Monday, August 31, 2009

Sensuela (1973): or, Nice Girls Finnish Last

It's easy, especially for cineastes of the Duke's and my broad-ranging interests and experiences, to fall into the trap of thinking that one may just have seen it all, at least in the realms of the cinematic MAD. New atrocities are just riffs on old ones; new shocking plots are simply those of antiquity dusted off and given shinier packaging. The things that bring us delight, though still pleasant, lose the power to surprise. We become comfortable, but jaded; content, even, but nonetheless mourning for the days when the far distance was yet shrouded in darkness and mist, when monsters still lurked at the edges of maps. When there were still new joys to unearth, new countries yet to discover.

But oh my parishioners and subjects, let us never forget: ours is a wide, weird, and wonderfully MAD world.

Shot in 1968 but not released until 1973, Teuvo Tulio's Sensuela is quite possibly the first sexploitation movie ever to come out of Finland. Totally giving the lie to the Western (or at least Vicar-ious) view of the Finns as staid, neutral, and perhaps slightly boring folk of the Scandinavian lands, Sensuela takes the hoary old "innocent country girl corrupted by big-city living" plot and makes it something completely different, something that even thirty years on feels entirely new. Sure, you'll see things you recognize from other flicks, but slightly skewed--you'll detect influences and parallels, but just a little off--and you'll see something I can almost guarantee you've never seen in any other film ever. Interested yet?

"I am so TOTALLY in the cockpit."

In the wilds of Lapland, near the end of World War II, Nazi bomber pilot Hans Müller (Mauritz Åkerman) finds himself having engine trouble. The budget-challenged nature of the entire proposition is apparent from frame one, as we see Hans belted in to a cockpit that will immediately remind any Mad Movie Watcher of the podium-and-shower-cutrains set-up from Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. As his cartoon-dot-on-the-filmstock plane belches, farts, and backfires for what seems like a good five minutes, heading ever-so-slowly toward a majestic snow-covered mountain, Hans draws the attention of the native people below, about whom there is MUCH to be said.

Via some Marlon Perkins-esque narration over a combo of nature stock-footage and stuff that had to be shot for the flick itself, we get a Mutual of Omaha-worthy primer on the culture of the Laplanders, or Sami People*, the indigenous people of northern Europe who at least in part pursue a nomadic cultural lifestyle, living in tents and following the massive herds of reindeer that provide them with all their food, shelter, and tool-making needs. A bit like the Buffalo-herding native peoples of North America, but with a much colder climate and much more colorful clothing.

Sure, she looks fast, but she's been going in circles for hours.

*Though they're used throughout the movie, apparently the terms "Laplander" and "Lapp" in reference to the Sami People are now considered derogatory. So watch yourselves next time you're trying to score among the reindeer herds.

Our main focus among these colorfully-clad Natives of the North is lovely young Laila Walk (Marianne Mardi), daughter of tribal chief and Genghis Khan-lookalike Aslak Walk (Ossi Elstelä) and the fastest damn reindeer-sled racer north of Helsinki. As luck would have it, the dark and "sensual" Laila is out for a spin when Hans's aircraft sputters overhead, and witnesses its horrifying (read: hilarious), leisurely-paced crash into the background mountain. Luckily Hans has ejected prior to impact, but hasn't reckoned on the airspeed velocity of an unanchored German--the cold North Wind fills his parachute upon landing, dragging him across the ice like Indiana Jones! Luckily Laila harnessed Comet instead of Dancer earlier that morning, and she races to the rescue in a nail-biting chase, with both Hans and Laila obviously pulled by (largely) off-camera trucks. Excitement!

Back in the unrealistically spacious blue-died tent of Laila and her father, Hans and we learn more about the Laplanders' way of life, which includes kindness to strangers regardless of their political affiliations or stances on cultural/religious genocide. (This code further extends to not giving them up to the Finnish Ski Police when asked). Pleased that his hosts are unconcerned with the whole "Final Solution" part of his job description, Hans soon finds himself developing tender feelings for the Hottest Lapp in the Land. He also glosses over Aslak's rather unsavory method of castrating the reindeer bucks, a traditional activity at which the old man is tops in the league. I won't spoil the particulars of this method for the uninitiated, but suffice to say IT WILL BE IMPORTANT.


