Star Boys: When life forces you to come back down to Earth
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Visa Koiso-Kanttila’s fiction feature debut, currently screening at Moscow, transports its audience to the north of Finland
Starting his career as a documentary director and DoP, Finnish director Visa Koiso-Kanttila has made his fiction feature debut with an endearing coming-of-age story, Star Boys [+see also:
film profile]. Set in the director’s native town of Oulu, the second-largest northernmost town in the world, this Silva Mysterium production is now competing in the main competition of the 39th Moscow International Film Festival (22-29 June).
Set during an unspecified period of time that would appear to be the 1970s, the screenplay written by the director follows young Vesa (Vili Saarela), a 13-year-old we first meet while he is reciting Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep together with his mother, Marja (Pihla Viitala). The boy’s innocence and the surrounding snow-capped landscapes seem a great setting for a charming children’s film, but Koiso-Kanttila has other plans for his protagonist: he uses the experiences in the life of Vesa and his best friend Kaarlo (Olavi Angervo) to show how the challenges of modern life can alter relationships and families.
When Vesa’s father, Tapio (Antti Luusuaniemi), is attracted to Kaarlo’s mother, the two boys will be caught in a web of reactions that will push them towards an unwanted coming of age. Koiso-Kanttila attentively presents the gradual changes unfolding in the two families, weaving a universal story about children growing up, adults growing apart, and centres of mass in relationships slowly shifting until they reach the brink of chaos. No amount of looking at the stars through his telescope, singing Christian carols at Christmas or praying to God can prepare reticent Vesa for these new, unnerving, maddening experiences.
In the boy’s world, change is unavoidable, and it flows like the almost frozen rivers that cinematographer Jarkko T Laine shoots in the blue light of morning, shots used by editor Mervi Junkkonen to create the rhythm of a lost world. But while one knows those rivers will finally reach the sea, one cannot say the same thing about the unpredictable rivers of life and where a raft of consequences may carry the protagonists.
Even if the screenplay feels like it was written and re-written many times, Star Boys also feels like an extremely personal journey that the director is taking down memory lane, with the audience invited to watch the eternal, familiar fight between tradition (with its stability verging on rigor mortis) and modernity (with its uncertainty and lack of principles). These elements are always present, with Koiso-Kanttila using Vesa’s grandfather, a man who built his house with his own bare hands, and Vesa’s father, an architect working on developing a shady new neighbourhood of apartment buildings that requires extensive demolition work before it can be built, as obvious examples of the two very different worlds. This is exactly the kind of abuse, treason, aggression and transgression that will push Vesa and Kaarlo into maturity.
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