Tove Jansson is a struggling painter, deciding to find her own way in life outside of her sculptor father’s studio. Taking a run-down apartment during World War Two, she begins her life as a wild and care-free artist. Her world is turned upside down when she meets the upper-class theatre director Vivica Bandler, with whom she falls desperately in love with. Opening her up to new experiences and opportunity, Tove finds out how painful unrequited love can be, channelling her emotions into her art and into her most famous creations, The Moomins.

Tove Jansson had such a rich life, she was creative from a young age and well into her later years, so it isn’t easy to find focus. The most obvious route to take would be to concentrate on her famous characters and beloved children’s book series. However, with further exploration into Tove’s life, we discover that Moomins were just one of her many creations. Tove wanted to be known for her paintings as she always referred to herself as a painter. In her later life, years into her contract with the Evening Standard to create several comic strips a month, she became fed up with the creatures. Putting Moomins to one side and focusing on her art, Zaida Bergroth presents Tove’s work as an outlet for her emotions the feelings she couldn’t express out loud. Her paintings and life as an artist take precedence in this particular biopic, but the real focus is not only on Tove’s art but also her early loves, particularly Vivica Bandler.

Tove falls end of heels in love with Vivica, to the point that she simply cannot contain her herself. At a time when love affairs between same-sex couple were illegal, Tove finds ways to express herself in her art and writing. The relationship between the two women is at first seen as secretive and thrilling but soon turns to despair on Tove’s side. Vivica is presented as frivolous and doesn’t return Tove’s love, leaving the artist confused and in pain whenever she sees Vivica. This turmoil causes her to hurt another lover in her life, Atos Writanen, the philosopher. Although it seems that Tove’s life and love revolve around Vivica, this doesn’t stop Tove from continuously creating art; all is not lost. Vivica seems to be the catalyst for Tove, portrayed as her great love, but this is years before she met Tuulikki Pietilä, whom she was with for over 40 years. However, that is another story in Tove Jansson’s life that is not explored in this film.

Trying to encompass every aspect and moment of Tove’s life into one film was never going to work, which is why this film is just one story, her great love story in life. This means Tove’s other relationships take a back seat, such as her tempestuous relationship with her father, her loving one with her mother and the collaborative one with her brother Lars. We get glimpses of these throughout, but this is all about Vivica and Tove’s other lifelong love, her art. If anyone were expecting this to be about Moomins, they would be very disappointed, but if you were expecting a painful love story and struggle of an artist finding herself, this is the story for you.

 

Tove will screen as part of the 2021 BFI Flare Festival from March 17-28th, 2021

By KatieHogan

Katie has been writing about film for 10 years and joined the FH team back in 2016. Having been brought up on the classics from Empire Strikes Back to Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera, Katie has been obsessed with film since she was young and turned to writing about film after she immersed herself in her 6,000 word essay about the Coen Brothers.

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