After the war Hans, somehow avoiding the Nuremberg Tribunal, goes back to his civilian occupation as a freelance photographer, an assignment that a few years later finds him covering some traditional Lapland reindeer races--and I bet you can just guess who's the odds-on favorite at the match. Remembering their "in-tents" romantic attachment, Laila agrees to run away with Hans to the big city of Helsinki, much to her father's sour-mouthed disapproval. Once there, Hans turns his out-of-wedlock lover into a high class fashion model, peeling away her innocence with every layer of clothing (and in Lapland, they wear LOTS of layers) as the shutter clicks and clicks away...

The movie has had its slow spots up to now--the nature documentary portions can drag for non- National Geographic subscribers, but it's punctuated by bursts of such out(lap)landish MADNESS that you just have to keep watching. The Ed Wood vibe continues and grows stronger, with the cheap interior sets, the clumsily matched stock footage, and two of the most HILARIOUS usages of taxidermied animals it has ever been my pleasure to witness. Add the taboo-breaking fur-covered sex scene and Laila's strange, genuinely innocent-seeming sensuality, and it's more than worth hanging out through the slow parts for.

Plus, once you get through that first 20 to 30 minutes, you're rewarded with THIS:

It's symbolic, of course

Yes, it turns out Hans is a bit of a psychedelic swinger, and host to some of the wildest parties the Finnish capital has ever seen. I mean, just look at that pad. He's got the bold primary colors...the wild flowery draperies...Home Interiors' finest framed art prints over your grandma's easy chair...a lot of hip young Finns going go-go in their underwears...and oh, yes, A FREAKIN' DANCING SKELETON! PAR-TAY! As Nordic blonde beauties shake their unrestrained boobages to the throbbing beat of some sensual tunes, Hans drinks, does drugs, and attracts the eye of many a fine Finnish femme. When he goes into the back room to take advantage of some of the smorgasbord of flesh on offer, his firey tempered native girl decides she doesn't want to share and storms out.

Too ashamed to go back to her father's tribe after living in sin in Hell-Sin-ki, Laila writes to dear old Dad, telling him that she and Hans are planning to be married as soon as they have enough money--that oughta hold the old biter off for a few years, what? Suddenly homeless, Laila takes an apartment with disturbingly scar-breasted roommate Greta (Maria Pertamo), who just so happens to be a high-end independent contractor specializing in the Whorish Arts. Touting the plentiful easy money and no-discernible-downside of this career choice, Greta offers to set Laila up in business with the drunken friend of one her military clients. The prospective employer offers many many markka for Laila's favors, even interrupting his superior officer's tryst with Greta in order to borrow more, but at this point Laila still has her pride and dignity, and turns the fellow down cold.

Instead she takes a job working construction, showing herself as strong as she is beautiful, and on the job meets dreamboat Pekka (Ismo Saario), who knows nothing about her past but loves the way she handles a wheelbarrow. There follows an extended but by no means boring courtship between the two, as they visit a carnival (watch for the bikini-girl dunk tank!), feed seagulls on the beach, take in some suggestive fireworks, and finally get away for a dirty weekend to a (once again improbably spacious) cabin in the woods. Once there they take a sensual and culturally accurate sauna--complete with leafy green flagellation!--before the two do the voodoo that two do so well. Meanwhile poor Aslak, bereft of his only child, sadly plies his reindeer-castrating trade.

Oregano makes him feel manly

Unfortunately for Laila, even in the days before the internet a picture of nekkid boobs was forever, as unbeknownst to her, Hans has sold several of her old shots for a saucy calendar that quickly becomes all the rage in Finland. As if driven by the hand of a malicious fate, when Aslak makes his yearly trek into the nearest village to pick up his mail and non-reindeer-produced supplies (read: vodka), he happens to catch a glimpse of his daughter on the wall of the mom & pop grocery--smiling, arms akimbo, her perky-nippled frontspieces shoved out for all the customers to see. (Note to self: shop rural Finland.) Enraged, the old man decides to make the trip down to Helsinki and ensure Hans makes an honest woman of his girl.

