Selma Vilhunen is no stranger to TIFF. Her 2016 film Little Wing debuted at TIFF and went on to play around the world. As with Little Wing , Vilhunen’s Stupid Young Heart, focuses on young people trying to define themselves in the face of dire circumstances.
Lenni (Jere Ristseppä) is an energetic, tightly wound kid who’s persistently mocked for his short stature and whose mother considers him an inconvenience at best. Kiira (Rosa Honkonen), the girl he’s had a crush on for two years, is a popular dancer whose mother is even less invested in her. By chance or luck, Lenni and Kiira find their first love in each other. When Kiira winds up pregnant, she and Lenni decide to keep the baby. But the traditional working-class neighbourhood they occupy is in transition with new immigrant tenants moving in. And the far-right types are spoiling for a fight.
Stupid Young Heart is well-crafted, emotionally honest, and strongly performed by its two young leads. I had the pleasure of speaking with the lead actors (Jere and Rosa) along with the scriptwriter (Kirsikka Saari) and director Selma Vilhunen prior to the film’s premiere at TIFF.
I wanted to find out more about the story and how the film came to be. Kirsikka explained she “started by writing a short story about Lenni and Kiira – they were not main characters in that story yet. I showed story to Selma, who immediately said, ‘let’s make a film.’… [I asked her] to let me work on it first. When I had the first draft, I again showed it to Selma who liked it”.
Selma agreed that “really liked that short story. It was a peek at a maternity [ward] of a hospital. Then Kirsikka became more interested in these teenagers and wanted to find out how they got to the hospital to give birth. So what had happened before this moment… that’s how this story came about. This is a larger vision of the short story arc. When I read the first draft in the Autumn of 2013, it was already a very powerful experience. I was really happy to be the chosen one to direct the film.”
I personally feel the casting works really well in the film. The two young actors, Rosa and Jere, are both really honest and genuine on-screen. Thus, I asked Selma about the casting process for the film. She revealed, “we auditioned a lot of people… narrowed it down to 5 girls and 5 boys. Rosa and Jere were the best. Rosa stood out early on. Jere also was very special. They were the best match; I’m happy we chose both of them… Jere has never acted before, never ever. He was really good in all the auditions.” The interesting part is that it was Kirsikka’s step-daughter who helped them find Jere in a way… “She said she knew one guy, and that was Jere. He wanted to give it a try, and it worked out so well”.
When speaking about their first knowledge of the film, Rosa (who has acting experience) shared a casting director reached out to her to audition for the film. She auditioned a few times and was chosen for the part. For Jere, it was a bit different. He is not an actor; “a friend of mine sent me a link of Facebook about a movie looking for a teenage guy… at first I thought it was a joke, but then I got an audition.” When he heard the he was chosen for the role, “I went nuts… I was like WTF!”
The two young actors worked closely together with Selma to prepare for their respective roles. During this process, they talked a lot about the movie. “We did a lot of rehearsals to connect with each other more,” shared Rosa. The two young actors speak highly of Selma and her process, which is about making her young actors feel comfortable. “I believe that people can give their best when they feel safe. That makes them free… and it’s important to feel free to make mistakes as well. I do emphasise that feeling of being comfortable. This includes myself also… it’s about getting to know each other … talk about the scenes and that builds the level of confidence,” Selma revealed. With this type of support, I can see why the actors are honest in their respective roles. The vulnerability of being teenagers is embodied so well with Rosa and Jere.
Our interview took place before the film’s premiere at TIFF, so I asked Rosa and Jere about their own reactions to the film. Both Rosa and Jere confirmed their first time watching the film was the hardest – they admitted they focused too much on their own acting to appreciate it more. However, on the second viewing it was better. Jere shared, “The second time I saw the film, I liked it. I was looking at the bigger picture. I think the movie is really real.”
I could not have framed it better myself. The film is “really real;” it will stay with you for some time.