Finland’s Tekele Productions, composed of Julia Elomäki, Miia Haavisto, Marja Pihlaja and Tia Talli, will present three new projects at the Finnish Film Affair this year. “Bad Women” will be shown in the Fiction in Progress section, Variety has learned, while Ulla Heikkilä’s “Viva la Vida” – about a Finnish expat family living in southern Spain – and “The Beast Friend” will make their way to Fiction in Development. The latter, described as a “bedtime story for adults,” and set to premiere in 2024, will see director Lauri-Matti Parppei exploring a rather unusual bond forming between a struggling artist and a massive bear.
Mia, whose life is crumbling, gets hired as a personal assistant in an isolated mansion in the Finnish archipelago. The deal seems to be clear: She needs to keep the house warm, and clean up the rooms, except for one. One night, she breaks her promise. But instead of Bluebeard’s murdered wives she comes across a huge animal.
“I wrote that a couple of years ago. Everything I felt back then I put into that story and then I just put it aside – it was too weird and too ambitious. But Julia, my producer, hasn’t forgotten about it,” says Parppei.
“My character is horrified at first, trapped in that house all alone with a bear, but it just lies there, silently. She befriends it. Before, she hasn’t really been able to talk about all the difficult things that went on in her life, the abuse, but she starts sharing her secrets with this creature. There is this magical, warm feeling of a bedtime story about it, but then it turns into something different.”
The helmer and musician, who has just wrapped his first series, “A Strange Summer,” to be aired on YLE, is also in the late development stage of what will likely become his debut feature, “A Light That Never Goes Out,” about a prodigal flute player who moves back in with his parents after a failed suicide attempt, and, encouraged by a childhood friend, starts to make a whole different kind of music. The film will be produced by Ilona Tolmunen of Made.
“They start by forgetting what music even is. It’s a comedy-drama about getting over a difficult time and a celebration of useless creativity. I hope I will make it before ‘The Beast Friend,’ which is pretty elaborate,” he says.
The film, says Parppei, will also explore the questions of sexuality and power imbalance in relationships, albeit with a horror twist.
“Putting my own feelings into the story became easier once there was this layer of magical realism,” he says, admitting that the film’s biggest star will be brought to life through a combination of CGI and puppetry.
“I want to be able to touch it, to be next to it. It can’t be too realistic, because it is fantastical and it needs to stay that way. But I want my actors to interact with it too. I chose a bear because they are perceived as mythical in so many countries, especially Finland. We rarely see them. Still, as a child, you are always told to stare them right in the eyes and slowly walk backwards if you encounter them, or play dead. And whatever you do, just don’t run! Mia needs to keep herself safe, too, so she submits to the bear.”
Despite its unusual setup, Parppei wants to keep the story intimate and melancholic, giving his protagonist a chance to finally confront her traumas.
“All these things she hasn’t really thought about are finally coming to the surface. But it’s about letting go of the trauma and whatever it is that makes us feel trapped. There is hope,” he says.
“These two, they form a genuine relationship. She really gets close to that bear, which is magical and fascinating. In her life, things are falling apart, but she is safe in that mansion and then things start to fall apart inside of the mansion, too. We used to joke that it’s ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ gone wrong,” he adds, mentioning 1988 Hayao Miyazaki’s classic. “The nightmare edition.”