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PRODUCTION / FUNDING Finland

In Alli Haapasalo’s new feature, Friday can’t come soon enough

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- Don’t be taken in by that title – the Finnish helmer’s sophomore feature has nothing to do with either Ice Cube or Chris Tucker

In Alli Haapasalo’s new feature, Friday can’t come soon enough
Director Alli Haapasalo (© Kimmo Metsäranta)

Following her 2016 debut feature, Love and Fury [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, about two aspiring writers and their all-consuming affair, as well as the anthology film Force of Habit, Finnish director Alli Haapasalo will now focus on slightly younger protagonists in a film brought to life by Helsinki-based Citizen Jane Productions. Friday, currently in pre-production, will see three teenage girls trying to figure out who they are and what they want over the course of three consecutive Fridays. Including Emma, a successful figure skater close to making the European Championships, as well as Mimmi and Rönkkö – friends who, despite their outsider status, dream of being accepted into the “popular” crowd. When two of them slowly fall for each other, things become predictably complicated. And that’s even before the weekend drinks start to kick in.

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“I don’t have a special set of skills for working with young people, so at first, I was nervous about directing them. But in Friday, I am not casting amateurs, only to then try to figure out how to get amazing performances out of them. They already have screen experience,” Haapasalo tells Cineuropa. She is also busy developing one of the seven short films revolving around COVID-19, commissioned by HBO Nordic for the first original Finnish production in the network’s history. “Casting is a major part of every film, but especially this one – it features three teenage girls, if you can call a 17-year-old that. When you look at people’s tapes, as soon as they are too young, they lack an understanding of that text the way it’s written. They need to have a specific level of maturity because in the film, they are already in transition: from childhood to adulthood.”

With location scouting – and ice-skating training – already set for August, the shoot will take place in November and December 2020. If COVID-19 allows, that is. “Shooting in winter was especially important to the screenwriters, Daniela Hakulinen and Ilona Ahti. We were talking about the seasons and how it affects the story, and almost everyone in the crew agreed that winter is such a peculiar time. In Finland, summer is so free – you can do anything. Winter puts a different frame on things: it feels like your world has limits. It made me understand it more, as before, I would just complain that I was always shooting in the darkness and the cold,” she laughs.

With the likes of Diva of Finland [+see also:
trailer
interview: Maria Veijalainen
film profile
]
and Eden making their way onto Finnish screens, the latter about to premiere locally, there sure has been a lot of interest in putting girls in the spotlight. But although Friday has been in the works for a while, with Haapasalo living in New York when she was first approached, she seems excited by what it’s trying to say. “These girls are uninhibited; they are not anybody’s victims. But it’s not a film about ‘tough girls’ either – it’s still very tender and sensitive. They don’t have to find a boy to come of age, and other people don’t define if they are mature or interesting. They are looking for their identity and sexuality, and we are fine with guys doing it on film and in real life.” But, as she states, when girls do the same, there are still many questions or judgements attached. “One of them tries to find sexual pleasure, but she doesn’t end up in danger – that was important to us. They are finding their way in the world, and they do it independently.”

While the decision to focus not on one, but on three protagonists already proved to be a bit of a balancing act, the biggest challenge lies in finding a fresh way to express what they are going through visually. “I really don’t want an Instagram aesthetic, pop-up windows and texts. That, to me, feels like adults trying to be young,” says the director, who during Helsinki’s Finnish Film Affair industry event already advertised the project as a “real, life-sized exploration of what it feels like to be a teenager”, naming photographer Justine Kurland as an important inspiration, especially her series Girl Pictures. “Her photographs have this almost pastoral beauty, and ours will be more urban, but I want to avoid being too naturalistic and aestheticising it too much. I want it to feel relevant for the teens, but also to accommodate the filmmaker’s point of view.” In short, this one’s not just for the girls.

With the premiere scheduled for 2021, Friday is being directed by Alli Haapasalo, and produced by Elina Pohjola and Leila Lyytikäinen for Citizen Jane Productions. It has been supported by the Finnish Film Foundation, with the local distribution entrusted to Nordisk Film.

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