Director Zaida Bergroth’s second feature is a must-see. Cinematographically stunning, this is a complex drama about family life, focusing on a mutually destructive relationship between a mother and her oldest son. Leila is an actress that compulsively seeks attention, positive or negative. Always entertaining, she is surrounded by scandal.
Accompanied by her two sons, she escapes to a beautiful country villa surrounded by water. Immediately the audience sees the manipulative and dark aspects of her personality from the way she depends on her son, Illmari, played by the talented Samuli Niittymäk.
Leila invites her drunken friends from showbiz to a soiree and meets a successful screenwriter, Aimo, who becomes a central figure in the film. As Leila and Aimo become involved, Illmari’s destructive, violent and volatile nature is brought out, culminating to an unexpected, tragic and touching end. Nothing is simple about this film, which is nuanced and striking in the way it depicts character and relationships.
None of the adults can be said to be more moral than the next; they are all entangled in a web of pathos. Perhaps the only hope, in the way Bergroth has presented this narrative, lies with childhood’s innocence as portrayed by Laila’s youngest son Unto. Neglected, the boy is a true artist, his handheld camera inseparable from his being. His innocence is a stark contrast and a relief, a nice touch that lightens the dark brush strokes of the film. A clear gesture towards metacinema, Unto’s lyrical, unobtrusive lens straddles the line between seemingly objective documentary and the constructed, fictionalized film, just like The Good Son.
The camera angles are stunning, as is the soundtrack. Music by Mi and L’Au accompany the landscape perfectly: summer freshness, grey clouds, beaches, pine trees and sunsets over water. The pacing of the film is also superb, moving slowly when it should and intensifying in moments of incomprehensible violence. What is left out also seems to echo loudly in the film, including Leila’s career, her abusive exes, and the absent father figure.
“Bergroth treads a fine line, offering up, on the one hand, a devastating satire of showbiz life and, on the other, a serious drama about a psychologically damaged youth. This rare thematic coupling is as unsettling as it is richly satisfying,” Palm Springs International Film Festival. Watch the trailer:
In Finnish, subtitled in English, the movie premieres on Friday, Feb 13 at 7 p.m. at the Carleton University River Building. Tickets are available online, or at the door (cash only). $13 general admission; $9 students, members and seniors. This film is part of the Baltic-Nordic Film Festival brought to you by The Canadian Film Institute.