Lapping up success

by Kaori Shoji

When she’s not working as an actress or DJing at a Saami language radio station in Helsinki, Anni-Kristiina Juuso is a reindeer farmer in her native Lapland. “Yes, like my character in the film. So in many ways, I was totally in my element!” So laughs the 27-year old Juuso, who is one of few Lapp women to work in the media and the first to appear in a Russian movie. “There’s a lot of bad history between Finland and Russia and even now, it’s hard to look upon Russia with total friendliness. But this is not a political movie. It’s a movie about people, and about stripping away the layers of politics and history in order to see people as they are. I hoped audiences would get that message.”

It seems as though the screenplay of “Kukushka” was penned with her personality as a starting point, but she claims that is not the case.

“First of all, the screenplay was all in Russian so I had no idea what it was about!”

At what point were you brought into the project?

Originally, it had been about two men, Veikko and Ivan. The two actors wrote a synopsis of a two-man play and brought it to the director who took a look and said the material was better suited to the movies and it was better to add a woman. So they began the auditions and started looking around for an actress. I couldn’t read the screenplay, but once the location work started the story was revealed to me gradually and that was fun. All my lines were in Finnish, so I translated them myself into Saami.

Was it easy or difficult to get into the role of Anni?

The director told me not to act, but to be completely natural. So that was stress-free. I share a lot of similarities with Anni in the film; we’re both hard workers, we don’t break our promises and we stick to deadlines. We have our own priorities for getting the work done. But if my husband didn’t come home for four years I wouldn’t immediately turn to someone else. I think I’m a bit more complicated in that sense.

The menage a trois in the movie never gets very complicated or messy.

No, it doesn’t. I think it was never meant to, given Anni’s personality. But in real life I feel that having more than one relationship never yields very good results. One woman to one man should be enough, right? Because love is a very precious resource and should not be squandered or treated carelessly.

Tell us a little about Lapland.

The four seasons are very clearly divided and we have beautiful mountains and lakes. Lapland isn’t poisoned by materialism or religious strife and that has also protected it. The Lapps do not own land or have their own country which has made us much more sensitive to the beauties of nature and to nurture our appreciation for it.

What is the Saami world view?

Never having owned anything, the Saamis believe there is a story and a soul in everything, and that the whole world is full of secret stories that will be revealed if only we can listen hard enough. And we still have a great respect for mysticism, and set store on folk tales, home remedies and such. It’s part of our lives and culture. As a Saami woman, the wars that happen in the name of religion or God or justice are unbelievable. Like Anni in the film, I want to say that time should be spent on other things, that human lives are better deployed at labor and love.