Repping a strong sophomore showing for helmer Aleksi Salmenpera, the ironically titled “Man’s Job” takes a potentially salacious topic and wisely turns it into a more stripped-down character study. The employment in question is male prostitution for female clients, resorted to after searches for more legitimate work prove fruitless. Skirting around larger issues of sexual stereotypes, Salmenpera keeps the focus on the family level, to generally absorbing effect. Local play should be strong (helmer’s previous “Producing Adults” was Finland’s 2004 Oscar entry), with a chance for modest Euro arthouse coin.
After two months of looking for work, former stoneworker Juha (Tommi Korpela) is turning desperate, posting fliers for odd jobs at the local cafe. Since his clinically depressed wife Katja (Maria Heiskanen) doesn’t know he was laid off, he lists the phone number of friend Olli (Jani Volanen), an alcoholic cabbie who once had an affair with Katja and fathered her oldest child Akseli (though the kid thinks Juha is his dad).
The first call he gets is from a woman who claims to need structural work, but once there she asks him to strip and comb her hair for an hour. A little uncomfortable but keen on making the money, the buff Juha complies, and later returns for a more full-on session. Visualizing a sea of mature women in need of studly services, he ropes Olli in as his pimp and soon has a thriving business.
Though success is at hand, Olli, still in love with Katja, chafes at the arrangement, and Katja herself turns suspicious when she calls his former employer and learns he hasn’t been there for months. Juha clumsily claims he’s working freelance, but when Akseli comes upon Dad’s briefcase full of sex toys, the cat is finally out of the bag.
Obviously, Salmenpera is going for a different dynamic from Laurent Cantet’s “Time Out,” which also dealt with an out-of-work man deceiving his family, but Juha’s web of lies is nowhere nearly as dramatic. At first uncomfortable with his persona as a sexualized figure, Juha grows — too quickly — cocky with his success, brushing aside the consequences should his family discover his current occupation.
Pic isn’t free of commonplaces, and a couple of scenes with a 19-year-old Down Syndrome client are unsettling both for Juha and the audience — viewers will be divided whether it was even necessary. Katja’s role is underwritten, and Olli is a larger presence than warranted, but the script’s concentration on Juha’s struggle is well handled.
Casting of Korpela in the title role was an inspired decision, as the rough-faced, smooth-bodied actor is the perfect combination of working-class solidity coping with emotions beyond his grasp. Tech credits are pro, with an intimate but not claustrophobic lensing style that suits the material.