lapsia ja aikuisia (producing adults)
Film, 2004, 4 stars
Written: Pekko Pesonen
Directed: Aleksi Salmenperä
Producing Adults underlines the huge differences in filmmaking and acting technique that currently exist between "Hollywood" and "Europe". It's hard to explain in words, but instantly recognisable on film. This film has high production values that would, in any Hollywood film context, seem low simply because of how the film is lit, staged and shot, not to mention the subdued and subtle comedic talents of the lead actors. I'm not picking a side here as I love both approaches to filmmaking. I just feel that every now and then true lovers of film need to treat themselves to something a little different.
Producing Adults was Finland's entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2004 Academy Awards. This is a film without any kind of pretension, no odd symbolism or things the casual film goer would ordinarily label as "European" in a negative way. This is a dark comedy (or a wry drama?), with elements of screwball, that towards the end becomes just that little bit serious to bring the love story to a satisfying (and yes happy) conclusion. It is a story for adults that shows adults acting like children, in that way we know we're all capable of in order to get our own way.
Venla (Minna Haapkyla) and Antero (Kari-Pekka Toivonen) are, as far as the world knows, a happy couple. Antero is an Olympic-aspiring speed skater who is coming to the end of his career and feeling the brunt of chances missed. Still, he's unable to face the idea of training less, settling down and becoming a father. Venla on the other hand is a psychologist in a fertility clinic who is desperate to become pregnant. The more Venla pushes the issue, the more Antero shys away from it.
Thus begins a rather amusing game of "relationship chicken". Each of them gradually ups the ante. Venla messes with the condom, so Antero contrives to put a morning-after pill in her champagne then ensures that she drinks it by promptly asking her to marry him so that they both toast with the champagne.
Venla gives Antero an ultimatum - get me pregnant or the marriage is off. So Antero agrees, then gets a vasectomy and proceeds to have unprotected sex with Venla, all the while muttering that pregnancy just isn't that easy for some couples. Antero is in it for the long haul, you can tell he figures he can use this line for years. It's both funny and horrifying.
But Venla isn't having it. While she doesn't know the real reason behind Antero's infertility, she and Satu, a doctor at the clinic with a not-so-secret crush on Venla, look into fertilising Venla with donor sperm from a donor who looks just like Antero. The attempted fertilisation itself yields hilarious, yet kind of sad, results.
Satu really wants Venla. When Venla starts showing some real signs of returning Satu's affections, both their love lives, and what they thought they wanted from life, are thrown into chaos. Satu and Venla are a genuinely sexy onscreen couple. With a couple of cute sight gags the director keeps the mood of their romance light, but we know that the feelings of theslighted men involved will eventually intrude in an ugly way.
But in the end they will all grow up and face their fears, except Antero who seems to end the film as clueless as he began it. They will learn that you can't force yourself to love or be loved. And you certainly can't talk yourself out of a feeling once it has taken hold of you. The actors, right down to the last supporting cast member, are all superb. Apparently they all studied at the same drama school. They all have the infamous dry, sarcastic Scandinavian humour in spades.
I got the feeling that the translation was perhaps not as good as it might have been, and not for the first time I found myself wishing fervently that I knew the original language. I'm certain, in a film this clever, that a great deal of subtlety and cultural humour has been lost in translation. The characters seemed the type to curse more, to be more course in their humour than the translation seemed to allow. I don't know, perhaps that was just me.
(A note just for kicks - the full title of this film is actually "Lapsia ja aikuisia - Kuinka niitä tehdään?" and it apparently means more or less literally in English, "Is the success of a marriage in producing children, or in the children producing adults?" So there you have it.)