‘Raspberry Boat Refugee’: Film Review

Courtesy of Matila Rohr Productions
The performances are spirited, the satiric opportunities mostly wasted. 

A spoof of Scandinavian stereotypes centers on a man experiencing nationality dysphoria

Born in Finland but certain he’s truly Swedish, the man-child protagonist of Raspberry Boat Refugee (Vadelmavenepakolainen) manages to pull off a longed-for identity switcheroo. What begins as dark social satire about a “nationality transvestite” winds up as sweet commercial fluff in Leif Lindblom’s comedy, which runs out of ideas and finally settles into a conventional rom-com template.

Though it’s broad enough to entertain non-European audiences, the Finnish-Swedish co-production’s farcical depiction of cultural stereotypes will resonate most with those in Scandi territories. It won the Nordic Film Award at the 2014 Norwegian International Film Festival and was a selection of the recent Scandinavian Film Festival L.A.

Jonas Karlsson plays the genially single-minded Mikko Virtanen, a Helsinki resident whose life changed after a childhood vacation in Sweden. Ever since his return to gloomy, humorless home turf, Mikko has been clinging to memories of a place where nothing bad ever happens and sweets like raspberry boat candies have a magical aura. In brief, jokey flashbacks, he’s a self-identified Swede trapped in a Finn’s drab existence. His passion for Saab and Volvo and his Swedish-flag-decorated clogs don’t sit well with other kids, let alone his father (Tommi Korpela). If Finnish men’s emotional range is, as Mikko sees it, limited to “happy, angry, drunk,” his pops is very much stuck on the middle rung.

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Having grown up into a nominal adult who despairs that he’ll never live out his svensk dream, he has the good fortune of meeting a suicidal Swedish psychologist, Mikael Andersson (Erik Johansson), who offers him the keys to his life. Mikko steps into Mikael’s career, a development that’s made less preposterous because he’s counseling workplace groups, not individuals. It’s the perfect setup for jabs at prescribed political sensitivities as Mikko discovers absurd aspects of a social system he’d placed on a pedestal.

Director Lindblom inserts archival news footage, including an excerpt from a seminal speech by Per Albin Hansson, Sweden's prime minister in the 1930s and ’40s, on the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state. But even as citizenship and nationality take on new, practical meanings for Mikko with the story’s wacko turn into the realm of health care, the satiric wheels start spinning in place, and a formulaic, if well-played, romance takes center stage in the screenplay by Erik Ahrnbom and Daniel Karlsson.

Mikael’s angry but vibrant sister, Maria (Josephine Bornebusch), inexplicably living with a dolt, is on to the faux Swede from the start and becomes his sole confidante, even after he marries someone else (Frida Hallgren). That the attraction between Mikko, immature to the point of preciousness, and Maria is at all persuasive is a testament to the engaging performances by Karlsson and Bornebusch.

Lindblom, too, finds an exuberant balance in the repetitive silliness. But the polished production’s lessons in self-acceptance, humility and the rewards of romantic love are increasingly run-of-the-mill, only scratching the surface of a promisingly irreverent premise. 

Production companies: Matila Röhr Prods., Eyeworks
Cast: Jonas Karlsson, Josephine Bornebusch, Frida Hallgren, Erik Johansson, Suzanne Reuter, Jarmo Mäkinen, Armi Toivanen, Tommi Korpela
Director: Leif Lindblom
Screenwriters: Erik Ahrnbom, Daniel Karlsson
Based on a novel by Miika Nousiainen Producers: Ilkka Matila, Patrick Ryborn
Director of photography: Tuomo Hutri
Production designer: Michael Higgins
Costume designer: Anna Hagert
Editors: Anders Nylander, Simon Pontén 
Composer: Tuomas Kantelinen
Casting: Tusse Lande

No rating, 94 minutes