The long-unavailable sci-fi art flick from 1969, Time of Roses, is stylish and strange. It originates from Finland, but has been revived for U.S. Blu-ray by Deaf Crocodile, a boutique label in the OCN stable with a growing catalog of esoteric treats. Directed by the politically minded Risto Jarva, this thriller is something like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville mixed with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In a sleekly dystopian future, a filmmaker seeks to recreate the life of a “nobody” from the past using a woman that could be her exact double. His research leads him to greater obsession, while he also becomes the unwitting target of political dissidents. With its pop art style, Time of Roses is a treat for the eyes, even if this reviewer’s brain was sometimes baffled by the plot. Arthouse treasure seekers will be pleased nonetheless. Recommended.
Let me come clean first thing. I did have to watch the first thirty minutes of Risto Jarva’s Time of Roses three times before I really got the hang of what is going on in the film. Set in the year 2012, but with a pop art visual style that is undeniably ‘60s, the film is brisk and somewhat elliptical in the way it sets up its plot and its vision of the future. It doesn’t really stop to explain, and it expects you to keep up.
The film, originally released in Finland in 1969 and in limited U.S. release in 1970, is an example of speculative fiction pointedly commenting on the present-day society in which it was made with the added distance of “sci-fi” to make the critique a little more palatable. But, with a film set at a “future” date that’s already the past for today’s viewers, and which features constant references to “historical” events that are speculation on the filmmakers’ part about how the end of the 20th Century might play out, it can be a bit tricky to parse.
Our main character, Raimo (Arto Tuominen), is a historian and propagandist at the Institute of History in a future Helsinki where class conflict has been officially eradicated and intellectual progressives run things with an air of smug satisfaction. Raimo is certainly smugly satisfied as he sets out to recount the life of a “nobody” for a primetime TV presentation. He picks the life of a salesgirl who moonlighted as a cheesecake model and did a little acting. The model, Saara (Ritva Vespä), died in an on-set accident, run over by a car. (In a bizarre twist of fate, director Risto Jarva was killed in real life by a car accident in 1977, one year after his fictional character was to die.)
Raimo is manipulated by two colleagues, one flirtatious (Tarja Markus, made up with remarkably weird and spiky eyelashes) and one grimly idealistic (Eero Keskitalo). They push Raimo toward using Kisse, a doppelganger for Saara also played by Ritva Vespä, in his film. Kisse is a worker in a nuclear power plant where the workers are starting to act collectively and threaten a strike. In this version of 2012, strikes are not only antiquated but they threaten the image of modern society as a perfect utopia.
The main difficulty I had with Time of Roses is that while the premise and conflict are actually fairly clear, I had trouble figuring out exactly why any of the characters were doing what they were doing. I was never quite sure why Raimo was compelled to make a documentary about a random dead woman: what did it do for his career or how did it burnish the Institute’s vision of society? And I was never really sure why exactly the strikers wanted to entangle Raimo and Kisse: was it to create a scandal, or to make the influential propagandist sympathetic to the workers’ cause by planting a smart, sexy worker in his orbit? The film ends without answering these questions, choosing instead to focus on Raimo’s calculated single-mindedness and how it leads to tragedy.
I wouldn’t say that Time of Roses is poorly written, but it is opaquely written in a way that made me confused and annoyed more than intrigued. Your mileage may vary, especially considering that the film is quite stylishly designed, shot, and edited.
It was also clearly constructed with a great deal of intelligence. The film’s vision of the future does echo elements of things that were to come. The dissolution of East Germany in the 1980s is mentioned in a “history” doc, although the details are not quite spot-on. Raimo is shown ordering a dessert from a video screen, which isn’t exactly DoorDash, but feels close enough. Plus, a sequence with nightclub patrons dancing quietly to music in headphones is a clear model for the silent discos and silent raves that caught on in the 2000s.
Time of Roses is so visually unusual, so daring in its construction, and so ambitious thematically that, despite my quibbles with the plot, I am compelled to support it. It’s certainly not your standard-issue love story.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Time of Roses is presented on a Region A-locked Blu-ray, in a standard keepcase. A booklet is included, featuring some stills, an essay by Ville Suhonen, and excerpted writings from director Risto Jarva. The disc loads to a video menu with clips from the film.
Sourced from a new 4K restoration, the AVC-encoded 1080p presentation on Deaf Crocodile’s disc is generally outstanding. Framed at an atypical 1.75:1, the image is fairly bright, but with extremely strong detail and nuanced contrast. The image has well-resolved film grain and an organic texture. In one shot, I did notice some momentary crushing and loss of detail on a character’s dark-colored hair, but it was a rare anomaly in an otherwise clean and eye-grabbing presentation.
The audio restoration is similarly impressive. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix is pretty robust considering its age, with a layered mix of effects, music, and Finnish-language dialogue that translates smoothly here. (An English subtitles option is provided.)
Deaf Crocodile provides plenty of additional material to flesh out the context of the film, both in terms of director Risto Jarva’s career and the ‘60s Finnish film scene.
My reaction to Time of Roses is complicated because I enjoyed it on an aesthetic and style basis rather than finding it flat-out enjoyable. Deaf Crocodile’s presentation is lovingly assembled and thoughtfully curated, which goes a long way for this viewer. The time I spent with this film and its supplements were ultimately rewarding, and I expect fans of forgotten international arthouse flicks will be glad to discover it. Recommended.