Review: ‘The River’

This deftly made spotlight on the lives of residents of a small Finnish town features a number of interesting and emotionally involving characters. Unfolding over the short time span of one Saturday morning in the fall, pic is a rich and insightful look at "ordinary" lives and should have plenty of appeal on the fest circuit.

This deftly made spotlight on the lives of residents of a small Finnish town features a number of interesting and emotionally involving characters. Unfolding over the short time span of one Saturday morning in the fall, pic is a rich and insightful look at “ordinary” lives and should have plenty of appeal on the fest circuit. Quality TV programmer should also take a look.

If writer-director Jarmo Lampela is to be faulted, it’s because “The River” is too short; the characters here are all too real, but none of them is given quite enough running time. A longer film would have allowed more time for each story; alternatively, the excision of some characters would have allowed more time for the rest.

While teenagers bungee jump in the town square and a jet plane roars overhead, various stories unfold in the same time frame. Each story climaxes at about the same moment — when the town is rocked by the plane’s sonic boom.

A couple of teenage boys observe a girl apparently attempting to drown herself and her baby in the river. One boy runs for help while the other attempts to stop the girl.

In another part of town, Santtu (Antti Mikkola) is trying to come to terms with his sexuality, and to comprehend his attraction for the gay DJ at a local nightclub. Meanwhile Esa (Jari Virman), a musician, comes home to celebrate his father’s 60th birthday; old feuds and bitternesses surface when he meets his father in a bar.

Leena (Liisa Vuori), a pizza parlor waitress, has spent a blissful night with a new lover. She lingers to indulge in morning intimacies, which make her late for work. She’s so happy that she decides to do a little matchmaking involving her lonely co-worker and her boss.

Ilpo, a factory worker, returns home early to find his wife in bed with her lover. Across town, elderly Milja (Elina Hoffren) sits at the bedside of her dying husband.

Anni (Sanna Hietala), the girl we see at the beginning trying to drown, gets a visit from her ex-husband who wants to sell her TV set. She begs him to give her money to feed their baby, but he rejects her, which leads to her suicide attempt.

During the course of the film the paths of these characters intersect on various occasions, and Lampela’s acute observations of these people and their community make for an always involving panorama of everyday life. Some sequences are better than others. Standouts are the segment featuring the glowingly happy Leena and her attempts to help her friend achieve similar satisfaction; and the deeply moving sequence in which Milja waits by the bedside of her dying husband, holding in her grief until the inevitable conclusion of his painful struggle.

Pic is modestly but quite beautifully packaged, with generally flawless performances from the large ensemble and a sure hand behind the camera.

The River

Finland

Production

A Lasihelmi Filmi Oy production. (International sales: Finnish Film Foundation, Helsinki.) Produced by Riikka Poulsen. Directed, written by Jarmo Lampela.

Crew

Camera (color), Harri Raty; editor, Kimmo Taavila; music, Petri Nieminen; production designers, Kalle Nurminen, Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen; sound (Dolby digital), Pekka Karjalainen. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Nordic Visions), Sept. 9, 2001. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Anni - Sanna Hietala
Kimmo - Antti Ikkala
Johanna - Jyri Ojansivu
Santtu - Antti Mikkola
Esa - Jari Virman
Leena - Liisa Vuori
Milja - Elina Hoffren
Erkka - Joha Kukkonen
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