Dir: Tia Kouvo | Cast: Ria Kataja, Elina Knihtila, Leena Uotila, Tom Wentzel, Jarkko Pajunen, Sakari Topi, Elli Paajanen, Toomas Talikka; Finland/Sweden 2023, 114 min.
Three generations come together during the Christmas holidays in this insightful study of familial ties developed from a short by its first time Finnish director Tia Kouvo.
Amid the usual round meals, domestic chores and saunas, intimacies will surface in a drama that relies on body language and facial expressions as well as discursive interludes. What is not said often becomes more revealing – and intriguing – than the usual outspoken discussions, although Kuovo includes some grim confrontations demonstrating just how unbearable family get-togethers can be when false bonhomie is the order of the day. Set in two parts, Family Time shows eight people trying not to comes to blows in exploring their everyday experiences of alienation and sickness.
The celebration take place in the family home near Lathi with parents and grand-parents Ella (Uotila) and Lasse (Wentzel; Susanna ((Kataja) and husband Risto (Pajunen) and their two children Hilla (Pajaanen) and Kassu (Talikka); and Susanna’s sister Helena (Knihtila), and partner Simo (Topi).
Although women are known to often have the upper hand in Nordic society, Kuovo’s characters are not appreciated by their husbands. Susanna has to propose her own toast for a recent promotion as design boss for a local supermarket. Her family seemingly could not care less, voicing disappointment that she is not in charge of the entire operation throughout Finland. Hilla tries to liven things up by pretending to direct a TV film, casting her family as the protagonists. Grandfather Lasse is an alcoholic, banished to his own room for spoiling the atmosphere, and soiling the floor. Naturally the women are left to clean up the mess. In a farcical scene Ella plays Santa Claus, complete with the outfit, handing round the presents after lunch. The men recede into the background of these domestic charades, the women put on a brave face, wishing it could be over sooner than later, but voicing the opposite.
The second part is a scenario of “what typically happens in the New Year.” Susanna and Risto finally come to blows after the stress of having to look after Hilla and Kassu on top of their busy careers. But although Susanna craves intimacy, Risto is happy to read a SciFi novel from the 1950s, coldly ignoring her attempts to engage with him. Next day, they lock themselves into the car in the garage and have another confrontation, away from their kids. Nothing is resolved and Susanna falls asleep from sheer emotional exhaustion. Meanwhile, Helena and Simo make pleasantries in a banal attempt to communicate. Ella and Lasse catch up with his old friend from seafaring days, she regaling him with stories of people he has never heard of.
Kouvo and DoP Jesse Jalonen observe these curious human interactions, and while the protagonists talk – not so much to each other but just to be heard – the camera focuses on desultory objects. Family Time is a mature and memorable debut, Kouvo channelling Bergman, in his obsession to sweat the small stuff. Certainly a name to remember for the future. AS
BERLINALE | ENCOUNTERS 2023