Open Up to Me: Love put to the test by society’s prejudice

We may have grouped the films in our Scandinavian Collection together, but they are all quite different. Following on from the crazy comedies King Curling and Gloriously Wasted, the alternative romantic comedy 21 Ways to Ruin a Marriage and the dark study of social Darwinism The Arbiter, Open Up to Me, written and directed by Simo Halinen,tackles the questions of gender and honesty, both to others and to oneself.

Open Up to Me begins with a woman cleaning someone’s home. With her employer absent, the woman makes up her face and dresses up in the clothes belonging to the lady of the house. This scene has undertones of deja-vu and is full of meaning, as the cleaning woman, Maarit (Leea Klemola), is transgender. In fact, Maarit is a beautiful and intelligent woman – who was previously a man.

Disguised as a middle-class woman, Maarit passes herself off almost unwittingly as a psychologist and thereby meets up with Sami (Peter Franzén), a football coach, teacher, married man and father, and she falls in love with him. So begins their adulterous affair, but Sami is very quickly forced to confront his own prejudices. As for Maarit, with or without Sami she will have to go out into the world, and it will be she, and she alone, who decides on her appearance.

Director Halinen chose not to make sexual identity the central theme of his film, but rather sought to explore “how to lead your life whilst concealing your true feelings from those close to you”. Open Up to Me is also a film about tolerance, masterfully achieved thanks to the excellent lead performance of Maarit, a former social councillor turned outspoken cleaning woman trying to find her place in the world, as well as the honest portrayal of the many barriers thrown up by a society which claims to be tolerant but perhaps isn’t. 

Open Up to Me, released in March 2013 in Finland, won three of the most prestigious prizes at the 2014 Jussi Awards, Finnish cinema’s national awards: Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Actor. 

This Swedish-Finnish co-production is available online via Walk This Way from 23 November onwards in Norway, Sweden, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Turkey, Austria and Hungary.

14 December 2015, by Cineuropa