Rating: Rated MA 15+ (strong sex scenes and themes, nudity)
This film, produced across two countries (Finland and Germany), was a strong entry in both the national and international film festivals of 2008. It tells the story of a Helsinki gynaecologist and surgeon, Saara (Outi Maenpaa) who discovers by chance that her husband, Leo (Martti Suosalo) is having an affair with one of his young students, Tuuli (Ria Kataja). Tuuli teaches self-defense classes at a martial-arts studio. Incensed by what she has learned, and not accepting of her husband’s explanation of what has happened, Saara wants a separation from Leo. Leo, however, would much rather stay married to her and continue his affair. Saara attends Tuuli’s self-defense classes under a false identity to learn the truth and begins to stalk Tuuli. Her plans for revenge are subverted by a growing relationship with Tuuli, and as the film progresses Saara begins to submerge her identity in the world of Tuuli with inevitable tragic results. Saara gains Tuuli’s trust and friendship, but in the process gives herself over to emotions she has never experienced before. Both manipulative and revengeful, Saara becomes sexually intimate with Tuuli partly by accident, but also partly by design. Soon her emotions spiral out of control and Tuuli and Leo become the tragic victims of the consequences that then unfold.
The film, as a whole, has an avant-garde look to it. It is energetic in pace, fashionably alienated and detached in personal style, but it is pretentious, and this slips over at times into melodrama, which tries to look classy. Saara’s emotional journey, though, has a certain validity and ring of truth to it as she plumbs the depths of her own neediness to try to entrap her husband and his mistress. The film is a lesson on how passion can distort and warp the soul and how a person, once in control, can fail to regain it; the movie also shows that what is unleashed can be almost impossible to re-restrain.
The contact between the two protagonists reminds one frequently of the merging of personalities in Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona;” though this film never ever achieves the quality or sustained intensity of Bergman’s movie. The direction by Petri Kotwica is stylish, and the photography by Harri Raty, with his preference for quiet compositions and long tracking shots, is impressive. In the blurring of plot lines and the almost soap-TV quality to how much of the melodrama unfolds, the acting performances from the two women are incongruously excellent. The subtlety and emotional intensity of their performances earned for them a shared Best Actress award at the Festroia International Festival of Cinema in Portugal, 2008.
The film is not a suitable one for communicating human values or for illustrating Christian premises for the formation of good sexual or marital relationships, and one would not want to count in the movie the number of times Saara violated her medical code of ethics. Several scenes, particularly the early sex scene between Saara and Leo and the strong Lesbian sex scene between Saara and Tuuli, offer firm warning to parents thinking of allowing their young or adolescent children to see the movie. This is a movie one goes to in order to capture the subtlety of the acting performances, and not to enjoy in all its aspects. It is interestingly directed and photographed, and superbly acted, but for some this film’s journey into the depths of the human psyche will disturb.
Out January 15 Potential Films
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.