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Finland

Mika Kaurismäki • Director of The Grump: In Search of an Escort

“I like tragicomedies where something that you look at closely may seem very sad, and when you look from farther away, it can be very funny”

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- The Finnish director told us how he proceeded when adapting the story of a grumpy old man with a passion for old cars

Mika Kaurismäki • Director of The Grump: In Search of an Escort

Mika Kaurismäki's new tragicomedy The Grump: In Search of an Escort [+see also:
interview: Mika Kaurismäki
film profile
]
is being released in German cinemas today via Arsenal Filmverleih, and indeed, a sizeable chunk of this story about brothers meeting again after several decades was shot in Germany. We talked to the director about the novel on which the story is based and his personal link to it.

Cineuropa: Where does the story come from? Were you inspired by your own experiences?
Mika Kaurismäki:
There is some personal experience between me and my brother that is reflected in the film. Having a brother, of course, helps me identify with the situation. But I didn't think too much about my own background, even though it is still present, of course. And my younger brother is kind of a grumpy person. But the story is first and foremost based on a novel by author Tuomas Kyrö. He wrote a series of stories about this same character, which were first aired on the radio in the form of an audio play. He then wrote novels out of them, after the plays became very popular. There have also already been two films dealing with the character. But the films are independent of each other – their directors, writers and cast are all different, and so is The Grump. Our scriptwriter is a young woman. I wanted to have a female writer in order to have a different approach to the story, with its virtually all-male characters. It was nice to work with Daniela Hakulinen; she did a great job. We took a lot of liberties when adapting it for film: the older brother of the protagonist, for example, became more important than he is in the novel.

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What did you like about the main character?
I wanted to make this film because I wanted to work with Heikki Kinnunen, who is a very famous Finnish actor. I had never worked with him before, and I thought it would be great to have him play this character. He created his own grumpy character, and I didn't want to touch it too much.

Are you not afraid of becoming a grumpy person yourself?
I hope I won’t; I still have young children. And I try to hang on to the moment, taking care of them. I don't have time to be grumpy.

Was it clear from the beginning that the story would be set in Germany?
It is already said in the book that the story takes place partly in Germany. I know Germany, since I studied cinema in Munich, and I lived in Berlin and Hamburg for a long time. It was easy for me to make the film in Germany, also because I had already made other movies there.

Do you have a personal link to old cars?
Not really; I don't collect them. But I like old cars, as I think they have personality. I used to own old cars, but nowadays, I have a new, electric car. I can understand the passion, as it's a nice hobby.

In the film, nearly all of the characters are men. Each of them shows a different aspect of being a man. What was important for you to demonstrate through these characters?
I wanted to tell, in parallel, the story of two brothers from two different generations and talk about their problems. There are not many female characters, but the ones in the story still have a very important role.

Why do you like to use the comedy format to talk about fairly serious topics?
The lead is a comedy character, in a way. But I didn't want to make a comedy; I knew it would be funny anyway, with a strange brand of humour. I tried to make it a drama as much as possible, to play with this thin line between joy and sorrow. I like tragicomedies where something that you look at closely may seem very sad, and when you look from farther away, it can be very funny. I didn't want to try to be funny in the film. The situation and the character were already amusing, and I tried to work against that to strike a different tone.

What would you say makes the film particularly Finnish?
These grumpy men from the countryside, they’re quite typical. Even so, it's changing now – in the small towns, you will find these kinds of people, too. You will find this kind of man, with his hat on, even in the summer. I guess it's similar to other countries, too. I wanted to portray the protagonist not as a stupid, old-fashioned guy, but as one who has his own values, even though they might be different from those of the younger generation.

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