Strange, surreal, and deeply melancholy, THE WOODCUTTER STORY is a muted social comedy driven by Finland’s famously deadpan, dark humour.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Mikko Myllylahti delivers an unpredictable Nordic oddity with his debut feature, THE WOODCUTTER STORY, a deadpan philosophical fable with famously deadpan Finnish humour.

Set in a snowbound area of Finland surrounded by mountains and forests, THE WOODCUTTER STORY follows Pepe, a middle-aged, easy-going woodcutter who lives in contentment with his wife and young son.

When his idyllic Finnish village is torn apart over the course of a few days, Pepe is seemingly fine with it all, while the rest of the village crumbles under the stress. Does Pepe know some profound truth about a secret existence that no one else does?

Strange, surreal, and deeply melancholy, THE WOODCUTTER STORY is a muted social comedy grounded in surrealism. Told in a reserved, slow style, which recalls David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS (1990-91) and the Coen Brother’s FARGO (1996), violence, betrayal and murder blend in with other elements in this dark comedy, which leans heavily on Finland’s deadpan dark and dry humour.

Compositionally, there is much to like here. Myllylahti has a great eye for compelling frames, juxtaposing bleakly and oppressive austere interiors with gorgeous widescreen shots of the snowy Finnish landscape, which almost seems to subsume the film’s characters.

Jarkko Lahti delivers an impressive lead performance as Pepe. As a man of few words, much of the comedy lies in his facial expressions, Lahti embracing the wide-eyed innocence of the character whose relentlessly bright-sided outlook on life drives his friends and co-workers to anger.

There are also good supporting performances from Ulla Tapaninen as Pepe’s no-nonsense mother, Hannu-Pekka Björkman as Pepe’s burly best friend Tuomas, Marc Gassot as singing psychic Jaakko and Iivo Tuuri as Pepe’s angelic, introverted son, young Tuomas.

Yet, the sheer oddness of THE WOODCUTTER STORY ultimately leaves viewers more bemused than amused. As the film progresses, the nonsensical and convolutedness of the plot multiply, with the piece eventually finding itself in the backyard of David Lynch, with its ominous characters, flaming cars, glowing orbs and even a fish bearing a message of good cheer.

As such, THE WOODCUTTER STORY feels a little too self-deprecating and wayward to claim the cult prestige it might otherwise have. That said, it’s easy to find yourself enthralled with the piece, and you’re sure to leave the cinema questioning the meaning of life, if not its unusual plot.

THE WOODCUTTER STORY streams at the BFI London Film Festival 2022 on 09 October 2022.