A version of this story first appeared in the International Film edition of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
The central characters in Selma Vilhunen’s drama “Stupid Young Heart” are a pair of mismatched teenagers who have a drunken encounter and then find themselves facing parenthood. But the film, which is the Finnish submission in the Oscars’ Best International Feature Film category, veers into different territory when the boy turns to a hard-right, anti-immigrant group for acceptance.
Vilhunen say down with TheWrap to discuss her approach to the material.
How did you get involved with this story?
I am privileged to get to work with the screenwriter, Kirsikka Saari, who is also a co-owner in Tuffi Films with myself. She had been working with this screenplay for some years already. I got the first draft in the autumn of 2013, and I was very happy to be the one that she was thinking of for the director of the film. I read it in one sitting and absolutely loved it. It moved me to tears, and at the same time I found it exciting, almost like a thriller.
There were several points that personally touched me and made me feel that I was the one to direct this story. I thought that Kirsikka had been able to capture something of the feeling of becoming a parent by portraying the situation through these teenagers. Reading that screenplay, I could related to those teenagers ever though I became a parent when I was 32. Some of the emotions are the same no matter what age you are — those feelings of being scared and insecure and quite lonely in the face of the great challenges ahead.
The film starts out as the story of two teenagers facing an unexpected pregnancy, but then you introduce a story line about a neo-Nazi group.
Yeah, it’s true. While developing the screenplay with Kirsikka, we really thought carefully about how to balance those elements in the story. First of all, it’s a love story between these two, and then the neo-Nazi layer comes in because Lenni, the main character, visits this world and gets some of the support he needs as he’s trying to figure out how to become a man. Unfortunately, their idea of the strong man is based on hate.
I suppose that was what I most admired about the script, that Kirsikka managed to weave together these two stories. A very intimate and personal love story that captures the feeling of becoming a parent suddenly became a portrayal of an entire community and its social problems. I found that quite beautiful, and challenging as well.
The childbirth scene is far longer, more physical and even more violent than we’re used to seeing on screen. Was it important to you to portray it that way?
It was. I think of that sequence as a parallel to the other violent scenes in the film. The fight scenes get more serious and more violent toward the end of the film, but then the childbirth scene washes over all that hate and all that violence and all those men and boys trying to be the cock of the walk. All of that suddenly looks very small when there’s something real going on, such as giving birth to new life. That’s the most demanding job there is, and I wanted to give it the space I think it deserves.
How did you work with two lead performers who are not professional actors?
They’re not professional actors, but Rosa Hokonen has been acting for quite some time since she was 10 years old, as a hobby. And she was in another film just before this film, but she was only 17 and 18 when we made the film, so she’s not professional. And then Jere Risteppa, who plays Lenni, had not acted ever before, not even in a school play. He was a super fresh talent.
I worked with him and also with Rosa, both of them together, and all of the rest of the actors who had scenes with them. I really did my best to make them as comfortable as possible in all of those situations that we would be in the shooting. We didn’t have all the time in the world, about four weeks or so, but I used all the time that we did have. We did all kind of different things just to get people to know each other and get comfortable, and also played around with the scenes themselves.
Read more from the International Film edition of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.