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Pamela Tola • Director of Ladies of Steel

“I have forced myself to face my own fears”


- Cineuropa talked to one of Finland’s most recognisable actresses about her second feature film as a director, Ladies of Steel, currently in production

Pamela Tola • Director of Ladies of Steel
Pamela Tola on the set of Ladies of Steel

In Ladies of Steel, set to premiere in January, Finnish actress Pamela Tola — known for her roles in Lapland Odyssey [+see also:
film profile
or Beauty and the Bastard [+see also:
film profile
— will tell a story about older women who refuse to be defined by their age. Women such as Inkeri, a seventy-something woman convinced she accidentally killed her husband, and who nevertheless decides to embark on a road trip with her two sisters. Following last year’s Swingers, Tola’s comedy about four couples confronting their fears during an adventurous weekend, this new comedy produced by Helsinki Filmi will mark Tola’s second outing as a feature director.

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Cineuropa: What attracted you to this topic? The synopsis alone suggests a very current story, reflecting recent conversations around complex female portrayals and the #MeToo movement.
Pamela Tola:
I began writing the script and planning the film seven years ago. The topic is very current and it’s really great that the project has finally been funded [Ladies of Steel received the support of the Finnish Film Foundation in June] and these marvellous actors get to act in this story together. Getting old usually involves a lot of fears, so for me, this project has forced me to ponder about it as well. I have forced myself to face my own fears and I had to find out what was going on in older people’s minds. What these actors have taught me — especially my main three ladies — is that deep inside, we are always the same. We are the same young girl or boy we used to be – it’s always in there somewhere and people don’t ever feel “that old”. What’s outside usually changes much more than what’s on the inside.

And yet what’s outside is precisely what makes other people treat them differently.
That’s what intrigues me. Of course people evolve and they learn how to handle their behaviour, but from what I have understood, older people still feel a certain connection to their younger selves. I have also been quite sad about the fate of many senior citizens. They are no longer considered to be an active part of society, and all their life experience and wisdom goes completely unnoticed. It’s a horrible thought that some people are just waiting to die. I think we have become alienated from old age and death in general, because in our everyday life, these things just aren’t around all that much. Even though death, at least of natural causes, should come to us as naturally as birth. The themes of the film, including finding your true self, listening to your inner voice, following your dreams and taking responsibility for your own life, apply to everyone from the young to the old, so my film is not aimed solely at an older audience. I am trying to tell this story to allow young people to find something interesting there as well – something they can relate to. But just to be clear, this film is certainly not a kids’ movie. I want to portray older people, especially older women, as active people who still have a chance to make changes in their lives.

Considering that your debut feature Swingers also had an acerbic comedic touch, why do you think you feel so comfortable with comedy as a genre?
For me, the line between comedy and tragedy is very thin. I like to make films that have dark and serious themes, but they are dealt with in such a way that the viewers can laugh if they feel like it. Sometimes it’s much easier for a person to deal with something truly awful by using comedy. I experienced it too – laughter and dark humour have helped me through some difficult times as well.

How are you trying to take this black humour and make it your own? I wonder if your experience in front of the camera has helped you in any way.
Dark humour is what makes me laugh. By “dark humour” I mean something where actual human beings are trying to survive even in the most difficult situations. In any way they can. This is what I have written into this story, too. My background and education is in acting and I believe that’s why it’s really important for me that the characters are multidimensional and interesting – just like actual people. In real life, nobody has just one facial expression. I haven’t been consciously taking any influences from Thelma & Louise, but it surely has had an effect on me. All road trip movies have the same kind of structure, and in Ladies of Steel, we have used it deliberately, also trying to break it and mould it. One of my goals is to bring down stereotypes and portray people in a less gendered way. We all have different aspects to us and I am trying to find these aspects in my characters, and then make them come face to face with each other. My background in acting helps, because I know what it’s like to be in front of the camera. I try to give actors space, to allow them to be the best versions of themselves.

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