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Markku Pölönen • Director of Land of Hope

“I walk on the sunny side of the street”

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- We met up with Finnish helmer Markku Pölönen to discuss his latest period film, Land of Hope, which is out now in Finnish theatres

Markku Pölönen  • Director of Land of Hope

Set between 1945 and 1952, Land of Hope [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Markku Pölönen
film profile
]
 focuses on young soldier Veikko (Konsta Laakso), who gets a piece of land to start a new life. He just needs to get married first, and soon finds a suitable companion in the headstrong Anni (Oona Airola). We spoke to director Markku Pölönen about his movie, which is now on general release in his native Finland.

Cineuropa: People were rebuilding the country after the war, so many things were changing. What made you take an interest in this period?
Markku Pölönen:
 I like period films because you don’t have to do product placement [laughs]. I previously made another one about that time [2004’s Dog Nail Clipper], and I discovered it was very… colourful. And also, there was a demand for it. Many older people, especially women, asked me if I could make something about this forgotten time after the war. Directors usually focus on the front lines, but these people were fighting, too – they were trying to make a living and build a new future. What I found interesting was how much was actually done by women. But somehow, thousands of new homes were built and nobody starved to death, and there was peace in society. It’s kind of a miracle, really. 

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It also explains why there are no villains. When I was talking to someone about your film, I heard: “He is a director who loves people.” Would you agree with that?
I’ve always admired Frank Capra. You can choose the way you look at the world. You can see it as hell, but my theory is that at least 97.3% of the people living on this planet are good. The rest are arseholes. Maybe I’m a romantic, but you can walk on the sunny side of the street or stay in the shadow. Me? I like the sun. In order to survive, these people had to work together. You couldn’t just go to some office and say: “I am in trouble, and I need money.” You had to trust your neighbours. I was born in 1957 – in the countryside, things don’t change that quickly, so we didn’t have electricity until I was 14 years old. I lived the same life as people after the war. But I have no interest in “social-issue cinema”; it’s not my cup of tea. I like films that end happily, and I try to see good things in people. Directing is not just a profession – it’s a way of seeing the world and showing it to others.

We get used to conflict in cinema. In Land of Hope, when the neighbours come to visit, you expect something horrible to happen. Then it turns out they’ve just brought some fish.
We live in the “land of a thousand lakes”, so it’s either a fish or a bottle of booze [laughs]. It’s funny that you mention it because many people told me that they were expecting the horse to die. Well, it’s not that kind of film. During the war, they took thousands of horses for military purposes, and 20,000 were killed. Even more were wounded and experienced the same traumas as the men who fought there. Ours didn’t obey orders at all, but it made her a better actress. Also, it soon became obvious that Oona Airola was the only person who could play this part – precisely because of that horse. She has been riding since she was nine years old, and she could handle it. 

Although she got some recognition for The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Juho Kuosmanen
film profile
]
, this is the biggest part Airola has ever played. What made you think she could do it?
Playing a boxer’s wife is a lousy part. Your dialogue is limited to: “Don’t go there; they will beat you up,” and whining. But she did it so wonderfully that I actually went to see that film twice. I was so impressed with her skills. She said that she’s always felt like she doesn’t belong to this modern time, that she should have been born in the 1920s. She is old-fashioned, but her acting was just magical. In the film, her face is alive all the time.

The whole film turned out to be quite female-centric. You decided to collaborate with singer-turned-actress Paula Vesala on the script, but was this a decision you made later on?
Originally, this whole project was supposed to be a TV series. Anni and Veikko were equally important, but when I was adapting it into a feature, it just wasn’t working. I called up writer Antti Heikinen, and he was the first person to say: “It should be about Anni.” That was a turning point. Something clicked in my head, and I realised that this was the story that has never been told – the story of women. They made a huge difference during the war, and it made them believe in their possibilities and potential a bit more. Rimbo Salomaa, my producer, suggested Paula Vesala. I didn’t have the faintest idea why I would need a pop star to write it, but I met her in a coffee shop, and within 15 minutes, we were already working. She was the one who made Anni’s character so fresh. She made her a modern woman.

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