Kafe Mockba & the Helsinki-Winnipeg Cinematic Connection

“I have a thing for listening to smart people talk,” I told Andrew last night, as I sipped an exquisite Prairie Bomb! imperial stout at Barley Brothers Stadium.  We had just come from a Celebration of the Film My Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba.  It was a fantastic opportunity to eavesdrop on a conversation between critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and director Guy Maddin.

Some people inhale secondhand smoke on a regular basis if they live with a smoker.  I absorb secondhand information on a regular basis as Andrew continually learns about many things, film included, and shares his findings with me.  And all this is just part of what makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

And so, I have an appreciation for film, and learning about film… though I don’t have the knowledge that Andrew has.  I’m more passive in my learning.  I’ll tell you some of what I’ve absorbed.

Guy Maddin is an internationally-known filmmaker, who may receive more attention overseas than here at home.  He’s from Winnipeg, and he has remained in Winnipeg.  His films are unique, dreamlike, feverish, entrancing, frightening, uncomfortable, hilarious.  If you haven’t heard of Guy Maddin, you should look him up, and see his movies.  You really should.

I think my favourite Maddin film just might be My Winnipeg… though The Saddest Music in the World is a close second.  These are probably some of his “safer” offerings, by the way.

So anyway, I’ll now jump to telling you about our Finnish friend Viivi.  When we traveled to Helsinki in 2009, she was kind enough to spend an afternoon showing us around her fair city.  As we strolled, Andrew asked Viivi if she’d heard of Guy Maddin.  She certainly had!  He then asked her if there were any Finnish directors we should learn about, and she told us about Aki Kaurismäki.  We’ve since watched several of his films, and I quite enjoy them.  They make me laugh out loud… but not in an obvious, knee-slapping way.  More in a dry, frank kind of way.  And then they make me want to cry, but I can’t.  That’s kind of how his movies are.  I’m fond of them.


Since we were on the topic of Aki Kaurismäki, Viivi took us to Kafe Mockba, a Soviet-styled bar owned by the Kaurismäki brothers.  There’s no sign, and the curtains are always drawn, so that the Kaurismäki brothers can have a drink without being noticed.  Just a plain door, and if you know what it is, and it’s not locked, then you can enter.  Viivi was pleased to tell us that this place was complete with a surly lady behind the counter.  The lady didn’t end up being as surly as her reputation promised, though I suppose she was somewhat short with us occasionally.

We LOVED it there.

Viivi suggested we drink Żubrówka (bison grass vodka) with apple juice.  Well, THAT was fantastic.

It really was.  We tried to recreate this when we got home.  But our house just isn’t the same as Kafe Mockba.

We had a lovely, LOVELY time sipping Żubrówka and talking.

It was here that Andrew took one of my very favourite photos:


This is my Żubrówka-drinking-face.  And the very, VERY lovely and charming Viivi.

Anyhow!  Jumping back to last night’s talk celebrating the Criterion release of My Winnipeg… Guy was trying to coax the audience to request that Rosenbaum share anecdotes with us… and suddenly Rosenbaum was relating a story in which he was hanging out in Helsinki with Aki Kaurismäki, and they ended up in Kafe Mockba.


See?  It all came full-circle.

Post-script: for some reason I’d been calling it “Bar Moscow” in my head all this time.

Second post-script: Viivi tells me the lady has been kind to her ever since… most likely because of a shared love of Żubrówka.  I love that.


2 responses to “Kafe Mockba & the Helsinki-Winnipeg Cinematic Connection

  1. lol I was wondering how the two stories were going to tie in together so I like to see how it came full circle!

    excellent story-telling, once again.


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