‘It’s the Cosiest Film I Have Ever Made’: Finnish Helmer Aleksi Salmenpera Embraces His Softer Side in ‘Bubble’

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Fresh off another win at Finland’s Jussi Awards, this time for his short film “The Bouncer,” Aleksi Salmenperä is already in post-production with his upcoming feature “Bubble,” about to be presented at Helsinki International Film Festival’s industry event Finnish Film Affair in its Fiction in Progress section.

“I was sort of embarrassed by this win,” he jokes. The comedy was shot six years ago and originally intended as a part of an episodic film. At previous Jussi Awards, Salmenperä was named best director for “Distractions” in 2016, and drama “Void” won best director and best film in 2019. “Bubble,” set to premiere in the spring of next year, is bound to surprise some of his fans, however, with Salmenperä calling it “the cosiest film” he has ever made.

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“I don’t know what happened! Maybe I am just getting old, but there is so much warmth in this film. I used to be much more cynical,” he tells Variety.

Showing one teenage girl’s desperate struggle to keep her family together, even though she saw her mother kissing another woman, the story will bring him back to the topics he tackled at the beginning of his career.

“My first feature was about family, too. It’s something I know. This girl feels that if her parents fail in their marriage, she will be a failure as well. She feels it’s her fault,” he says, admitting he wanted to show ordinary people in the film.

<img src="https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg?w=1000&quot; alt=" - Credit: Courtesy of Rabbit Films" width="1000" height="563" class="size-horizontal wp-image-1235068996" srcset="https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg 1000w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg?resize=150,84 150w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg?resize=300,169 300w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg?resize=125,70 125w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg?resize=681,383 681w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg?resize=450,253 450w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bubble-002.jpg?resize=250,140 250w" sizes="(min-width: 87.5rem) 1000px, (min-width: 78.75rem) 681px, (min-width: 48rem) 450px, (max-width: 48rem) 250px" />Courtesy of Rabbit Films

“Their troubles aren’t visible right away and I think that makes it fresh. Then again, I never really think if something is going to be ‘interesting’ or ‘different’ for the audience. I don’t believe in such calculations. It just needs to feel real. That’s the key.”

Produced by Minna Haapkylä for Rabbit Films, pulling double duty as one of the leads alongside Salmenperä’s regular Tommi Korpela, the film will still feature one of his trademarks, though: uncomfortable situations.

“Many people don’t like to see it unravel on screen. Once things get too heated, they just change the channel. But shame, in its many different forms, has always been something I was intrigued by. That’s where I find the truth,” he says.

“I love writing these dialogues, the kind of conversations I wouldn’t want to have in real life. There is a scene featuring sex education in the film and I never talked about that with my own children either. Now, I will just make them watch it instead!”

“These characters can be suffering, but Aleksi’s look at them is loving and tender. It’s not mean,” adds Haapkylä. “It’s easy to act in his films. You can go as far as he asks you to, because you feel protected. Aleksi always says: ‘Don’t rely on your bag of tricks!’ He asks you to put them aside and be open.”

“The most frightening thing for any actor is to let the camera under the surface. They want to hide behind the role but I need to take off that armor,” agrees Salmenperä.

“It helps when you know them but it’s also crucial to let them know the director. It’s not like I show up on set, already knowing everything. I don’t – we are here to explore. There is a paradox to being a ‘professional artist’ as it implies you are already stuck in your ways. I don’t want to improvise the dialogue but I want to improvise the thought. It needs to run free.”

As Finnish cinema continues its good streak, with the likes of “Compartment No. 6,” “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic,” and now “The Gravedigger’s Wife” scoring awards at Cannes, Venice and Toronto, the team behind “Bubble” also hopes for international recognition.

“It’s an honestly made film and I think it has a chance of being understood outside of the country. It’s not a Finnish story,” says Salmenperä, with his producer adding: “Only the landscape is Finnish – there was a lot of snow. We hope that Aleksi will sell the remake rights all over the world.”

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