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Games People Play - Film Review (Scandinavian Film Festival 2021)

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A Finnish comedy about being forever young
The Scandinavian Film Festival returns to Australia for the eighth year in 2021, bringing a diverse range of offerings from all the five Nordic countries.

Cinema-goers will be treated to a smorgasbord of movies produced by creative talents from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. These will be screened at various Palace cinemas across Australia in July. The Perth leg commences 14 July and runs till 4 August.

Forever young: The Finnish film Games People Play is a comedy about lost youth and age catching up with everyone.

One of the entries is Finnish director Jenni Toivoniemi's debut feature Games People Play (Finnish: Seurapeli). It features an ensemble cast, including Laura Birn (inaugural ScandiFF entrant Heart of a Lion, Helene) and Swedish actor Christian Hillborg (The Throwaways, A Piece of My Heart), who play the roles of the glamorous Veronica and her Hollywood star boyfriend Mikael respectively. The main character of the film is Veronica's childhood friend Mitzi (Emmi Parviainen, The Princess of Egypt, The Last Ones), who is celebrating her birthday with her five good friends at a summer cabin owned by one of them.

The movie is a critique of group dynamics as it involves six childhood friends who have known one another for the last twenty years getting together for an annual summer weekend on an island. Past events get dredged up as they let their hair down and tensions come to the fore. To outsiders, it can seem a little overwhelming. The argument that some groups tend to bring out the worst in people may also hold water. The six protagonists are all adults approaching middle age but once they are together, away from everything else, they act as if they are teenagers again.

Toivoniemi has brought out great chemistry from the six actors portraying the six close friends. Hillborg adds a dimension as a well-travelled Hollywood superstar with a Masters degree from Cambridge. The backstories of each character are briefly expounded upon. What appears to be just a simple weekend getaway appears stretched at times. Iida-Marie Heinonen (Juice) gives a convincing portrayal as Veronica's half-sister Natalie, who gives the impression of a Cinderalla-like figure living in the shadows of the rest of the group. Paavo Kinunen (Laugh or Die) also garners some sympathy as Janne, whose friends never appear to take him seriously. The life of the party appears to be Härde (Eero Milonoff, Border), who comes across at times as downright obnoxious.

Themes like lost youth and living in the present are frequently brought up in the movie. The six friends met when they were teenagers and references to Mitzi's 25th birthday that happened a decade ago are made at quite regular intervals. The background of the Finnish islands in the summer when the sun rises really early and does not set till late also adds to the effect of long and endless days as we follow the various characters. That effect serves as a distraction to the core message of the movie that we should quit living in the past and focus on what is in the present. Yet no matter how hard we try, we will not be able to shake the past off because it is what shapes our identity.

This movie may share similarities to the Icelandic movie The Last Fishing Trip, also showing at this year's ScandiFF. It may also appeal to fans of Love Actually or to fans of romance and comedy in general.

Other Finnish films in this year's line-up include Any Day Now, Helene (both featuring Laura Birn) and Tove. Christian Hillborg's A Piece of My Heart is also included as part of Sweden's contribution to the festival. Other highlights include the curtain-raiser, Danish crime drama Wildland as well as Norway's Disco, starring Josefine Frida Pettersen who happens to be the poster girl for this year's ScandiFF.

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*Andrew Situ was invited as a guest
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When: 14 July 2021 to 4 August 2021
Where: Raine Square
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