“I call it a fragment of life, because to me, it encapsulates a moment in the life of these three girls”
BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGES BY BFI FLARE
Appearing at the coveted 2022 BFI Flare LGBTQI film festival, Girl Picture is a touching story. Based on a script written by Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen and directed by Finnish talent Alli Haapasalo, it follows a snapshot in three girls’ lives as they navigate and explore their respective sexualities. Staunchly avoiding the coming-of-age label, Girl Picture turns reigning stereotypes about “teenage” films on their head: this is an intrinsically human-centric life study, rather than a statement about the sudden realisations or loss of innocence moments that typically accompany the coming-of-age subgenre. I spoke to Alli Haapasalo about this beautiful film, showing at BFI Flare in March 2022 in physical form for the first time in three years.
DIVA: Could you tell me a little bit about your entrance into film? What inspired you and what was your journey like?
As a kid, I was always directing my cousins and my friends, and I was doing plays ever since I was a kid. I was born in 1977, so we didn’t have video on demand or anything yet. I watched everything from Charlie Chaplin to French New Wave. As a teenager, I understood that all my creative interests, varying between visual arts and music, came together nicely in film. I didn’t have the guts to apply to film school immediately, so I went to study journalism first. I thought I would become a documentary filmmaker, so I had to muster the courage to apply, which I did do a few years later.
DIVA: Who are your biggest artistic inspirations?
I have gone through many different phases of influences or admiration. As a young film student, I admired the filmmakers from the (quite a masculine) canon: Martin Scorsese was a big one, and I had a big Kieslowski and Tarantino phase. As a kid I loved Westerns, and I watched a lot of European film on television, everything from Finnish classics to the French New Wave, which was quite a male-dominated world. There was Jane Campion, of course, but not so many other women directors that I knew about. But as I have grown as a filmmaker and the world around me has changed, I have found new influences and directors to admire. I found Agnes Varda in grad school and in the past few years I have really appreciated the cinema of Céline Sciamma and Mia Hansen-Løve.
DIVA: Girl Picture is appearing at the BFI Flare festival this year, which is fantastic, and it also featured at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Could you tell me a little bit about it?
It’s a very simple and small story. I call it a fragment of life, because to me, it encapsulates a moment in the life of these three girls. It doesn’t have a beginning and an end because there isn’t one big question to solve. The question is more that they live before the film, and they live after the film. This age is a very liminal age – you’re constantly an adult and an adolescent. I’m so fascinated by teenage girls – they have enormous amounts of wisdom, and they’re very analytical. They’re really beautifully open to the environment. But at the same time, they’re terribly self-absorbed and absolutely horrendously abrupt in the changes of emotion. So it creates this crazy sense of urgency, which is an absolute goldmine for a filmmaker. This film is more a character study or a life study. There are so many themes – it has the whole universe.
DIVA: Girl Picture turns the coming-of-age film trope on its head. How do you think it compares to other coming of age films? Would you consider it an anti-coming of age film?
I’ve never liked the term coming of age with this film. I have always thought of it as being a film about three individuals – it’s very much a girl story. It’s labelled as a coming-of-age, and I think that’s fine, but I never had a conversation with myself about it being that. I also never decided at any point for it to be an anti-coming-of-age film, but now that you’ve said it, I think that’s potentially true. It doesn’t try to solve any question. There are epiphanies, but there isn’t a moment of realisation where these girls have their blocks of identity fall into place. There’s also no loss of innocence, which is often attributed to coming-of-age films.
DIVA: How does Girl Picture seek to represent girlhood/womanhood? How do you think it differs to dominant representations of women and girls in film?
One key was for the girls to freely explore their identities without others defining it for them. They could do it on their own terms. They are their own lives; their own heroes. They’re not defined by anybody else’s lens. We wanted to try to avoid a nostalgic look, and it was important to us that, whilst they explore their sexuality, they could do it free from danger.
DIVA: Finally, if you would like viewers to take one emotion from Girl Picture, what would it be and why?
Love. That was a big aim. I’m not afraid of being sentimental, and a lot of Scandinavian filmmakers are all about subtlety. All of these themes are not subtle, and I didn’t want them to be subtle. What I’d like people to think about the film is how they look at other people. It’s really a film about the need to be seen, like these girls want to be seen. Often, we look down on girls and think that they’re insignificant. So I’d like people to ask themselves why, and if they could truly see other people and just be open to them. That would be lovely.
Want to catch Girl Picture on screen? BFI Flare takes place from 16-27 March 2022 at the BFI Southbank and on BFI Player, platforming the best new LGBTQIA+ cinema from around the world alongside a special catalogue of events. To keep up, follow BFI Flare on Facebook and Twitter or visit the BFI website.
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