New Finnish release proves that it’s not always sunny in Eden
by Marta Bałaga
- The highly anticipated drama by Ulla Heikkilä will venture where few dare to go: straight to a Christian camp
Ulla Heikkilä’s first feature, Eden – set, of all places, in a Christian camp – is bound to stand out among a slew of new Finnish releases, if just for one reason, rarely addressed by her colleagues, at least unless their name is Klaus Härö: religion. “I was interested in the way confirmation camps create a world of their own, far from everyday reality,” says the director, still optimistic about the film’s planned end-of-July premiere. “It forces the participants to redefine their relationship with their community and with themselves. The questions my characters face are quite universal: where do I belong? Do I want to belong there? Do I need the sense of belonging?”
Over the course of one summer week, some of these questions might even be answered. “I’m interested in the psychology of spirituality and in the mechanics of religion. I always have been, ever since my childhood,” Heikkilä tells Cineuropa. “My grandmother was Laestadian [a Lutheran revival movement started in Lapland], and I was impressed by the depth of her vocation. In Finland, we like to perceive ourselves as a nation that has moved past the questions of faith,” she adds, before crunching some numbers. “And yet about 80% of each age group goes to a confirmation camp, 70% of the population is listed as members of the Evangelical-Lutheran State Church, and half believes in angels. People queue to see fortune tellers, they practise yoga and meditate. Maybe our collective self-image as a secular nation isn’t correct at all.”
Boasting a young cast put front and centre, including Aamu Milonoff, Little Wing [+see also:
film profile]’s Linnea Skog in the lead and Stupid Young Heart [+see also:
film profile]’s Jere Ristseppä, the film promises to focus on the teenage perspective. “The adults stay on the sidelines,” confirms Heikkilä. “We talked a lot, laughed a lot, cried a little. Many of these young actors have a lot of experience, so they are quite professional in their work. They were probably the best bunch I have ever met: gentle, intelligent and funny,” she explains, although rehearsals were crucial. “One weekend, the whole ensemble got together to discuss the script, improvise and exercise with acting coach Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä. I owe her my life because that weekend really welded us together.”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the team behind the movie still believes the situation will change in time for a theatrical release. “We are counting on the cinemas being safe and open, and on our young audiences craving to go there,” says producer Miia Haavisto, of Tekele Productions Oy. “We are proceeding pretty much as planned towards that goal, with everybody working from home since mid-March. The domestic campaign will happen online, given the current lockdown, but I am happy to be working on an uplifting, feel-good film at this moment in time.”
“We are all looking forward to the cinemas reopening,” adds Xavier Henry-Rashid, managing director of Film Republic, which is handling the sales. “There is definitely a backlog of releases that everybody will need to work around, but a fun summer movie for young audiences is exactly what we need right now.”
Especially as, unlike some other youth-related content, following HBO’s Euphoria onto the dark side, Ulla Heikkilä is determined to keep things (relatively) light. “I think it would go violently against my nature to go very dark and not laugh with my characters at all,” she says. “I always felt that they don’t deserve cruelty or cynicism. They deserve love and warmth, so I decided to give it to them – for the most part. It’s not always sunny in Eden.” After all, as noted by Chuck Palahniuk, all this perpetual happiness probably got so boring that eating the apple was fully justified in the end.
Produced by Tekele Productions Oy and supported by the Finnish Film Foundation, as well as Finnish broadcasting company YLE, Nordisk Film Finland and the Church Media Fund, Eden will be distributed locally by Nordisk Film.
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