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PORTRAIT OF A MAN (Finland, 2010) by director Visa Koiso-Kanttila screened in competition at this year’s Thessaloniki Doc Fest to international audiences. It is a beautifully filmed story about the truth of one man’s search for new meaning in his life. While a true story, this has the feeling of a fiction film as it follows one main character and his personal search for truth.

A Finnish man, Kalle Rissanen, is in now in his 40s. His father killed himself at the same age and recently, he is beset with feelings of crisis that he is headed in the same direction. Although divorced, Kalle lives a financially secure life with a son and brother who love and need him and yet he has recently turned to alcoholism, feelings of hopeless desperation and a lost sense of purpose. Is this a midlife crisis he is having? Or is this the crisis of the lonely path we all presently walk in this world of materialistic based values and increasing individualism?

Kalle lives in turmoil to find his own new myth to live by (or meaning of life, sense of purpose) for fear that he will end up like his father and kill himself. In a country where its oldest history is Viking warriors and pagan myths where once a collective society existed and where everyone knew their place in the grand scheme of things, today Finland looks like any other developed country in the West. On the surface, everything looks to be fine in this city and among the people, so what is wrong with Kalle? And why is his story so familiar?

The film begins with the camera panning over snow covered outskirts of Helsinki and the voiceover of a phone call between Kalle and his son. His son senses his father is in danger and begs his father to promise him nothing will happen to him. The father assures his son nothing will happen to him and that everything will be alright. But will it? This starts Kalle’s personal quest to save his sick brother, his worried loving son and himself from the same dark fate of his father.

While the film focuses on one man’s story, it becomes clear from the start that this is not a story about one culture or one class of people in a certain area…this portrait of a man is the close up look at an Every Man. In Kalle’s search is our search. In Kalle’s desperation and hopelessness amidst modernization, homogenization of culture and societies built on meaningless time wasting entertainment, where is the meaning to it all? Where is the new myth to follow? Long after the pagan Vikings, Christian gods, and the rising towers of capitalism have all died and gone what is left? What is there to live for? Will Kalle save himself and pull through? Find out in this PORTRAIT OF A MAN.


On Truth… Visa and I spoke about film…

When I spoke with Visa we talked about film in general, fiction and documentary. We had both just screened a documentary film that we agreed had been too TV journalistic to be considered a ‘film’ and debated on the nature of what a film (be it documentary or fiction) is. If it’s just a camera and interviews with no filmic manipulation whatsoever does that make something a documentary film? Wouldn’t that be more considered journalism? One could argue if magazine articles can be considered literature in the same sense. Well, Visa voiced his belief that films should tell a story and do it well. He believes that films should be subjective voicing an opinion, for if a film is just objective journalism, what is the point of making that film? Well, this could go into an endless debate on what the nature of ‘truth’ is and how it should be represented in film. After all, is a film all truth just because it’s a documentary film or could it be that fiction can hold more truth in it that a documentary? When something protests complete truth, you can be sure fiction is involved and when something protests pure fiction, you can be sure truth is present.

For me, there is an element of aesthetic manipulation in Visa’s film which gives it the feeling of a narrative film and therefore adds a sense of fiction to the story therein giving it more truth than if it had been filmed otherwise. My greatest props to Visa for making what I consider one of the best films I saw at this year’s Thessaloniki Doc Fest. Way to go Visa!


Written by, Vanessa McMahon March 25, 2011


To see the film, visit this site: 

Visit Visa’s site here:

Director Visa Koiso-Kanttila


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About Thessaloniki

Mcmahon Vanessa

Vanessa McMahon Covered the 13th and 14th, and 16th edition.
Catherine Esway has covered the 12th edition of Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
Cécile Rittweger covered the  11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Christine Marik's reported from 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival
Past coverage from the 10th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival by Bruno Chatelin.

Through its tributes, it focuses both on discovering filmmakers with a unique cinematic point of view, and on the internationally recognized for their contribution to documentary.

Contributions from Buno Chatelin



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