All love affairs begin when one person chooses to take a chance on another, a moment of mutual connection and intimacy. A Moment in The Reeds is no different. It’s a subtle, sparse romance between Leevi (Janne Puustinen) and Tareq (Boodi Kabanai), which dances between themes of immigration, intimacy, and self-discovery. It is easy to label this film one thing or another, ‘LGBTQ+’, ‘gay romance’, ‘queer Finnish cinema’, but to stamp such a title on this film forces the audience to compare it to many of its similar cousins. There is a desire to engage with the concept that every LGBTQ film and every gay character is a revolution, but it appears to have arrived a few years too late.
Leevi returns to his father’s cottage in the summery woods of Finland, taking a break from his studies to aid his father with the restoration of their family lake home so that it can be sold. Despite much resistance and racism from his father, Jouko (Mika Melender) has hired Tareq, a contractor, to aid in the restoration project. When his father leaves on urgent business, a brief and passionate love affair blooms between the two young men.
This film is characterised by soft, gentle cinematography. The camera never seeks to invade or direct our attention but merely rest in front of the characters, allowing a window into these few brief days of their lives. It matches the buttery light and warm, woodsy colours of the Finnish cottage. Both leads feel at home in this world, miles away from the metropolises of Helsinki or Paris. They inhabit an isolated world where they are allowed to be themselves.
At first it appears as though the focus of the film will be Leevi’s homosexuality and his father’s hard masculinity in conflict. Leevi chooses to spend his time studying literature rather than completing military service, the “place where boys become men”, and it will eventually lead to a conclusion where Jouko either accepts or banishes his son. This theme is not uncommon in contemporary cinema. Often, despite a supposed acceptance of self, true acceptance of a man’s homosexuality lies with acceptance from their fathers. Although the implication remains throughout the film, this conflict is never utilised as a dramatic moment, perhaps as it has become a cliché.
The three leads play off each other reasonably well, if the accents and languages do not always match. There is a mix of Finnish, English, and even Syrian spoken throughout the film which at times makes it difficult to follow. Leevi and his father converse in Finnish, whereas Leevi and Tareq speak English. Two separate relationships that cannot co-exist in the same world. When Jouko leaves, Leevi invites Tareq into his world, starting with beers in a sauna which eventually leads to sexual acts. This film presents gay sex as something tender, intimate, and about the connection of the two individuals. Both who do not feel accepted by their families and choose to run away to a more liberal society. It is not an aggressive act as shown in many films, nor an overly sexualised frenzy of gasps and moans as we have come to expect when lesbian sexuality is presented.
Yet it cannot last. Tareq’s family wish to join him in Finland. Leevi must eventually return to Paris. And Jouko arrives after a night of lovemaking and attacks them both for the lack of work completed during his absence. Their frequent conversations about identity, their pasts, and dealing with feeling so excluded from their respective societies only serve to inform the audience early on that there will be no passionate elopement or even basic acceptance of their relationship.
This film follows a very clear roadmap of LGBTQ films that have come before it. Seeking to present male homosexuality as pure, intimate, and passionate. To steer away from camp stereotypes but instead reinforcing the tortured, conflicted figure of a young gay man. Perhaps 10 years ago this film would have been fresher.
This film had the choice to deal with masculinity, to present the tender masculinity of Leevi and Tareq against the hardness of his father, but Jouko’s absence makes this impossible. So much care is given to the moments between Tareq and Leevi, that many avenues for the plot are left unexplored. Such as Leevi’s mother’s death, Tareq’s separation from his family, Jouko learning that his prejudices do more harm than good. What the film does touch on however is a parallel between immigrants and gay men, and their ostracisation from their families and cultures. Neither Leevi nor Tarek want to choose between being who they are and their families, and their relationship presents an escape from that tension.
There are some beautiful, delicate moments, but given the defining aspects of the characters the ease in which they relinquish their relationship is hard to believe. Leevi is an intellectual, surely he’d have the courage to tell his dad the truth? He would challenge his father’s conservative, prejudiced mindset? Tareq has journeyed across half the world to seek asylum in Finland, surely he would stand up to an old man? Both live with the challenge of accepting themselves when their families will not, so why give up their chance at happiness?
A Moment in the Reeds is an earnest, sweet effort, but it joins its brothers as merely another gay, male, love story that never really embraces its true potential. This film had the opportunity to challenge the notions that acceptance is a hard journey for gay men. Both characters could have broken free and explored their joint future, but the filmmakers chose instead to tear them apart, as if nothing had happened in that cottage in the woods.
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield has just finished a degree in Film at Falmouth University. She has written about the female voice in cinema and negotiating the position of the female director. She has just finished her first short film ‘Sonder’, keep an eye out for it at festivals in the UK. A big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology, her taste is varied and every time she is asked about her favourite film she gives a different answer. Today her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of A Geisha, How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. You can find her @miajulianna2864