Young Gods

in 27th Göteborg International Film Festival

by Vladimir Cvetkovic Sever

Centered on a power trip game carried out by four Finnish teenagers, director Jukka-Pekka Siili’s debut feature develops some of the predominant subjects of current Nordic cinema — that of initiatory sexual rites and their attendant pitfalls, and that of the usage of visual media for the purpose of self-discovery — to an accomplished level of storytelling, characterisation and technical competence, which announces a fresh new voice in the wider context of the contemporary European cinema.

Siili’s style — fast, often jumpy cutting, featuring grainy cinematography with a reduced tonal palette, and garnered with an abundance of local rap music — seems inevitable given the subject, which is technological and modern to the equivalent extent. At the start of the story one of the four friends, the reclusive Taavi, inherits a family mansion and considerable wealth from his parents, who died in an unexplained car accident ten years ago. His housewarming party quickly turns into an orgy, and Taavi’s predilection for voyerism is revealed when he, unobserved, calmly tapes his friend Magnus having sex. The next morning, he phlegmatically shows the tape to Jere and Sami, and also Magnus. To display their cool when confronted by this apparently offensive gesture, the boys decide to each film their own sexual encounters from then on, and even develop the rules by which this candid camera game will be played.

Using this device, voyerism — a subject which intrigued filmmakers from at least as long ago as the one-two punch of Psycho and Peeping Tom in 1960 — is transformed from a solitary exercise to the very basis of the behavioral pattern within the peer group, and recontextualised for the post-millenial Finnish environment, in which video capturing technology is becoming as omnipresent as the national fascination with cellular phone devices. It is not surprising that the risky game of videotaping sex soon turns sour, and destroys several relationships the boys had at the time. What is surprising, though, is the resilience with which Siili rejects the obvious opportunities for melodrama. The game proves addictive, and the breakups lead to further discoveries about the characters themselves — Jere is unconcerned about the loss of a romantic relationship and delves deeper into kinky sex games, to the point of becoming an empty shell; and, poignantly, Sami — who, being a virgin, faced enormous stress throughout — is so pressured that he literally turns his one chance of experiencing love into a rape. In one of Siili’s fascinating usages of modern technology a narrative device, he then decides to commit suicide, and gives Jere a real-time broadcast from his video-equipped mobile device.

The darkest secret, however, belongs to Taavi, as we learn how his childhood fascination with video had factored into his parents’ death. This completes the narrative circle — Taavi was doomed to hide behind his camera long before he intoxicated his friends with the fascination for covert videotaping, and they have, in turn, given new spins and new, personalised, and differing contexts to this voyerism. By sharing their intimacies, the boys unknowingly enact an initiation rite; and by outwardly tripping on machismo, they come to realise the extent of their capacity for actually opening up to their female partners — their capacity for mature love.

Throughout, Siili manages to elicit strong performances from his young cast, and maintain a delicate balance of their characters’ emotional arcs. In finding a theme that fully corresponds with his dynamic narrative style, the director has created a synergic achievement that is particularly Finnish, and yet an important addition to the current international subgenre of films that anthropologically explore the generational mores of their particular time and place, such as Larry Clark’s Kids, David Fincher’s Fight Club, and Royston Tan’s 15.