One movie, two reviews: Professionals at work & Blundering in the rain

✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ Helena Ylänen
✩ Tapani Maskula

Helena Ylänen

The weekly supplement of Helsingin Sanomat / The Helsinki News had a column in the last decade, where the critics were giving stars to premiere movies.

At the end of July 2004 “Vares – Private eye” was given five stars by the newspaper; the first time in Solar Films history. Turun Sanomat gave the very same movie one star.

The retired movie critics Helena Ylänen (HS) and Tapani Maskula (TS) kindly gave their permission to publish their columns in the 20th Anniversary Book of Solar Films.



✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ Helena Ylänen

“One of the triumphs of the Vares movie is the fact, that when it differs from the plotpoints of the novel by Reijo Mäki, it only enhances the pleasure of the spactator who has already enjoyed the book.”

VARES, directed by Aleksi Mäkelä, starring Juha Veijonen, Laura Malmivaara, Samuli Edelmann, Pekka Valkeejärvi, Kari Hietalahti

Vares is the first really good modern Finnish mainstream entertainment film. Nothing good is born from scratch; you can find a lot of role models behind Vares and changes in the cultural climate that have made the movie possible.

The most important one is the recent development of the Finnish novel; the fact that authors like Jari Tervo and Kari Hotakainen have found some gusto in their writing, by following the tricks of good crime novelists: bigger-than-life-characters, good basic plots, morally dubious but thrilling twists.

One of the support areas is the abundant drama production of TV channels, that gives a lot of faith and experience, expecially to the actors.

The other is – of course – the quality of the leading Finnish crime novelists. The father of Vares, Reijo Mäki from Turku, is one of the most professional ones.

One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten, is the ghost of the eastern crime – because of that, once-so-innocent Finland is now a fertile soil for spectacular crimes. At least, on the level of imagination.

And then there is the long-term, hard-working companionship between the producer Markus Selin and the director Aleksi Mäkelä – this movie is the best example of their co-operation, so far. The ingredients are good, the pieces fit together like a glove.

The movie Vares is based on the novel “The Yellow Widow” (1999), by Reijo Mäki. That marked the 11th appearance of the regular hero in the author’s books, private detective Jussi Vares. Although Mäki is striving in his novels very much in the footsteps of the conscientious detective hero in Raymond Chandler’s crime novels, Philip Marlowe, in the masculine twilight, the book also contains the ingredients of a fast-paced adventure. Those elements have been found, cleaned up and lubricated well. So there is a good text; a solid base for an exiting movie, that effortlessly fills the requirements of the genre.

One of the triumphs of the Vares movie is the fact that when it differs from the plotpoints of the novel by Reijo Mäki, in enhances the pleasure of the spactator who has already enjoyed the book. You can use the other half of your head to see how smoothly and casually the moviemakers cut through the B stories and explanations, without losing anything essential.

They include the contemplating style of Mäki just to the extent that we get an approximate idea of the life of Jussi Vares. Equally, the humor is harsher – but it manages to describe its own quality in a nice way.

The same thing happens with the action. There’s more of it and it’s of course rougher – the movie being a visual media. On the other hand, we cut past it very fast, on several occasions.

Aleksi Mäkelä (born 1969) has been an obvious natural talent, from the beginning – but he’s often been in trouble with his characters. His best work feature the dudes in “The Tough Ones” and the brothers in “Bad Boys” – the common factor there is adolescence – but the supporters of his main characters from the side; we have seen too many tacky types and too much bad acting.

All of a sudden, this is all history. He is loyal to his chosen style. The recklessness of the side-splitting types doesn’t take away the credibility of the main characters.

Vares is a story of money laundering and fraud. A master thief is in prison, using his ex-girlfriend to get out. The spectacular escape ends up in the television newsflashes; Vares learns that the woman he’s longing after needs help. In the book the main villains are polished businessmen, in the movie the actors Jari Halonen and Jorma Tommila paint their characters with broader strokes, as customary.

Everyone else acts in a straighter and in a more effective way that normally in Finnish movies.

Pekka Valkeejärvi and Kari Hietalahti lurk around in the roles of murderous twins and nail their performances, spot on.

Minna Turunen doesn’t overdo the eroticism of Ifigenia Multanen and Laura Malmivaara keeps the true feelings of Eeva Sunila well hidden.

