There was a time when it looked like the curtains had all but closed on Helsinki’s art-house cinemas.
One by one, the independents that were loved and revered by film buffs and culture vultures began to shut their doors. Not even the historic Maxim was safe. It seemed inevitable that the popcorn-munching multiplexes better known for awkward first dates than groundbreaking films would become the only way to experience celluloid dreams on a silver screen.
Such a situation would have been a disgrace for a city known for its film festivals and keen appreciation of underground cinema and the history of motion pictures.
Thankfully, the city got its own Hollywood ending. Action was taken to bring independent art-house cinemas back to life: Maxim was rescued and new movie houses were launched around the city to screen films multiplexes can’t – or won’t – show. Suddenly, independent and vintage cinema have a lot more room to breathe in Helsinki.
Listed below are this writer’s five favourite art-house cinemas in Helsinki. Special mentions must also go to Kino Sheryl, WHS Union and Korjaamo Kino
Orion has been my secondary – and occasionally even primary – living room ever since I became old enough to attend movies on my own.
Serving film enthusiasts from all ends of the spectrum, Orion is run by the National Audiovisual Institute of Finland and screens art-house movies, classics and rarities from all over the world, from the silent era to today, two to four films a day.
Besides providing the opportunity to experience vintage classics on silver screen for a steal – including immensely popular sing-along musical nights, routinely sold out in seconds – as well as lectures and discussions often in English, the lovingly maintained art deco cinema is an architectural marvel. It has served as a movie theatre since 1928.
One word of warning: the seats are legendary for their comfortability. Watch out or you will fall asleep and miss the treat before your eyes. It happened to me at a screening of Gandhi – though I suspect the tedious film was to blame as much as the seats.
Eerikinkatu 15. Metro: Kamppi. For program and tickets, see https://kavi.fi/en/.
The longest-standing movie house in the city and a true Helsinki institution, Maxim was about to be torn down by the new owners of the building, which is located in the district of Kluuvi in downtown Helsinki.
As a result of public outcry and a dynamically operated activist movement, the beloved cinema is about to live happily ever after. The new owners, who are launching a luxury hotel in the building, have not only promised to keep running Maxim as a movie house, but are currently renovating and expanding it into a three-screen indie haven.
As the renovations are underway, Maxim is currently closed, but expect it to rise like a Phoenix in a year or so.
Kluuvikatu 1. Metro: University of Helsinki. For up to date information on the renovation and future screenings, visit the Save Maxim! movement’s Facebook page
Charmingly old-school and rough around the edges, Engel screens a wide range of independent productions absent from commercial multiplexes, as well as the occasional offbeat vintage gem.
The cinema is located in one of the oldest existing buildings in the city, right beside the Senate Square and the Helsinki Cathedral, smack bang in the middle of everything that makes the historical Empire centre of Helsinki so charismatic.
While the two indoors cinemas cannot claim to be on the cutting edge when it comes to 3D or Dolby Surround – at least prior to the currently ongoing renovations – they boast a unique old world ambience.
In the summer, do not miss the open air screenings at the oudoors cinema; combine the movie with a dinner or a glass of wine at Café Engel and you are in for a summer night you won’t forget.
Sofiankatu 4. Trams 2 and 4. For program and tickets, see http://kinoengel.fi/. The indoors cinema is under renovation and will reopen in 2017; the outdoors summer cinema will reopen in July 2016.
4 Bio Rex
Established in 1936 to highlight Helsinki’s status as a modern, western-leaning capital of a relatively freshly independent European country, the functionalist Lasipalatsi building is a Helsinki icon.
A large chunk of the complex is occupied by Bio Rex, a 700-seat movie house. In the 1930s to 50s heyday of Finnish cinema, this was where film stars attended the glamorous premieres of their movies in a way that is just not done any longer.
To help visitors take a time warp to the past, the cinema has been restored to its suavely sophisticated Thirties glory. It serves as a venue for the annual Love and Anarchy Film Festival, but look out for a wide selection of events around the year. Recent ones range from a special screening of Gone with the Wind to the John Waters stand-up show.
Note that the entire complex is now under renovation that should be done with by 2017. It will be morphed into a cultural centre, and the cinema will be run by new owners.
Mannerheimintie 22–24. Metro: Central Railway Station. Trams 2, 3, 4, 6, 9. For program and tickets for the Love and Anarchy Film Festival, see http://hiff.fi/en/. For the latest on Bio Rex, see http://amosanderson.fi/en/lasipalatsi/.
Founded by the globally recognised, Oscar-nominated Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki and his brother Mika Kaurismäki, a successful director in his own right, Andorra is both physically and figuratively underground.
The cinema takes up the basement of a complex that also includes the street-level Corona Bar (providing billiard tables, cheap toasted sandwiches and a selection of drinks), the tiny Soviet Union-themed Kafe Mockba, and Dubrovnik Lounge and Lobby where the decorations, stylistic choices and, most importantly, aura are unmistakably film noir.
Andorra used to operate as a public cinema, but these days it can be hired for private events and is open to public on select occasions, such as the LGBTIQ film festival Vinokino.
Eerikinkatu 11. Metro: Kamppi. For upcoming events, see http://andorra.fi/en.
COMING SOON … ANOTHER CINEMA NEAR YOU
A newcomer to the Helsinki art house cinema scene, Riviera will open its doors in the fall of 2016 in the hipster-y district of Kallio.
Promising to cater major treats to movie buffs, the idea is to wine and dine patrons while they enjoy the latest indie favourite or let Easy Rider drive them back to the seventies.
As a lifelong movie lover, I cannot wait to see if the place lives up to its mouth – and eye-watering – promise. There is space in my mental backyard for one more living room.
Harjukatu 2. Metro: Sörnäinen. Tram 8. Opens in the fall of 2016. For updates, keep an eye on their website: http://www.rivierakallio.fi/ (For now, in Finnish only).