Autumn Prince


The story is personal. So personal that for two decades Anja Snellman refused all requests to have it adapted into a film. The story is told in Autumn Prince, a novel about her relationship with author Harri Sirola, who later struggled with depression and took his own life.

In the early 1980s, Snellman fell in love with Sirola, a promising debut author, at a time when a new generation of artists was rebelling against rigid conventions and punk and the new wave washed over cultural life.

Their all-consuming love story turned darker as he became affected with increasingly severe bipolar disorder. Sirola later spent several years in a psychiatric hospital and eventually ended his life by jumping under a subway train.

IT TOOK A YOUNGER DIRECTOR to convince Snellman. For the director, Alli Haapasalo, Autumn Prince—or Love and Fury—was her first full-length feature film.

Snellman says, “The directors and producers who had previously requested the rights were members of my own generation and were too close to the world and people described in the book. Alli represented a new generation. With her, I immediately felt that she would have a fresh perspective.”

Haapasalo also had a broader perspective in another sense: she had been living in New York for ten years, continuing to work there after graduating from the Tisch School of the Arts. After the film project was confirmed, she decided to move back to Finland with her American husband.

Snellman gave her full freedom to interpret and adapt the story. Haapasalo calls the film second-level fiction: the book itself is a fictional version of reality.

THE DIRECTOR FIRST READ the book as a twenty-something film student at the University of Industrial Arts in Helsinki. The book portrays the time when Snellman’s debut novel, Sonia O. Was Here, came out and shook the literary establishment.

Haapasalo strongly identified with the story of a young woman who found her voice as an artist and spread her wings. She was also impressed with the description of the punk revolution in the cultural circles of Helsinki in the early 1980s: young, bold artists wanted to be provocative and change everything.

“From today’s perspective, they were rather idealistic and naive. If we had rebelled at the University of Industrial Arts in the same manner twenty years later, people would not have been shocked. They would simply have laughed at us,” says Haapasalo.

“The same manifestos and defiance would not have worked for my generation. The world had changed so much.”

Back in the 1980s, however, the young rebels were taken seriously, even by journalists. Punk, Power, and Literature: A Tempest in a Beer Mug? is a newspaper headline seen in the movie—and an actual headline from that time.

THE BOOK IS A DEPICTION of youth and falling in love, and of falling ill. When preparing for his role, Lauri Tilkanen read a great deal about bipolar disorder, including an article Sirola wrote about his condition for Image in 1996.

“It was touching to read about how the disorder and its treatment caused him to forget some of his youthful memories. It makes you wonder how much each of us actually remembers and what the real story is that we tell of ourselves to others,” says Tilkanen.

Laura Birn, who plays the female lead, was also fascinated by the theme of remembering and forgetting: “If two people remember a relationship differently, are they both correct? Are both partners’ memories accurate?”

Haapasalo hopes the film will leave people feeling optimistic. “Even if the greatest love story of your life ends, the love lives on. It will always be there; it will never disappear.”

THE MOVIE ENDS BEFORE the main character’s tragic death, which Snellman says “is another story.” Apart from a few scenes in a mental hospital in the 1990s, the film focuses on the intense, passionate years of the main characters’ youth.

Snellman hopes that the story will make people remember and relive the “pain and bliss” of their youth.

“Every one of us goes through the same emotional turmoil and fervent idealism, in one way or another. I hope Autumn Prince will remind people of how momentous a phase of life youth is.

Autumn Prince will be published in English in 2020.

By Silja Massa

Photo by Jenni Gästgivar / Alma Media

Published with permission from the Finnish Broadcasting Company

Lauri Tilkanen and Laura Birn play the leads in Love and Fury. Photo: Jenni Gästgivar / Alma Media

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