Published Sep 04, 2014In thematic trajectory and narrative execution, J.-P. Valkeapää's sophomore feature, They Have Escaped, is very much like an avant-garde, Finnish Mad Love on acid. It's also indicative of an intriguing international paradigm unto itself, representing the modern Scandinavian cinematic preoccupation with portraying social outcasts fleeing society as a metaphor for a broken social order, something that North American cinema was fascinated by — in an alienated youth capacity — 20 years ago.
Here, those betrayed by a system in decay are Joni (Teppo Manner) and Raisa (Roosa Söderholm). Joni, an introvert with a stutter, is assigned to civil service at a juvenile detention facility after fleeing the army. His mandate is clear: don't develop personal relationships with the detainees. Unfortunately, it isn't long before he meets the manic, bleached-blonde misfit, Raisa, whose reckless abandon proves magnetic for him.
While this setup could easily dictate a coming-of-age framework, wherein someone reserved wrestles with their inhibitions and overcomes the obstacle that is self-consciousness, Valkeapää eschews this conceit almost immediately. Joni makes no effort to thwart Raisa's advances and seems indifferent to punishment, leading the pair into a different cinematic convention: the road trip.
Intentionally, this trip has no real set destination. At first, it's dictated by senseless indulgence and sexual tension made perilous by casual illegalities and the discovery of recreational drugs. Valkeapää attempts to insulate this narrative with highly stylized, impressionistic imagery, using a dramatic colour palette and intimate close-ups to represent the intimacy of a connection free from the persisting constraints of an ever encroaching outside world. Smartly, these moments are promptly disrupted — and stylistically broken — by any sort of outside intrusion. Every time a third party comes into the picture, the serenity defined by abstract imagery comes to a screeching halt and a more naturalistic, "real" aesthetic takes over.
It's these outside forces that eventually shape a world incapable of forgiveness or reason. In fact, the extreme, and unexpected, nature of the third act denotes an extremist rage and an intense distain for a culture that punishes and degrades without pause or consideration. As such, They Have Escaped is an unsettling work that doesn't offer a resolution to its thesis. It's the sort of erratic, tonally abstract, emotionally driven piece that's a bit of a conundrum unto itself. Much like the reactive, mercurial youth it represents, it's too messy and inconsistent to make its point in a constructive manner, packing a punch through sensationalism more so than implication.