A Moment In The Reeds

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Moment In The Reeds
"There's more to this film than just another erotic romance."

If you're from Scotland, Canada, Scandinavia or Russia, the chances are that you'll understand how it is in the north - the beautiful landscapes, still half wild, that make people want to go there; the hardships and dwindling, often backward-looking communities that make people want to leave. Leevi (Janne Puustinen) got out as soon as he could, running away to Paris to study art at university. It's not something that his father (Mika Melender) can understand - to him it seems impractical, frivolous and at odds with being a proper man. Of course, it doesn't help that Leevi doesn't have girlfriends and his father is pretty sure why.

Now Leevi is home for the summer, helping his father to renovate their old lake house so that it can be sold. At least, that's the theory. Anticipating the young man's failure to meet his standards when it comes to carpentry and repair, his father has contacted an agency and commissioned the services of a handyman, Tareq (Boodi Kabbani). Originally from Syria, Tareq has experienced a different kind of conservative culture. He's an architect, slumming it until he can improve his grasp of the language, but he and Leevi can communicate in English. Bonding over the course of an evening after work, they discover more and more things that they have in common - and after a few beers, they can say everything that matters with their eyes.

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A Moment In The Reeds builds up slowly, in keeping with the pace of life in such places. We see the two young men's delicate negotiation, conveyed in small movements, mirrored posture, and the exchange of cultural references that have functioned as a shared code amongst gay people around the world for a century or more. Some viewers will find all this too slow but for those who pay attention there's a fascinating study of communication going on. This also emphasises the international aspects of LGBT culture, the way that shared experiences of prejudice have the effect of breaking down barriers - perhaps, in its turn, one of the reasons why LGBT people are often perceived as a cultural threat.

Once all this spills over, the film launches into a series of passionate sex scenes. It's the unexpected emotional intensity of these on which the film hinges, causing both young men to question their circumstances and plans. But there's more to this film than just another erotic romance. Developing events force Leevi to confront issues in his life that have been ignored for a long time. Both young men exist in an emotional landscape that is bigger than this encounter and escapist fantasies have to be balanced with the weight of reality.

A Moment In The Reeds also stands out for its handling of Tareq's experience as a refugee, which is treated with considerably more complexity than usual and hits home harder because we encounter it in the context of getting to know him as a person. He's not just one more tragic figure among many, but a complicated individual trying to manage his disorientation, frustration and fears for his family alongside everything else that's going on in his life. It is to Puustinen's credit that Leevi's story doesn't get lost alongside this, with both young actors acquitting themselves impressively. There's also real chemistry between them.

Melender, meanwhile, broods in the background, allowing us brief glimpses of an equally complex and troubled man. The father's obnoxiousness obscures his own tragedy and a weight of further emotion that he struggles to express. His business struggles, which result from a cultural shift away from the material toward the digital, provide a metaphor for the way that the world is losing interest in his kind of masculinity. Like the house that has lost its happy memories, like the village that is losing its people, he is a relic, another lonely figure in this vast, untamed landscape.

A sensitive and insightful film, beautifully photographed by Iikka Salminen, A Moment In The Reeds is one that lingers.

Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2018
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A Moment In The Reeds packshot
Romance blossoms between a Finnish man and a Syrian immigrant.

Director: Mikko Makela

Writer: Mikko Makela

Starring: Janne Puustinen, Boodi Kabbani, Mika Melender, Virpi Rautsiala

Year: 2017

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: UK, Finland

Festivals:

London 2017

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