SXSW 2022 Review: THE BLIND MAN WHO DID NOT WANT TO SEE TITANIC, A Remarkable Lead Performance Anchors This Stunning Film
My definite pick for the best film at SXSW that is going to have the hardest time making any money is Teemu Nikki’s brilliant Finnish feature, The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic. This exceptional experimental work is an achingly poignant, technically brilliant, weird, and absolutely perfect. A showstopping lead performance from Petri Poikolainen as the titular blind man is just one of the film’s myriad assets that are sure to make this a hit with critics and really anyone who has ever been in love. Funny, tragicomic, thrilling, and yet still warm and inviting, this movie has it all and will reward an adventurous audience with a unique experience that they’ve never had.
Jaako (Petri Poikolainen) wakes up the same way every day, with his phone yapping at him that it’s time to get moving. Jakko is blind and lives with multiple sclerosis, which has left him wheelchair bound, but he wants no pity, he is still every bit the man he once was, he just needs a little help these days. A film buff from his earliest days, he speaks in a language I understand, he calls his legs Rocky and Rambo, a call back to the heroes of his youth, and describes their condition to his long-distance love Sirpa during their frequent phone conversations.
Sirpa (played by Marjaana Maijala) is also largely homebound, weakened by cancer and its brutal treatments. She and Jaako met via an online dating site and though they live several hours apart, they find peace and happiness in each other’s voices. It seems to have been a long time since either really felt loved this way, and both are grateful and don’t intend to waste this opportunity.
When Sirpa relays to Jaako that her latest doctor visit has turned up a particularly pessimistic prognosis, Jaako decides it’s time to finally be with her, the phone will no longer do. Unfortunately for him, his condition requires trust in strangers to complete this mission, but he’s worked it out and he’ll only need to rely on the kindness of five such people to arrive at the castle of his princess and surely that’s doable. The journey begins just fine, but the minute he reaches the train things start to go sideways and what was a romantic journey becomes a life-or-death struggle.
While the story is definitely a tear-jerker, it’s never manipulative in any way. Director Nikki worked with his lead, Poikolainen, an old friend and a person living with the same challenges as the character of Jaako to craft a script that reflected his true day-to-day life and experiences. The film was even shot in Poikolainen’s actual apartment. The script is written in such away that the audience is awash in empathy for this man, but never pity. He doesn’t need our pity, he has a home health assistant for necessary hygiene and medical needs, but he’s as sharp as he ever was, and refuses to believe that he’s any less a man just because his legs don’t obey his brain’s commands anymore.
Jaako is a powerful man, full of love and compassion, a joie de vivre rekindled by his relationship with Sirpa that makes the pain easier to bear. Quick with a joke, a great listener, and a gentle soul within the exterior of a man hardened by a life less fortunate, Jaako is a good man, and a fortunate one, circumstances notwithstanding, to have found something real with Sirpa.
If this sounds like a pity party, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic is a technical marvel, a wonder of experimental form actually conveying tone and theme in a way that would’ve been maudlin in a conventional film. The entirety of the film is shot from Jaako’s perspective, cinematographer Sari Aaltonen’s camera is never more than a few inches from his face, and anything beyond a few inches circumference around Jaako is completely blurred. It’s a brilliant way of conveying his sense of isolation, we see what he sees, which is virtually nothing.
It's a bold move, and one that will very likely lose the more casual viewer – though I can’t imagine a whole lot of those will take a chance on a film called The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic – but those who are willing to take the plunge will find it invigorating and exciting in more ways than one. Rarely are we treated to something truly new in a film, especially with the homogenization of popular film these days, the cinema landscape seems to consist more of plains than peaks and valleys, but when something like this shows up, we begin to understand that there are still stories to tell and new ways to tell them.
I don’t know that Teemu Nikki will work with Petri Poikolainen again, the director revealed in a post-screening Q&A that Petri’s condition had worsened, a sad but not unexpected progression, but even if they never do, this film will always be a tribute to the power of collaboration and the ability of film to generate empathy. The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic is an enormously powerful experience that takes the radical step of treating a character/actor with a severe disability like a real person with deeply felt emotions and dreams that didn’t die when his body began to conspire against him.
Of all the things I felt for Jaakko through the densely packed 82-minute run time of this film, feeling sorry for him never crossed my mind, and Poikolainen’s lead performance has everything to do with that. This film is a stunningly powerful experience and an example of the ways in which form can help to convey emotion. I don’t know that I’ll see a more exciting, empathetic film this year, but I’ll always be glad I’ve seen this one. The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic needs to be on every film fan’s watchlist, I know I’ll certainly be listing It when the end of the year rolls around.
The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic
- Teemu Nikki
- Teemu Nikki
- Petri Poikolainen
- Marjaana Maijala
- Samuli Jaskio