Directed by Mikko Makela
Starring Janne Puustinen, Boodi Kabbani, Mika Melender
When being introduced to A Moment in the Reeds by the director and lead actors, they described the film as both the first Finnish LGBT romance film and the first film to feature an openly gay Syrian actor. Both outstanding achievements (though I’m not sure how Tom of Finland fits into the mix), it certainly created a lot of anticipation for the film to come. Yes, A Moment in the Reeds does touch on themes not often found in Finnish cinema, though perhaps they are becoming more common, and it does make for an interesting film, especially considering it was partially crowdfunded, features only three actors and just one location, though it is very Finnish; a cabin in the forest with a built-in sauna and lake just a few steps away.
A Moment in the Reeds follows Leevi, who returns home to Finland after studying in Paris for the summer to help his father renovate the family lakehouse so it can be sold. His father hires additional help, Tareeq, an asylum seeker from Syria who was an architect back home but now is forced to take whatever odd job comes his way. Conveniently, once they start the renovations Leevi’s father is forced to return to town for business, and the isolation and company of Leevi and Tareeq slowly develops into a romantic relationship. The bond no doubt partially stems from the fact that this is the first human connection Tareeq has had since leaving Syria, and possibly the first meaningful connection Leevi has made in his long and illustrious dating life. There is an authenticity and tenderness in the relationship, which develops in a believable way, and the warm companionship is what carries most of the story.
The two lead actors here really deserve a lot of the credit for the film. The rather simple script is really lifted by these leads, who create authentic emotions that lift the relationship to being believable. Sure, clichés are a major player in the film, and the plot has been heavily compared to Gods Own Country. However, the actors really do make the script work. For example, the pair first start with an awkwardness as they are forced to speak English when talking to each other as Tareeq doesn’t know Finnish, and the alien nature of speaking in their second language is wonderfully displayed. This is just one of the many ways the actors really lift the script in a subtle brilliance. In addition to this, a lot of the dialogue is actually improvised, perhaps connecting to the actor’s real-life experiences. But this isn’t just a tender romance, A Moment in the Reeds features several sex scenes. So much is spent on them getting to know each other that the sex scenes don’t feel forced, though perhaps they are a little drawn out to the point of looking like soft porn.
The Finnish setting really captures the message the director is trying to convey, which is both one of immigrant issues and another of finding acceptance for your sexuality. Interestingly, the director stated at the Q&A session in Lübeck that he left Finland to move to London because he felt as though he couldn’t be openly gay at home, and in the film, Leevi states he moved to Paris for similar reasons. To contrast this, Tareeq (and the actor) claims he left Syria to come to Finland because of how accepting Finland is compared to Syria. It’s this perspective that creates such an interesting dynamic, almost ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. That finding acceptance is all to do with what you are used to. Finland is generally perceived as an open country, yet the Finns in this film don’t find it open enough.
Where A Moment In the Reeds finds its strength is in how it portrays modern romance: we see two young people who, despite their different origins, understand each other, share the same concerns, the same worries and the same ways of experiencing their sexualities. While the film is ambitious and in that sense struggles to convey the heavy messages it sets out to achieve, namely immigration, sexuality and acceptance, it does thrive in certain key moments.