Before Marja pieni, screenwriter Eija-Elina Bergholm had written among
other things Punahilkka, a pretty good portrayal of a troubled girls'
institution directed by her husband Timo Bergholm. In her first
theatrically released film (produced by Jörn Donner), Liisamaija
Laaksonen plays Marja Maronen, a 30-year old bank clerk, still
unmarried and childless by her own choice. Despite getting a promotion
at work, she feels alienated and unhappy; something that is not helped
by her problematic relationship with her parents and siblings who don't
believe her life can be full without conforming to the marital
expectations of society. Marja's boyfriend Jukka (Hannu Lauri) has his
own problems and is often too self-absorbed to fulfill her needs.
Anxiety keeps tightening its grip on Marja until she cannot take it
Even though the theme of woman's unhappiness about lack of commitment
to family can seem slightly dated a first, the film touches topics much
more general than that. The uptight Marja has developed a high sense of
self-worth that has in a way shut her off from the everyday life
experiences her colleagues share with each other at work, but she comes
to realize that she cannot handle everything alone like she has always
thought she could. On the other hand, the suffocating marriage of her
dying father (Eikka Lehtonen) and self-sacrificing mother (Elvi
Saarnio) shows that simply devoting oneself to the duties of family
life will not necessarily lead to automatic happiness. An older
generation's view is presented by Marja's loving grandmother (Selma
Miettinen) who advises her to never fight against her own people but
also has to face the fact of not being able to make it on her own
anymore, albeit in a different context. The final scenes accompanied by
a very 1970s-sounding song make it clear that the film doesn't believe
in the possibility of completely self-sufficient but still happy life
without caring human interaction.
The black and white photography looks good and suits the bleak mood
well. The slender and elegant Liisamaija Laaksonen conveys Marja's
emotions on her beautiful face effortlessly and the veteran actress
Elvi Saarnio is convincing in the role of the mother with two very
different sides, dutiful and liberated, that part ways at the point of
her husband's death. Even though the execution of the ideas and the
handling of the old theme of modern anxiety are not strikingly
original, Marja pieni is an interesting example of Finnish cinema by
female directors I wonder if the ponderings about woman's place in
society would be different if the movie was made today.
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