After Aslak nearly beats the location of Hans's apartment out of Greta in an odd, off-putting scene, Laila knows the jig is up, or will be unless she can think up a plan but quick. Desperate, she rushes back to Hans, begging him to help her perpetuate the deception on her father and keep him away from her new love. Being the swinging, cosmopolitan sort, Hans agrees to help stage a mock wedding for Aslak's benefit, inviting all his groovy friends over to get in on the gag--because if one thing is universal, it's the glee city folks take in happily making fools of whatever country bumpkins cross their paths. Unfortunately Pekka hears about the impending nuptials, and not being in on the joke, rushes to the party to put a stop to it.

Compassion is the secret of Greta's success.

What follows is a scene you will have known was coming from near the very beginning, but one I'll wager will have your jaw on the floor nonetheless. (Of particular shock to me was the wedding guests' reluctance to do anything at all to assist their host. I mean sure, the vodka was cheap and the hors d'oeuvres were not the freshest, but STILL...) Unmoved by Laila's tearful confessions, both Pekka and Aslak abandon the girl to her fate, and Hans to the excellent Finnish health care system.

The movie could have ended right there and been one of the most amazing pieces of world cinema I'd ever witnessed, but it goes on for a bit following poor Laila's downward spiral in the wake of these shocking events. Now without pride, dignity, or male support of any kind, Laila takes work where she can find it--and where she finds it is in seedy nightclubs of the Jess Franco variety, where she dances naked on the stage and stands tearfully in front of the crowd while a burly Finn whips her like a lazy reindeer in the harness. When Pekka shows up with his new girlfriend to take in the show, the poor fallen angel's humiliation is complete, and she decides to take Greta up on her offer of sideline employment. It seems suicide is only a hop, skip, and splash away.

Nothing brings in the markkas like a Lapp Dance

But when Greta is suddenly knifed by a dissatisfied customer, Laila is shocked out of her complacency. At just that moment (what are the chances?) she learns that her father has died, leaving the tribe without an elder statesman/Tundral Oyster preparer. Realizing that she should never go looking for happiness any further than her own back yard (and that that bitch Dorothy Gale got off WAY easy), Laila returns to Lapland and her simpler, less whippy way of life.

This movie is so wonderful, so OUT THERE, that I've really had trouble even summarizing it for fear of not doing it justice. Like the best (?) of Ed Wood's work, there's an earnestness and honest enthusiasm that shines through even the most outrageously inept acting, set-ups, and special effects, a joy that is (like Greta's love) infectious. Its bright colors and comic-panel framing seem either an imitation or an echo of Russ Meyer's trademark style, and the aforementioned Jess Franco nightclub scenes and perverse sexuality make for a 3-director trifecta that any Madite should be salivating over. There's plenty of grooviness, loads and loads of nudity, some genuinely hot sex scenes (bonus fact: Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is the "chicka-chicka-waow-waow" music of Finland), interesting cultural facts, and enough MADNESS to stop a herd of uncastrated reindeer in their tracks. It's a movie that must be seen--maybe in order to be believed, but for whatever reason, it MUST BE SEEN.

Very well, thanks!

Well over the 3 Thumbs roof for this one. If you call yourself a fan of weird and wild world cinema, you owe it to yourself to track this one down. As a last resort, send an emissary to the vicarage with terms. I'm sure we can work something out. ;)

More images from Sensuela (1973):

Harlequin Presents: The Nazi in My Lapp

Beautiful Plumage

"I declare the price of beets OUTRAGEOUS!"

That's some pad.


Michael J. said...

Well done, Vicar, for digging deep into the well of MmmmMadness for this one. Promise me this -- when you and the Duke open the web-store, pleeese stock up on those crazy Lapp hats. (size 7, in Spacious Blue). And on official Hans-Party Skeleton Suits. Consider my order IN.

The Duke of DVD said...

When the Vicar first told me about this movie, while we sat on silken pillows at my mountain retreat in upper Romania, I was skeptical. Sure, I had a small room in a corner of my blackened heart that held out small hope that somehow, somewhere there would exist a movie containing the ritual castration of reindeer, and that said movie would also be sexploitation movie from Finland, but I had all but given up my dream of finding one.

