Finnish actor Jussi Vatanen, in Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), May 22. CHLOE SHARROCK / MYOP FOR “THE WORLD”
To readers who don’t mind clichés, we could present him as the “Finnish Jean Gabin”, the “polar Richard Gere”, the “Donald Glover of the ice”, even the “Isabella Rossellini who came from the cold”. Like them, Jussi Vatanen simultaneously works as an actor and a farmer. In the city, he plays the main role of Dead Leaves, twenty-first feature film by Aki Kaurismäki, Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (Alpes-Maritimes). In the fields, this son of a farmer from Northern Savonia took over the family farm a few years ago, with his sister, a horse trainer. Dad made milk; him, cereals.
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Playing one day for the “sacred cow” of Finnish cinema had never crossed his mind, swears Jussi Vatanen. “As a kid, when I was kicking my soccer ball against the stable wall, Aki was already at all the big festivals,” rewinds the 45-year-old, met in May on the Croisette. At the start of filming, the actor shared his surprise with Alma Pöysti, his acting partner in Dead Leaves. “We pinched ourselves to convince ourselves that we weren’t dreaming. It was like meeting Elvis. Aki lives in another dimension. »
Not that Jussi is a partridge of the year. Before the filmmaker of The Man Without a Past (2002) called him, Vatanen had made a name for himself in the booming Finnish audiovisual sector. “Our country produces twenty-five films per year – a volume unimaginable when I enrolled in my first theater classes in 1999. There are even Finnish horror films! » It is to his mother, a municipal employee, that he owes his passion for acting. “She took me to the theater from time to time. We have to believe that it worked. »
And how: Jussi has been nominated several times for the aptly named Jussis – the Finnish equivalent of the Caesars. His appearances on French screens illustrate the full extent of his range: schoolboy comedy (Very Cold Trip, in 2010, multi-award winning at the Alpe-d’Huez Festival, in Isère, in 2011), series with great thrills , plowing the furrow of the Scandinavian thriller (The Man in Room 301, in 2019, broadcast on Arte in 2021), warrior blockbuster (Unknown Soldier, in 2017), also the biggest budget in the history of Finnish cinema.
Jussi Vatanen focused on purity to work with Aki Kaurismäki. “Aki’s style is so clear and precise that you just have to adapt,” praises the actor. He is a master of conciseness, a poet. Some of his lines are known to every Finn – even those who have not seen his films. » Despite all the invariants of his cinema – alcohol, matches, coma, rock’n’roll… –, by what miracle does Aki Kaurismäki manage, at 66 years old, to surprise again? “There is something timeless about him, and at the same time very current,” replies Vatanen. His previous films evoked migrants, this one the war in Ukraine. »
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