Finland steams up box office

Local films catch fire with auds

HELSINKI — Overlooked in the past couple of years as Swedish and Danish crime thrillers have been storming the world’s book stores and screens, Finnish film may be poised for its own international breakthrough.

Out is the dour, taciturn image of yesterday — saunas, suicide and mosquito slapping contests washed down with gallons of vodka. In are characters that aim to make women swoon even as they play to men with a mix of humor and darkly cynical genre tropes.

An example is “Vares Private Eye,” which features well-known Scandi character actor Antti Reini as Jussi Vares, a tough guy with a weakness for beer and women.

Based on a series of bestselling Finnish detective stories by Reijo Maki, Helsinki-based Solar Films’ slate of six 90-minute feature films is off to a flying start on home turf. The first three films, all released this year, occupy three of the top four spots at the Finnish box office, with “Vares — pahan suudelma,” directed by Anders Engstrom, taking in more than 200,000 admissions.

The final three Vares films, all shot in 2010 in about 120 days for approximately €5.5 million ($7.6 million) are on tap for 2012, with one directed by Engstrom, and the other two by Lauri Torhonen. Depending on the local appetite for the pics, another six to 12 are on tap from Solar for 2013.

But crime isn’t the only genre on the Finnish horizon. Nazis-on-the-moon sci-fi spoof “Iron Sky” is set to hit screens in April, with an online fan base that ponied up nearly a tenth of the film’s $10 million budget, as well as a board game and a series of comicbook prequels helping to stoke buzz.

Meanwhile, Ilkka Matila of Matila Rohr Prods. — whose resume spans European and Russian co-productions including Fedor Bondarchuk’s Afghan war drama “9th Company” — also has a couple of Nordic films on his slate: “Priest of Evil,” based on Matti Yrjana Joensuu’s series of police thrillers; and “Body of Water,” a thriller that revolves around a terrifying secret. The “Priest of Evil” book has been translated into more than eight languages worldwide including English, while “Body of Water” was featured during the Finnish Film Gala Night at Helsinki’s Love & Anarchy film festival in September.

Markus Selin, founder and owner of Solar Films, has high hopes for the screen adaptations, but says Finns need to build a better Stateside network to help achieve an international breakthrough.

“It will happen — in a year or 10 years. It needs a few films where the directors get hired in Hollywood,” he says.

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