Samuli Edelmann has been given the most problematic character in the movie – and in the book. He is Mikko Koitere, the bad cop. The character has been allowed the possibility to grow, at the cost of Vares and Eeva – and that’s not necessarily a good thing in the big picture.

Juha Veijonen is good in the classic title role; the man who’s not volunteering to be a hero.

And last, but not the least; Jasper Pääkkönen is priceless as a young getaway driver; there’s not a whiff left of the cynicality of some of his recent roles.

One more thing that can be regarded as proof that the Finnish mainstream cinema is maturing, is the fact that the bit parts – starring such favorites as Sulevi Peltola and Oiva Lohtander – don’t stop the narrative, but only add the purring pleasure of the audiences.

The central movie makers deserve to have their names mentioned; the screenplay is by Pekka Lehtovaara and completely in a different category than his erratic text of “Bad Boys”. The duties of the DoP, the editor and the sound designer have been fulfilled by Pini Hellstedt, Kimmo Taavila and Jyrki Rahkonen.


Tapani Maskula


✩ Tapani Maskula

“The wooden main character Vares drops out of the sinful entourage; to be the almost idiotic guy, lurking in the background. Every now and then – when the story takes pivotal turns – someone remembers to walk him in front of the camera and Vares can utter his paper-dry lines.”

VARES – PRIVATE EYE, directed by Aleksi Mäkelä

The urban crime cinema has never been a natural part of the Finnish pinewood landscape. Our sparsely populated country lacks all the external landmarks of the genre; big cities bathing in sinful neon lights, the human masses milling around in them, the frightening darkness of the side streets. So, the domestic attempts have been forced more or less to invoke in artificial tricks and sets ever since the 40’s; the ruthless evil is planted to the places where it can’t grow.

The suspense thrillers taking place in rural surroundings have suffered less from these credibility problems.

Vares the movie tries to be a fashionable action thriller; to combine the Tarantinoesque pranks to the hard-boiled detective tradition and the internationalization of Finnishness. Even this concoction has one ingredient too many; the American machine of violence doesn’t work inside the lutheran culture, by merely trying to imitate the action elements of the genre. For instance, the continuous freeze-frames and their introductory graphics about the main characters, are secondary phraseology – and the spectator would understand their ad-like artifaces anyway. When these useless profiles (“Was a good husband and a tough cop. But then sold his soul to Satan. Hooked in money and sex. In trouble with his conscience.”) appear to the screen for the tenth time, the jargon interrupts the narrative and the visual tension and the story has to be kickstarted every time, to get back to motion.

The director Aleksi Mäkelä is a big fan of the narration style learned from TV series; he takes turns and follows the activities of the main characters in 10-15 second long sequences. By fragmenting the story, the moviemakers make the simple storyline seem apparently frantic and multithreaded – and simultaneously, destroy the cinematic and dramatic continuity. On the other hand, the plotpoints of this yarn are incredulous from the very first moments and trying to make us to believe in it, without shuffling the deck, can be even a bigger mistake. In the beginning, a private detective meets a pretty teacher in the military refresher course – the damsel is madly in love with a scoundrel who’s doing time and wants to marry him. Before long, the threesome is chasing stolen Russian millions, accompanied by an entourage of crooks. This is just way too thick for any adult audiences to believe.

The screenwriter Pekka Lehtosaari and the director have given a lot of screentime to the funny villains: Miesmann, a deranged sadist, played by Jari Halonen, actually astonishes the viewer. The rest of the casting is the stardard dime-in-a-dozen formula; the men are reveling lowlifes, the women lascivious vamps. As a matter of fact, the wooden main character Vares drops out of the sinful entourage; to be the almost idiotic guy, lurking in the background. Every now and then – when the story takes pivotal turns – someone remembers to walk him in front of the camera and Vares can utter his paper-dry lines.

Vares – the private eye is in general lousy, scruffy, stuttering and cheap-looking ersatz entertainment, compared to the real deal, the American action crash-and-bang blockbusters. The action scenes are limited to one flipping police car, the fighting scenes essential to the genre are lacking the striking flashiness and the violence is not bloody nor realistic. With such skimpy and dull special effects, this cop flick would end up in the bottom shelf of the video stores across the pond. Gradually, all the ingedients of this still life melt into a vague lump in the tropical rain – which also seems like a glued-on trademark, with no logical purpose.