Heavy Trip (2018)

heavy-trip-review.jpg

Directed by Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren
Country: Finland

The first directorial endeavor by the winning team Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren tells about an unheard Finnish heavy metal band that embarks on a crazy trip to Norway in a desperate attempt to perform in the Northern Damnation Festival. They are eager to make everyone proud in their rural little village, Taivalkoski.

The four members of the band are very peculiar, starting by the lead vocalist, Turo (Johannes Holopainen), a tranquil, introverted fellow who is easily transformed into a powerful roarer whenever holding a mic. Turo works in a mental institution and nurtures secret feelings for Miia (Minka Kuustonen), a childhood friend.

Pasi (Max Ovaska) plays the bass and might not be totally normal. He works in the local library and remembers every song he hears. Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio) is extremely fast on guitar and efficient in slaughtering reindeers in his father’s farm, while the drummer, Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen), is considered the toughest guy in the band. However, he often faints while playing due to lack of oxygen in the brain.

These talented musicians never played live before, but envision their big opportunity when the manager of the cited Norwegian festival (Ville Tiihonen) made a traumatic stop by the village. Although upset with the sordid events of his short visit, he accepts a demo containing one sole brutal original inspired by the sound of a reindeer grinder.

heavy-trip-still.jpg

While waiting for a response of the manager, Turo tells Miia he’s heading to Norway with the band in order to impress her. They suddenly earn reputation, stepping up from losers to heroes, and even get to open a concert for Jouni (Ville Tiihonen), the swaggering vocalist of a soft-pop band who is flirting with Miia for quite some time. The concert becomes memorable, but for the worst reasons.

After being informed they wouldn’t be playing the gig, the quartet, now called Impaled Rektum, adopts the fearless attitude of true metalheads and rashly prepares for the trip. However, a last-minute incident forces them to recruit one of Turo’s intimidating patients, Oula (Chike Ohanwe).

They steal, commit profanation, and almost provoke a war between countries. Yet, nothing dissuades them from their goal, not even Miia’s super-protective father (Kai Lehtinen), a rigorous cop who, at the right time, decides to give a chance to Turo, the man he comically designates as the glue-sniffing criminal.

Heavy Trip is an absurdist, powerhouse folly, which feels spunky enough to honor the musical genre and comes filled with deadpan hilarity to please comedy addicts.

3meio.jpeg

The Other Side of Hope (2017)

other-side-hope-2017.jpg

Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Country: Finland

Using his extraordinary filmmaking artistry, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, who won his first Silver Berlin Bear this year, aims once more at the immigration hardships in his new comedy-drama “The Other Side of Hope”. Following the same steps given in his previous feature, “Le Havre”, which addressed the same topic but having the French harbor as the backdrop, the director relies on an overwhelming sense of absurdity, graceful wit, and sharp socio-political observations to tell a story packed with flourishing humanity and personal triumphs, but also touched by condemnable malice.

Involved in an absorbing quietude, the story brings two contrasting yet interesting characters to the forefront. If Waldemar Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a bored Finnish citizen who resolutely abandons his unresponsive, alcoholic wife and decides to rebuild his professional life from scratch, Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji) is a Syrian refugee who had to flee from his hometown in the outskirts of Aleppo when his house was bombarded with most of his relatives inside.

Hence, both are trying to bring something new into their disintegrated lives and that goal seems to be simplified after their paths cross. Even not meeting in the nicest circumstances, their relationship grows synergistic when Khaled is illegally hired to work in Waldemar’s restaurant, his newly chosen field of business. The small local restaurant already has an established clientele but keeps vacillating with a poor menu and dissatisfied employees. However, Khaled gives wings to his creativity, turning the place into a Japanese bistro that irremediably serves up sushi plates with salted herring instead of the usual tuna. The latter benefits with the fake ID peremptorily proposed and approved by the boss, who also uses his connections to bring Khaled’s sister, Miriam (Niroz Haji), to Finland.

other-side-hope-2017-pic.jpg

Knowing the work of Kaurismaki, I wouldn’t expect him to shape these characters superficially. Indeed, he gives them further dimension with fascinating additional details. Waldemar, for instance, reveals to be a fearless poker gambler whose luck is unbeatable. Although a generous human being, he’s definitely not a perfect one. This is patented on several occasions: when mentioning tax evasion at the moment he buys the restaurant, or when hiding serious nonconformities when the place is subjected to a strict quality inspection.

