×

Film Review: ‘A Moment in the Reeds’

A prodigal son and a Syrian refugee are thrown together in the Finnish countryside in this spare, intense gay romance.

Director:
Mikko Makela
With:
Janne Puustinen, Boodi Kabbani, Mika Melender, Virpi Rautsiala. (English, Finnish dialogue.)

One hour 47 minutes

There’s an admirable quiet intensity to “A Moment in the Reeds,” a first feature by London-based Mikko Makela set in his native Finland. Superficially similar to “God’s Own Country,” this bittersweet tale of attraction between a prodigal son and a refugee worker is both a more straightforward romance for much of its runtime and a sadder one in the end. It’s sold to a few territories already while touring primarily gay fests.

Thin, blond Leevi (Janne Puustinen) has reluctantly returned home to help father Juoko (Mika Melender) fix up the family summer cottage before it’s put on the market. Though they’re doing their best to be civil, it’s a strained reunion: Leevi clearly still blames his taciturn dad for murky circumstances around his now-deceased mother’s departure long ago, while Juoko can find scant common ground with a gay son who’s run off to Paris to study literature.

Leevi isn’t the handy type, so his father has grudgingly hired a laborer through an agency to help with the renovation. To his intense annoyance and his son’s amusement, that turns out to be Tareq (Boodi Kabbani), a handsome, hirsute Syrian refugee who not only doesn’t speak Finnish (yet) but otherwise proves to have more in common with Leevi than with his employer — he’s an architect doing manual labor just temporarily, until he’s improved language and other skills in his newly adopted nation. Thus Juoko is stuck having to use his son as translator, since the two younger men are both English-fluent.

When Dad has to deal with a business emergency, leaving the others alone overnight, Leevi raids the cottage beer supply, and a sweaty, shirtless summer evening on the porch turns into a mutually passionate night inside. Later, Juoko’s extended absence — his financial woes are forcing the cottage’s sale — allows time for feelings beyond the physical plane to be expressed. Though there are a couple of fairly explicit scenes, one of the most impressive aspects of “Moment” is how utterly convincing the leads are in persuading us of their characters’ shared ardor in less overtly sexual moments. If these actors are faking that affection, they’re doing a pretty amazing job.

Popular on Variety

The effectively spare, apparently semi-improvised screenplay (a credit notes “additional dialogue by the cast”) deals with various forms of repression, leaving some significant matters only glancingly discussed. Neither Leevi nor Juoko is inclined to articulate all the discordant issues between them, and newcomer Tareq has left one complicated situation for another — fleeing persecution and war but still tethered to the cultural norms of the family left behind, for whom he has to live a closeted “double life.” Any future he might have with Leevi (who has no intention of leaving Paris) would be difficult to orchestrate, at best. In any case, that proves irrelevant when the narrative closes on notes of abrupt conflict that are perhaps not fully satisfying but feel true enough in their raw-wound nature.

“A Moment in the Reeds” is deliberately spare in all departments, heightening impact through restraint. Thus there’s no musical scoring at all until past the two-thirds mark; Iikka Salminen’s cinematography is plain at first, waxing more lyrical as emotions grow warmer. Other contributions likewise turn budgetary limitations into a virtue. The small cast is expert, suggesting a lot of rehearsal time was put into deepening characterizations. This may not be an ambitious or particularly original film, but more first features would benefit from a modest narrative scale explored with this much detail and assurance.

Film Review: 'A Moment in the Reeds'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, June 24, 2018. (In Frameline. Also in London, Goteborg, Seattle festivals.) Running time: 107 MIN. (Original title: “Tama Hetki Kaislikossa.”)

Production: (Finland—U.K.) A Wild Beast production. (Int'l sales: The Film Collaborative, Los Angeles.) Producers: Mikko Makela, James Robert Watson, Jarno Pimperi. Executive producer: William R. Carter.

Crew: Director, writer: Mikko Makela. Camera (color, HD): Iikka Salminen. Editor: Makela, Jojo Erholtz. Music: Sebastian Kauderer, Luke Richards.

With: Janne Puustinen, Boodi Kabbani, Mika Melender, Virpi Rautsiala. (English, Finnish dialogue.)

More Film

  • Black Panther

    What's Coming to Disney Plus in March 2020

    Disney Plus will continue to expand its library next month, adding older films as well as new television shows, releasing as both weekly episodes and entire seasons. After streaming on Netflix for over a year, Marvel’s “Black Panther” is making its way to Disney Plus, leaving just “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” [...]

  • Bob Chapek

    What Disney's Theme Parks Reveal About New CEO Bob Chapek

    Theme parks and resorts aren’t likely top of mind for the industry set when they think of Disney. But in light of the recent (and very swift) appointment of parks and consumer products head Bob Chapek to succeed Bob Iger as Disney CEO, Chapek’s recent interviews at the parks offer a few insights about the [...]

  • The Invisible Man Movie

    Box Office: 'The Invisible Man' Emerges with Strong $23 Million Opening

    Elisabeth Moss’s “The Invisible Man” is dominating North American moviegoing and should scare up about $23 million at 3,610 locations, early estimates showed Friday. The third weekend of Paramount’s family film “Sonic the Hedgehog” and the sophomore frame of Disney-20th Century’s “Call of the Wild” are in a race for second in the $13 million [...]

  • Cahiers du Cinema

    Cahiers du Cinema Still Alive, Awaiting New Editor-in-Chief

    Les Cahiers du Cinema, the iconic publication that was a driving force behind the French New Wave, is weathering an unprecedented crisis following the resignation of the majority of its staff on Thursday. Some of its journalists, however, have decided to remain on board while they await the appointment of a new editor-in-chief. Among the [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Daniel Radcliffe on 'Escape From Pretoria' and Why He Won't Play Harry Potter Again

    Daniel Radcliffe continues to move far away from Hogwarts with “Escape From Pretoria,” a riveting, true-life prison drama that’s gritty, grounded and wholly different from the fantasy franchise that made him a star. The indie release hits theaters on March 6 and finds Radcliffe playing Tim Jenkin, an anti-apartheid activist who was imprisoned in South [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content