Bored and Fjord: Series Looks at Finnish Doldrums


The title “Filmland” suggests a low-output day at the punning factory, but this would-be witticism carries a polemical edge. Overshadowed by its neighbors both east (Russia) and west (Sweden), Finland is mainly known to American filmgoers for the deadpan stylings of Aki Kaurismäki. BAM’s series aims to showcase the country as a more diverse cinematic resource. Perhaps to emphasize this movieland’s marginalization, “Filmland” opens with Screaming Men (2003), a minor, half-Danish documentary produced by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa company. Men follows an all-male choir whose members bellow and shriek instead of singing. Membership is so swollen that auditions now resemble hazing rituals. Why join? In the industrial city of Oulu, there’s little else to do.

If the selection has a recurring theme, it’s that of chronic boredom interrupted. A plodding shaggy-dog tale mislabeled as Hitchcockian, My Friend Henry (2004) tells a story of a mischievous girl and her possibly imaginary friend that pivots on unacknowledged middle-class ennui. In the hopeful agitprop Eila (2003), an apathetic cleaning woman half-thinkingly breaks a picket line, then develops a political conscience after losing her job. The mawkish Pearls and Pigs (2003) plunges four brothers into a world of adult responsibility, pressing them to care for (and exploit?) their angel-voiced half-sister when their father is thrown in jail. Social awakening of a different sort occurs in Seven Songs From the Tundra (2000), a sensationally shot anthology about the Nenet of northern Russia. In its patient ethnographic observation, the picture begs comparison with The Fast Runner, but it departs from the Inuit film by portraying an ancient culture colliding with modernity; in a particularly bleak sequence, a Nenet man doesn’t comprehend why he’s obliged to donate his reindeer to traveling Leninists. It’s a powerful incident that implies an inevitability of cross-cultural connections.