In turn, the refugee fights a different battle, being frequently harassed and threatened with death by a trio of extremists from the Liberation Army of Finland.
The peak of the absurdity arrives when the minister of Finland deliberates that Aleppo is a safe place to live, emitting a remorseless repatriation order for Khaled.

Embracing a glowing formalism in terms of camerawork, “The Other Side of Hope” is a dead-on satire enhanced with eccentric musical interludes, a staple in the director’s artistic vein, which range from alternative folk-rock to rockabilly country to retro Finish pop acts. The glam visuals captured by the director of photography Timo Salminen, a regular collaborator of the director since the beginning of his career, are also very characteristic, including semi-naked indoor Scandinavian settings, old stylish cars, clouds of cigarette smoke, and idiosyncratic personas in conventional outfits.

Viewers may expect slow and steady developments but the waiting compensates by way of deadpan humoresque tactics, self-assured performances, indispensable messages of unity and understanding, and a copious affluence of human warmth.
The film was dedicated to the late Finnish film historian and director Peter Von Bagh.

4.jpeg

Tom of Finland (2017)

tom-of-finland-movie-2017

Directed by Dome Karukoski
Country: Finland / other

Tom of Finland”, a biographical Finnish drama directed by Dome Karukoski from a screenplay cleverly mounted by his habitual collaborator Aleksi Bardy, is probably going to cause a sensation since it is centered on an interesting character, features solid performances, and evinces technical competence.
However, Karukoski was unable to maintain the grip and high quality levels after the first half. I found a gradual loss of responsiveness and fascination as the story moved forward.

The film tells the story of Finnish Touko Laaksonen, better known by the artistic name of Tom of Finland, a decorated WWII lieutenant turned into international homoerotic draughtsman who became very popular in gay male circles.
Touko (Pekka Strang) had his first sexual experiences during the war when the Finnish troops were stationed in Helsinki defending the country from the Russian invaders. Captain Alijoki (Taisto Oksanen) and a young country boy named Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen) were among his casual partners and they both bump into him again after the war, playing different roles in his life. The former saves him from an imbroglio in Berlin after his censored drawings and wallet had been stolen, while the latter becomes his partner for life, encouraging him to expose himself in all fronts rather than hide.

After the war, Touko suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and it's his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), who takes good care of him. She’s also a skilled if insecure artist that accepts her brother’s nature and respects his choices but disapproves his daring artistic work, even at a mature age.

The film succeeds in depicting the struggle of an unprecedented artist who had to live so many years in the shadow due to his homosexuality and the strong repression against the gay communities. However, it loses considerable steam since the moment that Touko's trip to America is represented. This final section feels overlong, less expeditious in its narrative process, and pictures a few redundant and often cheesy scenes like when Doug, Touko’s American friend and admirer, met his partner Jack at the gym or when police officers break into Doug’s L.A. house in search of a criminal.

Strang and Grabowsky deliver fantastic, in-depth performances, shaping the siblings’ personalities with sensitive resoluteness.
Tom of Finland”, which is competing for Best International Narrative Feature at Tribeca Film Festival, also benefited from the admirable work by cinematographer Lasse Frank Johannessen and the strong production design. In contrast, the technical aspect that didn’t work so well was the artificial makeup of our hero at an older age - anyone remembers the rubber face of Benjamin Button?

