• Interviews

Love Drives Selma Vilhunen to Make Movies

As long as Oscar-nominated Finnish director and screenwriter Selma Vilhunen has been making movies, she’s been dealing with the topic of love. In her new film, Four Little Adults, she also explores if equality and justice can be achieved within polyamory.

Four Little Adults tells the story of a happily married couple who decide to have an open marriage. Rising politician Juulia (Alma Pöysti) and priest Matias (Eero Milonoff) support each other’s careers and they have passion for each other after almost two decades together. When Juulia discovers that Matias has been having an affair with Enni (Oona Airola) for over a year, her world collapses. She grieves for a while but soon starts to look for ways to save the marriage and suggests polyamory. Down the road, Juulia finds a lover in Miska (Pietu Wikström), a pansexual children’s nurse and queer cabaret artiste with a mathematics teacher boyfriend. When Juulia and Matias tell their son about the new situation, Miro (Iivo Tuuri) just shrugs and says, “I know what polyamory means.”


 Vilhunen talks to us via Zoom to explain why she got inspired by polyamory.

Why did you get interested in consensual non-monogamy?

In Finland, there has been a lot of discussion about different forms of relationships for several years. Something in that conversation resonated with me even though I’m not polyamorous. The idea that love must be something more than just one possible template has always spoken to me. For as long as I’ve been making movies, I’ve been dealing with the topic of what love is. I always approach that question from slightly different angles.

In polyamory, the idea of selflessness speaks to me. I don’t think polyamorous people are necessarily particularly selfless as individuals, but there are some principles built into that relationship model that encourage people to work on themselves. To face selfishness and strive away from it. The traditional idea of a monogamous relationship is very close to the idea of owning another person, their emotions and their time. And that, I think is quite the opposite of love.

Are there other reasons why the story appealed to you?

Yes, the romantic love in it also inspired me. I somehow started to deal with my own fear of leaving through this story. An exploration of, what if my partner falls passionately in love with someone else? Is it right to deny it or is it even possible to remove that feeling? Neither I nor anyone has the power to remove that feeling between two people.

Four Little Adults challenges the audience to open their minds to different kinds of relationships. Do you prefer one over another?

I don’t think polyamorous or any other form of relationship is any better than monogamy. I don’t see that kind of hierarchy in it but I see some value in that, that if you are in a monogamous relationship, it is genuinely chosen and not because you want to please your parents or other people.

New relationships are not necessarily glamorous or fulfill erotic fantasies. On the contrary, they also have their problems. Can you address the decision behind that?

It was really important to me that the original couple who are married, that their relationship was actually happy. The side relationship that is revealed at the beginning didn’t happen because there was something missing from that marriage. It was important for me to immediately get to grips with the fact that Matias’ character loves two women and didn’t have a terrible problem brewing in his marriage. And both of those relationships are complete relationships. In the end, I wanted all four main characters to be whole people in good and bad.

When the new relationships are no longer a secret, everyone has the opportunity to demand equal love. How did you handle that in your story?

In a certain way, I could see that it is even the theme of the film. Except what is love, what is equality and justice? Can they be reached? How to recognize if there is injustice somewhere. For me, it was a research trip into how to solve life in a community of many people so that things would go fairly. It’s kind of a tormenting question even in everyday life.

I myself live in a family where there are my child and my spouse’s children. So there’s a big community and many different intersecting needs and wishes. And the question of how to resolve the situation so that it goes correctly and fairly. It’s surprisingly difficult. This is the kind of question that torments me. Maybe it’s good to be tormented, it’s a striving for some kind of balance. Sometimes I take pressure from whether things are going right between people. That’s why, in my opinion, this kind of polyamorous pattern is a very fruitful setting to think about this kind of thing.

Why did you choose to make the male protagonist a priest?

Matias has to navigate between the expectations of his wife and girlfriend, and also the parish that he is now responsible for. He cares for his work as a priest and he wants to do a good job. So he has to figure out for himself what is the right thing to do. Is it better to stay closeted about his new family or come out as an anarchist priest and risk his job?

As a filmmaker, I have been thinking about what the Bible actually says about these matters. Jesus as a teacher was a radical one. He taught that love is limitless and abundant. He was someone who wanted to break norms and hierarchies. He said that everyone is worthy of love. I don’t see a contradiction between what Jesus taught and polyamory, on the contrary.

Of course, the Bible talks about marriage as something that happens between a man and a woman. But one must remember that the Bible is written and translated and re-written by people who also had their own motivations. These ideas of marriage are created largely so that men could be sure that their children are really conceived by them, so it is more about social politics than the essence of love.

It seems to be that for the younger generation, different forms of relationships are no longer taboo. What is your take on that?

I had that exact thought, and what I have observed through my own child and his friends, is that they are open to difference and diversity. In my opinion, prejudices and narrow-minded thinking are learned from adults. Although some people say that children are conservative, I find that children focus more on essential things in humanity. They accept that there are really many ways to be and live. There was a bit of comic relief in that scene as well.

The movie has many intimate scenes. How did you and the actors prepare for those?

We worked with intimacy coordinators. I speak in the plural because there were two of them. It was an experiment in this production. One was a Canadian, Siobhan Richardson, and the other is Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä, a Finn who has worked in Hollywood. They worked as a team and the intimate scenes were built in collaboration with them. It’s the first time I’ve ever worked with an intimacy coordinator and I’m really happy that such a profession has finally been born. It seems wild that in the past intimate scenes have been done without professional support.


How was it working with the intimacy coordinators?

Working with them starts from the script. They are always there to support the actors, the entire working group and the director. It’s great that there is a structure through the intimacy coordinator. As a director, I can enjoy the fact that someone wiser than me already has a view on how much each scene should be rehearsed, and which issues need to be worked through by talking to the actors. Everything is very clear. It’s wonderful that you can get that technical and craft skills from professionals. It removes shame and shyness from the director. Even embarrassing things become just things among others. When you are precise and careful enough with each step, then you can talk in peace and go through different sex positions. Suddenly there’s a big repertoire of things you can ask actors to do. Everything is suddenly possible. It frees you to make good sex scenes. It requires joint practice sessions and planning. The cinematographer is also involved in that planning. We talk about where the camera is. We try to create a feeling for the actors that they are safe and on top of the situation. When the camera is rolling, they can be in contact with each other. Fears are dispelled in every possible way.

What is love?

I found the definition in bell hooks’ book “All About Love.” In it, she quotes the American psychiatrist Scott Peck who has written a definition of love in his own book, and I remembered that definition: “Love is the desire to expand one’s self in order to nurture the growth of another.”