Thursday, April 2, 2015
Open Up to Me (orig. Kerron sinulle kaiken) 
nyt.fi (L. Virtanen) review*
cinemagazine.nl (H. Wouters) review*
Open Up to Me (orig. Kerron sinulle kaiken)  [IMDb] [CEu] (written and directed by Simo Halinen [IMDb] [CEu]) is a FINNISH drama that that for many viewers (including myself) would probably be one of the most challenging films to be shown recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.
This is because the film is about the struggles, "after the fact", of a person who had undergone a sex change operation. Leave it to the Europeans and specifically the Scandinavians to tell a story like this... ;-).
But honestly, THIS IS AN EXCELLENT FILM -- A "THIS IS HOW IT IS / THIS IS HOW IT WILL REMAIN" sort of a story. And if one thinks that this is some sort of a glorification of this sort of decision, IT CERTAINLY IS NOT. Instead, the film is an _eyes quite open_ exposition of "these are the conflicts / issues that one still is going to have to deal with, if one does decide to go in this direction" (so, in fact, one could make an informed decision):
Maarit (played magnificently/thoroughly credibly throughout by Leea Klemola [IMDb] [CEu]) is a 40-something person who had recently (in the past year or so) undergone a sex change operation from male to female.
She had previously been married (as a male) to an ex who now hates him/her. Why? Well she tells Maarit: "Thanks to you, no one will ever touch me again." Why? Well, WHEN / HOW does one explain to a potential new boyfriend, fiance', or husband (and then HIS family and circle of friends) that after 15 years of marriage, one's ex decided to have a sex change. Yes, this was Maarit's decision, but ...
Similarly, Maarit's teenage daughter Pinja (played again wonderfully by Emmi Nivala [IMDb] [CEu]), already quiet, average, perhaps a bit overweight, has to deal with school-mates who pick-on her for the chosen-unconventionality of one of her parents. Yes, Maarit's decision was his-now-hers and not his-now-her daughter's BUT ... how does one explain that to other teens when ALL OF THEM are already insecure, trying make their way in the world as it is?
Then previously, Maarit was a social worker by profession. NOW, she's a cleaning-lady. In the course of the film, she's trying to get herself back into social work, applying for a job at a Helsinki women's shelter, BUT ... her potential employer asks her: "You know, as a matter of course, we do a google search on potential employees here ... and there's no 'Maarit <last name>' of Helsinki anywhere to be found on the internet." And she has to explain.
The potential employer tries to be open minded / compassionate, BUT ... she's _also_ thinking about the various troubled / traumatized women who come to their shelter and wondering (at least inside her head) if it'd be fair to them already dealing with so much to be "helped" by someone who'd need to give at least a paragraph's worth of explanation about who she was and how she got to be who she was ... before she would help / counsel them ...
Finally, Maarit does try to find a guy. And she kinda does, Sam (played by Peter Franzén [IMDb] [CEu]) who's married but with marital problems. In fact, when Sam first meets her, Maarit, he still thinks that she's a counselor (and he meets her then in the context of a counseling session). Maarit tries very hard to be honest with him about who she is, who she was, and tells him, quite soon enough, that she's no no longer a counselor.
Initially Sam doesn't seem to mind (or really comprehend) her previous history. But eventually it does bother him and then when his estranging wife Julia (played again quite well by Ria Kataja [IMDb] [CEu]) finds out that he's been carrying on (having an affair) with someone who had a sex change operation ... well, (would ANYBODY be surprised ...) SHE ABSOLUTELY HITS THE ROOF ... telling him "the only way you're ever going to see OUR kids again is with a court order" (she does cool down a few days later, but ... Sam-Julia's marriage comes to an end and it's pretty clear that Sam's own life/history is now very much changed by his ever so brief affair/fling with Maarit.
SO ... THIS IS NOT A PRETTY MOVIE. IN FACT, it's A QUITE SOBERING ONE. One's left wondering if Maarit knew how difficult (SOCIALLY / RELATIONALLY...) it would be to go through a sex change operation would he/she have done so?
One does get the impression that Maarit would have done it anyway. And many others like Maarit do so anyway.
AND ONE CAN ONLY BEGIN TO APPRECIATE THE AMOUNT OF PAIN THAT THESE PEOPLE ALREADY ARE IN when this ALWAYS quite _radical_ (and irreversible, on all kinds of levels) option becomes a serious one for them. One gets the sense that ONE REALLY DOESN'T DO THIS LIGHTLY ... because it really involves a huge amount of social-relational pain.
So this is one heck of a film, well done and certainly very, very thought provoking.
* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.
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