by Marta Balaga
- Aleksi Salmenperä’s recent Jussi winner expresses the need for change but occasionally trips over its own ideas
Aleksi Salmenperä’s Void [+see also:
film profile] turned out to be an indie force to be reckoned with at the Finnish Jussi Awards (see the news), picking up the trophies for Best Film, Director, Sound Design and Editing, as well as the Nordisk Film Prize, worth €20,000. Although hardly surprising – a critics’ darling, Salmenperä previously won the gypsum statuette for 2016’s Distractions [+see also:
film profile], another collaboration with Laura Birn and Tommi Korpela – this time, his success had a different feel. Mostly because Void, made without the support of the Finnish Film Foundation, became a film that many had been waiting for: an independent production serving as a middle finger to the industry that giveth, but that also taketh away. In this case, money for another project never materialised.
Salmenperä might be just the kind of director that blossoms under pressure, as this setback didn’t slow him down – his voice is certainly quite unique and, even despite the obvious budget constraints, heard here again, loud and clear. Not that he is too subtle about it either, with all the references to Finnish films being “so terrible” – especially the ones that did get support, one assumes. But apart from these tribulations, what remains is an interesting, if hardly groundbreaking, take on creativity as two artists try to make it work at home and professionally. Although in the case of struggling writer Eero (Korpela), whose writer’s block has stretched to five years now, well, it’s kind of the same thing.
And yet he and his partner, popular actress Pihla (Birn), keep on looking for more. More honesty, really: he wants to write a novel that’s real, while she wants a real role (“You mean in an American film?” goes his blunt, on-point observation). Salmenperä seems to enjoy blurring the line between what’s true and what’s not, with Pihla an especially good fit for Birn, who is also engaged in various international projects and just about every new local production, too. But for every comment about women’s position in the industry that sounds strikingly familiar or the odd glimpse of her previous roles, there are also some new ones, almost as ridiculous as Julia Roberts’ fake films in Notting Hill. Often branded as a “comedy” in its native Finland, all of these in-jokes in the movie (bound to be much more appreciated on its home turf) provoke a knowing smirk, rather than bouts of uncontrollable laughter. That is, unless someone is really into mentions of bloody faeces.
Still, all this makes Void, despite being for the most part shot in sombre black and white, a rather playful experience, if not an outright success. There is a tongue-tingling acidic quality to just about every verbal exchange, and with people constantly belittling each other or waiting for this one perfect strike, and a jazzy soundtrack that’s annoying in just the right way, you can almost hear the director giggling mischievously throughout the whole thing. If one were to adopt Soderbergh’s famous “one for them, one for me” approach here, there is no doubt where it would leave Salmenperä’s latest, but it should be interesting to see what he can come up with once the fun is over and he actually starts to think about his audience again. Chances are, with something that no one will see coming – until it’s award season again.
Written, directed and produced by Aleksi Salmenperä, Void was produced by Bufo and Sahadok. It was co-produced by Samu Heikkila, Laura Birn, Tommi Korpela, Tuomas Klaavo, Artturi Mutanen and Jani Lehtinen, and it is being distributed in Finland by B-Plan Distribution.
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