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Talking heads, imagined communities: Steam of Life and the affective politics of intimate documentary

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In a cycle of new Finnish documentaries, male confessional talk abounds. Beyond the successful Miesten vuoro/Steam of Life (Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen, 2010), several recent documentaries propose to give voice to ordinary Finnish men who reveal their true feelings to other men. In this article, Steam of Life is discussed as a case of intimate documentary, drawing on both the political aesthetics of feminist documentary and the transnational, late modern rhetoric of confession.Employing the complex affective legacies of the talking head, the film engages in performative politics of gender and nation. It mobilizes a discourse on the nation as a male network, and importantly evokes nation as a sentimental community, a community based on feeling. In so doing, however, it de-individualizes the speaking subjects. While purporting to give voice to the male protagonists, the film makes them anonymous soldiers of the nation, thereby denying them their own voices.

Keywords: Finnish cinema; Joonas Berghäll; Miesten vuoro/Steam of Life; Mika Hotakainen; intimate documentary; masculinity; sentimentality

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Stockholm University

Publication date: 2012-08-29

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  • The Journal of Scandinavian Cinema is a new scholarly journal devoted to film in the Scandinavian countries. It aims to become the prime site for excellent research and engaging discussions on cinema in Scandinavia, both within the national context of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and as a region existing in a globalized world.
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