“The Woodcutter Story,” a Finnish drama with a surreal touch, has been sold to Australia (Palace Films), Baltics (Estinfilm), Sweden (Njuta), Germany (Eksystent) and France (Urban), Paris-based Totem Films shared exclusively with Variety.
Directed by Mikko Myllylahti, it sees a good man who runs into bad luck: he loses his job and his wife leaves, but Pepe (Jarkko Lahti) is trying to keep his head high. Even when strange things start to happen in his sleepy village.
The film, which premiered in Cannes’ Critics Week, screens Wednesday at the Helsinki Film Festival – Love & Anarchy. It will have its North American premiere at Chicago Film Festival and its U.K. premiere at the London Film Festival.
“It’s a very strange film,” said Myllylahti back in May. Also opening up about a real-life encounter – and real-life woodcutter – that inspired him.
“There was something very Finnish about the way he was dealing with his ordeals: sometimes, we just don’t fight back. The ‘Book of Job’ addresses that, but if you don’t believe in God, how do you approach such misfortune? In Pepe’s case, what’s inside of him is all that he has.”
Totem also closed two final territories in Asia on Juho Kuosmanen’s Cannes hit “Compartment No.6,” with Sidus in South Korea and AT Entertainment in Japan picking up the Oscar-shortlisted film. Its release is planned for late 2022/early 2023.
“For anyone who’s ever got drunk on bad schnapps with a stranger, for anyone who’s ever been so alone in a nowhere-town that they’ve spoken to a dial tone just to look like they had something to do, for anyone who’s ever been asked how to say ‘I love you’ in their language and has patiently sounded out the words for ‘Fuck you’,” enthused Variety, calling Kuosmanen’s film “deeply delightful.”
“[It] plays less like a film than an incredibly detailed, richly textured memory. And for all the people who’ve never done any of those things, after this, you will have.”
Both Finnish helmers already collaborated on the script for Kuosmanen’s Un Certain Regard winner “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki,” which also starred Lahti in the lead role. Helsinki-based Aamu Film Company is behind both titles.
“There is something quite unique about Finnish cinema, with a perfect blend of dark humor and philosophical thinking,” note Totem’s Bérénice Vincent and Laure Parleani.
“We are grateful for our renewed partnership with Aamu, for the risks they take, and for bringing us the voices of Juho, Mikko and many others. Their films, as different as they are, speak to humanist values of longing for connection, which is why they reach audiences all around the world.”
Its producers seem to agree.
“While ‘The Woodcutter Story’ has its roots in Northern Finland where Mikko grew up, it was strongly embraced abroad already in the script stage for its distinctive voice. The film’s humor communicates internationally – Mikko himself calls it ‘arctic hysteria’ – but also its emotional heart of loss and hope,” says Aamu’s Emilia Haukka, promoted to partner earlier this year.
“I have understood that people are very much the same wherever you go,” adds CEO Jussi Rantamäki.
“If you are deeply touched by something intimate and local, but manage to portray it clearly, it’s easy to raise those emotions in anyone anywhere. Personal and universal or local and global are not opposites. They are very close to each other.”
The company will continue to “nurture long-term relationships with filmmakers,” they state. Or with other collaborators as well.
“We have been able to grow our family of filmmakers by [adding] few fresh talents. When we make one project, the best result for us is that they want to share their next idea as well,” adds Haukka.
“Bérénice Vincent has been the sales agent for both films by Juho Kuosmanen, previously in Les Films du Losange and now in Totem,” says Rantamäki.
“Our aim is to find long-term sales partners for all our filmmakers and for Juho and Mikko Myllylahti, Totem is a very good match.”