Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Finnish Cult Movies II

The first ever Finnish Film Affair opened today at Love & Anarchy. At the same time the Finnish Film Week presents festival-goers with Finnish films from the last year or so. I wrote about several of my favorite Finnish cult films a while ago, so since this period seems to be ripe with anticipation for Finnish films, I figure it's about time to do a sequel. This time around, the films circle around the archetypal Finnish males. Usually, they are a silent bunch, like their alcy-hol and are prone to do stupid things and make total fools of themselves by being too shy to say no. I know because I present this type myself.

The Dudesons Movie (Duudsonit elokuva, 2006)
Directors: Jarno Laasala, Tuukka Tiensuu

One of the most successful Finnish concepts abroad, The Dudesons were doing Jackass stunts before Jackass was even conceived. Basically it's about four buddies dare each other to do hurtful things to each other in the middle of nowhere, Finland.

There are several ways of making documentary-style real-life slapstick. Whreas Jackasses often rely on high production values and elaborate planning, the Dudesons are more down-to Earth, improvised and more self-satisfied. One could say the spirit is also a bit meaner, although this is merely a question of nuances.

The primary function of the Dudesons movie is to present the dudes to wider audiences abroad. It can also be said that the film works as a sort of pilot for their TV series. The guys speak English and there are cameos by familiar Jackasses, such as Bam Margera, Steve-O and such. Way too much time is wasted also on the Dudesons talking about each other to make themselves familiar with the viewer. This is absolutely futile. All we need to know about them are that they are idiots who like to hurt themselves for our amusement. One doesn't go to see a film like this to identify with the protagonists or anything.

Fortunately, the stunts themselves happen to be surprisingly funny. A baseball bat to an unsuspecting sleeper's crotch or testicles to a mouse trap are so cruel ideas they can't help but create glee in my inner sadist. Fun is also them picking on their neighbour, dubbed Mr. Hitler, by shitting on his mailbox or digging a big pit and covering it with leaves to get his car to fall down. With it being the Dudesons, some absolutely childish actions such as dicking around a supermarket at night or setting fire to their house, fall utterly flat. They attempt to emphasize their stupidity a bit too much.

It's a bag of hit-and-miss gags, but with enough good ones for me to give this a pass. It's a lot better than Dirty Sanchez to say the least.


The Wedding Waltz (Katsastus, 1988)
Director: Matti Ijäs

One of the purest examples of a Finnish cult movie is this originally made-for-TV movie. Not too many people know about it, but those who have seen it, worship it to almost fanatical points. The VHS version of the movie used to be always stolen from Finnish libraries. The newer DVD of the film comes with a copy of the script for Katsastus fans to read aloud to their friends to annoy them.

The film is about a group of middle-aged men in a small northern town, who act immaturely even at the beginning of their autumn years. The film begins as Viltteri (Vesa Vierikko) is celebrating his wedding to Mallu (Kaija Pakarinen), who is at her last stages of pregnancy. En route to the reception, Viltteri's car brokes down and he spends most of the night trying to fix it. While he's under the hood, his friends Öövini (Sulevi Peltola) and Junnu (Markku Mallasmaa) get heavily drunk. And Mallu goes into labour, taking a cab to the hospital. When Viltteri gets his car fixed he doesn't go to see his new bride and newborn, but takes the guys out cruising in the town center. The next day he and Mallu take off to Sweden to get the car properly fixed.

The film displays men who care a lot more about their cars than their women. Viltteri is a bit dumb and it's hinted he's been pressured into marrying Mallu even though she isn't carrying her child. When the child is born malformed Viltteri asks whether it could be taken to a carage to get fixed.  Later in the movie, he and Jannu come across another pair with a fate similar to Viltteri and Mallu. The husband is far more intrigued by mundane things and can't come to even fathom when her wife is giving birth to a new child. The blooming Midlife crisis manifests itself by the men being in a constant state of denial. When attached to the fact they act like trouble-making teenagers, comedy gold is born.

