Finnish director Dome Karukoski’s Lapland Odyssey is an on the road comedy that is equally sweet and bleak. The film opens with a narration about a single pine tree that stands in the midst of nothing in the town of Lapland and its history of being the place where generations of men have come to commit suicide. This tale sets the tone as we are introduced to Janne, an unemployed twenty-something, whose wife, Inari, has given him fifty dollars to buy a digibox so they can watch television. Of course Janne sleeps in, meets up with his two best friends and goes to the bar instead. Arriving home late and without the digibox, Inari gives him the ultimatum of digibox by morning or she leaves. The premise is nothing new – a down on his luck guy on a quest to prove his love. Every man has been there at one point in time or another, this particular instance just happens to involve a digital cable box and an overnight quest through the harsh Finnish winter.
Janne and his friends Tapio and Kapu of course run into every roadblock imaginable, from the usual trappings of police interference, would-be saboteur ex-boyfriends and car troubles, to the quite unusual Russians on the side of the road, a not-quite dead reindeer and a girl who happens to be the model from the video game Tapio obsesses over at the bar. All of these things heighten the comedic level of the film, as well as raise the stakes in the trio’s seemingly endless trek. Lapland Odyssey starts off about a man on a mission, but turns into much more, namely a touching look at how far close friends will go just to help out one of their own. Tapio and Kapu could easily tell Janne to get fucked and abandon him way before the shit really starts to hit the fan, but they plow forward and endure all the night has to throw at them, side by side. In doing so both find their own individual reasons to be on this insane, frozen journey, besides getting Janne out of the doghouse.
Karukoski does an amazing job using the Finnish winter scenery to his advantage, the weather itself becoming another antagonist standing in the guys’ way. There’s some great wide open shots, one in particular of blizzard-like winds attacking the three as they are in the middle of nowhere after their vehicle breaks down. The white snow and miserable conditions add an atmosphere and style that most comedies, no matter how “black” they may be, are generally lacking. I think the film’s style will help it find a wider audience, beyond that of the casual comedy fan, as I’m sure many of those fans will be intimidated by watching a subtitled comedy. I personally stayed away from foreign comedies for a long time, fearing the translation would lessen the impact of the comedy. Clearly I was wrong, and Lapland Odyssey, among others, has happily cemented that. In fact, this would make a great double bill with another recent Scandinavian comedy, Klown.
Lapland Odyssey is the second release from the Artsploitation Films label, and will be released on DVD January 8th. The disc includes a booklet with an introduction by director Dome Karkoski, as well as an essay and interview with Karukoski by Travis Crawford. Bonus features include the director’s short film Burungo and trailers for other Artsploitation releases. Oh, and for all you spine-number loving collector types, Artsploitation cases have ‘em so make room on your shelves. All of these things added onto a truly enjoyable and unpredictable film make this a no-brainer for fans of adventurous comedies and unique films both.
Lapland Odyssey scores 4 out of 5 Screaming Jamies