- Associated Press - Friday, September 16, 2011

HELSINKI (AP) - One director subverts Finland’s relationship with the great outdoors. Another unleashes a foul-mouthed teen on unsuspecting audiences. A third tackles the complexities of family jealousy.

The range of homegrown features at this year’s Helsinki International Film Festival is a testament to Finland’s hardy film industry which seems to survive despite the challenges of language, funding and small audience size.

Nordic neighbors Sweden and Denmark have left a mark in cinema history through filmmakers including Lars von Trier and Ingmar Bergman and actors like Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Max von Sydow. But even the most ardent film buffs might be pressed to name a Finnish film personality beyond director Aki Kaurismaki, whose minimalistic and often bleak movies have garnered a cult following in the U.S.

“This is a very small country, so we produce only like 15-20 long features every year so that’s very small,” festival chairman Pekka Lanerva said.

The Helsinki International Film Festival started Thursday and runs through Sept. 25, at locations across the city. Now in its 24th year, it was originally conceived as a way to bring Asian film to a Finnish audience starved of foreign features.

It has grown since then, and this year, under the banner “Love and Anarchy,” is showing films from Asia, the Balkans and Bollywood, and more mainstream fare like Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In” and the Ryan Gosling star vehicle “Drive.”

This year’s gala film will be director Joona Tena’s “Body of Water,” a psychological thriller which uses Finland’s remote wilderness as one of the central characters. Protagonist Julia and her child leave their comfortable city existence behind and go to the countryside to save a local lake.

“There’s this uneasiness for city people about the solitude and complete silence you can find in the forest or somewhere far away from the city,” the 46-year-old Tena said.

Usually, a summer vacation to the country cottage is a much-loved experience for many Finns. However, Tena exploits the dark foreboding of the forest and eerie silence of the lake to great effect, building Julia’s unease, as the action is interwoven with local fairy tale mythology.

“I spent most of my life in Helsinki or sometimes in the bigger cities and it’s even for me quite frightening where you can go to a place and hear no noises,” Tena explains.

A very different local film being screened this year is Elias Koskimies’ “Dirty Bomb,” which has its roots in the dizzying dialogue of British hits like “In The Loop” and “Four Lions” _ films that Koskimies admires for their quirky take on life.

“My dialogue is quite fast and my rhythm is quite fast,” he says. “And then I’ve always been a fan of, you know, weirdness.”

“Dirty Bomb” tells the story of Mirccu, a public relations executive with one last chance to prove herself, but faced with the client from hell _ a demanding, precocious 15-year-old teen star.

The cast of oddball characters with larger than life personalities defines Koskimies’ style. “The thing is if you do something weird and strange it’s not good if you force that to your movie, it has to come very naturally,” he says.

The showcase venue at the Helsinki festival is the 1930s Bio Rex cinema in downtown Helsinki, a cultural beacon in the city, known for showing offbeat films.

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