The pointless racing and cruising around in their old cars is a suitable metaphor for this sort of arrested development. A lot of the actions the men do, dumb or otherwise are done just to get a laugh out of one's pals. There's a weird fierce rivalry between cab drivers and our protagonists that's never explained but is bad enough for Öövini to lose his teeth in a fight. In one of the best scenes he's shown having trouble eating soup at a cafeé, while older people shunning his way of life around him, so he has to use a straw. If that's not a good depiction of hungover paranoia, I don't know what is. The film altogether is essential viewing for trying to figure out the Finnish national mentality.


Damned Radicals (Saatanan radikaalit, 1971)
Directors: Heikki Huopainen, Timo Nissi, Heikki Nousiainen, Paavo Piiroinen

In Finland we had this Spede. Suffice to say, he produced a lot of movies, mostly comedies. It's good that he was able to get cheapo movies made when all other organizations funding films failed and thus he helped launch a large number of young talents. Sort of like a more comedic, Finnish Roger Corman, then. 

In this case this is a comedy written, directed and starring a quartet of young and eager actors; Heikki Huopainen, Timo Nissi, Heikki Nousiainen and Paavo Piiroinen. It is clear that these minds behind this loved the breaking of rules by the cinematic New Wave and underground cinema of those times. There's a sense of destroying any Finnish value held valuable at that time. A little anarchism could be nice and it sure hasn't been on display often in Finnish films.

Satan (Heikki Savolainen) is having trouble running hell, since all the Finns in there enjoy the warmth and use the whole place as a giant sauna. So the Prince of Darkness harbors a plan to get rid of the worst four of them, Pave, Hese, Timppa and Viiksi (the directors with their own nicknames). He offers the Finns a briefcase full of money and sends them into the world. But the Devil insists the money should not be used for honest living, which is why things soon go off the rails for the boys. He also takes away their ability to enjoy alcohol or women, just out of evilness.

The money case is soon lost. Due to these desperate circumstances, the quartet soon turns to crime and start to plan a bank heist. Soon, after them are not only the police, but angry motorists, clergymen and women as well. Things might have been easier had they decided to stay in hell.

For a movie with four directors, who also inhabit the main roles, it's no wonder the film is so inconsistent. Mostly the loose plot hinges on a single idea. The crew seems to have filmed any idea for the scene that popped into their head with little in the way of anything holding the thing together. The jazzy improvisational music emphasizes this.At least the film is mercifully short, stopping soon after the one hour mark.

Yet there are flashes of brilliance in the film as well, such as character actor Leo Jokela popping by to read the main credits aloud. Jokela is such a funny actor he can make reading names off a list hilarious - and this film proves this is no exaggeration.


Naisenkuvia (1970)
Director: Jörn Donner

Jörn Donner is about as atypical as a Finnish man can be: smooth, flirtatious, sophisticated, good at making films, and brave enough to say whatever's on his mind. He's also willing to parody himself, his inflated ego and obsession to beautiful women and sex. Naisenkuvia is not only a razor-sharp, ponderous film, and a good time machine to the turn of the swinging 60's and 70's, but it's also hilarious as all hell.

Pertti (Jörn Donner) is a porn film producer, who secretly harbors a hope to create a truly artistic film within that genre. Yet he has plenty of troubles with the officials and the film censor board who don't understand his art. Pertti also lives like he's a character in one of his films, wooing the ladies and disposing of them afterwards. While scouting for a female lead for his ultimate masterpiece, he comes across Saara (Ritva Vepsä), a biology teacher. After they begin to have an affair, Saara agrees to play the role. But to his horror, Pertti starts to develop feelings for Saara, and thus jeopardizes his own vision.

Donner in the 60's and 70's was a fairly controversial figure in the already-narrow art circles of Finland. The officials did treat his art rather badly, and the general public didn't quite get his ideas. Naisenkuvia is more notorious in Finland for featuring an image where Donner's naked erect penis is shown than for its indubitable artistic merits. To this day Donner hasn't revealed whether it's really his johnson in the film (which would mean he's rather gifted in one more area) or whether the thing is merely a prop.

The film is a challenge against censorship for the free expression of everyone, however they might want to express themselves. Naturally, since expression is often based on feelings, the center romance carries much of the film. Yet there's also plenty of Nordic erotica for the raincoated men looking at Swedish films at porn theaters. The film repeats itself a lot, but there's a sort of inventiveness and joy in shooting ever more different copulation scenes that it more than merits for itself.

