Finnish Films of 2020: 'Ladies Of Steel', ‘Laughing Matters’, ‘Games People Play’
LADIES OF STEEL
Changing things up slightly when it comes to casting and having your movie lead by three older women is a nice change of pace this year. Director and co-writer Pamela Tola’s Ladies Of Steel (Teräsleidit in Finnish) takes us on a ride for road comedy purposes, there those three - Inkeri (Leena Uotila), Raili (Seela Sella) and Sylvi (Saara Pakkasvirta) - have gone on the run since Inkeri thinks she might have killed her husband who she left lying on the floor unconscious. During this, Inkeri’s daughter is planning a birthday party for her so they are trying to locate her as well. The film gets to an exhilarating start where the trust is put on the three leads but unfortunately when nearing the third act, that starts to slowly fade away.
Uotila, Sella and Pakkasvirta are all wonderful on their own but what really drives the performances home is their undeniable screen chemistry, most notable during the first 30 minutes when the dialogue indicates that the characters would have known each other before the viewers got on board. That’s a difficult thing to do in a road movie but it’s achieved here. Cinematographer Päivi Kettunen is also giving her all as locations are used naturally when it comes to lighting and some fun is to be had with neons as well as with exposure on flashback scenes. Ladies Of Steel is at its weakest with the daughter storyline which has unfortunately an awful performance by Pirjo Lonka as that daughter. It goes for the loud=funny type of comedy which fails miserably, on top of that it seems like Youtube sketch comedy instead of a comedy with a message of living while you still got it (theme for the older ladies). Bouncing back to that is always a disappointment and that is the tone for the last whole 30 minutes. It never really survives from that, though the last shot is a great callback to earlier events.
Smileys: Cinematography, acting
Frowneys: Ending, Pirjo Lonka, structure
Director Reetta Aalto’s first own venture in the feature world comes in form of Laughing Matters (Naurun Varjolla in Finnish) where we follow a 30-something Maria (Elena Leeve) whose screenwriting career hasn’t evolved as expected so she finds herself trying stand-up comedy in the search of revitalizing herself. Fairly quickly Maria finds her shtick and gets a spot on a tour with three other comedians; Kira (Aino Sirje), Karri (Ernest Lawson) and Tommi (Joonas Saartamo). This eventually leads the film to turn into a road-movie-of-sorts but sadly the road is also where it strays away from utilising that aspect, preferring to stage the action in hotels and apartment buildings instead. There’s a real rush to get to the relationship drama so building up the jokes (as you do in comedy, film or stand-up) gets put on the back-burner. This is why the otherwise solid premise is completely wasted and watered down.
Floating around locations is a misstep because the character work of Leeve’s main character is extremely effectively done. We get to know about her, then know her strengths and insecurities which is also helped by fine outing by the actor and those three surrounding her. There’s enough chemistry to go around and the stage should be the place to showcase that in the best way. However the stage is where we rarely get to go to and even that is full of weird choices – aspect ratio and lack of static shots in the cinematography department seem completely wrong while the fading out the room sound and cutting to Maria jogging on a bridge are awkwardly edited in and shot. The group of actors and comedy stage were the best bets here but it’s a bit more chaotic than it is funny.
Frowneys: Cinematography, premise
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Often as a reviewer you might get used to the Hollywood or UK machine where most of the stuff is in English but here and there I try to sprinkle in something else too. Games People Play(Seurapeli in Finnish) is the first Finnish film to be a part of that and so there were slight expectations to get a very typical Nordic dramedy with a lot of melancholy, cursing and dry humour. Well out of those you do get a lot of cursing, as it is mainly about eight friends spending a holiday together at a lake cabin, but it’s nice to see that it’s not afraid to get out of the comfort zone sometimes. While the film doesn’t necessarily feel complete or smooth all the way through, it’s still smart and endearingly acted so you don’t snooze off during it.
For the first hour-or-so, director/writer Jenni Toivoniemi manages to keep the story moving in fast pace with a bunch of funny and passive aggressive conversations between the characters. The humour is never dumbed down or dependant on punchlines, it genuinely feels like friends having inside jokes and taking loving jabs at each other. That is also why the whole main cast’s performances feel very natural while especially Iida-Maria Heinonen (as Natali) stands out in mostly quiet role. Games People Play relies heavily on conversations and with this many people, editing all of it together is always painfully troublesome with so much coverage needed. Fortunately there is a playful rhythm in those scenes which keeps things fresh.
The movie for the most part has just minor things holding it back but when it isn’t only one or two minor things, the effect of them grows exponentially. Firstly there’s never a proper second gear that kicks in since the characters’ frustrations are constant and therefore ”the big fight”, which eventually happens, doesn’t shake things up enough. Secondly, intimacy after it seems a bit overdone and repetitive considering the lack of romantic chemistry between some of the characters. Thirdly, being stuck at a location would’ve felt more suffocating without the beginning or ending parts in other places. Musical inconsistency of the soundtrack also comes off odd as the movie takes place in modern time, mix of baroque and contemporary styles clash hard next to each other.
Smileys: Humour, editing, Iida-Maria Heinonen
Frowneys: Pacing, soundtrack
What felt unrealistic at the lake cabin was the lack of mosquito killing. It’s a summer after all.