Finnish movie provides Germans with a model
Football comedy is the first-ever foreign remake of a Finnish release
By Ilkka Ahtiainen in Altlandsberg, Germany
Just like in the movie itself, it all started with the male obsession with kicking a leather ball around.
The duo from film-makers Talent House, namely director Joona Tena and producer Jarkko Hentula, are both keen footballers, following the sport and also playing in the lowly 6th Division in a team called HeMan, standing for Hesperian Mankeli.*
In the pub after one game, Tena heard a story about a friend of a friend who faced a crisis at home after his girlfriend gave him the dreaded ultimatum: it's either football or me.
Naturally enough, in the end the girl packed her things.
For a couple of years, this incident was left to stew in the minds of Tena and Hentula. Now it has been refined into a film entitled FC Venus. It opens in Finnish cinemas at the end of the year.
The movie tells the story of what happens when the women get fed up with their menfolk's unhealthy passion for football. Rather than walking out, they challenge the men to a game - for rather high stakes.
Of course, to the two film-makers the idea was a brilliant one. All the same, their surprise was considerable when they met up in Cannes with Ralph Schwingel of the German production company Wüste Filmproduktion, and the producer suggested that the Germans might make their own version of the screenplay.
"It was precisely the idea of the bet that inspired me", says Schwingel in idyllic Altlandsberg, just outside Berlin, where shooting of a scene in the movie re-make is just going ahead.
The very fact that Schwingel felt inspired enough to make such an offer is noteworthy, since he is a producer who has already won a name for himself. Wüste Filmproduktion's Gegen die Wand (Head-On, 2004) won the prestigious Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI Prize at last year's Berlin International Film Festival, and has picked up a clutch of other awards and nominations.
The re-make of FC Venus is a unique event in the history of Finnish cinema, made possibly even more remarkable by the fact that the project is going ahead before the original film is released.
We naturally hope that this will help when we come to market our film at next February's Berlin Film Festival", says Hentula.
According to the Finnish producer, the biggest challenge at a massive event such as Berlin is to stand out from the crowd: there will be around a thousand films on show.
The makers have clearly calculated that they will get some kind of a leg-up from the fact that the summer of 2006 sees Germany hosting a mega-category footballing event, the FIFA World Cup Finals.
Would Schwingel have even contemplated making such a film without the World Cup?
"Zur Not", he shrugs. In an emergency, perhaps.
Back in Finland, Tena and Hentula can probably also draw on the following wind of a recent boom in women's soccer: the captain of the Finnish women's national squad Sanna Valkonen actually makes a brief cameo appearance in the movie.
FC Venus is a comedy, even if the subject at hand is a serious one, as German director Ute Wieland points out. This is a portrait of the battle between the sexes, of that smouldering source of conflict in families and relationships - how the tightly-rationed common "quality time" should be used.
"Billy Wilder once said ‘If you're going to tell people the truth, make them laugh, or they'll kill you'", says Wieland.
Schwingel, for his part, risks a gag: "Hey, it has to be a comedy, because there is no way women could be allowed to beat men on the football pitch otherwise."
It was just this issue that caused Schwingel problems when he went in search of financing for the film, which currently is in production under the working title FC Venus - Frauen am Ball.
"I kept getting the same sentence back: ‘But the women can't beat the men'. In fact one of our backers still keeps repeating it to me."
A tiny spoiler: the women are helped in part at least by the fact that they get a top-class coach to train them.
The romantic comedy genre is a big challenge, admits director Joona Tena, just over a month before the film opens in Finland.
"If the movie doesn't make audiences laugh, then it is hard to go hiding behind any other excuses."
In any event, the expectations for FC Venus are great already: 200,000 viewers, says Hentula.
Now in a country the size of Germany, with a population of 80 million, that would be nothing much to shout about. Schwingel is reluctant to talk numbers, but usually it takes a million bottoms on seats to generate a box-office hit in the German market.
Tena and Hentula say that the Finnish film is more of a romantic comedy, while the German version comes closer to straight-up comedy.
And will the German film contain the typical lavatory humour associated with movies from that part of the world?
"There is a bit of that, yes. But our films generally are not typical examples of German humour. As a matter of fact, I loathe that genre myself", says Schwingel.
The German producers took the name of the original for their instant-remake, even though Schwingel says it it perhaps not a perfect choice.
Someone had suggested giving the picture an English title: "Yes, ‘Women With Balls' - I'd have liked that, but you can't go giving a German film a name like that."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 15.11.2005
Joona Tena's FC Venus opens in Finnish movie theatres on December 30th.
*The team's name does not translate terribly well, but Hesperia is a part of the district of Central Helsinki known as Töölö, and the Hesperia Park is home to both Finlandia Hall and the National Opera. "Mankeli" is the Finnish word for a mangle or a wringer, and unless this is supposed to be descriptive of what the team does to their opponents, it seems likely the name was chosen more for the handy He-Man abbreviation than anything else...
More on this subject:
FACTFILE: Big in Finland, medium-sized in Germany
ILKKA AHTIAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat