The open-mindedness that characterises Finnish society is often envied by other societies around the globe. This is evidenced by its recent policy of welcoming refugees during the migratory crisis. However, never before has a Finnish feature film been released with a homosexual character in the main role, until now.
The Finnish director Mikko Makela has decided to remedy this anomaly with his debut film, A Moment in the Reeds, unveiled in the Love section at the 61st London Film Festival. It’s part of a rich year for Finnish LGBT cinema which also includes Tom of Finland [+], set to represent the country at the Oscars.
Leevi (Janne Puustinen) is a young Finnish man studying literature in Paris. He returns home for the holidays to see his father, his only remaining relative after the death of his mother, and to help him renovate their isolated holiday cottage, which sits on the edge of a beautiful lake. The incompatibility of Leevi’s bohemian aspirations and his father’s conservatism is evident from the opening scene. Leevi announces his plans to escape Finnish military service by requesting French nationality much to the great dismay of his father.
Leevi is joined by Tareq (BoodiKabbani), a Syrian architect taking refuge in Finland and who is employed by Leevi’s father to help them renovate the house. Despite the geographical distance that has separated them for the majority of their lives, Tareq’s concerns are very similar to Leevi’s: a very conservative environment and a homosexuality that can’t find its place in the family home. Through the silences that punctuate their trivial conversations, an intimate relationship gradually develops between Tareq and Leevi during the prolonged absences of Leevi’s father.
Makela’s staging choices, such as the decision to create the majority of dialogue after filming had commenced, deliberately give the actors a great deal of freedom, who improvise their conversations in most of the scenes. The film also has a surprising naturalism and simplicity. Said naturalism is reinforced by the film’s chosen language: Leevi and Tareq speak in rough English, which is not their mother tongue. This reflects a modern-day reality that we very rarely see on screen: the use of international English as a common language for younger generation worldwide. The importance of phones and social networks is also presented in a very convincing way as a language that is shared by both young men.
The film finds its strength and vitality in the portrait of this youth: we see two young people of our time who, despite their different origins, understand each other, share the same concerns, the same worries and the same way of experiencing their sexuality within their families and online.
Makela’s debut film is ambitious, dealing with three important societal issues: the migratory crisis, the father-son relationship problem, and ever-present Finnish conservatism. As a result, the film thrives at certain key moments, and it would probably have benefited from delving into one of these subjects in more detail.
With A Moment in the Reeds, Makela nevertheless asserts himself as one of the major figures in the emerging scene of Finnish LGBT cinema with great determination, courage and sensitivity.
The film was produced by the English company Wild Beast Productions.
Our 61st BFI London Film Festival coverage is run in collaboration with the UK National Film and Television School‘s MA in Film Studies, Programming and Curation.