×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mika Ronkainen, Merja Aakko Talk ‘All The Sins,’ Finland’s Bible Belt, Landscape

‘All the Sins’ competes for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for outstanding writing, announced at Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival, Jan. 30.

In “Finnish Blood, Swedish Heart,” Finland’s Mika Ronkainen, best known for his documentaries – 2003’s “Screaming Men,” 2009’s “Freetime Machos”  –  portrays the dislocation of 1970s Finnish emigrants in Sweden via a father-and-son musical road movie.

For “All the Sins,” a Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize entry written with Merja Aakko, Ronkainen takes very much the same elements – a genre, here the murder mystery; a near documentary depiction, here of small town bigotry; and cornerstone family relationships – and recasts them in a drama series, awash in a sense of (unmerited) shame and guilt, with a contemporary feminist turn. The result is a crime thriller which works on several levels.

“All the Sins” begins in classic Nordic Noir with a body winched upside down in a barn as a shadowy assassin draws a knife seemingly to dispatch the victim. But, diverging from the Nordic Noir playbook, we never see the corpse. After a ten-year absence, Detective Lauri Räiha (Johannes Holopainen, “Unknown Soldier”) is dispatched to investigate the murders of two men, both pillars of the ultra-conservative Laestadian religious community, in Varjakka, a small northern Finnish town where he grew up. He is accompanied by a senior officer, Sanna Tervo (Maria Sid, “Donna Paukku” ).

But why does Räiha have such huge anger-management issues, seething, white knuckles clenched, in a therapy class, after hitting his boyfriend? And why does Tervo feel compelled to sleep with the first man she meets, and the  second? It is these character mysteries which, as much as the murders, which transforms “All the Sins” into compulsive viewing.

A six-part series “All the Sins” is lead produced for Finnish VOD service Elisa Viihde by Ilkka Matila at Finland’s MRP Matila Rohr Productions, a company which is behind one of Finland’s most ambitious movies, “The Eternal Road.”

Variety talked to screenwriters Aakko and Ronkainen before “All the Sins” bows at Sweden’s Göteborg Festival, as part of its Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize competition, for outstanding screenwriting on a Nordic drama series.

You’ve dedicated much of your early career to documentaries on your native northern Finland or on Finns. Do you see “All the Sins” as another way into describing your region – but via the strong investigative narrative drive of Nordic Noir?

Ronkainen: Oh yes, that was indeed the starting point for “All the Sins.” The initial idea that I suggested to Merja back in 2014 was: Let’s do a high concept crime drama with a strong local story about something that is very special for our region, but can be universally understood nevertheless. As we both come from the Bible Belt of Finland, and we both have a background in real stories (Merja has worked as a journalist), it was very natural for us to write a story that takes place in a small conservative town with a strong religious sect. We both come from a town like that.

The real mystery seems why both detectives have buried themselves so much in work. What went wrong? This seems connected to a sense of guilt which is deeply consuming because both feel its’ unmerited. Could you comment?

Aakko: If you see it that way, maybe Lauri and Sanna are old school Finns when it comes working. We Finns take it very seriously, even if you don’t always get rewarded for it.

Our main characters are not very good at dealing with their feelings. Like most of us, Lauri and Sanna project their feelings onto other people without realizing it. It is the state of emergency in work that makes it possible for them to avoid the most difficult questions of themselves: the failure as a partner or a mother. But I do not see them escaping only into work. Sanna also projects her emotions onto sex.

The viewer may expect snowy wastes from northern Finland. Instead they get Summer sun, most all of the time, lush green fields, church spires dominating hamlets: Varjakka seems more like real mid-west America, a land of profound religious belief. Where was the series shot? Was it near your own native town, Mika?

Ronkainen: The series was shot within a 100 kilometre radius from my home town, Oulu, and it is really flat here. It is so flat that people call a fifty-meter-hill a mountain. This region is an important part of the Finnish Bible Belt, so I think that’s a fair comparison you made to mid-west America. That is actually something we talked a lot about with my DOP Jani Kumpulainen. We wanted to use both the flatness of the physical landscape and the strictness of the mental landscape as visual elements because we feel they very much go together up here.