To me, the film is worth watching just for the scene where Donner berates with his sharp tongue a faux-arty sex scene, which is one of the most hilarious things ever done in Finnish cinema. The movie also heavily inspired an internet favorite, a redubbed porn video named Aitoa menoa, which heavily parodies Donner's persona and public image. Search that out, since for decency I'm too bashful to link to it here.


The Man Who Couldn't Say No (Mies, joka ei osannut sanoa ei, 1975)
Director: Risto Jarva

Risto Jarva was one of the most humane, quirky, inventive and smart directors this country has ever seen. He made a string of comedic films with his trusted actor Antti Litja, who was just perfect as a bit stiff, slow, shy, but nice everyman. And a total Finnish stereotype at that. The duo's films together had warmth and heart in them. Many of Jarva's movies have devoted followings. But since I myself saw this film as a child and liked it then, this is my preferred one. The film in question is a romantic comedy, but with a colorful, almost fairytale like storytelling.

Narrated by a horse, the film tells a story of the young reverend Aimo Niemi. Just out of the clergy school in America, he moves back to his old home neighbourhood of Kivimäki in Helsinki (a fictionalized version of Vallila), only to see it to be quite different yet at the same time quite the same. There's a feud going on of whether old wood houses should be torn down in the way of more modern buildings. Niemi's old friends and acquaintances are settled on both sides of the quarrel.

The most important is Niemi's childhood friend Milla Kurki (Kirsti Wallasvaara), taking an active role in the fight against losing all local flavour. Tough as Milla may be, she secretly harbors a crush and the hope to be Aimo's wife and for the pair to start a middle-class life together. But this is torpedoed by Niemi's bumbling, good-hearted nature and his obliviousness of her feelings for him. This is not a very gender-liberating by its script in any way. Yet Wallasvaara's performance is so sweet and adorable, one can't help but to fall for her a little. The other cast is as good as the leading pair with plenty of memorable characters throughout.

Jarva makes no mistakes about the fact that this is your basic farce in that a lot of comedy is mined about snowballing misunderstandings.  Litja's difficulties of saying "no" to any suggestion leave him in a lot of trouble. But even though the center of the movie is sweet, Jarva also has some jokes to be bit naughty and even shows off some skin. Yet he never crosses the line of being too raunchy so the film's tone is consistent.

Jarva was at the edge of the times with the theme of warm nostalgic togetherness put against cold, selfish progress. At that time, due to architects preferring functionalism to beauty, plenty of ugly concrete blocks of flats rose to Finnish cities while old-time neighborhoods disappeared. The film was well-received and rose discussion about maintaining Vallila as it was. Luckily, much of that particular part of the city has stayed looking the same as it did then.


Sheep Eaters (Lampaansyöjät, 1972)
Director: Seppo Huunonen

Leo Lastumäki and Heikki Kinnunen play the main roles in this buddy comedy, based on the novel by beloved Finnish author Veikko Huovinen. The result is so much a cult movie, it's basically the Finnish equivalent of Easy Rider or Rocky Horror Picture Show. Back in the day it was made, screenings were constantly attended by fans who would shout out the lines to the screen while watching the film.

Valtteri and Sepe are businessmen in Helsinki, but when their summer vacation comes, they head off to the countryside to have their own sort of a road trip. They are true culinarists and believe that the best meal they could have would be a roast of lamb stolen from a herd and slowly cooked underground like old-time thieves used to do. While they commit their crimes and drive around they speak about things on their mind, about life, the universe, drinking and women.

If there's a pattern in the very best Finnish films it's that they have a very strong and funny script. But this movie also has a sort of New Wave sort of cinematic style, with a very loose plot thread, surprising jumps in time and space, and very improvisational style of dialogue scenes. It certainly also helps that Kinnunen and Lastumäki are both at career-best form here - and they aren't actually lightweight actors to begin with.

The film doesn't pester it's watchers by any morale or catharsis in the end. It is just an entertaining time with a couple of funny guys talking about this and that. It is sort of like going to a bar with friends, seeing as this film may also leave one intoxicated afterwards.


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