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The "king of Finnish tango" gets the biopic treatment in The Singer


- Director Timo Koivusalo takes a closer look at one of Finland’s most beloved performers, Olavi Virta, but doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous aspects of his life

The "king of Finnish tango" gets the biopic treatment in The Singer
The Singer by Timo Koivusalo

After 1999’s The Swan and the Wanderer, about songwriters Tapio Rautavaara and Repe Helismaa, The Rose of the Rascal (devoted to the life of Finnish singer Irwin Goodman) and 2003’s Sibelius, director Timo Koivusalo is about to unleash yet another biopic about a popular local musician. The Singer, scheduled to premiere domestically on 5 October and produced by Artista Filmi, will focus on “king of Finnish tango” Olavi Virta, who passed away in 1972 and has already inspired a TV documentary by the late Peter von Bagh.

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“I just find it interesting to dive into someone’s life,” explains the director, who also composed the scores for some of his films. “Music is a time machine that leads us to different places and times. It carries our memories, feelings, hopes and fears, and brings them back instantly if need be. But it’s very important to understand that Olavi and all of these other artists weren’t just entertainers; they brought light to the people who survived the war and gave them hope for something better. Different times need different heroes, and their music reflected what was going on in our country.”

While it covers an extensive period in Virta’s life, especially his personal troubles, as well as enlisting the help of actors Lauri Tilkanen and Raimo Grönberg, with the latter cast as his older incarnation, the film will focus mostly on his youth, before the performer’s spectacular career was cut short by alcoholism, sickness and his involvement in various scandals. “At one point in the film, Olavi says: ‘Minor is a poor man’s major.’ He paid a price for his talent, but I don’t think my film is too dark,” adds Koivusalo, who is also responsible for producing the film and writing the script. “It’s just melancholic, like all of these old songs we love. In every life, there are shadows and sorrows.” 

Lensed by Jussi Award-winning cinematographer Pertti Mutanen, the film promises to revel in its retro setting – but, as stressed by the helmer, without completely forgoing realism. “I wanted to focus on a time in his life that we don’t remember so well anymore. That being said, I’ve always thought that if you get an opportunity to make a film about someone else’s life, it comes with the responsibility to do it honestly and respectfully, no matter how dark the stories you are about to tell may seem.”

Produced by director Timo Koivusalo and his Pori-based production company Artista Filmi, The Singer (known in Finland as Olavi Virta) is being supported by the Finnish Film Foundation. The movie will be distributed by The Walt Disney Company Nordic, and the Finnish premiere is scheduled for October 2018.

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