As if Alive before Us: The Pleasures of Verisimilitude in Biographical Fiction Films

Anneli Lehtisalo


Biographical fiction films often raise questions about the accuracy of a story, the plausibility of a mise en scène or an actor's performance. If a genre is understood as a complex system of expectations and production, the idea of cultural verisimilitude becomes a central feature in the genre of biographical fiction film. Film criticism typically considers the problems that such a generic rule causes. In contrast to that approach, this article discusses the pleasures of verisimilitude. Using one of the first Finnish biopics, Runon kuningas ja muuttolintu (1940) as an example, it examines how verisimilitude forms an essential feature of the film, understood as a biography, and how it ensures an enjoyable cinematic experience. Firstly, I shall suggest that the reconstruction of well-known historical moments in the film creates effects similar to those of the cinema of attractions (Gunning): they revitalise bygone days. Secondly, I shall demonstrate how the film challenges viewers to a knowing game (Rosen), a pleasurable quiz in which they can demonstrate their cultural competence. I suggest that these pleasures of verisimilitude, evident at the time when the genre was just emerging in Finland, could also explain the current persistent fascination with biographical films.

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New Readings — ISSN: 13597485


Published by: Cardiff School of Modern Languages