Then along comes Sensuela. Micro budget, use of taxidermy'd animals, and garish makeup; Sensuela has it all. This, my friends, is as MAD a movie as I have ever hoped to view, and one (as the Vicar says) everyone who reads this blog should endeavour to watch.

Bravo, Vicar. You have put to the page the eloquence and charm that is Lapp softcore, and once again bring us to the brink MAD-ness, before roughly shoving us off into the abyss we so yearn for, yet fear.

Tenebrous Kate said...

I showed up for the Lapp Dance punchline; I stayed for the dancing skeleton; I creamed my panties at the Nazi-Sami love photo. I'm actually having a hard time believing that this movie exists, that it's not just some clever Photoshop plot on the part of the Vicar to fill my heart to bursting from hope. Admit it--you just put a bunch of phrases into a hat, pulled out five ("Nazi," "reindeer," "hookers," "Crayola," and "drug dealer," to be precise) and crafted this plot around them. The real world cannot possibly be this beautiful.

Paul said...

Kate, it exists, all right. The Vicar tweeted his disbelief in this film some weeks ago, leading me to move both hell AND high water to find it. It lives up to the description, that's for sure. For more on Mr Tullio's extraordinary oeuvre, go here:

Jenn said...

Castrated reindeer? Leisurely paced plane crashes? Psychedelic swingers? Dancing skeletons? Finland? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Sensuela? The mind reels. Truly. If I wasn't so hungover today, I would swear this all made me kinda dizzy. It sounds kinda like Ed Wood and Jess Franco had a Finnish baby or something.

Al Bruno III said...

Another amusing and informative post about a movie I had never heard of.

And MAD MAD MAD MAD MOVIES is still my favorite blog to read when I'm not wearing pants.

The Duke of DVD said...

In addition to being the public's favorite blog to read whilst not wearing trousers, our extensive research also indicates that we are the blog to read while:

1) Sitting in a cheese shop eating the finest Gloucester.

2) Mounting a serving girl/man as other serving girls/men watch in horror.

3) Burning an effigy of the Vicar.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

@Michael J.--I predict that the Lapp Hats will be IN in a big way the next fashion cycle. We'll all be ahead of the game, there. And when is the Party Skeleton Suit ever OUT of style, I ask you? ;)

@Duke of DVD--This movie proves yet again what we've always known: there are more things in heaven, earth, and the Internet than are dreamed in our philosophy.

@Tenebrous Kate--Even if I had done the hat/fishbowl thing, then taken some of the Duke's special shrooms and spun myself around until I couldn't stand up, I don't think I'd have come up with Sensuela. Definitely seek it out at your earliest opportunity.

@Paul--fascinating stuff! I'd really like to see more of Tulio's work now...sounds like he was an artist with some interesting (if not always pretty) things to say! Thanks for the link!

@Jenn--I wasn't hungover, and yet I still felt that way once Sensuela had had its wicked way with me. :)

@Al Bruno III--that might be the greatest complement the Duke and I have ever received! In fact, it's totally our new tagline: "MMMMMovies: the #1 Movie Site to Read Whilst Pantsless!" ;)

Samuel Wilson said...

Just getting around to reading this ... WOW! Sensuela sounds like not just a mad mad mad mad movie but a wild world of cinema landmark. Consider yourself a conquistador on top of all your other honors and titles, Vicar. Finland is clearly your territory.

Ezreal said...

By the way, you don't have to go all the way to rural Finland to see Suomi snow mounds. I remember porn being on the regular news racks in the train station in Helsinki. And I'm not talking behind the seller - I'm talking the rotating metal rack for everyone to look through.

That's if you survive the plane flight into their airport. Attention Finn Air: a free-fall is not a gradual decent!

bgc1999 said...

Great job, just one detail. I saw the movie last night. And the knife guy is Joni, the ex-pimp of Greta, she is used like a lure to get him away of Laila.
The movie is as sad and confusing as posible.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this movie on the finnish tv-channel, it was like nothing I have ever seen. It's so weird and bad that it somehow becomes fantastic. I want to own this movie! But my guess is it isn't out on dvd...

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