The Good Son director Bergroth discusses her latest project at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Finnish director Zaida Bergroth returns to Toronto after 2011’s The Good Son with her third feature, Miami.
Krista Kosonen (Flowers Of Evil, The Midwife) and newcomer Sonja Kuittinen star as two estranged sisters who reunite when the older sister, an exotic dancer, has to hit the road to raise money to pay her debts. Bergroth co-wrote the original script with Jan Forsstrom.
The film is made on a budget of $1.4m (€1.2m) and shot for 25 days around Helsinki and Lapland. Miia Haavisto produces for Helsinki Filmi. LevelK handles international sales. Nordisk Film has already opened to solid admissions in Finland.
Where did the idea for this film start to form?
I started thinking about it around 2009. There was this wave of scandals [in Finland] in 2009 about these show dancers and famous public figures. What was interesting to me was the media and the public reaction. I thought it was a bit shocking that they condemned the girls harshly.
There was something also liberating about how these girls were non-apologetic. That was the basis of Angela. This world interested me, show dancers in small villages in Finland who are not doing a striptease – it’s more like a princess fantasy world. There is something naïve and charming about them, it’s innocent in a way.
That was the world that got me excited, but the heart of the film is the relationship between the sisters. I wanted to make a story about sisters.
Do you have a sister?
I have a big sister very close to me, and two younger sisters where we lived in different families. I loved the fact that I could take things that I know about but play a bit and take them to the extreme.
You have one leading actress who is a big star in Finland and one who takes on her first film role. How did you cast them?
The character of Angela had to be bigger than life. I could see Krista could deliver that. She has the ability to electrify a room. Once she was on board, we built the other cast around her. Sonja had just graduated from theatre school. I had given a class at the school and I remembered her from that. She was a very good actor and she had that mystery I needed.
How did you prepare with them before the shoot?
We rehearsed a lot and went over the script a million times. We shot mostly chronologically. Krista helped Sonja a lot, she’s very experienced. I love the way she understands how the camera moves, how the light works. I have never worked with somebody who is so conscious about these things and can use it for her work. We had a very intimate feeling on the set. You can feel the intimacy of their relationship.
It seems not many Finnish films are directed by women, is that true?
What was a bit shocking is that Krista told me I was the first female director she’s had in 17 films. The numbers speak for themselves.
The world you create isn’t what we usually see on screen about exotic dancers.
One of the best compliments we got is from a woman my age. She said she was almost scared to see this film, thinking that you can’t make a film about this kind of world without the male gaze. She thought it would be impossible, but watching the film she found it so liberating to see that the male gaze was not there.
There was nothing moralistic about this. I have no problems with women dancing in tiny clothes. We found one group when we were researching and they just seemed to be enjoying it. It was a celebration and they were sexy and strong. Angela has that: she is happy with herself and believes in herself and doesn’t need anyone’s permission. She’s not a victim.
This film mixes genres including drama, thriller, road trip. Have you done that with all your films?
I haven’t done it like this before. The Good Son is a drama that turns into a little bit of a thriller. With this film, we knew there was a risk to mix genres but we wanted to take it. It liberated me. I wanted to challenge myself.
What are you working on next?
I’m going to make a film based on the story of Maria Akerblom, a real woman who was sort of a “dream preacher” in Finland in the 1920s, who had great power over a sect who gathered around here. We hope to shoot next summer.