There are country = good/city = bad stories that we know are oversimplified, but we love them anyway. Murnau's silent masterpiece Sunrise (1927) might be the best, and perhaps first, example of a film that jailed temptation and sin to the bars of the city. In that classic, 'The Man' not only left his wife for 'The Woman from the City' (who was indeed a metaphor for pernicious city life itself), but he even believed that life would be better if he were to kill his wife, leaving country life, and her, forever behind.
And yet, even in that classic tale, 'The Man' comes to his grips with his lustful disposition and grapples with the error of his ways. He's been misguided, thinking purely from his loins. We tear up with feeling as he wanders home, encountering grace.
Things are not quite as simple in Dome Karukoski's 2009 Finnish-language film, Forbidden Fruit. Redemption doesn't lurk around the corner, but the urge to sin does. The city beckons even after you come home. Its "sin," keeps calling, and we wonder whether God (and sin) might be found in both locations instead of only the one.
It's a coming of age story, but not typical at all. There's a huge, much appreciated amount of restraint here that you don't find in many coming of age movies (thinking back to the recent Fish Tank, which I strongly reacted to Here, which, yes, in terms of nudity and such felt like it was approached with good taste, but the "coming of age" there basically equated the "coming of sex", and while Katie Jarvis gave a riveting performance, her character certainly didn't desire restraint in any form.)
Finland's Laestadian (Lutheran) sect is a rural faith-based community of Biblical literalism, and it's in a commune of this understanding that our story begins. In dealing with the strict religious ideals, director Karukoski holds off judgment well. He spends a good amount of time capturing the wholesomeness here, the God-based, family-based values that are center in the communal focus.
Maria, now eighteen, decides she wants to have a summer of fun in the city. The Laestadians teach that the city and the body are basically bad; they are cunning and powerful and lead to temptation and separation from God -- maybe even separation from faith itself. The "Arch Fiend" is everywhere -- but especially in your body and in places found outside the collective.
According to Laestadian conduct Maria is old enough to decide for herself, and she eventually decides to see, and be a part of, the world outside. The community asks her best friend, Raakel, to go and be with her, to help her through this moment of fascination. Raakel moves to the city and finds her friend -- they'll only stay one summer before moving back home, and Raakel has a "magic word" she can say at any time in which Maria will agree to return home immediately.
They work in a factory and find a small apartment to call home. They discover movies. They discover alcohol. And dancing and clubs. They discover the allure of sexual temptation and kissing and things forbidden. They wrestle with their upbringing concerning all things taboo. They meet boys. They meet Maria's sister, who left the community years ago, and hasn't been welcomed back.
They are longing for love, the kind they've not encountered. The kind where the touch of a boy might bring comfort and warmth.
Every moment, whether day or night, inside or out, city or country, is beautifully shot. There's a softer, more melancholy, utterly Finnish feel. Think: a better looking Kaurismäki. That repressed Finnish vibe that Kaurismäki, a true Finnish auteur, portrays so well, is prevalent in Forbidden Fruit in image as well as mood. I've spent a good bit of time in Finland -- this feels, to me, Finnish to the core.
There's a reversal of sorts and a twist along the way, but not the M.Night kind of twist that's supposed to jump out at us. Everything seems to follow logically and it gradually adds up to a final bus ride to the city that's as hopeful as it is full of fear.
The only reason I got to see this wonderful Finnish film is that Sweden's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sold out -- even the press couldn't find a remaining seat. I'm glad, because I know that that film will receive higher distribution and will certainly (eventually) get talked about at length. But, like Härö's Letters to Father Jacob, another much talked about Finnish movie from last year -- and like Finland in general, which is often in the shadow of other Scandinavian countries -- no one knows how wide a release Forbidden Fruit will get. Which is a real shame. It's so beautifully acted and so thoughtfully directed, it's captured so well and comes across as stunning in its own quiet way. I really can't get over it right now. I'm just hoping there are more great movies to see at the EU Film Fest. I'm sure there are -- but I think I may have seen my favorite one first.
It's a perfect film. I really think it is. I'll be surprised if I find another that's as moving as it is well made.