Göteborg: Pamela Tola Proves There Is an Audience for Different Stories

GÖTEBORG, Sweden —  Chosen to close the discussion dedicated to discrimination against elderly people at the Göteborg Film Festival, Pamela Tola’s “Ladies of Steel” fitted right into this year’s focus on feminism and gender at the Swedish event. Which managed to deliver on its 50/50 promise, with 54% of the presented films being directed by women.

“Of course you always want to be chosen because of your talents or capabilities, but I am very happy that we are opening up to the fact that there is still work to be done towards achieving equality in the film industry. After all, it’s enough to look at the Oscars,” the Finnish helmer told Variety.

In her second outing as a feature director following 2018’s “Swingers”, Jussi-nominated actress decided to focus on a trio of elderly ladies. Finding themselves on the lam after one of them seemed to have accidentally murdered her husband, a surprising outcome of a particularly heated exchange about raspberry jam. “Personally, I haven’t seen women like that in cinema, which was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I felt like something was missing. Why don’t we see them depicted as active people, not just some “grannies”? They are human beings, like we all are.” Prone to angry outbursts, excessive alcohol intake and random hook-ups,  Tola’s film is certainly not another “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.

“They are having fun” – smiled Tola, frequently interjecting Finnish words into the conversation. “They have a sweet side as well, but once you get to this age, you have experienced more than just pure happiness. I have always found humor in sadness. I wanted them to go side by side, because this is our reality and you can just choose your perspective.”

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Though still in her late 30s, the idea of getting older was always on Tola’s mind. “I felt that once you reach certain age, you are out. And the world just carries on without you. We don’t have time to think about the future, but here is the funny part: We are all heading there. Is it because we are so afraid of death? For me, it should be a part of our life – you come here and then you go. What’s the difference?”

Orphaned at an early age, it’s a subject to which Tola has already given a lot of thought. “I lost my parents very early and it’s one of the reasons it feels natural to have death featured in my stories. It was my reality, I lost everything and I faced it,” she said. “In the film, I show that we should think about the choices we make. Not just ‘go with the flow’ and then wake up one day, thinking: ‘What the hell? Why did my life go this way?’”

Just like the film’s leading lady of steel, played by Leena Uotila. “Inkeri still has a chance to enjoy her life, she is not dying tomorrow, hopefully. That’s why it’s a movie for younger people too – you should start thinking about these things early on. It should be a part of our system, with younger people taking care of the old and vice versa. In Finland, we want people to be so independent, but we all need someone to stand by our side. Older people have so much to give and there are no takers.”

Celebrating its international premiere at the Göteborg Film Festival, “Ladies of Steel” has already become a smash hit in its native Finland. Even despite the difficulties Tola had to face in order to bring it to the screen. “It took me 10 years. People would tell me the audience doesn’t want to see older women and for me, it was just shocking. Why wouldn’t they want to see it?! If we don’t show different points of view, why don’t we just go back in time, when  governments would “suggest” which are acceptable portrayals of the society. Filmmaking shouldn’t be just about repeating what has already been done, again and again, just because it sold some tickets before. This film was certainly a risk.”

But Tola, who in 2018 joined several other Finnish actors in raising accusations against award-winning director Aku Louhimies’ behaviour on set, which they claimed was mostly targeted at women, is done playing it safe.

“It was a long process, going from being an actress to writer and director, and there have been people who doubted me. I heard that I have to make up my mind: Make a comedy or a drama. That’s why I am so glad people showed up for this film,” she explained. “Now, there is a chance to do things differently and that’s how I want to do them.”

Even if it means allowing one character to behave in a way that can certainly raise a few eyebrows, wasting no time in loudly expressing her interest in younger men. “My characters don’t have to be always right. It’s not a straight comedy, there is violence and I am not saying this behavior is O.K.. I am not even saying you have to laugh at it. I just wanted to get certain issues out there. And if people find some of them funny? Maybe we can discuss it later on.”

Presented at the Göteborg Film Festival, “Ladies of Steel” was produced by Helsinkifilmi.

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