Veiko Õunpuu • Director of The Last Ones
“I wish we could return to a sort of animism in our thinking”
by Marta Bałaga
- We chatted to Estonian director Veiko Õunpuu, whose The Last Ones takes on the people on the lower rung of society. And Roxette
Recently named Best Baltic Feature Film at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (see the news), The Last Ones [+see also:
interview: Veiko Õunpuu
film profile] by Veiko Õunpuu shows Lapland from the point of view of a small mining village and its inhabitants, singing their worries away in a karaoke bar, with the help of some of the best Finnish actors, ranging from Laura Birn as local beauty Riitta to Tommi Korpela in, as pointed out by the director, one of his best roles to date.
Cineuropa: If there is one place to play with some Western mythology, it’s Lapland. How did you want to show this place and use it for the story?
Veiko Õunpuu: I hoped for the landscape to emerge in the film as a world in itself, almost sacred in its total simplicity, like the earth is for the Hopi Native Americans. Something you can walk on, but what you should not dig into or disturb in any way. Lapland, with its open vistas, was perfect for that.
You show the people’s lives in two halves: there is work, and then there is a boozy evening in a bar. What made you want to talk about miners? As proven by the situation in Silesia in Poland, for example, it's a dying profession.
I see the film not so much about the miners as about people on the lower rung of society being fucked over for someone else’s profit – while “profit” itself can be an elusive object of desire in a delusional mind, wanting to control and dominate all others. What is interesting is how this delusional mind is able to manipulate others to follow, respect and even desire.
You mentioned in an old interview that you love actors, and here you gathered some recognisable Finnish faces. Would you mind saying something about working with Tommi Korpela? It’s a very interesting character he is playing here.
Tommi plays the central sociopath, who is charismatic and utterly lost. As the whole film was meant to be a very simple metaphor, which could be read too easily and dismissed as too simplistic, I hoped to set up a smokescreen around the centre with an elaborate “texture” of organic moments, involuntary gestures, naturalistic speech and so on, which we had to improvise so that the desired effect would be produced. I also tried to hide the characters’ “arcs” from the actors so that they would appear to be more volatile. Tommi and Laura [Birn] took the method to a whole new level, even though it was quite difficult at times. And Tommi pulled off something that might be one of his best film roles.
This conflict of “selling, not selling” [as faced by one of the characters] is something that’s seen quite often in films these days. Would you say it's something that people really struggle with as wealth is valued more than, say, tradition?
There’s more at stake here than just tradition. Tradition in itself has no meaning, other than being a sort of habit. But if we lose all of the traditional ways of life that see the planet as a living organism and give value even to something so apparently inert and lifeless as the mineral world, that will eventually be the end of us as a species. I have this utopian wish that we could return to a sort of animism in our thinking and see everything that exists as essentially sacred and worthy of veneration. Then we would live on a very different planet, in a very different society.
“These are the moments when Finnish men won't give up,” it's said here. Did you intend to talk a little about “Finnishness”? How do you see it? Does such a perspective make people defensive, like when Holland talks about the Czech Republic, for example?
The only thing I wanted to achieve with that line was to point out that a nationalistic sentiment can very easily be used as a manipulative tool. I am not saying that one cannot love one’s country, or be a proud member of his or her nation. Being an Estonian myself, a descendant of the people who lost their country to the Soviet Union while the Finns braved it and fought for theirs, makes me personally envious, and I respect the Finns. The joke in the film is not based on Finns or on their pride in their “sisu” [a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity or grit], but rather on the Fisherman [the nickname of Korpela's character], whose dysfunctional moral compass allows him to pull that stunt, among other things.
Music is everywhere in this film. Why do you give it so much prominence? There is an entire sequence structured around Roxette!
What can I say? Music is the highest of the arts. But I must correct you there: that sequence is not structured around Roxette, but around deception and adultery. Roxette was just a very direct way of exposing Riitta’s inner world, which is slightly distasteful but nevertheless disarmingly naïve and romantic. Even though she is about to commit adultery, you cannot help but also feel a tiny bit of empathy along with the moral disdain.
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