SXSW FILM 2011
By Dirk Sonniksen | March 13, 2011
Director: Joonas Neuvonen
Writer(s): Joonas Neuvonen, Sadri Cetinkaya, Venia Varha
In Rovaniemi, Finland, life can get tedious, particularly for young men who dream of escaping the slack-jawed monotony of this quiet, northern locale. Enter Subutex, a drug used to wean junkies off of heroin and morphine. Enter Jani, a young man caught in the clutches of Subutex’s euphoric charms. For Jani, life revolves around getting his next Subutex fix, or finding a way to lessen the effects of its withdrawal symptoms, which include healthy doses of benzodiazepines and alcohol.
Jani and his posse of junkies spend their days looking for their next Subutex fix, stealing cars, arguing about their next fix, wallowing on the floor in a Subutex stupor, and…more arguing about their next fix. The ultimate goal in their lives is getting a dose, or at least that seems to be Jani’s main goal. Jani is characteristic of many who have crossed the line from casual user to full-blown junkie; his life is no longer under his control, but instead under the rule of Subutex.
Reindeerspotting is director Joonas Neuvonen’s first documentary that follows Jani on a journey that takes him from his dreary existence (or at least that is Jani’s view) of life in Rovaniemi to the streets of Paris. From early on in the film we learn that Nevuvonen is not only the man behind the camera, but apparently a friend of Jani’s (at least from the captions and the fact that Neuvonen is apparently well-acquainted with Jani). Though we never actually see Neuvonen, we do glean a certain bond between the two. What is left unanswered is whether Neuvonen approves of Jani’s lifestyle or if he is chronicling this life to show the world the destructive nature of the drug (In at least one scene, he does ask Jani “why?” when Jani decides to try a new drug, which makes one wonder if Neuvonen is at odds with Jani’s behavior).
Reindeerspotting does do an admirable job of showing the fallout from jumping on the drug train and never getting off. Jani’s life is one that is completely out of control, and seeing his day-to-day struggle to find his drug of choice is indeed an emotional ride. Although I think Neuvonen’s first documentary is worthy of a fair amount of praise, it would have been a welcome sight to see a little humor (perhaps some dark humor) among the squalor of these burned out young men, although I’m fairly confident there aren’t a lot of happy moments in their existence (and yes, it’s an existence, not a life). In addition, Neuvonen could have shaved ten or twenty minutes off of Reindeerspotting and made it a much more fluid piece of work (perhaps cutting some of Jani’s arguments with his friends).
It’s apparent that Reindeerspotting was shot on a tight budget, and while this is a rather stark documentary, the bleak landscape of Finland (sorry Finland) does work in offsetting (or perhaps enhancing) the sparse nature of the cinematography. That Neuvonen was able to get Jani’s consent for this documentary is something of a feat, and that he was able to dig into his psyche and expose Jani’s demons comes through in the film. Jani never shows much remorse for the acts he commits or is there much evidence that Jani is interested in cleaning up, but the train of thought is there in the camera eye; Jani slowly unravels, and even realizing some of his dreams (going to Paris) is not enough to make him happy—Subutex is always the goal.
Reindeerspotting should be required viewing for any junkie. Whether you’re struggling with prescription medications, shooting smack, doing blow, or looking for Subutex, this is a film that will reveal the true face of addiction; there’s nothing glamorous here, no positive “out” for this life. In America, we are constantly reminded (or are we?) of the methamphetamine problem that plagues our streets, or the addicted mothers and fathers that placate their daily existence (there’s that word again) with painkillers and sleeping tablets, but it’s interesting to see these evils manifest themselves in individuals a world away. The likelihood that these problems will ever wane is slim—these drugs seems to be an escape from reality, but as Jani shows us, it matters not where we roam, the addiction follows.