In her prime Lea Joutseno was one of the best comedy actresses in Finland, probably best known for her collaborations with the veteran director Valentin Vaala. Along with films like Dynamiittityttö (1944), Viikon tyttö (1946) and Tositarkoituksella (1943) Vaala and Joutseno's 1942 rom-com Varaventtiili belongs among the better old Finnish comedies of its era.
The plot gets started when a young teacher named Liisa Harju (Joutseno) arrives in a small Ostrobothnian village to work as a teacher in the local school. Her boss' wife (Elli Ylimaa) turns out to be extremely snobby and immediately starts showing her distaste for the new teacher but luckily Liisa's colleagues Rauha and Oskari (Irma Seikkula and Olavi Reimas) are friendly to her. There might also be some romance in the air when the village's handsome doctor Eino Korpinen (Tapio Nurkka) steps in the picture but jealousy cannot be avoided because he happens to be the target of the romantic advances of Ester (Rakel Linnanheimo), the snobby family's posh daughter.
It quickly becomes clear that the whole movie has been built on the charisma of Lea Joutseno but fortunately she can handle the responsibility with ease. Her perky, quick-witted and sarcastic antics keep the audience amused throughout but Irma Seikkula is very likable too as the shy Rauha. Olavi Reimas feels a little stiff in the role of the cynical Oskari though, perhaps such a withdrawn role would have needed an earthier approach from the actor. On the other hand, Tapio Nurkka is very funny as the doctor since his natural flirtiness suits the slick upper-class character very neatly. I also liked Rakel "Regina's sister" Linnanheimo as the doll-faced but annoying Ester.
Although I liked Varaventtiili quite a lot the first time I saw it, a rewatch has revealed some weaknesses that went unnoticed at first. Like many older comedies, Varaventtiili suffers from a lack of non-diegetic score: many scenes scream for lighthearted musical support and subsequently feel unnecessarily theatrical with just the dialog, as funny as it is. Furthermore, the story feels a tad too long at 95 minutes due to the predictability of the romantic plot and the fact that the movie mostly wastes the opportunities of social commentary regarding, say, class differences.
Still, I enjoyed the film as a whole, thanks to the snappy dialog featuring many charmingly old-fashioned, now suggestive expressions that are used completely innocently in the movie ("rakastella", "kalu", "vehkeet" etc). The final verdict: Varaventtiili, while not a masterpiece, must not be missed by admirers of Lea Joutseno and fans of old Finnish comedies.
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