lapsia ja aikuisia (producing adults)

2004

Written: Pekko Pesonen
Directed: Aleksi Salmenperä

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 way.

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, results.

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 into chaos.

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! Ha!)

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.)

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