Written and directed by – as well as starring – Finnish-born Saara Lamberg, INNUENDO (2017) is not only a remarkable film on its own merits, but serves as an emphatic calling card, heralding the arrival of an impressive and original filmmaking auteur (while Lamberg has directed a handful of shorts since 2013, INNUENDO is her first feature).
With a complex story structure that takes place not only in different countries but during different periods of time, INNUENDO follows the physical and emotional journey of Tuuli, a disassociated young woman who escapes her stifling childhood in Finland to find a liberated new life as a nude art model in Melbourne, Australia. Strangely disconnected but seemingly at ease with her new life amongst the city’s alternative art culture, Tuuli forms a relationship with Ben, a rather rough-edged stoner artist who creates sculptures with his chainsaw, and is a far cry from her previous boyfriend (for want of a better word), a nerdy university student.
As the relationship develops and Ben prods for more information on the mysterious Tuuli’s life experiences and beliefs, it slowly emerges that she is one very troubled and disturbed young woman. Interwoven throughout the narrative are frequent flashbacks to Tuuli’s childhood in Finland – the verbal, physical and sexual torment she suffers at the hands of her strict, religious parents and the isolation of living in the shadows of her more-loved, identical twin sister Suvi. As Tuuli begins to have strong hallucinatory fantasies that involve killing the various artists who are hiring her to pose for them, it’s only a matter of time before her mental defragmentation begins to dissolve the line between reality and fantasy altogether.
Playing the central roles of the adult Tuuli/Suvi, Lamberg inhabits her characters so completely that its easy to forget that the person we are watching onscreen is the same one who also wrote and directed what we are seeing. It is a true tour de force from Lamberg in all respects, and she is both comfortable enough as an actor and accomplished as a director that she never allows her performance to overshadow the work from those around her. Though Lamberg and her Tuuli character are clearly the centrepiece of the film, she gets fine support from a roster of actors, in particular Brendan Bacon as Ben. Also effective is Saga Tegelberg, making her debut as the young Tuuli/Suvi, who manages to convey the behavioural elements that would go into making the adult Tuuli. And Lamberg really does know how to cast male faces that may not be classically handsome but are unique and very character-defining.
Combining Euro arthouse sensibilities with the psychological horror of early Polanski, as well as a feel for the classic Australia cinema of the 1970s, INNUENDO has a cold dreaminess to its visual style which gives it a continual atmosphere of creeping dread, broken by moments of dark humour and outbursts of jarring violence (both real and imagined). Benefiting the film immensely is the wonderful, often subtle but always haunting and effective score by Charly Harrison, and the stunning cinematography by Michael Liparota (both of whom have worked with Lamberg on her earlier shorts and clearly have a good creative chemistry with her).
Brave, disturbing and beautiful, with multi-layers and characters with depth, INNUENDO has the power to stay with you long after the final credits have rolled. Images, moments and music from it are still rattling around in my head after several days. That is always the sign of a great movie to me, and INNUENDO makes a strong late play for one of the best of 2017. I am looking forward to Saara Lamberg's next film, WESTERMARCK EFFECT, which she also be wrote, directed and starred-in, and is currently in post-production.