The Finnish director Kirsikka Saari’s short After the Reunion (2016) paints a bittersweet picture of looking in the mirror – literally and figuratively. The film imposes a question if getting older comes with getting stronger or is it simply a make-believe to silence the inner disappointment about life.
Saari seems to agree with the first option. She has proven that you don’t have to come straight from school to be brave enough to chase your dreams. Saari decided to make a U-turn and become a filmmaker after a career as a journalist. Since then she has co-founded a production company Tuffi and earned an Oscar nomination for her short film Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (2012). The course of events has brought her to Karlovy Vary, to Future Frames program, where she shared her ideas about filmmaking.
You’ve taken a long and winding load to filmmaking. How does your expertise in history and journalism influence your work?
Kirsikka Saari: I think it’s useful. I studied history and worked as a journalist, took some screenwriting courses and started working as a screenwriter quite promptly, jumped straight into the business. Writing a script, directing or producing, you have to be able to listen to comments, rewrite, rethink, collaborate with others. Background in journalism was perfect for that. I was not too shy, not too afraid to rewrite. It really helped to have this experience. Now, looking back, I think history is about stories after all, just like journalism and cinema. I see a connection here.
The characters in After the Reunion are very natural, straight from life. Did you have particular prototypes in mind?
KS: No, not really, because I knew the actors before. I was already thinking of Petteri Pennilä and Sari Siikander was interesting because she had been doing comedy and musicals mostly, not a lot of films, so this was something for her too. She was really eager to do the role, because she said she couldn’t’ relate to the character immediately.
They were really enthusiastic to jump in and it was important to me, because I wanted to develop the script together with them. Sari was always pushing me forward, saying that I have to be brave: if you’re writing about this, go further! I was trying to find the right tone for the script and she told me immediately that I could make a really funny film about this, or go more towards the darker tones. I wanted both, but I wanted the film to be truthful, not just funny.
How happy are you with the results?
KS: I love films that are sad and funny at the same time and judging by feedback I managed to do that. I’m a great admirer of Mike Leigh and I love Maren Ade. It’s not always easy to capture the fine line between laughing and crying.
We started shooting the film in December when it’s really dark in Finland, no sunlight. I wanted the film to have an early spring feeling. It’s the light of March, actually. In March, there is no snow anymore, everything is grey and bare, no leaves on the trees, but the sun is out, so it’s the moment of truth. I wanted to capture feeling like, oh my god, here I am, even the sun is shining, leave me alone!
Did you change the script a lot during filming?
KS: No, not really. We cut the ending a little bit. I tried to have a more cheerful ending, because there is some hope there. I wanted them to end up dancing together. We filmed that, but it was too much and obviously not working. The film is not so much about finding the joy in life again, but being able to see yourself truthfully.
Struggle with coming to terms with who you are is something everyone experiences in life, sooner or later.
KS: Yes. And probably many times at different ages. It’s surprising that students in their twenties have said: oh, I could relate to this film! And I am like, really? It’s great.
Younger women could relate to the expectation of having to look flawless all the time. Was this one of the motivations behind doing this film?
KS: Yes, it really was. I find it so funny in a way. I admire many women and at the same time see them in this humorous way. Some women are very powerful, doing all kinds of things, not just trying to look attractive, but at the same time they would love to look amazing. You know, there is this “I don’t care about looks” kind of thinking, but if someone claims to have found the perfect day cream, then everybody is like: what is it, tell me! (laughs) So, it’s always there.
Some people have told me that After the Reunion was kind of radical by showing people how they really are and that amazes me. Wow, is it really this radical? Is it really crazy to see people who don’t have all that much make-up, nice costumes, and who are not amazingly younger looking than they actually are? They look their age. It makes me wonder: if this is radical then what does it tell about us?
Interview with Kirsikka Saari
Director of "After the Reunion" (FI)
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C. Photo Credit: After the Reunion (2016)
Name: Nele Volbruck