Actor-turned-director Kari Vaananen’s sophomore outing is, like his first, “The Quiet Village” (1997), spoiled by overkill. An interesting idea for a scathing satire on the Finnish male, pic contains some funny moments that, in the wash-up, are swamped by excess. Local audiences may respond to the basic truths the writer-director is exploring, but, unlike its protagonists, pic won’t travel far afield.
Based on a novel by Kari Hotakainen, pic is about an intellectual writer, also named Kari Hotakainen (Martti Suosalo), who is praised by critics but whose book sales are minimal. His publisher breaks the bad news: He has to change his style, and the current style that sells is the sensational autobiography, in diary form, by a prominent personality.
At first disconsolate, Hotakainen eventually sets to work writing about his singularly dull life, and then decides he should make a change of direction. This involves a visit to used-car salesman Kartio (Matti Onnismaa) and the purchase of an Alfa Romeo.
At the car lot, Hotakainen meets the kind of Finnish male he’d really like to be. Pera (Janne Hyytiainen) is an unemployed, irresponsible, vodka-swilling free spirit, who drives his Toyota furiously around city streets, barely avoiding pedestrians. The two form a strange kind of bond, which ends with a frantic car chase along a country highway and the death of one of the men.
Fleshing out this odd little comedy-drama are various subplots, each involving another aspect of what the filmmaker sees as examples of prototypical “maleness.” Among them are suave TV news anchor Arvi Lind, played by a real TV newsman; a Kojak-like cop (Pertti Sveholm) who sees criminals as a blessing to society because they give employment not only to the police but also to undertakers, arms manufacturers and the film industry; and car salesman Kartio, who, though forever talking about his nonexistent family, is actually a closeted gay and the butt of Pera’s undisguised homophobia.
“Classic” has plenty of original ideas, but subtlety is not in Vaananen’s vocabulary, and consequently he constantly pushes his solid cast of actors into wildly over-the-top caricatures.
Pic is slickly produced and snappily structured, but much of the irony (such as repeated images of Finland’s president mouthing platitudes on TV screens) will be lost on non-Finns.
Typically, the only substantial female role in the film is that of a pretty blonde hitchhiker (Minna Koskela) who, after being given a ride by Pera, immediately indicates she has sex on her mind.