Fresh off Juho Kuosmanen’s win at Cannes – where his “Compartment No. 6” was awarded the Grand Prix in July, sharing the prize with Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” – Finland’s Aamu Film Company will focus its attention on Tia Kouvo’s “Family Time,” scheduled to shoot in February and March 2022.
Produced by Jussi Rantamäki and Emilia Haukka, the film, primarily set at Christmas, will show a family of eight struggling to communicate and echoing Tolstoy’s statement that while all happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
“I have been working with the same directors for years, saying no to many interesting projects. Then I saw Tia’s graduation short and realized we have to find room for one more,” says Rantamäki, also behind Kuosmanen’s Un Certain Regard winner “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” and Hamy Ramezan’s Berlinale entry “Any Day Now.”
“Luckily, Emilia Haukka is nowadays producing beside me so we have more possibilities. I contacted Tia and she told me she was developing a feature film with the same title. So here we are!,” he adds.
While not shying away from conflict, Kouvo – Finnish yet based in Gothenburg – intends to show humor emerging from people’s interactions, following a similar path taken in her aforementioned 2018 short, which scored her a win at Tampere Film Festival and attracted Aamu’s attention.
“I am trying to talk about issues that are important to me and I think they are important to others too,” says Kouvo, who is currently developing the project at the Torino Film Lab workshop. (She calls Rantamäki “a brave producer who picks up projects and people he really wants to work with.”) On Sept. 23, “Family Life” will be presented in the Fiction in Development showcase at the Finnish Film Affair, the industry event of Helsinki International Film Festival – Love & Anarchy.
“The way these characters behave is very recognizable – we can also see it here, in Torino. People from so many different countries, from China or Argentina, feel they can easily recognize these patterns,” she says.
“You meet up with your family and still feel like you don’t really know each other. You just can’t connect on a deeper level.”
“Family Time,” Variety has learned, will be divided into two parts: Christmas celebration that “ends in a tragicomic anti-climax,” and what happens after, with everyone returning to their everyday lives. The cast features Leena Uotila, recently seen in Pamela Tola’s local smash “Ladies of Steel,” Elina Knihtila, Ria Kataja, Risto Tuorila and Jarkko Pajunen.
“I want to show all these missed opportunities for establishing real connections and just having a nice time together. These people love each other, so it’s sad when they don’t manage to address real issues and leave without saying anything of importance. My aim is to ask: ‘Why is it so difficult to be happy? As an individual and as a family?,’ ” she says.
“Maybe we should be more understanding when it comes to these gatherings, maybe we shouldn’t approach them with such high expectations and just understand that we are all people, dealing with different problems.”
Inspired by Todd Solondz’s “Happiness,” despite it being a much bleaker proposition, Kouvo also came back to Yasujirō Ozu’s 1953 “Tokyo Story.”
“I just admire the way he looked at people, how he always stayed on their level. There was critique in his gaze, but also deep humanity. I want to be critical when it comes to these people too, and these situations, but in a positive way,” she says, praising the Japanese director. But also admitting that her previous work used to be compared to observational documentaries rather than fiction.
“With my previous shorts, people used to say they feel almost like documentaries. I have said it a couple of times: In my films, I want to have 90% of a documentary but something always needs to be heightened. Maybe that will be the biggest challenge for my actors? I need them to be precise but also very relaxed.”