I spoke with director Teemu Nikki about his new film, Nimby, and the responsibility of comedy.

NIMBY is out in theaters this Friday, October 9th. I spoke briefly speak with the film’s director, Teemu Nikki, after the screening about working with multiple languages, using satire to deal with difficult topics, and at what point comedy become irresponsible.

This interview is edited and condensed for clarity.

When did you start writing NIMBY?

I think it was four or five years ago. This project has been going on for a long time, and the first idea was something like five years ago. Meanwhile, I did a feature and a few tv series, so I’ve been busy.

Finland was a very different place then.

Yes and no. When we started NIMBY it was when the first wave of refugees came to Finland, and I noticed already then the atmosphere becoming quite tense. People began to divide between the right and the left, which I wanted to investigate. At some point, we thought that the world would change, and all this would be “old stuff” one day, but unfortunately not. I think the world has become even worse in the way that people avoid talking to each other, and how they divide into their bubbles and castles.

Why did you pick satire as the genre to investigate it?

Satire? (Pause) I don’t know. I think it’s my way of doing everything.

One of the film’s main points is the dialogue between people; how difficult was it to coordinate the numerous languages featured in the dialogue?

It was difficult! There’s a scene where multiple people are talking around the table in Finnish, English, and German, and it was interesting because I don’t speak German. Every time they improved, I had to ask what they were saying. That scene was around six pages long, so it was exciting. It was challenging, but very much fun because I hadn’t done that before.

Did you have inspirations in mind when you got into making this?

We were saying that this is STRAW DOGS combined with LOOK WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, both very different films! I did watch a couple of others, like Roman Polanski’s CARNAGE, about four people talking in one apartment, coming from different backgrounds, and ending up in a big fight. I also looked at a bunch of films located in a single location: I don’t know if you noticed it, I hope you didn’t, but the house isn’t real. We shot that in a studio.

Was that the reason for the visual limiting when they’re talking to each other through the windows?

That was a stylistic reason to show that people are in their boxes. There’s always some kind of a wall. They’re not breathing the same air.

When you started casting the project, did you have a wishlist in mind?

Matti Oinismaa is always with me in every film, but I usually try to cast the actors in roles that I haven’t seen before. We have Elias Westerberg as a young Nazi and Antti Reini as a lazy politician, Mari Rantasila as a housewife. I didn’t have anyone in mind as the main character, because we needed a young face. But we were fortunate in finding Susanna Pukkila for her first film role. We got lucky she’s so talented.

The film paints itself with very broad strokes. I think it’s going to divide audiences.

Probably, yes.

What do you think about the reading that the Nazis depicted in this film are buffoons, even to the point of harmlessness?

I think Matti Oinismaa’s character is not harmless. I think the leaders in this film are not harmless. But in a small town, I had the idea that the gang’s people were not interested in Nazi thought. They’re just guys drinking. They don’t have this ideological thought.

When I watched the film, I had immense reservations about that depiction, they do heinous things, and there’s the joke about the Molotov attack on the refugee center. How would you respond to people who would feel that kind of depiction isn’t responsible, that it doesn’t take the real things seriously enough?

To be honest, I haven’t thought about it that way, because it’s a comedy. I believe that quite often when we see these rallies of right-wing people, they’re quite drunk doing these things. I never thought they weren’t dangerous. But I think that Mika’s character is lost himself; he’s not a bad guy, he’s trying to be worse than he is.

But for the question of how I’d respond? I’d say it’s a comedy.

Is it difficult to maintain optimism and find comedy in challenging times?

Yes. If this were a documentary, it wouldn’t have a happy ending. When I started writing this film, I wanted to be optimistic. I wanted to have a hopeful message. Because it’s very difficult to be that because you’re considered naive, and some might think this film is naive. But in a way, does it matter? If the message is still that you shouldn’t be hitting people, you should be talking to them.