EmptyPalm Springs International Film Festival
Blind Spot Pictures
PALM SPRINGS -- Prostitution provides a quick fix -- and an emotional undoing -- for an unemployed husband and father in "Man's Job," the Academy Award submission from Finland. With this well-observed second feature, writer-director Aleksi Salmenpera ("Producing Adults") intensifies his exploration of intimacy and alienation in contemporary relationships. The drama, which recently screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, deserves wider art house exposure.
Tommi Korpela is perfect as Juha, a strapping factory worker in his 30s who hides his layoff and monthslong job search from his listless wife, Katja (Maria Heiskanen). After the alarm wakes him and he has checked her supply of antidepressants, he heads for a local fast food cafe to brainstorm with Olli (Jani Volanen), a cab driver with an anxious gaze. The rivalrous chemistry between them is one of the film's most fascinating elements, and the two actors are never less than compelling as characters who are both lying to themselves. However medicated she might be, Katja's depression is in a sense the truest response in this sometimes comic scenario of disconnection.
Olli, who pretends not to be drinking anymore but still has trouble with the breathalyzer on his taxi, happens to be the father of Akseli (Konsta Pylkkonen), the boy Juha is raising as his own, along with his and Katja's two younger kids. In short order, he also becomes Juha's driver and pimp. On a handyman gig, a well-to-do woman offers Juha a higher hourly wage than he's ever dreamed of, for work that has nothing to do with the renovation of her house. Rediscovering the confidence his unemployment and troubled home life have drained from him, Juha sees prostitution as a simple solution.
But his encounters (all based on journalistic investigations) are often disquieting: the neediness and pain of neglected older women, the violent rage of an obese client, the mostly chaste curiosity of a 19-year-old girl with Down syndrome. Korpela embodies Juha's deepening unease and the heedlessness with which he's heading for a fall. Olli, meanwhile, awkwardly steps in to the widening gap on the home front. "Man's Job" essentially is about the disintegration of a marriage, and its coda, jarring at first, offers a glimmer of break-it-and-reset-it hope.