Babies, Babies, Babies

in 15th Stockholm International Film Festival

by Fritz de Jong

Finnish thirtysomething Satu works as a psychologist in a fertility clinic. It’s her job to guide couples through the mentally straining process of producing a test tube baby. In her own life Satu lacks such guidance. As a psychologist she may know exactly which questions to ask when it concerns other people, but somehow she seems unable to apply her knowledge to her own problems.

For the viewer it soon becomes clear that her non-communicative boyfriend Antero may well be Satu’s largest problem. Stoic ice skater Antero seems convinced that they have, as a couple, decided that they don’t want children. As a matter of fact remainig childless is entirely his choice. In one scene we see him sneaking a morning after pill in her drink, after having sex with a defective condom. Toasting with the very same drink he publicly asks Satu to marry him, after a fifteen year relationship. Even worse in its betrayal is Antero’s underhand decision later in the film to have a vasectomy. After undergoing the operation he coldheartedly lies to his woman, telling her that he has changed his mind and is now ready to have children together.

When it comes to birth control issues Antero clearly is the bad guy. But since Aleksi Salmeperä’s feature debut Producing Adults (Lapsia ja aikusia) is anything but a clear-cut psychological drama, we also learn that Satu can be a bad girl. After learning about Antero’s vicious trick with the morning after pill she conspires with a female doctor in the fertility clinic to impregnate her, violating all medical and ethical procedures. Satu also lies to her man about her true feelings for this doctor, with whom she has a short but intense lesbian affair.

Working from a screenplay by Pekko Pesonen, director Salmenperä inconspicuously enters the lives of unruly characters who seem to be unwilling, and sometimes even unable to reflect on their own actions. The film, which is Finland’s entry for Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards, offers an intriguing exploration of modern relationships.The film’s chances to even obtain an Oscar nomination seem slim, because of it’s deliberate ambiguity. From start to finish Salmenperä remains unwilling to give in to the easy psychological explanations that most drama’s provide. Not only are the characters constantly guessing what their deeper motives are – the audience is invited to guess along. Moreover the director doesn’t fail to see the comedy in this entangled web of lies, although he depicts the minefield of unwanted childlessness mostly as a tragedy.

Producing Adults was just one of many films in the 15 th Stockholm International Film Festival that concerned itself with the loss or absence of children. In the festival’s competition the atmospheric Southern Gothic yarn Chrystal (Ray McKinnon) explored the consequences of the death of a baby after a gruesome car accident. Outside the competition the mesmerizing psychological thriller The Machinist (Brad Anderson) observed the killing of a child from an opposite perspective: the perspective of a wreckless driver who took a child’s life. In the selection of Nordic films, the main focus for this year’s FIPRESCI-jury, there was also an abundancy of babies – or the lack of them. In the festival’s first-ever competition entrance from Sweden , Masjävlar (Maria Blom), the unplanned pregnancy of the female protaginist is only played out late, in an elegant analytical family drama in the mould of Festen , which may well prove itself as a popular favourite at international festivals to come. Even more outspoken about the theme of having babies – or not having them – was the Danish film Aftermath / Lad de små børn, the feature derecting debut by Dogme 95-affiliated actress Paprika Steen. The story of a married couple unable to cope with the loss of their daugtre after a car accident is mirrored in the stories of a young mother who really didn’t need a baby in this stage of her life, and an older couple that discovers that their choice not to have children is no longer a choice, but a somewhat tragic fait accompli.

Fritz de Jong