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (2016)

happiest-day-life-olli-maki-2016

Directed by Juho Kuosmanen
Country: Finland

Shot in a gorgeous black-and-white, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki” is an introspective, biographical drama directed by Juho Kuosmanen about the Finnish boxer Olli Maki, who was pointed to become a national hero in 1962 when he fought for the world featherweight title.
Direct and concise, Kuosmanen, an adept of unextended durations (his debut feature “The Painting Sellers” had 58 minutes), goes strictly to the point and catches not only our eye but also our hearts through an observant narrative of a bittersweet real story.

Olli Maki (Jarkko Lahti), a small-town baker turned professional boxer, is super excited by the chance of becoming a world champion and national hero. For that to happen, he has to beat the American Davey Moore, who’s still undefeated and boasts the world title since 1959.
The major event will take place in Helsinki and is naturally generating extensive media attention in the country at the point of letting the modest Olli uncomfortable with the high number of interviews and television covering. 

Olli’s super strict coach, Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff), is a former champ himself, who struggles with financial and family problems. He becomes concerned when Olli brings his new girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola), to Helsinki, confessing he’s in love with her. 
A persistent tension arises whenever she’s around, with Elis constantly trying to push her away, an insolence that makes Olli really upset. Elis is only satisfied when his pupil poses for pictures with important people, especially with the sponsors he venerates so much for his own interest. 
Raija ends up going back to Kokkola, their small town, but Olli can’t really focus without her near. Unable to reach her on the phone, he goes after her to assure his mind will be peaceful on the most important day of his career.
Besides her trust, the other thing he has to conquer is his excess of weight, a task that stubbornly remains unfulfilled.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”, winner of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, shines through a charismatic discretion and gripping assertiveness. 
It’s a wonderful story of sportsmanship and acceptance earnestly led by Kuosmanen and empowered by impeccable performances.
Fans of Rocky Balboa probably won’t find what they’re looking for in this special Finnish hero. But if you look deeper, you’ll see that this drama carries much more than just entertaining punches.

They Have Escaped (2014)

They Have Escaped (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: JP Valkeapaa
Country: Finland / others

Movie Review: J.P. Valkeapaa demonstrates why he is a filmmaker to keep in mind, after presents us with “They Have Escaped”, the second feature of his career. In a small Finnish town, two misfits meet at a halfway house for troubled teenagers, initiating a caustic adventure that will change their lives forever. Reserved and quiet, Joni (Teppo Manner), of 19 years old, arrives to the facility with the mission of confiscating illegal substances, after having fled the military service due to stuttering. He was given no choice, since it’s that work or jail. Despite the warnings that strictly forbade him to make friends or hang out with the teenage dwellers, he becomes attracted to the 17 year-old, Raisa (Roosa Soderholm), a rebellious bleached-hair punk with red lips and heavy dark eyeshadow, helping her to get away with stolen cigarettes. Together, they will take the road of adventure towards Raisa’s home, plus a brief visit to her grandma. Guided by vague dreams and hopes of a more exciting future, this escapade won't be devoid of perturbation and mishaps along the way. Forced to steal and ask for a ride, they end up being caught in a final macabre experience that marks a radical change in the direction taken initially. The moments of enjoyment are as many as the afflictive ones, but “They Have Escaped” transforms itself into a really dark, claustrophobic experience that can be disconcerting in its last minutes due to its baffling final scene. It’s a shame that Valkeapaa only has created hypnotic dreamlike ambiances for brief moments, but the film benefits with strong performances, an impactful sound design, and the contrasting humor/terror of the tale. It works both as a social criticism and a cutting experiment on horror, set up in unrelenting tones.

