Mikko Myllylahti’s debut feature film tells the story of an idyllic Finnish village descended in to madness with the closure of the local sawmill.
Pepe (Jarkko Lahti), lives a simple, happy life filled with ice fishing and labour at the sawmill. Together with his colleague, neighbour and friend Tuomas (Hannu-Pekka Björkman), they exist like contented kings of not much in particular.
However, the rug is pulled out from under them when the company closes the mill and leaves them unemployed. To these men, routine is life. Pepe takes a pragmatic, glass half full approach, an attitude we know him for around town, while Tuomas leans toward poetic nihilism and suffers deep depression. Practically all the town folk struggle to deal with events and seek answers in strange and sometimes destructive places. Friendships are tested, marriages fall apart. Irrational violence follows.
Pepe moves through the following few days with blank expression, clinging to hope while losing everything, with the town literally burning around him.
The Woodcutter Story is a bleak, often surreal, but absolutely hilarious black comedy that often asks, Why are we here? What does it mean? Full of rich, emotionally stunted characters who have lived a lot while experiencing very little. I am in awe of how Mikko Myllylahti has made the mundane tasks these characters engage in, drinking at the local bar, playing cards or eating TV dinners, so funny to watch. A suppressed visual comedy pours off the screen.
Pepe’s family is extremely direct with him and each line, uttered in annoyance, with a grievance in the face of his innocent pragmatism, drips with gold. This, combined with gorgeous cinematography outdoors and tight, claustrophobic indoors, invokes a range of emotion and leads us to appreciate why Pepe loves the isolation of the forest so much. The only other person to understand and appreciate Pepe is his son, Pikku (little)-Tuomas (livo Tuuri).
Broken into two chapters, Woodcutter Story soon takes a dark turn. There is much to unpack and metaphorical threads intersect, leaving many questions. If you’re a David Lynch or Darren Aronofsky fan, you’ll be right at home during this second half. A second or third viewing will probably be in order to catch all the meaning behind Pepe’s journey. The audience I experienced this film with laughed frequently during the first half of this tale before switching to stunned gasps and surprised swear words during the second half.
On top of the layers, one message strikes true: “The world is such an exciting and beautiful place, we don’t understand it fully yet. We mustn’t despair.”
The Woodcutter Story features alongside Emmigrant and A Taste of Hunger as part of the Carlsberg Scandinavian Film Festival 2022, I highly recommend checking these out and am seriously considering seeing Woodcutter Story again, if only to watch the second chapter more closely to find the hidden meaning I missed this first time around. There is also the beauty of sweeping, wide-angle shots of the vast frozen forest to help appreciate just how insignificant against change we really are. (8/10)
The Woodcutter Story is playing as a part of the Carlsberg Scandinavian Film Festival – click here to see the festival website.