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Nearly as unforgivable as a film that knocks you unconscious with its tedium is one that sledgehammers your brain with metaphor. Steam of Life accomplishes both: Here are some Finnish guys talking about their woes in a sauna. They are naked physically and naked emotionally! They cleanse their bodies with a splash of water and cleanse their souls by sharing their deepest secrets! It’s not so much the idea that’s misguided—this kind of thing likely does happen in saunas around the world—as its execution. Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen’s doc couldn’t feel more contrived. You can practically hear their instructions (“Start talking about your issues…now!”) as their camera trains on different men who keep quiet for a bit before saying things such as “One time at a work trip, something bad happened” or “You should be honest with others.” Some stories are admittedly moving (read: lots of untimely death and lost souls). But the most interesting aspect of the film is the makeshift saunas on display. (Steam in a phone booth, anyone?) A cameo by a tamed grizzly bear and a row of sweatin’ Santas add some levity—or at least perk you up. The end credits say that Steam of Life is dedicated to Finnish men. They deserve better.
At 6:45 p.m.; also on Friday, June 25, at 6:45 p.m. Both screenings at AFI Silver Theater 3.