Just as Wu Die
represents everything that is fashionable right now in Asian filmmaking,
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.
And that's where Producing Adults comes in,
Finland's entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2004 Academy Awards.
Besides being in Finnish, which is a treat all on its own being
a language most people rarely hear, 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
The film seems to be all about avoidance, or how we as adults
avoid conversations that might be too harsh, or topics too difficult
to confront. 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 opportunities and 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 what I like to call "relationship
chicken". Each of them gradually ups the ante until they
eventually both go to ludicrous lengths to win, with neither backing
down. 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.
So the two kick it up a notch. Venla gives Antero an ultimatum
- get me pregnant or the marriage is off. So Antero agrees, then
gets a vasectomy (the aftermath of which is one of the funniest
things I've ever seen) 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,
Meanwhile, Satu is living with her brother and his friend, a
trumpet player with little ambition except to get Satu into his
bed. She finally gives in, probably more out of boredom and horniness
than any real liking for him. In fact, most of the time he seems
to disgust her. It is Venla she really wants. 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
Satu and Venla are a genuinely sexy onscreen couple. With a couple
of cute sight gags (one involving Satu not being able to remove
her shirt in a heated moment) the director manages to keep the
mood of their romance light, but we know that the feelings of
the two slighted men involved will eventually intrude in an ugly
way on the growing relationship between the two women. Yet, they
behave like naughty children, sneaking around, not facing their
respective boyfriends/lovers about their feelings. When confronted
with a choice, Venla even tries to deny what she feels and participates
in some freaky couples counselling with Antero that'll leave you
either totally mystified or laughing like hell. (The wetsuits!
But in the end it's no use. 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.
All in all, this is a pretty damn fine effort by a first time
director, and a male director at that. I was even able to get
past my cynicism about pregnancy stories, though I still feel
now that the pregnant lesbian storyline has been done to death,
this story has a nice twist to it. Producing Adults
is an hilarious look at modern relationships, and the character
of Satu is especially interesting for being so unapologetic in
her bisexuality. See it with friends, but beware watching it with
your partner; they might start to wonder what exactly you get
up to when they're not looking.
(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.)
Got a comment? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org