Written by: Eeva Putro and Jarno Elonen
Directed by: Zaida Bergroth
Tove Jansson’s Moomin books – including The Moomins and the Great Flood and Comet in Moominland – form a unique contribution to children’s literature. The stories of Moonmintroll, his family and friends have captivated generations since Great Flood’s publication in 1945.
In a new biopic, director Zaida Bergroth focuses on Jansson’s early life, and the years leading up to her breakthrough as an artist and writer. Born in Helsinki, Jansson was part of a bohemian, artistic family. In early scenes, Tove draws strange, hippo-like creatures as her sculptor father, Viktor, perfects another commission. Looking them over, he scorns his daughter’s work. These scribbles are “not art”.
Jansson tries to put these images to the back of her mind, but they persist as she explores more traditional painting. She meets with some success, painting murals for Helsinki City Hall, and illustrating Swedish editions of The Hobbit and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Played by Alma Poysti, the film’s interpretation of Tove Jansson is of a woman and artist ahead of her time. Living independently, Poysti’s Jansson is lively and endearing: her enjoyment of what life has to offer fills every scene. Jansson’s life takes a dramatic turn when she is asked to illustrate a birthday party invitation. The woman asking for the favour is theatre director, Vivica Bandler (a great performance from Krista Kosonen). Meeting at the party, the two women instantly make a connection. During their relationship, Bandler discovers Jansson’s Moomin drawings. She pushes Jansson to see their brilliance.
Written by Eeva Putro and Jarno Elonen, Tove reinforces how Jansson’s life ran counter to the prescribed culture of the time. Living in the shadow of her famous (though artistically conservative) father, Jansson struggles to see the potential in her Moomin sketches. Interestingly, Tove’s journey to self-acceptance is professional, rather than personal.
While the film does not specifically look at influences behind the Moomin world (for example, it is believed that the characters Moominpapa and Moominmamma are broadly inspired by Jansson’s parents), Tove does look at who Jansson chose to associate with. In a Finland that, post-war, was still caught in a 19th century aesthetic, Jansson socialised with artists who formed an undercurrent of new, avant-garde culture. Tove shows us how Jansson had to confront the patriarchal influences in the art world. She struggles to get financial support for her work, with grants going to more established (male) artists, including her father. It isn’t until the Moomin phenomenon takes off, that Jansson gains the clearest idea of her worth. A biopic usually tends to lean into the artist’s development of their voice. Bergroth recognises that Jansson’s was there from an early age – she had to circumvent the world around her to make it heard.
Tove joins the dots with Jansson’s experiences, noting how her instinct defined her art: living free of constraint, creating and loving without the usual rules in place. Moominland, populated with characters who are expressive, bold and curious, is not just an imaginary universe; Jansson lived it for herself.
Tove is in cinemas 9 July from Blue Finch Film Releasing.