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Samppa Batal, Tuomas Kohtamäki • Director and producer of Timeman

“You are not sure if you are allowed to laugh”


- Time travel’s a bitch in this melancholic Finnish production, named Best Film in the Warsaw Film Festival’s Free Spirit Competition

Samppa Batal, Tuomas Kohtamäki • Director and producer of Timeman
(© Laura Mainiemi)

In Timeman [+see also:
interview: Samppa Batal, Tuomas Kohtam…
film profile
by Samppa Batal, a man (Matti Pajulahti) who used to time-travel as a kid meets a woman (Annika Hartikka). He can finally see glimpses of a happy future, so different from his drab present. But while they managed to connect once, it gets harder and harder to repeat it. We talked to Batal and his producer, Tuomas Kohtamäki, about their feature, which has just been crowned Best Film in the Warsaw Film Festival’s Free Spirit Competition (see the news).

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Cineuropa: Someone mentioned Groundhog Day before the screening of the film, so I assumed Timeman would be comedic as well. But it’s actually very melancholic.
Samppa Batal:
That’s how life is. It can be fun, but it can also be harrowing. For me, it has always been like that. I guess wanted it to be as realistic as possible.

You take a long time to explain why your protagonist is so sad and frustrated.
He feels he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he doesn’t understand why.

Tuomas Kohtamäki: It’s quite typical for your work, I think. You get to understand the characters during the film, not right away.

SB: I do that? Okay.

TK: You do! The way I saw it, he is the kind of person who never got much support, not even as a child. Maybe that’s why he is the way he is.

When you start a relationship, there are so many things that could go wrong. But he also knows that things can go right, which might make it more painful when it doesn’t happen again.
I don’t think I wanted to show the good moments in order to make things more painful later on. These were the things I really wanted them to get.

TK: The thing is, you can’t force things to go the way you want. As you said, time-travel films can be comedies, but we also talked about the unethical side of it. He becomes manipulative once he gets the hang of it. But your behaviour affects other people.

How scary did you want him to go?
I had been planning this film for ten years, maybe more. The original plan was to make him go even crazier and for things to go much worse. But the writing was happening at the same time as the filming and editing. Based on what we did with the actors, I got to know the characters more. I realised I wanted him to be more fragile.

TK: At Warsaw, people called it a “dramedy”. The audience would laugh, but then you could almost hear them think: “He crossed the line there. It’s not funny any more.” It was very rewarding to see.

SB: At one point, you are not sure if you are allowed to laugh. Our cinematographer, Miikka Pakarinen, didn’t get this story at all – not ever, during all these years I had been telling him about it. But after we filmed that scene of him talking to this girl, over and over again, getting frustrated, he said: “I understand what this film is about.”

Is this kind of awkward humour something you like?
I like to risk things. If things come too easy, I find it hard to be motivated. Also, when it’s horrible or funny, or both at the same time, that makes it realistic. You can never anticipate the good times or the bad times. Whenever I hurt my toe, I start to laugh. It makes it easier for me, although people do think it’s a bit odd.

What about the scenes with his so-called friends? I couldn’t figure out why they are hanging out together.
The “so-called” friends, exactly.

SB: I see it happening all the time: you hang out with the people who are around. You can’t always choose them. I know – I have been there. I think it’s quite common. You do simple things together: you drink, you play sports. Or, in their case, you eat and you fight. She makes him realise it doesn’t have to be like that. You can be with people in a different way.

You made this film independently, without any support from the Finnish Film Foundation. Did that make it harder?
I was eager to shoot, and I was restless about it. With Matti Pajulahti, the lead, we talked about it for years. Then the pandemic hit, and everyone was free. It’s funny because just before that, I met a film critic who gave my first film a one-star review. I had been following his work, and we actually agreed on so many things. He asked what I was working on, I mentioned some ideas and he said: “You should just choose and make it happen.” And we did. We shot Timeman over the course of one year, for a few days. There was no script, so each time, I would tell them: “Maybe that was the last time.” After a while, people started to ask: “How long is this going to take?!” If I ever suggest making a film without a script again, I hope I will hear a resounding “No!” But I am not sorry now, because it works.

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