Receiving its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, A Moment in the Reeds is a historic cinematic achievement – the film’s debutant director, London-based filmmaker Mikko Makela, claims this is the first ever Finnish LGBT romance film. Yet even without this distinction, his film is still a remarkable achievement, following in the footsteps of some of the best gay love stories of recent years (most notably 2011’s Weekend and 2017’s God’s Own Country) to forge a believable tale of two men thrown together by chance, forging an instant, deep connection with each other across the space of a few days.
The comparison to God’s Own Country doesn’t end there, as this narrative coincidentally deals with a rural manual worker tasked with working alongside an immigrant. Here, Tareeq (Boodi Kabbani) is a Syrian refugee, lonely after adapting to life in Finland – a country that he claims is antisocial, and difficult to make friends in. A qualified architect, he gets some paid work helping renovate the lake house belonging to the family of Leevi (Janne Puustinen), who has just briefly returned home from studies in Paris to help his father get the house back in selling condition.
After his father unexpectedly leaves for a business trip, the two men develop an increasing bond – the first human connection Tareeq has made since leaving Syria, and possibly the first meaningful connection Leevi has made in his long and illustrious dating life. There is a richness and an affecting tenderness to the relationship between the pair, which develops in a believable way; there’s no instant rush of animalistic sexual urges between the two (like in God’s Own Country, to which this will inevitably be compared), but instead a warm companionship that slowly grows in to something more.
There’s a believable awkwardness between the pair’s early encounters, that feels accurately observed. The pair both speak English when talking to each other (Tareeq doesn’t speak Finnish), and the alien nature of communicating in their second language is superbly 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 subtle brilliance, making it all the more thrilling as it slowly develops to intimacy, and increased emotional honesty between the two.
Makela’s film was partly crowd funded, and he claimed in his Indiegogo director’s statement that making a film that captured immigrant life in Finland was of equal importance to him as depicting a loving romance between two men. This isn’t the only Finnish film this year to deal with the anxieties of a refugee in the country, as arthouse hit The Other Side of Hope treaded this water too – although where that film had a detached, deadpan comic style, this harnesses a warm humanity that makes it feel more direct, even if refugee themes are never fully in the foreground. For example, the pair have to deal with the closeted homophobia and xenophobia of Leevi’s dad (played wonderfully by Mika Melender), whose quiet prejudice is all the more hurtful due to how its hiding 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.
Also, it should go without saying – A Moment in the Reeds may be tender and insightful, but it’s also sexy as hell. Because Mikko Makella’s screenplay spends so much time slowly developing these characters and their blossoming relationship, when they eventually have sex it feels every bit as emotional as it does physical. Every sex scene may stretch on for a few minutes at a time, yet it never feels gratuitous; it feels loving because of the connection shown so believably between the two elsewhere. The mark of two great acting performances is that even in the physical, passionate moments, they can sell you on the emotions every bit as successfully as in the lovelorn dialogue scenes.
A Moment in the Reeds is a wonderful romance that deserves to be discovered. From a subtle beginning, the story develops in to something more meaningful – and proves to be one of the year’s best LGBT discoveries.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Mikko Makela