A middle-class couple try a lifestyle of polyamory in this Finnish comedy of manners

'Four Little Adults'

Source: Rotterdam International Film Festival

‘Four Little Adults’

Dir/scr: Selma Vilhunen. Finland, Sweden. 2023. 122mins

Is everyone a winner in a polyamorous relationship? Selma Vilhunen’s well-heeled, bittersweet comedy of manners Four Little Adults charts the tangled lives of a married couple seeking to embrace a new way of loving. Thoughtful and amusing, it adds a contemporary twist to what might once have been fertile ground for a Billy Wilder or a Denys Arcand. Questions of happiness, fidelity and fulfilment are handled with fond understanding in a film that should readily seduce grown-up arthouse audiences intrigued by the subject matter.

Draws out the humour, heartache and possibilities in defying conventional morality

Rising politician Juulia (a beguiling Alma Poysti) and parish priest Matias (Eero Milonoff) have the perfect marriage. The sex is passionate and adventurous. They support each other’s careers and have a fine young son in Miro (Iivo Tuuri). What Juulia doesn’t know is that Matias has been having an affair with Enni (Oona Airola) for the past eighteen months. The discovery of his infidelity is like a hand grenade lobbed into their lives. Rather than settling for its destructive consequences, however, the incredibly understanding Juulia looks for ways in which it could prove constructive.

Vilhunen effectively establishes the sense of solid security in the lives of Juulia and Matias. Their home is a warm cocoon of patterned wallpaper, designer crockery and ample space. They are affluent and settled with a loving family and friends around them, and it’s easy to see why this is a life you would fight to preserve. Juulia is the driving force in a rescue mission, inviting Enni for a civilised chat over coffee and pastries. She dispenses copies of the book ’An A to Z of Polyamory’ with particular passages underlined, and suggests an open marriage. The film becomes a bittersweet examination of how that works in practice.

Juulia’s solution initially seems to provide a way for Matias to have it all. There is a sense of liberation for him as he no longer has to hide his actions or deceive his family. There is also a growing sense of empowerment for Juulia, who has taken charge of the situation and brought Enni into their lives. The boost to her confidence even convinces her to stand for the chair of her Equality Party. Yet breaking conventions can’t really be that easy, and the remainder of the film charts the realities of discovering where freedom starts and chaos reigns.

The possibility of everyone being happy at once is constantly challenged. Matias has the temerity to feel aggrieved when Juulia finds a lover in Miska (Pietu Wikstrom), a bisexual children’s nurse and queer cabaret artiste with a mathematics teacher boyfriend. Along the way, individuals fall victim to insecurity, jealousy and unforeseen developments.

Vilhunen brings a great generosity of spirit to her characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Juulia and Matias risk seeming smug and selfish in the pursuit of their hearts’ desires, while Enni and Miska are sidelined at times and seem to matter less. Over the course of the two hour running time, however, balance and understanding emerge. A public confession of Juulia and Matias’s new domestic arrangements  is met with a range of reactions from Matias’s mother feeling horrified at their indiscretion to Miro’s unimpressed: “ I know what polyamory means. “ Slightly less convincing is the complete disregard for what impact this may have on their jobs.  The media shows a remarkable lack of interest in the complicated private life of such a high-profile politician. 

The film itself avoids any temptation to sensationalise the subject matter or play it for farce. Instead, Four Little Adults is a serious-minded, smoothly entertaining examination of polyamory in the white, middle-aged, middle-classes that draws out the humour, heartache and possibilities in defying conventional morality. It is also quietly cheering in the way it champions love and compassion as the answer to life’s challenges. 

Production companies: Tuffi Films, Hobab, Aurora Studios

International sales: LevelK, debra@levelk.dk

Producers: Venla Hellstedt, Elli Toivoniemi

Cinematography: Juice Huhtala

Production design: Sattva-Hanna Toivianen

Editing: Antti Reikko

Music: Sarah Assbring, Jacob Haage

Main cast: Alma Poysti, Eero Milonoff, Oona Airola, Pietu Wikstrom