The Smoking Room

Jukka Kärkkäinen

Finland 2006, 58 min.

The film is not about smoking as such, the smoking room is merely used to frame the stories of random people with no unique story, but with very typical stories. It is ideal because a smoking room is a place to go for a break, to sit by yourself and think while smoking a cigarette, or to chat with your colleagues for the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.

tupakkahuone3The film focus on a few different people: a nurse, an old man and an old lady at the hospital, a man suffering from depression riding the train, a woman who risks being laid off if her factory closes and a man who is about to retire. All of them in rather depressing life situations and representing the backwater of Finnish society. Worn-out workers, a nurse with too little time for her job, old lonely people, workers at risk of losing their jobs. The director cross-cuts among the different people telling their stories in voice-overs as we watch them smoke. Letting them tell their stories like this instead of watching them speak adds a touch of melancholy to the film. They become less lively, more alone as we hear just their voice and watch them sitting in silence. At times this alternates with various conversations we overhear in the smoking rooms with relatives, co-workers, or the hospital nurse talking with the old patients.

The documentary is filmed over some time; we see the health of an old lady gradually deteriorate, for instance. But it seems like a still portrait of life in Finland a situational report of a moment. It is quiet and slow, but little by little we become involved with these people, sense their whole life filled with hardship. They are working as a means to survive with little joy and many worries. The melancholic music stresses this mood and the feeling of loneliness is emphasized with scenes showing empty rooms, an empty factory hall, empty train compartments, empty hospital rooms, coffee tables laid, but no one around them. Brilliantly done in a clean style, observational but also thoroughly composed.