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SUNDANCE 2022 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Alli Haapasalo • Director of Girl Picture

"It was very important for me to talk about girlhood in a way that would be a fresher take on the films about young adults I saw as a teenager"


- A mature and emancipated depiction of girlhood is at the centre of this visually appealing Finnish coming-of-age film

Alli Haapasalo  • Director of Girl Picture
(© Marica Rosengard)

The coming-of-age film Girl Picture [+see also:
film review
interview: Alli Haapasalo
film profile
by Finnish director Alli Haapasalo premiered in the World Dramatic section of this year's Sundance. We talked to her about the concept of the film and its protagonists.

Cineuropa: Why was it important for you to make this film?
Alli Haapasalo: It all started with us, the two writers, Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen, and me, being interested in the teenage experience. From early on, it started to take this sort of undercurrent feminist mission aspect. It's not an agenda film only, of course. I think it is in a way a feel-good film, it aims to be entertaining and moving, but it was very important for me to talk about girlhood in a way that would be a fresher take on the films about young adults I saw as a teenager. I would have liked to see more girls on the screen, and more girls like we show in the film. To develop the story, we did have to go through a complex process during the writing stage. It took many years to write it. There was, for example, a version in which Mimi's characters struggles with her sexual orientation and while we were moving further, we realised this represented more the "old world." This shouldn't be an issue. And we decided not to say anything about it, since it's not about a coming-out, but about a love story between the two protagonists.

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Could you say more about how you developed the story and the different characters?
We knew from the beginning that we would have these three characters, but everything around them changed. Some drafts had a bigger presence of Mimi's mother, for example. But also there was another evolution in our writing process, and we wanted to focus on the girls and completely give them the centre stage. Girls do not always have to be seen through their parents' eyes, or the eyes of others and the world around them. We discovered that we wanted to keep danger out of their story. We had, for example, a sleazy guy they had to escape from. But then thought, no, this is a cliché, since when girls are independent and they are sexually active, there always has to be a sleazy guy at some point. Even if that may be true in real life, unfortunately, we didn't have to reinforce it on the big screen. We can just say, "no, not in this world." They can go to an after party without needing to think about being in danger. Different women around my age are involved in the production, such as the costume designer, the production designer, the make-up artist and the two producers. We shared a big discussion about what femininity, feminism and girlhood post #metoo mean. It was a very fruitful conversation about all these topics. You reflect about personal ideas and convictions. I first thought the colour pink could be problematic. I kind of like it personally, but I thought it wouldn't be good to bring it into the movie. But then the colour kept coming in different ways. I had to have the conversation with myself, "why I am against it?" Isn't that also a sort of misogyny? I had to learn how to embrace that. This is just an example of all the different elements related to how we see girls and girls' lives.

How much of your own experience did you put into the script and the characters?
There is actually a great deal of Ilona and Daniela in the script. It is not fully based on them, but a lot of Daniela is in Mimi, and of Ilona in Rönkö. I can find myself in all of the girls. I can find the strong need to find a connection in a guy like Rönkö, and I can find the good girl narrative, always doing my best at school, in Emma. But of all three of them, I think Mimi would be the one that would become a filmmaker as a grown-up. She has a backstory that shows she has an interest in an artistic field.

Was it clear from the start that the end would be a rather positive one?
We didn't want it to be a classical plot-driven film, but much more like a life-sized exploration of what it is to be a young girl. It shouldn't feel like a movie, but look and feel like real life. One ending was more open, but I needed there to be a resolution between them. They keep living and flourish in their lives, I liked to offer this idea.

What were the most important aspects for the visual concept?
I wanted to conceptualise what teenage life means in aesthetics of storytelling. Sense of scale was an important thread. From a teenager perspective, things often become the “biggest” in the world, although in reality they might not be. We wanted to visualise that the girls are in a phase between not being children anymore, but not yet adults, either. Mimi's apartment, for example, stands for her adult side, since she lives alone, but there is a big teddy there. Or when Emma dances on the parking lot, we see in the background an area that is growing, which we used as a metaphor for teenagers who are also still growing. The editing and pace of the film should represent the inner agitation of the characters. When they finally relax and stop, the camera stops too. I wanted to use a 4:3 frame, moreover, to assure the focus is on the girls, to give them the centre stage.

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