As in many of your films, Mika, the music, the title song, for example, is memorable: A lover asking the beloved to take them off to war, or at least to the first frontier. Is this a real song? If so, what is it? And why use it?

Ronkainen: It’s a real song by Aino Venna, a Finnish singer-songwriter. We had it already in the script and we planned the title sequence to work with it. It is a lovely song indeed. It sets the tone exactly right.

How did you divide the work on “All the Sins”? As both first-time series writers, what did you learn from the experience?

Aakko: We’ve been friends since we were eleven or so. The way we work is pretty much based on our childhood friendship: We play just like we played when we were kids. First we create the characters and plot through talking a lot. We joke, debate, and challenge each other, we take roles. At best, it is like going to therapy. As a result, we have developed our own way of writing where we write as “one writer.” We are using an online application where we can see what the other one is doing in real time, which may sound scary but it actually works.

Nordic Noir has been proclaimed dead, or so influential that you now get Caribbean Noir (“Four Seasons in Havana”), or even Andorran Noir (“Felix”). It does indeed seem to have evolved. But what has that evolution been?

Aakko: I am not expert on any Noir and I don’t actually think we’re doing Nordic Noir. I feel Nordic Noir is short of love and warmth. I have not seen the series you mentioned but generally speaking, there are some clichés in Noir series: Dark colors, eroticized dead bodies of young women, and detectives who are huffing to each other without any particular reason. We avoid them. Let’s say “All the Sins” is Finnish Weird. We mix genres and share the peculiar stories from the Northern Bible Belt.

What are you working on now?

Aakko, Ronkainen: We just finished a research trip to Guatemala for another series that we’re developing, and “All the Sins” Season 2 is in our plans, too. And we’ve got a couple of other ideas waiting for the right time.

More Film

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

  • Paul DavidsonVariety Big Data Summit Presented

    Listen: The Orchard's Paul Davidson on Surviving Sundance Bidding Wars

    Hollywood heads to Park City, Utah this week in the hopes of finding the next big Sundance Film Festival breakout. Paul Davidson, executive vice president of film and television at The Orchard, plans to be in the thick of it. In today’s edition of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast, Davidson opens up about The Orchard’s strategy [...]

  • Young Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie:

    James Gandolfini's Son Michael Gandolfini Cast as Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie

    Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, will play the young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the  prequel movie to the television series “The Sopranos.” “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini said. “I’m thrilled that I am [...]

  • Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

    The Message of the Oscar Nominations: You'd Better Have a Social Message

    Each year at the Left Coast crack of dawn, when the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s generally at least one major nomination many pundits were predicting that fails to materialize. When that happens, entertainment media tends to rise up as one and say the s-word: snub. In truth, it’s not usually a snub; it’s just [...]

  • Elton John and Mark Ronson

    Elton John to 'Shallow' Songwriter Mark Ronson: 'You're Going to Win the Oscar'

    Elton John is willing to bet that Mark Ronson will win the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.” The nominations were announced this morning. The legendary performer spoke to Ronson on the latest episode of his radio show “Elton John’s Rocket Hour” on Apple Music’s Beats 1.  “You’re having a [...]

  • Olivia Colman Colin Firth Helen Mirren

    Playing a British Monarch Is a Step on the Road to Oscar Glory - Again

    “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote of Britain’s care-burdened monarchs. Try telling that to the Academy. Once again, playing British royalty has proved to be a tried-and-true route to Oscar glory, with Olivia Colman as the latest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for portraying an occupant of the British [...]

  • Black Panther Movie

    Oscars: 'Black Panther' Leads Best Picture Nominees to Near-Record Box Office Grosses

    This year’s Academy Award nominees proved the Oscars don’t need a popular film category to recognize movies with huge box office grosses. The 2019 crop of best picture hopefuls have generated an impressive $1.26 billion so far in North America alone. That bounty is led by “Black Panther,” which earned a sensational $700 million at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content