"Civilisation is easily lost"
by Boyd van Hoeij
- Aku Louhimies talks about his dark tale of divorce and desperation, an intimate portrait of an essentially good young father driven to desperation and accused of an act he cannot remember committing
With Frozen City [+see also:
interview: Aku Louhimies
interview: Markus Selin
film profile] (Valkoinen kaupunki), Finnish director Aku Louhimies returns to the frozen and snow-covered streets of Helsinki after his recent international success Frozen Land (Paha Maa). Cineuropa spoke with the director at the Karlovy Film Festival, where the film premiered and would eventually walk away with the Europa Cinemas label, the FIPRESCI prize and a Don Quijote Special Mention. The film has since played at various festivals, including the Flanders Film Festival in Ghent, where Louhimies won the Best Director Award. The film is released in Finland November 17.
Cineuropa: How would you describe the main themes of the film?
Aku Louhimies: The film is about loneliness and divorce, and we try to tell a story about real people, who have real feelings that are more nuanced than simply black or white. The actors spent a lot of time with the children [who portray their offspring], but their scenes together were not super-rehearsed, so there is a sense of reality at work. We also tried to make the characters talk as normal or natural as possible, and used actors who lived in or were born in Helsinki. The dark portrait of the city in winter is quite controversial: there is an enormous difference between Helsinki in summer and in winter.
Frozen Land and Frozen City are both set in Helsinki during winter and seem to be linked by more than just the English language title. What are the differences between the two films?
In Finnish, the titles are different: "Valkoinen kaupunki" means something like "White City", whereas "Paha maa" is indeed "Frozen Land". I suppose the English translation is a marketing thing, though it is true it can suggest a connection that is not really there in Finnish eyes. The main difference between the two films is that Frozen Land was an independent film project – inspired by a Tolstoy story – whereas Frozen City is a spin-off from a successful TV series called Fragments, so the audience will already be familiar with the main character. It was also made on a much lower budget, or actually without any money. We used professional actors and a professional crew, but all the technical stuff probably cost less than €1,000. We improvised as much as possible.
The film has a distinct Scandinavian or Northern European flavour. Where would you place Frozen City in terms of film tradition?
I guess it is closest in spirit to the 10 Commandments [or "Decalogue"] series from Polish director Kieslowski [which were also originally made for television], where he then extrapolated material to make some feature films [A Short Film About Killing, A Short Film About Love]. It is true that the film has a distinctly Nordic sensibility, though, even a Russian literary influence, like Frozen Land.
Frozen City has indeed many explicit references to Dostoyevski’s "Crime and Punishment" and also to Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. How should these be interpreted?
[Laughs] Well, there is no hidden secret code or anything, for those who do not get the references! If you haven’t seen or read these works the film still works fine. But what unites these three stories is that they are all about how a civilised man can easily loose that civilisation.
Will your next project again be as bleak as Frozen City and Frozen Land? No, not at all, though it does have elements that are drawn from life, like these projects. It is called Man Exposed and is written by an ex-priest. It is experimental in a different way in that it is quite comic and has Father Camillo elements. It is about a priest who wants to please everyone and mixes comic elements with realism and has a tone similar to Fargo.