Making its premiere at the 2016 Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Virpi Suutari’s Eleganssi is a twenty-six minute documentary that offers a glimpse into the gentlemen’s hunting culture of the Finnish upper class, wherein smartly dressed men and their purebred hounds walk the winter landscape in search of their elusive game, grey partridge and pheasant. The film is a humorous and heartfelt exploration of this unique hunting tradition—which is distinct from most American iterations insofar as it truly is an exclusive club and fraternity reserved for the wealthy—that gleefully delights in nature, beauty, and community.
Virpi strikes an interesting and delicate balance between satire and a genuine commitment to the film’s subjects and subject matter. On one hand, Eleganssi is replete with dry humor. (There are more laughs in the film than there are minutes.); and tonally the film, at times, feels like a much more subtle Christopher Guest mockumentary, as the hunters boast about the bloodlines of their dogs and speak of past hunts with dignitaries with indelible fervor and zeal. At the same time, however, the film never condescends into outright mockery. In a scene perfectly indicative of the film’s ability to maintain the tension between its ostensibly disparate tonalities, one gentleman tells of a friend who can distinctly remember every moose he has hunted yet only recalls a few of the famous people he has met. It is a humorous anecdote, yet a penetrating reminder that life is more than celebrity culture and manufactured joy. Indeed, the plethora of wide angle shots of the Finnish countryside matched with closeups of the immaculately groomed manes of the dogs lend the documentary short an earnestness that makes it difficult not to long for the great outdoors.
Perhaps more than anything else, then, Eleganssi is, as its title suggests, an elegant film. In one sense it is about the elegance and opulence of this upper class hunting fraternity, but in a deeper and fuller sense it is an ode to the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Its earthy color palette and incredibly intimate photography make Eleganssi as visually stunning as any nature documentary. Moreover, the film taps into our innate, primal, and edenic longing to walk among the birds of the air and beasts of the meadow. The film engenders a sense of contentment and awe as the camera lingers on windblown grass, the foggy fields. Even the textures of clothing—rich tweed and wool—are brought to life in a way that speaks to this film’s ability to render ordinary objects etherial, almost magical. “You are of dust, and to dust you shall return,” every painterly composition seems to utter.
The soundtrack is equally visceral and essentially functions as the backbone of the film. Almost every action in Eleganssi is accompanied by an authentic, naturalistic sound. Twigs and foliage are crushed underfoot; a dog pants, exhausted from the day’s hunt; clothing rustles with every movement; a board creaks and the wind beats against the surface of a dilapidated shed. These are not exotic noises, but rather ones we likely encounter on a regular basis and deem sonically irrelevant or uninteresting. And yet this film uses these elements to wake us up from our slumber, our disillusion with the God-breathed world.
Even as the the men of this elegant fraternity gather to celebrate their hunt, to enjoy the spoils of the quest, Eleganssi is gently reminding that everything is palpable. The earth in all of its fullness is intrinsically elegant; or, as the poet George Herbert says, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”