‘Helene’ Cinematographer Rauno Ronkainen Will Prove That Nightmares Can Be Beautiful in ‘Omerta’
Finnish cinematographer Rauno Ronkainen is continuing his collaboration with director Antti J. Jokinen with the action films “Omerta 6/12” and “Omerta 7/12,” based on Ilkka Remes’ popular novel “6/12,” and starring “BlacKkKlansman’s” Jasper Pääkkönen. The films are shooting in Estonia.
Ronkainen and Jokinen previously worked together on three film: “Purge,” which brought Ronkainen the second of his three Jussi awards, period romance “The Midwife,” and most recently Laura Birn-led biopic “Helene,” about to take a bow at the Camerimage Film Festival in the main competition.
The “Omerta” films, which will be followed by a TV series, follow a secret unit of European special forces and their international operations, set in the near future and kick-starting with an attack by Serbian terrorist group.
Unlike in some other action thrillers “the world we are trying to show is not realistic,” Ronkainen tells Variety. The films could even be compared with nightmarish operas, he says.
“Antti is very good at making sure people really push their boundaries. It takes some chemistry and some courage to challenge him, but it’s not a fight – it’s a collaboration. You have to suggest different things.”
He adds: “We always try to affect the audience, make them feel what we want them to feel. I think it was our Steadicam operator who asked me: ‘Is this an opera?’ Yes, it’s an opera. We exaggerate everything, even though we are showing the kind of violence that’s possible, hiding somewhere around the corner, which gives it a nightmarish quality. But nightmares can be beautiful too.”
Admitting it has been “pretty rough” to shoot during the pandemic, Ronkainen is quick to point out that both films, as well as the planned series, will still deliver the ‘wow’ factor.
“As in ‘wow, things are moving really fast!’ It’s the total opposite of what we know as Nordic Noir,” he says. “It’s a very expressive way of storytelling that translates to the camera movements. There is this tendency to make fiction films as realistic as possible these days and sometimes I disagree. They are fiction films. They don’t have to tell you the truth,” he adds.
Ronkainen’s next project is a series to be directed by Maarit Lalli, also his wife, focusing on cellphone company Nokia’s breakthrough in the 1980s and 1990s. “It starts when Nokia was just making rubber boots and cellphones were really in the background,” he says. “They were normal people from Finland who suddenly ended up in the U.S. court [in 1989 Motorola sued Nokia over patent rights]. It’s fascinating to see how average people react in such situations.”
That said, the protagonist of Ronkainen’s latest film, “Helene,” is not exactly average – Helene Schjerfbeck, who passed away in 1946, was one of Finland’s most-cherished modernist painters. With the help of Jokinen, Ronkainen wanted to reflect her aesthetic in the film, as well as tumultuous personal life and a painful romantic disappointment, with the artist struggling after an ill-fated affair with a younger man.
“That was one of the key things for us: what to imitate? When you look at her paintings, at first glance they seem quite simple. But when you come closer, you start to notice some particularities, the way she used color for example. That’s certainly something we borrowed,” he says.
But while her work served as a clear inspiration, her process and painting techniques proved just as important, giving a valuable insight into Schjerfbeck’s reserved persona.
“She was so discreet, so polite. Helene kept painting self-portraits, something was clearly haunting her, but she didn’t really express her feelings, so how do you show it in the film? When I work, I assume things. This time I was assuming how she looked at things. You have to convince yourself that you understand it, even though you never met this person,” he says.
“At first we thought that showing her work might not be that interesting for the viewer, but that’s when you see the whole conflict, what she wanted and never got, depressed by her mother and pushed away by her lover. Although, according to the film, she accepted all that,” he states, mentioning that even though Schjerfbeck’s paintings seem fragile and ethereal, her process was actually quite violent.
“She was pushing paint onto the canvas, she was using a knife. She was quite silent, but what was behind this facade seemed to be a completely different story. It’s a bit similar to cinematography I guess. You can be fascinated by the tool, but the tool creates the content.”