Radical liberty: Finnish director Alli Haapasalo’s movie Girl Picture lets girls be girls

In Girl Picture, three teenage girls say and do what they want – without suffering any retribution. While directing the film, Alli Haapasalo realised how incredibly rare that kind of freedom is in movie plots. We talk with her about making films in Finland.

Director Alli Haapasalo’s movie Girl Picture (Tytöt tytöt tytöt, 2022) is a positive story about teenage girls.

The film is a portrait of what it is like to be a girl today,” Haapasalo says. “I would not describe it as a coming-of-age movie, because I don’t think the girls become adults or reach a new stage of development. I wanted to emphasise that we are all unfinished and imperfect. These girls explore their own identity without anyone defining them from the outside. We have received a lot of positive feedback from the audience about this.”

The movie, which is entitled Girls Girls Girls in the UK, has been an international success, especially after winning the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2022. It is suitable for viewers over 12 years old.

“I wasn’t sure if the film would run into language or cultural barriers,” says Haapasalo. “Luckily, neither has been a problem for international audiences. People coming from different cultures and speaking different languages have related to the characters strongly.”

Love is love

A woman rests her chin on her hand while looking at the camera.

“These girls explore their own identity without anyone defining them from the outside,” says film director Alli Haapasalo.Photo: Marica Rosengård

Girl Picture seeks to challenge how people traditionally perceive girls. In the movie, three girls spend three Fridays together, and two of them fall in love with each other.

“The love affair is about two people in love, regardless of their gender,” says Haapasalo. “Their sexual orientation is a complete non-issue. The third girl is looking for pleasure, but not feeling it. We do not know if she is asexual or simply has not found her sexuality yet – and that is OK. They are just exploring themselves and their sexuality. These girls see sexuality as something fluid, not fixed. They ask permission to touch and respect each other’s space.”

Even though these girls are brave, active young people, they come to no harm because of it.

“Our world is full of stories where girls get pregnant, raped or murdered because they dare to be free,” Haapasalo says. “The screenwriters, Daniela Hakulinen and Ilona Ahti, and I wanted to do the opposite, and not punish girls for their freedom.”

Support for aspiring filmmakers

Three teenage girls sit close together, looking into the camera.

From left: Linnea Leino, Eleonoora Kauhanen and Aamu Milonoff play the girls in Girl Picture. Photo: Ilkka Saastamoinen/Citizen Jane Productions

After studies in journalism, Haapasalo studied directing in both Helsinki and New York. She lived in the US for ten years and enjoyed her time abroad.

“I returned to Finland with my family, and I have been enjoying comfortable, functional Finnish society and the well-organised childcare system,” she says. “My everyday life is logistically very easy, and it is easy to travel from one place to another. For example, I do not live close to the airport, but I can get to it in 20 minutes.”

At work on her film projects, Haapasalo has found support and funding in the Finnish Film Foundation.

“As an aspiring filmmaker, you don’t have to be wealthy and fund your own projects, or well-connected just to talk to the right people,” she says. She believes this increases access to the film industry and contributes to increased social, ethnic and gender diversity. “It makes quite a difference to have public money supporting filmmaking.”

International film production companies can apply for a cash rebate from Business Finland for the costs involved in all the production phases conducted in Finland. More foreign films are shot in Finland.

“I can recommend filming in Finland for foreign productions, too,” Haapasalo says.  “The people who work in the Finnish film industry are well educated and skilful, they take safety issues seriously and you can trust them. I have found them very easy to work with.”

By Päivi Brink, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2023