Dome Karukoski • Director
“A film about underdog male shame in Finland”
by Annika Pham
With his new film Lapland Odyssey [+see also:
film profile] playing on 81 Finnish screens since October 15, popular Finnish director Dome Karukoski has again scored with local audiences (over 125,000 admissions so far), who have flocked to see his comic road movie shot in icy Lapland, where death by suicide far outnumbers death by car accident. The 33-year-old director spoke to us before the film’s opening in Finland.
Cineuropa: Your film had its world premiere at Toronto’s Contemporary World Cinema sidebar. How was it received?
Dome Karukoski: It could not have been better. I was a bit nervous about the fact that the film might be too local, and that people wouldn’t get the humor. But when I heard people laugh from beginning to end and when we got four applauses in the middle of the film, I was relieved. I actually had the best audience reaction ever for one of my films. The reviews were also very good, so it was as perfect as can be.
As a road comedy, Lapland Odyssey is very different from your previous films, which were mostly dramas. Was that intentional?
It was both intentional and accidental. It was intentional because, at 33, I want to continue to develop as a filmmaker and push the boundaries of my filmmaking skills. At the same time, I wanted to deal with a serious subject matter in an entertaining way. In Lapland, the suicide rate is very high and more people die of suicide that from car crashes. To reach the audience directly interested in this subject, but also a wider group, we felt the best way was through humor. Finland is perhaps the best country in the world where people laugh at themselves. It’s accidental because the film was supposed to be my third film. But then it took around five years to get the script right and find the financing.
You’ve teamed up again with Pekko Pesonen, who wrote your first feature film, Beauty and the Bastard [+see also:
film profile]. Whose idea was it to make Lapland Odyssey?
Pekko was having his first child and his father-in-law insisted he should get a camcorder. He kept nagging him and after a while, Pekko started thinking of making a film about “male” roles. Modern couples have been changing in Finland. Women are often stronger, faster, and more capable. In a symbolic way, men have been “stuck” on their couches. But although women are bringing food to the table, in some way society is still hanging on to the traditional idea that men have to do certain jobs, such as fixing the lawnmower or TV. We wanted to explore the feelings of shame of men who cannot fulfill their “manly” duties; and for having been an underdog country for centuries. We thought that making a film about Finnish underdog male shame would be interesting to many!
It’s still an odyssey, in which the characters go through challenges, fight against so-called enemies before returning home as changed persons. Was it hard to find the right tone, and not make the various road encounters too anecdotal?
Yes, it did take four years to get the script right. When we started discussing the story, it was a farce. But we felt it wasn’t believable and changed it to make it more realistic, with action that might have happened for real. For instance, there are a lot of well-off Russians in Lapland. They do wake up in the morning and say, “Let’s fly a helicopter”! We showed the film to 700 people in Lapland, where we had a premiere. After the screening, they hugged us and said the film is very real and believable.
The music plays an important role in driving the action. It is reminiscent of Irish folk music, along with Ennio Morricone scores from Italian spaghetti westerns. How did you put it together?
Thanks to our co-production with Ireland and Sweden we were able to get a unique sound. We had sound designers from Sweden and the Irish Lance Hogan as music composer. The film is a great adventure, an odyssey, although the main storyline is very narrow: a couple wanting to get a new Digibox. Still, it’s a pretext for the three male characters to go on a big journey. For Janne (Jussi Vatanen) and his friends (Jasper Pääkkönen and Timo Lavikainen), the inner journey is actually bigger that the physical journey, so the music had to have an epic tone. We did talk about Ennio Morricone with Lance, and felt that in a way it is a western but set in Lapland.
How difficult was it to shoot at night under tough weather conditions?
It wasn’t that difficult. When we made the film, no other Finnish film was being made at the same time so we could pick the top crews available and experienced in shooting in harsh circumstances. We shot [in temperatures] below -36°F. We had movable saunas because our actors didn’t have much clothing on for the film and we thought they might want to stay warm. But they actually preferred to feel the cold. But at least they had a choice! We also shot the studio sequences at Film i Väst Trollhättan studios in Sweden.
Do you think you will make another comedy?
Actually, I’m currently working with Pekko on another Lappish story. In a way, it will be a continuation to Lapland Odyssey but not a sequel per se. It will have the same tone, with an amazing new story. I’m also working on 15-minute short film for charity about children living in the slums of Nairobi. It will be shown during the Red Nose Days in Finland and hopefully it will get festival coverage and awareness. If it sells somewhere, the money will go to charity.
What do you think of Finnish cinema today?
I’m very excited to be part of Finnish cinema today. There is a new wave, a generational shift. A lot of directors, scriptwriters are in their 30s and are reinvigorating film. I believe many great films will come out of Finland over the next five years. Last year, we had great success with over 30 festival awards for my previous film Forbidden Fruit [+see also:
film profile] and for Klaus Härö’s Letters to Father Jacob [+see also:
film profile]. This year should again be very good.
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