Tove (2020), by Zaida Bergroth
Are you familiar with the Moomins? The name might not ring a bell at first, but those lovely moon inhabitants might have already crossed your path in comic strips and products. Their creator was the Finnish artist Tove Jansson, “the most widely read Finnish author abroad”, says the Moomin website. Now, besides being widely read, Tove’s story and love life is also known thanks to a new biopic.
The story starts in the 1940s, with Tove (Alma Pöysti) struggling to make ends meet. Her father, a well-known sculptor, thinks that her caricatures are not art, and that she should be painting, not drawing. Romantically, Tove is involved with a married man when she is seduced by the mayor’s daughter, theater director Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen). When she tells her lover that she slept with a woman, he asks Tove if it was just an experiment. She doesn’t know the answer.
It was not an experiment, after all: Tove is in love. And it’s when she invites Vivica to her apartment that Vivica gets interested in the Moomins, saying that they are a truly special creation — and not a “distraction from her real work”, as Tove’s father says — and expresses her desire to create a play around the characters. With Vivica, Tove will experience success and heartbreak.
You don’t need to be a huge fan of comic strips to know the names of some famous cartoonists, like Charles Schulz, who created the Peanuts comic strips, and Jim Davis, creator of Garfield. But you’ve got to be very familiar with the Moomins to know that their creator was Tove Jansson — and there is no doubt that many people thought that Tove was a male name. There are fewer women than men drawing comic strips, but, as we can see from the film, many of them are worth knowing.
The Janssons were a family of artists. As stated, Tove’s father was a sculptor, and her mother was an illustrator. Her two younger brothers were also in the arts, one being a photographer and the other a writer and cartoonist who also worked creating Moomin stories. In the past, some female artists came from artistic families, like Tove’s. Artemisia Gentileschi is an example of this: the daughter of a painter, just like Tove, Artemisia certainly benefited from her father’s reputation to be able to receive artistic training in the 17th century.
The goal of the film was to portray Tove’s “turbulent search for identity, desire and freedom” and they succeeded in it. As she becomes famous worldwide for a side project and disappoints her father, Tove also doesn’t follow the rules when it comes to Vivica and love. Director Zaida Bergroth says that what she liked the most to learn about her subject matter was that Tove was unconventional, which helps build a film that is also unconventional — in Zaida’s own words:
“I wanted to depict Tove closely and sensitively and show as many surprising sides of her as possible, so that the audience understands how passionate and wild she was, how much she loved parties and love itself. This film tells about Tove’s life while celebrating courage and independence.”
“Tove” is a consistent biopic with few thrills but a big soul — just like the stories of the Moomins. Tove Jansson, as a fictional character, has no moments of geniality and actually thinks little of her own creation. She is a woman who doesn’t think of herself as an intruder in a men’s world, she knows what she wants and learns from her bad moments. Tove, the film and the woman, are inspirations for us.