“A Moment in the Reeds”

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Having moved to Paris for university, Leevi returns to his native Finland for the summer to help his estranged father renovate the family lake house so it can be sold. Tareq, a recent asylum seeker from Syria, has been hired to help with the work, and when Leevi’s father has to return to town on business, the two young men establish a connection and spend a few days discovering one another during the Finnish midsummer. The story of shared youth is the debut film by Finnish director Mikko Makela, and is part of the Finland’s first wave of LGBT films.

Finland has long been known as an open-minded society and it is often envied by other societies around the globe. We see this in Finland’s recent policy of welcoming refugees during the migratory crisis. However, I understand that this is the first Finnish feature film that has been released with a homosexual character in the main role. It is interesting that this year also saw the release of “Tom of Finland” which was Finland’s entry for the 2018 Academy Awards.

Leevi (Janne Puustinen) is studying literature in Paris but returns home for the holidays to see his father, his only remaining relative after the death of his mother, and to help him renovate their isolated holiday cottage, which sits on the edge of a beautiful lake. The incompatibility of Leevi’s bohemian aspirations and his father’s conservatism is immediately obvious and Leevi announces his plans to escape Finnish military service by requesting French nationality upsetting his father.

Leevi is joined by Tareq (Boodi Kabbani), a Syrian architect taking refuge in Finland and who is employed by Leevi’s father to help them renovate the house. Despite the geographical distance that has separated them for the majority of their lives, Tareq’s concerns are very similar to Leevi’s. He comes from a very conservative environment and is a homosexual who can’t find his place in the family home. Through the silences that punctuate their trivial conversations, an intimate relationship gradually develops between Tareq and Leevi during the prolonged absences of Leevi’s father.

Director Makela decided to create the majority of dialogue after filming had commenced thus giving the actors a great deal of freedom, to improvise their conversations in most of the scenes. The film also has a surprising naturalism and simplicity. Leevi and Tareq speak in rough English, which is not their mother tongue and this reflects a modern-day reality that we very rarely see on screen— the use of English as a common language for the international younger generation. The importance of phones and social networks is also presented in a very convincing way as a language that is shared by both young men. 

The film finds its strength and vitality in the portrait of this youth. Here are today’s two young people who, despite their different origins, understand each other, share concerns, worries and the same way of experiencing their sexuality within their families and online.

This is an ambitious film that deals with three important societal issues: the migratory crisis, the father-son relationship problem, and Finnish conservatism. Tareq is polite and educated: he used to be an architect in Syria. He’s the opposite of the prejudiced view that refugees are unschooled and dangerous. He’s the type the immigrant that xenophobes do not want to think about and he’s more intelligent than most bigots. The film succeeds at conveying a message of tolerance and diversity, reminding us discrimination is plain wrong.

The film is a totally believable tale of two men thrown together by chance, forging an instant, deep connection with each other across the space of a few days. There are those who will immediately see the comparison of last year’s beautiful “God’s Own Country” that also dealt with a rural manual worker tasked with working alongside an immigrant. Leevi is

the first human connection Tareq has made since leaving Syria, and possibly the first meaningful connection Leevi has made in his dating life. There is a richness and an affecting tenderness to the relationship between the two and it develops believably; we see a warm companionship that slowly grows into something more.

There’s also a believable awkwardness between the pair’s early encounters. Their speaking English when talking to each other shows the alien nature of communicating in their second language is wonderfully downplayed by both leads; at certain points, their lack of fluency leads them to be more emotionally direct. At other moments, it causes them to underplay their emotions entirely so they don’t say the wrong thing. Both lead performers convey this awkwardness with beautifully, making it all the more thrilling as it slowly develops to intimacy and increased emotional honesty between the two.

The two young men have to deal with the closeted homophobia and xenophobia of Leevi’s dad (Mika Melender), whose quiet prejudice is all the more hurtful as it hides in plain sight – his actions offering an insightful look at the sad reality of how refugees are disregarded by members of Western society. It makes the love shown elsewhere feel all the more powerful in comparison. And yes, this is a tender film but it is also a sexy film.

The screenplay spends so much time slowly developing these characters and their relationship that when they eventually have sex it feels every bit as emotional as it does physical. Every sex scene may seem long but never gratuitous; it feels loving because of the connection shown so believably between the two elsewhere. The mark of two fine acting performances is that even in the physical, passionate moments, they portray emotions every bit as successfully as in the lovelorn dialogue scenes. I predict that this will be one of the most loved LGBT movies of 2018.

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