CINEFEST 2011: LAPLAND ODYSSEY REVIEW
Anymore, attending film festivals has become a laborious activity. There's no longer a sense of discovery in this digital age of instantaneous information and gratification. Very rarely am I taken off guard by a film that I know nothing about. At this point,attending festivals is about seeing what films actually live up to their online hype and which don't. Most films fit with in the later category but Lapland Odyssey is the type of small wonder that makes all of the hundreds of hours spent sitting alone in a dark theater worth wild.
There's nothing exceptional about the film, and it is not the type of picture that warrants hyperbole. But it is the type of quirky, smart, and likable foreign film that reminded me why I go to festivals in the first place. I only hope the film won't get lost in obscurity as it justly deserves foreign distribution.
The title for Lapland Odyssey refers to a barren stretch of land in Finland and as the opening sequence chronicling 5 generations of suicide in one of the lead's family would suggest, this not a place most of us would want to live.
Although Lapland Odyssey plays out as buddy road trip comedy, the cheery and comedic antics of the film's lead characters is infused with a strong sense of melancholy. The themes, characters, and basic plot points that make up the film are indistinguishable from the gluttony of American comedic sex romps, and yet, there isn't a single U.S. comedy like this.
Lapland follows Janne, a 20 something unemployed slacker wallowing in listless self pity. His two friends are equally broke and pathetic. One has been crippled by an over domineering mother while the other is burdened with a familial history of suicide. Janne's girlfriend is fed up with his inability to take responsibility. When he spends her hard earned money on beer with his buds rather than buying a cable box so that the two can watch Titanic together, she gives him an ultimatum to find a way to acquire said device before the morning or she'll be gone. This is not as easy as it sounds, there's only one electronic shop in Lapland and it's already closed not to reopen until after the weekend. In order to find a digibox, Janne will have to raise the necessary funds and journey 200 kilometers to the closest city. Like Harold & Kumor Go To White Castle, this trio of wino louses find themselves in one crazy and surreal scenario after another. The breakneck pacing moves the film along quickly and painlessly. Apart from Troll Hunter, Lapland was one of the few films so far in this festival that I sat through entirely without any watch checks.
The story and character arks of Lapland are no different from that of any Todd Phillips or Judd Apatow film. Three immature men set out on a deceptively simple quest and through many humorous misfortunes they will learn important life lessons that allow them to grow up and take responsibility. But what sets this film apart from its US counterparts is the sincerity and authenticity with which director, Dome Karukoski handles the material. Although this is a film about immature characters, there's a refreshing maturity behind the film making. Even though sex plays an important role as it usually does with this fare, the female characters are portrayed with a level respect rarely seen. Although Janne's girlfriend's ultimatum is the catalyst for the men's journey, she's not a nagging, stark raving mad bitch who needs to be severed from his life. The older woman who Janne's friend meets and falls for at a hotel isn't a sex starved cougar who's only importance is the fact that she has a vagina for him to stick his dick in. Fully fleshed out women (heh)in a comedy? How refreshing.
Also of note is the absolutely gorgeous cinematography. This is a beautiful film. Nearly every meticulously composed shot could be removed and framed on a wall. I can't think of a single American comedy featuring noteworthy or even noticeably crafted camerawork that's comparable. Generally speaking, slapstick buddy comedies are little more than medium reaction shots. The lush color palette and attention to lighting sets Odyssey far apart from the pact.
While the film doesn't offer much in the way of gut busting laughs, I'll take this over the homophobic and misogynistic ideals of The Hangover films any day.