably without a hint of emotion. Accent is the direct experience, revelation and invention, the inner strength of a woman who remains true to herself.

The director’s script devotes a great deal of time to De Fem (The Five), the group Hilma forms with four other women she meets at art school: medium Sigrid Hedmann (Maeve Dermody), Cornelia Cederberg (Rebecca Calder), Matilda Nelson (Lily Cole) and Anna Cassel (Catherine Chalke). Together they study Theosophy and Spiritualism, fashionable at the time rather than outré, as they are today. Hallstrom approaches these areas of research with respect and a sense of wonder. The women experiment with automatic writing across a board, and collectively create art, with Hilma at the helm, guided by spirits. Anna, who has her family’s money plentiful, finances Hilma’s projects – matters of great urgency to her and, as she is confident, to the world. In what may be a matter of conjecture, Anna is not just Hilma’s benefactor but also her lover, their sensual relationship subtly conveyed in one of their first scenes together, a visit to the dressmakers where the mixture of luxury and inner utility seems glowing from within.

When Hilma’s mother (Anna Björk), temporarily like her rebellious daughter, needs a nurse, Anna pays for that too, only to find that Thomasin (Jazy de Lisser), who hired her, takes her place in Hilma’s affections. Thanks to Hallström and the main performances, Hilma It embraces complexity and has no interest in pillars or hero worship. However, the ups and downs of Anna and Hilma’s relationship, the jealousy and the stopping and starting, grow more frequent and weary towards the middle of the film. These sequences clearly capture not only Hilma’s demanding tenacity but also her artistic stagnation, but the real engine of the story, Hilma’s creativity, feels lost in the melodrama.

Despite her self-confidence, Hilma surrenders with painful extravagance to the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. A fascinating historical figure, played by an utterly smug Tom Walshe, it’s the occultist she holds above all others, even after she pleads with him to support her art and he responds with heuristic notions about what art is and why her work doesn’t qualify.

But it’s not all that amazes Hilma; In a wonderfully awkward encounter with Edvard Munch (Paulius Markevicius) at an exhibition of his paintings, he offers encouragement, however general, however inspired by her reaction to one of his paintings. Relying on the generosity of others, Hilma creates a kind of utopia, a workshop for the island where she can paint large paintings for the temple she envisions. Guided by spirits held back by the art world’s establishment, she finds a way to triumph, albeit at great cost, and Hilma It embraces the nitty-gritty along with the rapture.

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