Wednesday, April 19, 2023

A Temple

Hilma (2022) - Hallström Hilma 1 Hilma af Klint, a pioneering Swedish abstract painter whose work predates Kandinsky and Mondrian but forgotten in history until recently, gets a biopic from a fellow Swede, Lasse Hallström with his wife (Lena Olin) and daughter (Tora), playing the titular heroine young and old. And the seasoned director zeros in on the injustices she had to face because of her sex in a male dominent, still very patriarchal society in late 19th century. It starts with the death of her younger sister, which haunts her for the rest of her life as she becomes involved in spritiualism and the life-long friendship with 4 other women (known as 'the Five'). Hallström rightly suggests the painter's lesbian tendencies as she was never married and had close correspondences with Anna (Catherine Chalk).

Hilma soon finds the writings of a popular new age German philosopher of the time, Rudolph Steiner (Tom Wlaschiha), and meeting with him and getting his validation of her work becomes her life-long obsession. In telling her story, Hallström makes Hilma a proto-feminist, trailblazing artist, but at the same time, a victim of patriarchal society. She was an artist who wanted to find a meaning of life through art. But with her stunning work, she didn't need a validation from any men.

I personally got to experience af Klint's work at Guggenheim, aptly titled Paintings for the Future in 2019. Seeing her largely abstract work, in person, was an overwhelming experience: their enormity, geometric shapes and colors make long lasting impression. Her work- I could describe them as somewhere between colorful scientific charts and abstract celestial maps. Hallström connects the dots with af Klint's spiritual journey through her background - a curious, rebelious young woman who was interested in math and science, moving into painting in the hopes of communicating with the spirits and mapping out the universe to make sense of the world. Looking at her gigantic painting in one place, you really get the feeling that you are in a temple of some sort. And this is the fact that the film drives in with older Hilma (played wonderfully by Olin) trying to get a funding for a temple that she herself designed (which happens to be the spiral shape, like Guggenheim!) to exhibit her work in her later life.

Tora Hallström gives a great performance as a strong willed, spiritual woman who thought her abstract art was the result of the spirits working through her. Chalk's also great as Anna, who becomes a benefector/lover who finds Hilma's belief and spirit irresistable. Hilma the film is not revolutionary or anything. With its typical linear plot and timeline, it is rather an old fashioned, standard biopic. It does have some visual flaires with flashbacks and underwater scenes. But the most intriguing part of the film is definitely af Klint herself.