Cinephiles of a certain breed are going to find a lot to like about Jakko (Petri Poikolainen), the smart-ass protagonist of the Finnish import The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic. A movie lover suffering from Multiple Sclerosis — the devastating effects of which have rendered him both blind and paralyzed from the waist down — Jakko is the kind of guy who wears t-shirts brandishing imagery from the likes of The Evil Dead and Escape from New York, and who spent his remaining sighted days watching John Carpenter’s pre-‘90s output. Although he no longer views any of the films from his massive DVD collection, he keeps them displayed on his shelves, “So that people know what kind of guy I am.” His hatred for James Cameron’s Titanic — which he refuses to watch — stems from the filmmaker’s insistence on transitioning from the greatest action films of all-time to “the most expensive and calculated turd ever,” which is as sound a defense as any heard in ages.
It’s a playful introduction to Jakko’s character, but beyond such superficialities, his struggles with MS render each day a litany of personal indignities and agonies, his only respite being the daily conversations he has with online girlfriend Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala), she herself suffering from some unnamed cancer. The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic follows Jakko as he decides to finally meet Sirpa in person, a two-hour journey that is a train ride and two taxis away, but may as well be light years in terms of the struggle it presents. Writer-director Teemu Nikki renders the proceedings entirely in close-ups and shallow focus, the backgrounds a blur of vague shapes and colors, with Jakko being the only clear focal point in any given shot. It’s a simple but rather ingenious way of placing us within Jakko’s perspective, the surrounding world as much a mystery to us as it is to him. Where Nikki stumbles, however, is in the portrayal of the journey itself, where the callousness of an ableist world is on full display. One could argue the merits of such a seemingly realistic approach — as well as Nikki’s obvious intent to offset the potential sappiness of the central storyline — but the filmmaker’s deliberate attempts at contrast too often err on side of cynical, leaving us with cartoon villains and too-pat platitudes on the inhumanity of humans. Poikolainen — who is both blind and afflicted with MS in real life — gives a live-wire performance, one that refuses to soften the jagged edges of his character or the debasing struggles he has endured. His portrayal, unlike much of what is sketched into the narrative, is genuinely humane, equal parts sweet and sour, and it allows the inevitable ending to feel truly earned. So while The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic may not be as successful as its titular namesake and is beset with some unevenness, Nikki and Poikolainen do manage to rock the boat a time or two and deliver a truly memorable character. What’s James Cameron done lately?
Published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.