Interview with Joonas Makkonen, director of The Introduction Video of Janne Anttila

The Introduction Video of Janne Anttila is a surrealistic and funny short film that, like many of Joonas Makkonen’s other films, manages to rouse some genuine laughs. The one-minute comedy surprises with its mix of simplicity and oddity, spiced up with scraps of action-style movie and pets. 

Janne, the main character, with his impassive voice and expression, drives his car while telling us about his emerging career in acting. Someone is filming him, or maybe he has installed a camera on the passenger seat. He knows “a thing or two about filmmaking”, and even about how to survive a fall into a gorge with his car – as we do indeed see his vehicle tumbling into said canyon! After the deadly fall, we see Janne again at home; he eats slices of cucumber with his dog, while explaining that acting “is interesting when you’re pushed to your limits” because “you learn about yourself”. 

Bizarre situations and black humour are the main ingredients in Joonas Makkonen’s work. We met him a couple of months ago in Italy at the Lago Film Festival, where he was a member of the jury and at the centre of a retrospective. Here is part of the interview conducted by Yuri Lavecchia during the Lago Film Festival. 

«Some things are not what they look like» - as a character says in one of your shorts- seems to be the explicit statement of your body of work as a whole, beyond the singularity of each film. Is this also your personal vision of life and real things happening around or is it simply a game you like to play with the stories in your films? 

Well... I think I am a unique person in good and bad things, in the sense that I don't think I am a “regular” guy. I have my own demons, and when things come out I try to fix them, conscious that I could alter their “direction” . I try to be honest with myself in this sense, linked to my peculiarities. One of my goals is not allow the viewers to guess the lines too much, but of course I know that there's the risk of disappointing them, so I try to balance these two a bit. Also, I don't want to focus my film strictly on a specific theme, I like when there's a ludic aspect to entertainment, that's a main point for me: some filmmakers are afraid about that. 

Your stories are full of black humour, with surreal elements and weird situations. And your characters are often «borderline», so probably there's a high risk that the viewers don't feel in tune with them... 

They are the most interesting for me, because I feel like an outsider, so I wouldn't feel confident with a family man or a business woman. But, do you mean that there's a risk that the viewers will not love the characters because they are so far from them?

Yes, it's a point but, as you can imagine, a point of criticism is that, for a general audience, the risk of laughing at things than can hurt personal sensitivity (laughing about a serious illness or the violent death of a puppy, for example) is high. What do you think about that?   

I'm not afraid of that... in Finland we say that when you do a curtsy to a person in front of you, you might show your ass to the one behind you! So you can't please everyone, and you also have to trust people not to take this excess seriously. However, I know that my films are viewed by a particular audience and that's is something to consider for my way of thinking films, they have a “target” audience. 

I'd like to ask you if, as a young Finnish director, you feel the reference of the Finnish master Kaurismaki as a burden...

Well, I think that, when approaching to filmmaking, the main problem for my generation is the mentality of giving funding in Finland, not about the presence of a big author. The funding bodies are reluctant to support different kind of films, it seems they only accept ideas about realistic Finnish dramas or comedies, it seems that some different directions are hardly considered, for example... a horror vein linked to comedy, that's what I wish for! 

Do you have influences outside Finland, any directors, films or..?

Actually, I don't have any favourite. I liked Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl, recently. In general, I like those films that are able to add surprising elements, even without a realistic vein, and perhaps are a bit weird. This general model influences my projects, I don't know, perhaps I'm a little bit wary of realism or situations that are too realistic... 

Would you give us an anticipation about your first feature- length film? 

The name is Bunny the Killer Thing. It is set at wintertime, spoken in English and inspired by Eighties exploitation films, or with that spirit at least. The plot is about a Finnish youngster going to a cabin, there's something to hide, grumpy relations and then.. a strange half-Bunny half-human creature appears, the menace, as in a survivor movie. I'd like to consider it as a horror comedy that aims to be a class A B-movie! 
In Finland, there have only ever been two horror-comedy features, so I am interested in hearing what people will think about it. Sure, there's the risk that they'll consider me a fool, but for now, I do not feel pressure related to the fact that it's my first feature- length film. I am encouraged by the fact that directors like Jackson and Spielberg began with “weird things” too!

16 September 2014, by Cineuropa Shorts