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Review: Light Light Light


- A woman revisits the memories of her first love during the doom days of the Chernobyl summer in Inari Niemi's film

Review: Light Light Light
Rebekka Baer and Anni Iikkanen in Light Light Light

There is a crackling in the air. A strange gravity is weighing on the thick green Finnish forests, and anxiety is nesting in 15-year-old Mariia (Rebekka Baer). The year is 1986. The reactor explosion at Chernobyl is omnipresent and Geiger counters, TV safety tips and iodine tablets are dictating daily life. But that is not the only uneasiness in the air. A new student, Mimi (Anni Iikkanen), has arrived in the little Finnish town. Her presence lights up Mariia's life. But just as radiation eventually leads to decay, this summer of innocent teenage love is soon met with real-world catastrophes.

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Based on the 2011 novel Valoa Valoa Valoa by Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, and directed by Inari Niemi (Wonderland [+see also:
film profile
), Light Light Light first premiered at Just Film Tallinn in 2023, and has now had its Austrian premiere, competing in the YAAAS! Competition at the 2024 Crossing Europe Filmfestival Linz, and taking the top prize.

Niemi embraces the hovering Chernobyl catastrophe with the gloomy dirty lensing of the town by DoP Sari Aaltonen, juxtaposed with enigmatic colourful purple and pink clouded skies – an impending doom, an anomaly edging in. There is little to enjoy in this town, and the best social event that Mariia gets to attend is a child’s disco, which she supervises with her best friend Satu-Siiri (Kanerva Paunio). The uncompromisingly direct Mimi at first sticks out like a sore thumb in this environment. But when Mariia falsely reports her as a drug addict after finding a syringe in the woods, Mimi forces her to pose as a friend to her family, to appease their worries that she could be a loner.

Family, however, might be a farfetched concept for someone in Mimi’s situation. With her mom long dead, her distant dad has dropped her off to stay with her maternal grandmother, her frustrated aunt Kylli (Anna-Leena Sipilä), and her two weird, drunken uncles. Love and security are foreign words in this run-down household. Food is used as a bargaining chip, and Mimi is usually called a “lazy thief" rather than addressed by her name.

This absence of a sense of belonging will send the girl in a downward spiral, another catastrophe in the making. An older Mariia (Laura Birn), who will return to the village to take care of her mother, will ponder what happened in the interwoven time jump. But for now, these are young girls experiencing the romantic highs and lows and the paradox and the cruelty of growing up with all their intensity. 

It is here, in the lush Finnish woods and the glistering Finnish lakes, that Niemi conjures something like a temporary oasis. A world free of a fleeting sense of control and the consequences of our decisions in life. But every summer has to come to an end and every light eventually has to fade. Adult Mariia will have to face her memories and, like Chernobyl itself, find her way back to life and healing.

Light Light Light is produced by Finnish outfit Lucy Loves Drama and sold internationally by Intramovies and in Austria by Salzgeber.

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