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AT HOME FINLAND
Shot during the quarantine period early in spring 2020, AT HOME FINLAND collects together a variety of slices of life shots about living in isolation in this period of time. These range from film pastiches to family melodrama and oddball comedy. While some of them struggle to maintain interest throughout their exceedingly long 20 minute runtimes, those that leave an impression make the whole thing worthwhile. If you can get past the fact that this is all very much a gimmick, AT HOME FINLAND offers an entirely watchable, if highly uneven, collection of short films.
In ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, a lonely woman finds herself imploding from the isolation. Heavily referencing the film ROCKY, this is a cute, but uneven and weird starting point for the series as directed by the usually reliable AJ Annila. It captures some of the angst and uncertainty associated with quarantining alone, but the mood doesn’t carry the entire length, and the ending falls limp. Still, Annila is a fine filmmaker with a great eye for both scares and visually interesting set pieces, both which are heavily featured here.
DO NO WRONG sees a single woman hellbent on following the social distancing rules faced with an impossible task of watching over her neighbors kids. Led by an always magnetic MInttu Mustakallio, this fish out of the water scenario is cute and breezy, if not remarkable. Alli Haapasalo is terrific at getting performances out of actors of all ages, and it’s clearly the strongest point of the short.
The best film of the lot is HONEYMOON, a surrealist ramble where a recently divorced man is visited by his clone, and then another, and another. Directed by Teemu Nikki (who also made one of my favorite Finnish films of all time in EUTHANIZER), HONEYMOON is as close to perfect as a short film gets. It’s witty, direct to the point, and takes on exactly as much as it needs to. The fantastic leading performance by Marc Gassot is laced with dry humor that effortlessly dances on both sides of strange. You’re so busy laughing that at some point everything begins to feel unnerving. I loved this film.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA is your typical young white couples angst drama, where the maudlin story is salvaged by terrific acting and sharp dialog. I didn’t buy the festering rage or the passive aggressive bickering between the couple, despite good high strung performances from Kreeta Salminen and Ville Tiihonen. This one again builds to a punchline that just isn’t as funny or revelatory as it thinks it is, making the preceding 18 minutes feel like a chore. It dabbles with some great moments involving going-by-the-gut Finns wanting to argue about how they just know better, but its attention span turns quickly elsewhere, losing the point just as fast as it found it.
A family gets lost in the woods and finds it the perfect time to do some much needed bonding in A SUMMER MOMENT, but despite good acting the story is a nonstarter that idles its way through the far too long runtime. There’s a lot of repetition as the trio make their way from one point to the next and the timidly built story offers no surprises or insight into the essential connection Finns have with nature. Tommi Korpela is as great as ever in the lead, and Eedit Patrakka makes an impression once her character gets to actually start doing something around the halfway point.
KNOCK KNOCK TIK TOK is a hilarious and sharp satire about a very Finnish tendency to spy on your neighbors that spirals into delicious delirium the further it goes. As with Nikki’s clone comedy, KNOCK KNOCK toys with genre conventions with a purity of vision that dives right into Finnish mannerisms at their most absurd. Anyone who has lived in an apartment complex will recognize these traits, each amped up to eleven as more news trickle down from the ether. Mostly wordless, save for the droning newscasts, Marja Pyykkö directs the most visually pleasing and interesting picture of the bunch. It’s thanks to her and Nikki’s films that the entire season is worth viewing.
And finally, in THE MOST WONDERFUL LAUGH IN THE WORLD, an estranged daughter and father find time for one another as they’re isolated at a cottage. Leaning heavily on the inherent charisma of Samuli Edelmann, the closing chapter has little to offer as the punchline can be seen coming from miles away and is the drama itself is as milquetoast as they come.
Much has been made about it being the first Finnish project ordered by HBO, and it’s certainly a cause for celebration. But the collection of filmmakers, talented as they are, is limited in vision and the stories told are expressly those of white, upper-class people from Helsinki. For an anthology in seven parts, that feels like a deliberate choice, and one that doesn’t stick the landing as well everyone probably hoped.
Each film opens with a statement about how the shorts were shot with a minimal crew during lockdown, and each time it feels less impressive. When young indie artists around the world have taken to social media to create inventive and bizarre films all over, encapsulating even a morsel of the Finnish experience into something as conventional as this can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity.
A well made, thoroughly watchable, and occasionally brilliant one, but a missed opportunity nonetheless.