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Miia Tervo • Director of Aurora

“The way I see it, there aren’t many normal people around”


- We met up with Finland’s Miia Tervo, the director of this year’s Göteborg opener, Aurora, a romantic comedy that’s not afraid to go dark

Miia Tervo  • Director of Aurora

Fighting for a better future for his daughter, Iranian man Darian (Amir Escandari) doesn’t have too many options left – he either needs to marry a Finnish woman to get asylum, or commit suicide. Enter Aurora (Lake Bodom [+see also:
film profile
’s Mimosa Willamo), a wild nail technician down on her luck and facing imminent eviction, who reluctantly agrees to find him a new wife. She just needs to sober up first. This is the story of Miia Tervo’s Aurora [+see also:
film review
interview: Miia Tervo
film profile
, the opening film of the Göteborg Film Festival (25 January-4 February), where we sat down with the Finnish director to find out more about the movie.

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Cineuropa: When pitching the project at the Finnish Film Affair a while ago, you mentioned that some of the film’s aspects are based on your own experiences. What did you mean by that?
Miia Tervo:
 This whole landscape of Finnish alcoholics is something I know all too well – it’s my family’s sickness. It’s part of our culture, but also something that changes the way you love. Alcoholism affects more than just one person; it affects 20 people around you. In Finnish film, it’s always about a man who drinks, and there is no way out; there is just this black abyss and loneliness. But I know there is more to it than that. You can get better and you can live with it; you just need to put in some extra work.

My cousin actually met a guy in the supermarket and fell in love with him – he was a refugee, too. Then they became parents and the whole family was talking about it. And it was from another cousin that I first heard the story about a father thinking about killing himself in order to get asylum for his children, as he was running out of other options. So it was already there in the world, and then it slipped into my film.

How did you develop Aurora’s unique look? With her blond mane and long nails, she seems like a small-town Donatella Versace.
It came from the character. I wanted her to work in a nail salon, without any real prospects in life. She is poor and wants to be rich, and just can’t accept herself the way she is. She hides behind this façade of womanhood. It’s an instinct – you start to write something, and then you just see this person. When Mimosa first came in for the test shoot, my cinematographer said: “You will never make her look the way you want to.” And I just went: “I’ll show you.” He thought we needed this blue-eyed, natural blonde. But it’s not about how she really looks – she is fixing herself up because she wants to escape life and love, and be somebody else. A bit like Donatella Versace. 

Romantic comedies are full of very specific rules, and your film follows them quite faithfully: you’ve covered everything from the “quirky best friend” to a plot revolving around marriage. Was it always your intention to make one, even though they have been getting a ribbing from the critics?
Yes! I wanted to do it better [laughs]. At first, I just had this image of an outgoing girl falling in love, because Aurora and Darian are both underdogs in their lives. When I started rewriting it, I decided to make a romantic comedy out of it because it just sounded so crazy – it’s not my genre at all. I wanted to see if it was really that hard. In the 1930s, romantic comedies were wonderful – take It Happened One Night, for example – and now all we get is this superficial shit. I wanted to take it and make something real.

Given that your protagonist is a heavy drinker and a party girl, was Trainwreck an inspiration in any way? 
It was, although it came out when I was already writing. I went: “Wow, she really did it!” But I wanted to go deeper and darker – because alcohol makes everything so damned dark, and you can’t pretend otherwise. I also wanted it to be clear that unlike this other movie, she is not trying to get her act together for a man. He goes away, and then she takes care of herself when she’s good and ready. It was a small thing, but I wanted to make sure it was not about anyone telling her: “I just can’t love you the way you are.” It’s not that simple.

You don’t care about being politically correct in this film at all. There are so many lines and characters constantly about to overstep the line, and even their meet-cute ends with a rape joke.
More than anything else, I wanted to be honest. And you know what? We are all fucked up. So why don’t we cut each other some slack instead of constantly trying to figure out who the biggest loser is? There is normality in these characters somewhere, but the way I see the world, there are not so many “normal” people around. I wanted them to be free – free to be arseholes, free to be ugly, beautiful, loving or politically incorrect. Just let them be. Sure, it’s a lot – the worst thing about writing intuitively is that sometimes you end up somewhere you shouldn’t be. But in films, you should be giving energy instead of taking it away.

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