The titular blind man may not want to see Titanic, but you’ll want to see The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic if you’re into Finnish films with very long titles, and let’s face it, who isn’t? (I’m a fan of Finnish films with very short titles, like last year’s underseen Hatching.)
Writer-director Teemu Nikki offers a unique film experience by putting the audience in the perspective of Jaakko, a cinephile with an extensive film collection that he can no longer enjoy because of complications from multiple sclerosis. A disability that has left him blind and in a wheelchair (just like the actor who plays him, Petri Poikolainen).
Though that has not dulled his cinephilia in the slightest, as he refers to his legs, which are constantly in pain, as Rocky and Rambo. He also imagines the people in his life to look like characters from his favorite movies. People like Sirpa, a woman he met online with whom he speaks on the phone throughout the day, often first thing in the morning.
Sirpa is also disabled by disease. She is about to embark on a new round of treatment and has started to lose hope, fearing she may die before the two of them ever meet. So Jaakko decides to go see her. It’s only two taxi rides and a train ride away, right? All he needs is five strangers to help him. Unfortunately for Jaakko, he’s actually IN a movie, and a movie needs conflict, so one of those strangers will be the opposite of helpful.
Nikki spends quite a while establishing the relationship between Jaakko and Sirpa, and while Poikolainen commands the screen at all times by virtue of Nikki’s filming techniques, Marjaana Maijala deserves a lot of credit for delivering such a warm, heartfelt vocal performance.
I honestly could have spent the whole fucking movie just watching the two of them talk on the phone. I don’t know how the scenes were filmed and whether Poikolainen and Maijala ever conversed on set, but you absolutely feel the chemistry between them in their adorable flirtation…that does explain the title.
Jaakko’s a huge fan of John Carpenter, which endeared me to him immensely, but he’s got a real fuckin’ bugaboo about James Cameron going from making some of the greatest sci-fi and action films of all time to Titanic, and he refuses to watch it. Sirpa, naturally, loves it.
While there’s a little bit of discussion regarding Jaakko’s feelings about not being able to watch movies anymore, it wasn’t enough to hit me, a cinephile who fears losing one or more of his senses and not being able to watch movies anymore, in the feels, as the film’s more concerned with Jaakko’s mission to reach Sirpa.
Nikki and cinematographer Sari Aaltonen keep the camera at Jaakko’s level, filming only his face and occasionally his hands in focus and blurring the periphery to simulate for us the experience of not being able to see our surroundings. It’s a bold gambit that certainly takes some getting used to, as it’s uncomfortable not to get a wide or medium shot to orient us in a room or a tilt up to show us the face of people he’s talking to.
While I did admire Nikki’s commitment to this visual language, I did long for a greater sense of intentionality in the shot choices, as some shots would even have Jaakko a bit out of focus for no clear reason and the changing placement of the camera, which offers additional visual information in the margins, feels like it’s simply meant to offer a general sense of variety most of the time rather than enhancing the storytelling.
The visual language becomes key as Jaakko leaves his home and gets into trouble, at which point our inability to see the antagonists or his environs adds quite a bit of tension. And it’s all in the visuals, as there’s no musical score at all.
There’s an elegance to the way Nikki transitions into this tension because it’s filmed and treated just like every other scene in the film, which replicates that unsettling sensation of real life feeling like a movie. Jaakko, of course, invokes a movie during this time and banters with his captors because of course he does, that’s our Jaakko. Poikolainen gives an incredibly charming performance in a role literally made for him, and as with Kiera Allen in Aneesh Chaganty’s Run, casting a wheelchair user as a wheelchair user heightens the suspense when they’re in danger because we know we’re seeing someone who can’t just get up between takes.
That being said, the film runs the risk of painting disabled people as helpless victims to be preyed upon. Jaakko hears his neighbors being complete and utter assholes about his condition (and his use of medical cannabis??), and it’s supposed to contextualize his climactic rant about how he hates being looked upon with pity, but…the movie seems to invite the viewer to do so at times as well. Jaakko lives his life and finds love, it’s true, but in his dreams, he’s always running, and it’s clear a part of him views who he is now like his neighbors do. It’s a tricky line to walk between empathy and pity, and as an able-bodied person, I cannot honestly make that call.
Poikolainen stays winning, though, and I really loved spending time with him. At only 82 minutes, the film could have been a little longer, especially to give the third act a bit more oomph and transition more fluidly into the lovely denouement. Despite some flaws, however, it’s a unique film that brings us a memorable character portrayed with an authenticity we don’t see very often. In the end, Jaakko and Sirpa won my heart, just like James Cameron won an Academy Award for directing Titanic.
4 out of 5 stars