BFI Flare ‘Tove’ Review: Intimate Portrait of the Woman Behind Moominvalley

Zaida Bergroth presents the life of Moomin creator Tove Jansson (Alma Pöysti). Living as a closeted gay woman in Helskinki at the end of the Second World War, Jansson finds acceptance and freedom in her art, creating Moominvalley and all of it’s inhabitants. Though told her work is trivial, we see the impact she is able to have on children with her charming world. Tove achieves fulfilment and love which is otherwise absent in her loveless marriage and difficult but passionate relationship with theatre director Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen). Drawing on her experiences she is able to create the iconic work.

Bergroth’s film offers a robust view of the woman. She’s shy and withheld at times but also bold and daring, especially with her art. She’s endearingly free with the people close to her but always seems to be hiding something. She is tentatively explores her sexuality with her high society lover, who has achieved enough success and status to indulge in her fancies. It’s when she is safe to be herself that she is able to fully express her vision.

Tove is visually resplendent, a gorgeous realisation of post-war Helsinki with lovingly realised interior sets. As she wanders the streets we hear her words describing the gorgeous Moominvalley in the deepest part of the woods. The pleasant fantasy grew out of the desperation and mundanity of her world. Ultimately the film finds Jansson liberated by her art, finding fulfilment amongst her young fans.

The Moomins may not be widely appreciated as a work by a bi-sexual creator. With representation still so problematic it’s important to note the great works created by gay and bi-sexual creators, and this film restores this aspect to her humanity as well as her humanity, fears and dreams of using her experiences to kindly the imagination of a new generation.

Four Stars

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