Concrete Night (2013)

Concrete Night (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pirjo Honkasalo
Country: Finland / others

Movie Review: Ultimately dedicated to documentaries, Finnish helmer Pirjo Honkasalo returns to fictional drama with the stylish “Concrete Night”, 15 years after “Fire-Eater”. Based on the novel of the same name by Pirkko Saisio, the plot was effectively composed in the grey atmosphere of Helsinki, where 14-year-old Simo (Johannes Brotherus) lives with his unconcerned mother (Anneli Karppinen) and older brother Ilkka (Jari Virman), who is about to go to prison due to drug dealing. Simo shows a great admiration for his harsh, pessimistic, and lost brother, being negatively influenced by everything he does or says. The film, magnificently photographed in black-and-white, is loaded with dreamlike tones and enhances the alienation where its characters are sunk. The opening scene that shows Simo’s nightmare, getting trapped underwater, starts to make sense as the film approaches its end. It was a product of the negativism and disillusion of his brother’s theories, which were based on become free of hope, not expecting tomorrow, and devalue the human being’s existence. The predestinated arrival of a homosexual neighbor, who was living abroad, seemed to have been the last straw to make Simo explode from all the restrained anger and disenchantment of his young life. Despite philosophical allusions to love, fear, and future, the story is very simple and definitely casted some spell on me, with its mirrors, glasses, water, and creative details. It belongs to those ones dark, poetic, and beautiful…

Naked Harbour (2012)

Naked Harbour (2012)
Directed by: Aku Louhimies
Country: Finland

Review: “Naked Harbour” gathers a bunch of characters to depict several different stories set in Vuosaari, a neighborhood in the city of Helsinki. Aku Louhimies put grown-ups and kids to interact in distinct problematic situations. All depicted with gloominess, we have: a couple of junkies with debts and no food, a divorced mother struggling with cancer, a married man who can’t put his sexual life in order and finds a lover, a bullied boy and his mother, a father who is obsessed with losing weight and torments his son, a 16-year old girl who lives with her dad and doesn’t want to be ordinary, and finally an American guy who goes to Finland to give some lectures. The stories are about love and pursuit for recognition, but all of them include a prolonged heaviness and cruelty, just to bring some indulgence and self-pity in the end at the sound of Robbie Williams’ “Feel”. Joyful moments aren’t abundant in a depressing film that carries ‘I can cope with my life’ as purpose.

Purge (2012)

Purge (2012)
Directed by: Antti Jokinen
Country: Finland / Estonia

Review: “Purge” is a Finnish bleak drama, based on the best-selling novel by Sofi Oksanen. It tells the life stories of two women, whose memories needed to be purged after years of torments and pain. After having found each other, they will be able to put some hope on their lives. This is the kind of story that we already have seen for so many times, and if it doesn’t get the perfect mood or the right approach, it will fall on banality. That’s what happened to “Purge”. In one hand: scenes of violence and exploitation; in the other: a bloody love story adorned with political connotations and inevitable betrayals. Hope emerges as a possibility in the end, but was achieved through unconvincing sequences of self-repentance and killings. “Purge” was selected to represent Finland at the 85th Academy Awards, but it falls short from what I expected from a drama of this kind.

Le Havre (2011)

Directed by: Aki Kaurismaki
Country: Finland / France

Plot: When an African boy arrives by cargo ship in the port city of Le Havre, an aging shoe shiner welcomes him into his home.
Quick comment: Talented finnish director Kaurismaki is back with this wonderful story about illegal immigration in France. Through a poignant humor and an uncanny style that gives particular attention to the image composition, he continues to fill the screens denouncing society issues and telling us that if you do the good you’ll be rewarded. I also recommend from this director:"a man without a past", "the match factory girl", "ariel" and "lights in the dusk".
Relevant awards: Best film, director, script and cinematography (Jussi awards); Fipresci prize (Cannes).

Rare Exports (2010)

Realizado por: Jalmari Helander
País: Finlândia

Um bizarro conto de Natal chega-nos da Finlândia, onde o Pai Natal é capturado e é posto à venda. Num estilo que aparentemente é destinado à família, chegamos à conclusão mal o filme começa que se trata de uma comédia negra, não aconselhável a crianças. O herói da história é Pietari, um miúdo com bastante cultura natalícia que será responsável por uma operação arriscada na captura de duendes e na sua exportação como Pais Natal. Com uma boa dose de originalidade, poderia ter sido bem melhor no que respeita à sua execução (por vezes demasiado para encher o olho), acabando por não satisfazer em todos os aspectos.