Review: ‘Trench Road’

A man's bizarre meltdown after his family abandons him is the main event in "Trench Road," Finnish helmer Veikko Aaltonen's adaptation of the award-winning novel by Kari Hotakainen. Well-produced pic holds attention, yet falls short, as lead perf and direction fail to maximize the story's rich potential for pathos, grotesquerie and black humor.

A man’s bizarre meltdown after his family abandons him is the main event in “Trench Road,” Finnish helmer Veikko Aaltonen’s adaptation of the award-winning novel by Kari Hotakainen. Well-produced pic holds attention, yet falls short, as lead perf and direction fail to maximize the story’s rich potential for pathos, grotesquerie and black humor. It’s a study of escalating madness and obsession that remains too politely outside those qualities. Nonetheless, results rep a viable fest item with above-average broadcast sales prospects.

Eero Aho plays Matti Virttanen, a forklift operator and talented amateur chef whose complacency is making unsympathetic wife Helena (Tiina Lymi, thesp’s off-screen spouse) furious. One night when she berates him as less than a real man, he impulsively hits her — a first such offense, but enough to provide her with excuse to leave their apartment with his beloved young daughter and file for divorce.

Rapidly unraveling in his new solitude, Matti begins obsessing over the acquisition of a veteran house — one built for returning soldiers after WWII — as the missing factor that will magically bring his family back together. He also commences rigorous physical training in planning to intimidate, military-style, the owners of homes he covets.

This conceptual mix of “American Beauty”-type midlife-crisis-in-suburbia satire and paramilitary delusions a la “The Beach” should be more striking than it is. Aaltonen’s too-evenhanded approach doesn’t reflect the protag’s disintegration in stylistic terms (a few tepid TV commercial fantasies aside), and lead Aho is just passable in a potentially great role. By the time Matti barricades himself in a stranger’s home, holding an actual veteran (Esko Pesonen) captive at gunpoint while baffled police, wife and child stand outside, pic should have worked up a much headier foam of mingled absurdity, suspense and tragedy.

Generation-gap resentment by younger Finnish men (who’ve never served in a war) toward their Greatest Generation forbears, and all related issues of macho insecurity, constitute a central theme pic could have articulated more clearly for offshore auds.

Package is smoothly handled on all tech levels; Mauri Sumen’s score verges on the bombastic.

Trench Road

Finland

Production

A Kinotar production in association with the Finnish Film Foundation. Produced by Lasse Saarinen. Directed by Veikko Aaltonen. Screenplay, Veikko Aaltonen, based on the novel by Kari Hotakainen.

Crew

Camera (color), Pekka Uotila; editor, Kimmo Kohtamaki; music, Mauri Sumen; production designer, Marjaana Rantama; costume designer, Jaana Tamminen; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Olli Huhtanen. Reviewed at Cinequest, San Jose, March 10, 2005. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Eero Aho, Tiina Lymi, Ella Aho, Kari Vaananen, Kaija Pakarinen; Katariina Kaitue, Esko Pesonen, Eila Roine, Kalevi Haapoja.
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