Last night we were treated to the North American premiere of Taru Mäkelä‘s new feature, August Fools. It turned out to be one of the very best films at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival. Films from Finland are often some of our favorites, but they’re typically dark and gritty like the great 2009 Helsinki. Even the Finnish comedies tend to be on the dark side. August Fools skirts the edges of that tradition as a smart, uplifting comedy set in the dark context of the Cold War.
This marvelously multilayered film is based (extremely loosely) on real events. It’s 1962 and Communists from all over Europe have come to Helsinki for a “Festival of Friendship”. It’s a big party that attracts Helsinki youth but is shunned by most of the adults. Underneath is the Spy vs. Spy world of the KGB, CIA, etc., and atop it all is the romantic comedy.
Many of the films we’ve seen at this year’s festival have been skillful treatments of familiar, even predictable subjects. August Fools is the opposite. It’s a unique ride through unfamiliar territory. You have no idea what’s coming next and it’s a lot of fun with terrific energy and charm.
The cast is outstanding, led by Kati Outinen and Miroslav Etzler. But one of the standout performances is the Helsinki Chief of Police played by Esko Salminen. Also look forward to top-quality editing by Norwegian Inge-Lise Langfeldt, a some very creative sound editing, and excellent cinematography by Jouko Seppälä, who is also director Tara Mäkelä’s husband in real life. Both were at last night’s screening for Q&A after the film.
August Fools has distribution so far only in Scandinavia and Germany. Hopefully it will find a US/North American distributor soon. It deserves it.