Raspberry Boat Refugee, directed by Leif Lindblom, is a fun but ultimately predictable romantic comedy about a “nationality transvestite” who finds himself via identity theft. Mikko Virtanen (Jonas Karlsson) is a Finn who longs to be a Swede. When he was a child, his parents took him on a trip to Sweden where he ate raspberry boat candies, while frolicking through and idyllic landscape with long-haired, inclusive children: “Everything was better. The grass was greener, the sun brighter. The air vibrated with the joy of Social Democratic welfare.” Upon returning, he learned Swedish, offered to teach Swedish lessons in the playground and designed himself special clogs decorated with the Swedish flag. In other words, he became obsessed with Swedish culture.
Mikko’s obsession with Swedish culture is not so farfetched. Sweden is frequently revered as a sort of societal paragon. As Michael Booth writes in his book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, “I think it is fairly safe to say that in the rest of the world the Scandinavian countries are broadly perceived as democratic, meritocratic, egalitarian and classless, populated by vaguely outdoorsy, blond, liberal, bicycle-riding folks who live in tastefully lit middle-class homes with Bang & Olufsen TVs in their living rooms, mid-range German estate cars in their driveways, who vacation in Spain and slip a couple of notes in a Red Cross envelope every month.” Indeed, it is exactly this sort of exaggerated vision of Sweden that so captivates Mikko.
The film opens with Mikko on a boat, dressed in Swedish merchandise. He wants to commit suicide, so that when his body is found, dressed in Swedish clothing and holding a book on the history of Swedish social democracy, they will assume he is Swedish and bury him in Sweden. He cannot live as a Swede, so his goal is to die as one. His plans are thwarted when he meets the suicidal psychologist, Mikael Andersson (Erik Johansson). They hang off the edge of the boat, contemplating hurling themselves into the sea, but then Mikael has an idea. He offers to give Mikko his identity so that Mikko can live as a Swede. Then he jumps off a cliff. The rest of the film is about Mikko’s life as a Swedish psychologist, Mikael Andersson. He cares for his ageing mother, even though she is well aware that he is not her son. He hangs out with the real Mikael Andersson’s sister (Josephine Bornebusch), mostly by ambushing her at her workplace. He gets a job as an organisational psychologist. He finds a Swedish wife (Frida Hallgren) and they move into her Swedish house.
Raspberry Boat Refugee is a funny film. I appreciated its absurdist sense of humor, which Karlsson pulls off well. His clueless puppy dog expression is reminiscent of Brendan Fraser and contrasts well with the deadpan eye-rolling of Josephine Bornebusch. The characterisation of Mikko is also wonderfully over the top. There is an excellent scene of him with an ex-girlfriend where they are wearing sweaters and eating Swedish food for dinner. She stands up and declares that she doesn’t want to do this anymore. She pulls up the curtain, which contains a picture of Sweden, to reveal Finland, and she pulls off her knitted sweater because it is actually very hot in the room. Everything about Mikko is farfetched, but he is not supposed to be realistic. Rather, he is a caricature of the sorts of ridiculously reverent attitudes towards Sweden captured in Michael Booth’s book.
The film also offers some interesting insights into Finnish history and alludes to the dynamic between Finland and the rest of Scandinavia. The plot, however, was clichéd and heavily reliant on traditional tropes of the romantic comedy genre. Mikko falls in love while pretending to be someone he isn’t and has to work out whether or not to tell his wife. The novel twist is that he is more concerned about telling his wife that he is Finnish, not Swedish, as opposed to telling her he stole a suicidal man’s identity. The concept of being a “cultural transvestite” is an interesting one if we were to think of it more deeply. I hoped that the film would delve more deeply into concepts of race, nationality and identity. However, it did not. Mikko may be a “cultural transvestite”, but he is also a simpleton, so his adventures hardly shed light on these more complex issues.
Raspberry Boat Refugee is an enjoyable film that offers interesting insights into Swedish and Finnish culture, while examining the relationship between them. It is good for a light laugh, but disappointing in the sense that it lacked in any sort of substantial analysis on what it means to be born into one culture, while identifying more with another.