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Maria Veijalainen • Director of Diva of Finland

“This film is not just for girls”


- Cineuropa talked to Finnish director Maria Veijalainen about her debut feature Diva of Finland, now playing in cinemas in her homeland

Maria Veijalainen • Director of Diva of Finland

In Diva of Finland [+see also:
interview: Maria Veijalainen
film profile
, produced by Silva Mysterium and distributed locally by SF Film, Maria Veijalainen takes a closer look at teenage girl Henna (Suvi-Tuuli Teerikoski), who becomes — literally — blinded by envy when Silja (Linda Manelius), a new girl in her small town, starts to get all the attention Henna craves for herself. Meanwhile, the prospect of entering the titular “Diva of Finland” talent show looms on the snowbound horizon…

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Cineuropa: You grew up in a similar place to the one you show in the film. Is that why you decided to set Diva of Finland in a small town?
Maria Veijalainen:
I didn’t really intend it this way, but I am half-Karelian and half-Northern Finnish, and the experiences I show are very much rooted in what I went through as a teenager.

I wanted to show these girls as they really are: they mean well, they think they are being loyal, and what they are doing is fully justified, but this whole element of blindness is there to show that they only know half of the truth. And yet, it’s on this partial truth that they base all their decisions and their behaviour! It may seem a bit brutal sometimes, but the actresses themselves confirmed they could relate to the story. I don’t see a point in making a film if I know I am not going to be honest. So it’s general, but also very specific to the area where I grew up. There is so much talk about talent, the we-are-going-to-hear-about-her-soon, and at the same time, so much undermining and putting kids down. The grown-up actors from that area, they all confirmed it. “It was just like this when I was young and wanted to be an actress or a singer!”

Seems like not that much has changed, then. When we were teenagers, all these cliques already existed – now aided by the invention of social media, allowing you to measure your status with specific tools.
Why wouldn’t they exist now? Our insecurities remain exactly the same. We all feel this pressure to “make something out of ourselves”, all this competition. Not just kids, but adults as well. It’s quite evident in our society. I haven’t seen that much change since the 1990s, unfortunately, although maybe the teenagers of today are more open. They try to deal with their problems, at least, because there is an on-going discussion about all these issues. And who knows, maybe my young actors were more open than I would have been in their place.

The girls you show are all quite different – did you want to create your own archetypes? Your own queen bees and wannabes, to borrow the title of the book that was turned into Mean Girls?
They were cast to fit their roles, but the make-up and costumes also helped a lot. I can’t praise our costume designer enough. Venla Korvenmaa was able to go into the mindset of a small-town teenager intuitively and to really relate to it, to understand what they put on their skin and how they choose to present themselves. It might seem effortless, but it was very well thought-out. Henna was the biggest question mark for me, when I was writing. I really knew her issues and her pain, but until I saw Suvi-Tuuli, I couldn’t really imagine her. When I saw her casting tape, she was nothing like what I envisioned, at least physically, but she more than filled that Henna-shaped hole. She gave her life. I rewrote the script later on, with her in mind. This film follows Henna very closely; it’s all very much in her head and in her heart. There is some darkness there, but she breaks out of it.

We like to think — or, at least, I certainly do — that women today know better than to compete with each other. Would you say it’s something you noticed while working with your young cast?
I think it’s still a taboo. Women and girls are told to support each other, with envy deemed as something hugely painful and shameful. I have been following some vlogs and we have been talking about it with the crew, too – in this world, there is so much envy. Somebody else is always more successful, gets more attention, is prettier. But we are scared of this feeling and most will never admit it – least of all to themselves. Because how do you justify envy without admitting that you feel you are less than somebody else?

I feel compassion for the insecure teenager I was back in the day, and I feel compassion for the teenagers of today. I wanted to make a film that I myself would have wanted to see when I was at that age and talk about some larger issues: envy, fear of what we find beautiful and this small-town attitude that’s not just confined to small towns. I have gotten some nice feedback from young men, too, and this film is not just for girls – it’s for anyone who wants to see how a girl’s mind can operate. Sometimes, that’s a mystery to me as well.

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