On The Road To Emmaus



Emmausken tiella : Finland 2001 : Markku Polonen : 77 mins

A disarmingly charming deconstruction of the film-making process, Emmaus is the freewheeling account of what happens when fortyish Helsinki businessman Rauno (Puntti Valonen) returns to his home village in the sleepy, verdant Finnish countryside. Various “dramaturgial reasons” mean he has to walk the main road that runs through the whole of the village, and on the way he meets a variety of old friends and foes. Rauno recalls incidents from his childhood, and re-examines his current priorities.

But this isn’t a film that’s especially bothered about plot – it’s a shaggy free-for-all, constantly zinging off on diverting tangents as each new character ambles into Rauno’s frame of reference. There are impromptu songs and dances, the sudden incursion of a somewhat half-hearted lynch-mob, and a meaty oddball subplot involving Rauno’s old pal Arvi (Peter Franzen) and his geeky girlfriend Rebekka (Lotta Lehtikari).

For the most part, Polonen steers Emmaus just the right side of amateur-hour larkishness, aided immeasurably by Kari Sohlberg’s striking digital-video cinematography. Between them, Polonen and Sohlberg have a terrific eye for placing individuals within landscape – and they set their action in an especially scenic, virid-green corner of their native land. Performances are game across the board, with Valtonen (who resembles a slightly beefier version of volatile Brit-TV chef Gordon Ramsey) surprisingly moving as the tormented Rauno.

The film is, of course, taking place within his head as he endures a mid-life crisis – it’s easy to see why Polonen is often described as ‘the Finnish Fellini’, especially as he’s not averse to suddenly invading the frame with a troupe of frenzied musicians. 8 isn’t the only valid parallel – the ‘living childhood’ episodes are straight from Woody Allen’s more reflective movies, while the striking DV compositions (with each part of the frame in equal focus) recall the Scandinavia of Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. Add in some nordic gloom and guilt (copyright Ingmar Bergman) and some Godard-cheeky this-is-just-a-movie-folks dialogue, and the results are often intoxicating – the cast and crew seem to be having a high old time, especially when, in a marvellous end-credits sequence, each of them collects a glass of alcohol and toasts the viewer before passing out of the frame.

This is a great way to end a movie – but it does seem to take an inordinately long time getting there, given that 77-minute running time. Polonen can’t quite maintain the film’s pace over such a breezily episodic, erratic structure, with the result that audience attention may well severely flag around the half-way point as more and more time is devoted to the so-so Arvi-Rebekka story. But there are remarkable things here – if nothing else, this is an unapologetically Finnish piece of work: beguiling and infuriating, with all the cockeyed logic of a daft drunken day-dream.

9th September, 2002
(seen same day on video – consequent to ForumBerlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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