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It’s a cheeky title for a serious movie. Teemu Nikki’s “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic” is about a man in Finland named Jaakko (Petri Poikolainen), a movie fan and wheelchair user dealing with the aches and side effects of multiple sclerosis. Unable to move far without the help of an assistant or see because of blindness, Jaakko spends many of his days—joked about as Groundhog Days—at home calling his long-distance girlfriend Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala) for company. When her health turns for the worse, Jaakko decides to travel at once to cheer her up—even though the two have never met in person.
It’s a charming premise that then turns into a suspense movie as Jaakko decides not to wait for help but go off on his own to see Sirpa. Unfortunately, he meets strangers both helpful and unkind, some of whom take advantage of his blindness to rob and kidnap him. However serious things get, overall, his adventure is a tribute to the character’s determination and a crash course on how the able-bodied world remains hostile to people with his condition. In the film's earlier scenes, Jaakko is treated to the cruel thoughts of passing strangers who write him off first as a drug addict and then about how they would never want to live with his illness. It’s painful and uncomfortable to watch him take the comments in silence. Later, in his efforts to meet Sirpa, his trip reveals many of the shortcomings of modern-day travel for blind wheelchair users, like limited resources to provide assistance, that leave him vulnerable to thieves. Despite the difficulties and barriers, Jaakko’s determined to be there for someone he cares about, and that steadfast resolve drives the narrative.
Director, writer, and producer Nikki and cinematographer Sari Aaltonen film “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic” entirely from Jaakko’s perspective, keeping him in focus and mostly in close-up while the world around him is a blur. His face takes up the majority of the screen for much of the film. We hear voices and noises sharply but we cannot see the faces of strangers or even Jaakko’s nurse, creating a sense of Jaakko’s experience and how he has to move through the world without physical context clues, like when someone untrustworthy is trying to take advantage of him, or simply know when and where to call for help. The opening credits are written in braille and read aloud by assistive technology, and both are incorporated into the film organically to show how Jaakko can call Sirpa, catch up on the news, order tickets over the phone, and place and win online bets. Centering the character’s experience is pivotal to making the movie so effective, but when it deviates from those visual guidelines, it feels like it loses a touch of its power.
As a trained actor with a camera on him throughout the entirety of the film, Poikolainen shoulders the task with a stoic grace and a sardonic wit. He brings his character to life, emotionally and physically, summoning the determination Jaakko needs to get to Sirpa but also the charm to flirt with her, crack wise about his nurse, lie to his dad, and make fun of his robber’s taste in music. He’s emotionally retrained to a point. But then occasionally, we see outbursts of joy, like the scene in the cab where he’s enjoying the wind in his hair. It’s a hard task to keep the camera engaged with the same person at such a close distance at all times, but Poikolainen and Nikki pull it off.
The title is about a man who would do anything for love, even watch a movie he’s avoided for decades. Jaakko is a film buff many of us know, with strong opinions about John Carpenter, and as the title suggests, James Cameron. In turn, “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic” connects its audience with Jaakko’s experience, through both the frustrating and joyous moments, in hopes that we will never sound like the disapproving voices scowling at his existence.
Now playing in theaters.
Petri Poikolainen as Jaakko
Marjaana Maijala as Sirpa
Hannamaija Nikander as Wilkes / Ratched
Matti Onnismaa as Dad
Samuli Jaskio as Mr. Scorpions
Rami Rusinen as Applicant