A Story of Two Runaways

in 38th Göteborg Film Festival

by Luuk Imhann

Luuk Imhann on “They Have Escaped”

Two teenagers escape a youth facility and nothing will ever be the same. No genre is safe from the young Finnish director Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää. His film, “They Have Escaped”, shines brightly, distinguishing itself from so much artless storytelling.

Two of the basic principles they teach at film school are “stick to what you know” and “focus on one thing.” I am glad that, in this film, Valkeapää did neither. From neo-Nazis with “Lord of the Flies” aspirations to surreal dreams of Indians going to war, nothing is too crazy to be included in this story of two runaways.

Consider the mix of genres in this synopsis: Joni, a young stutterer who has shirked military duty, teams up with a young punk girl named Raisa, and they seek freedom on the open road (right there, you have your typical runaway youth road movie). They row to an island and find a lost cabin containing all kinds of mind-altering substances, entering a surrealist fairytale which is just pure naked bliss (cue the kind of psychedelic sequence David Lynch loves). When the drugs’ effects wear off, the two go to visit Raisa’s parents to seek a treasure map (triggering an adventure plot), but they are confronted by police. They run and try to survive on the streets (as in a social drama). Later on, they get kidnapped by neo-Nazis (now the bloody horror begins) and a lot of other stuff happens which I won’t spoil, before we get to the fairytale which Valkeapää has promised the audience.

There are reasons not to like this twisted mix of horror, youth drama and idyllic pastoral, but to me, they aren’t so important. What makes this film so great is its fearless interweaving of genres, accompanied by an appropriate visual style and soundtrack. Valkeapää shows us dreams and fantasies; he scares and soothes us with images and music. Many things could have gone wrong in this film, but I’d much rather see a work like this than yet another example of a good story well told. The great directors who compel our attention have one element in common: their films are fearless, endlessly inventive and searching.

If the great auteurs had adhered to the principles of “stick to what you know” or “focus on one subject/genre”, then we would never have seen “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “The Tree of Life”, “A Bout de souffle”, “Otto e mezzo”, “The Fountain”, “Wings of desire”, “In the mood for love”, and many more films we now consider classics. Isn’t there a lesson to be learned?

I see well-crafted films and well-told stories so often that I tend to lose a little of my faith in cinema’s future. These films focus on one subject or genre, stick to what their makers know, and are well-made and logical. But there is a whole other world of cinema waiting to be explored. I embrace directors who try to find new ways of showing and telling: films which refuse to cut down on visuals, music and editing for the sake of a well-told story. I want to see a piece of art which will change me, overwhelm me, and make me think about life’s choices. I want something new, and Valkeapää gets this. I want films to push boundaries. I don’t care if they fail, I just want them to try.

Edited by Lesley Chow