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Inside Out 2014 Reveiw: My Thoughts on "Open Up To Me"


Open Up To Me leads Peter Franzen & Leea Klemola
Having last seen Peter Franzen, one of Finland's biggest stars playing a skinhead in Dome Karukoski's Heart of  Lion (TIFF14), it was a happy surprise to see his name attached to Open Up to Me (Kerron sinulle kaiken) in the Inside Out Toronto LFBT Film Festival guide. This actor has an "it" factor that would make millions if it was could be distilled. The man just has a sexuality about him that leaps off the screen! Maybe years ago audiences felt this way when they saw Clark Gable take his shirt off in It Happened One Night and revealed to the world that he wasn't wearing an undershirt, the style staple of era, or when they saw Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire; whatever it is, Franzen is heart-thumpingly captivating. 

Open Up to Me begins with Maarit (Leea Klemola), a cleaning lady, caught in her employer's clothes by Sami (Franzen) who mistakes as a therapist. Not sure how to correct the mistake, Maarit lets Sami pour his heart out to her. It seems that Sami, a married man, is a bit of a romantic, who, sexually, "doesn't feel safe if the woman doesn't love him." During this initial encounter, Maarit, becomes attracted to Sami and soon reveals to him her employment status (a school counsellor who can't find a job in her field), and sexual status (a divorced transgendered woman estranged from her son). 

As we follow the affair that develops between Maarit and Simo, we gain entrance into the world they inhabit together and the world they negotiate when they are apart. We meet briefly, Maarit's wife, and his daughter, Pinja (Emmi Nivala). We also meet Sami's wife Julia (Ria Kataja) and Teo (Alex Anton) a student that he both teaches and coaches. It doesn't take long to realize that everyone in this film is confused about something. Who can't relate to being unsure about the next step(s) to take in life? This is the crux of this drama, and the fact that it plays out with non-traditional characters is what makes this such a fascinating journey.

Rather than give us the expected story of a transgendered woman focused on her sexual identity, director Simo Halinen instead chooses to focus Maarit's story on how she attempts to negotiate her relationship with her teenage daughter, Pinja. Leea Klemola is extraordinary as the newly confident  Maarit, a woman who has moved mentally and physically from being in a "body that wanted to be touched [but which] didn't exist." She is tired of identity lies and readily admits her "crush" on Sami. What she is insecure about, however, is her role in her daughter's life. She waffles about how she should go about building a relationship with her child, despite the fact that her ex-wife constantly tries to keep them apart. She can admit boldly in a job interview that she used to be a man, but how does she dress/act with the child she loves and whom she desperately wants to love her back? 

From the outside looking in, we see Sami as a handsome, soccer playing gym teacher with a good looking wife (who teaches at the same school) and cute children; yet, even he who seems to have what many would long for, doubts his masculinity and his ability to love and to sexually satisfy a woman. He can teach Sex Ed class and openly challenge his students about their so-called knowledge of sex, but he doesn't know whether or not he should be with the his liberating lover/pal Maarit, or his wife. It's Franzen's ability to play a credible tough guy with a core of vulnerability that makes his character of Sami so endearing in this film.

Ria Kataja's portrayal of Julia is solidly delivered, with the right emotional shadings that reveals her character's confusion about whether or not she wants to remain married to Sami.  On the one hand, we see that Julia doesn't feel that Sami is man enough for her, and on the other hand, we have the sense that she is not quite ready to move on. Complicating matters for her, is the fact that as Sami becomes sexually open with Maarit, his newfound vigor with Julia results in mixed feelings that she doesn't know how to interpret.

Teo, Sami's student and soccer protege, is as confused as the adults in the film. A teenage hunk, he is intrigued by Maarit's confident femininity, but confused about his own sexuality. Only Pinja, Maarit's daughter, has the strength to live in her world. Many miles away from her father (Maarit), Pinja  forges ahead, even though she is teased about her transgendered parent, and lives with a mother bitter and ashamed about her ex-husband. Actress, Emmi Nivala manages to meld  teenage sensitivity and coming-of-age self-determination in such a way that we want to reach out and hug as well as applaud Pinja.

We may guess where Open Up to Me is leading, but as we watch the film we can't help but assess our own relationship boundaries and barriers in this character driven piece that is refreshingly devoid of stereotypes. 

Photo credit: www.insideout.ca

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