Själö [Själö: Island of Souls] (2020)

Director: Lotta Petronella
Writer: Seppo Parkkinen, Lotta Petronella
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 8.12.2020

Själö is an island in the Baltic Sea. It used to house a psychiatric facility for women, but that facility has long been disbanded and now a research group is studying biodiversity there. There are no more permanent inhabitants but the echo of Själö’s history and the people who used to live there is still ever present.

Själö is a slow meditation on the impact of history and how we remember things. It’s an interesting topic, but unfortunately, I didn’t manage to find my way into the film. I drifted more alongside it than in it.

The titular island as seen from the water.

Själö moves at a very slow pace, with a lot of (really nice) images of the island and its vegetation, but also of a young researcher at work on the island. Those images are paired with a lot of voice over which I find annoying in fiction films, and in documentaries it makes it hard for me to pay attention to it.

Overall, I found myself not paying attention to what happened on screen way too often. Everytime the voice over became a little more philosophical, my mind started to pack up its things and go somewhere else – and I was always a little too late in noticing to wrench it back in time.

A young woman dragging a net through a meadow to collect some specimens for analysis.

There are some interesting points made. A story is told of some of the women on the island crossing over to the mainland when the Sea around them froze. It is told as a memory, but then the narrator realizes she couldn’t have witnessed the event herself, she just took on her mother’s memory on her own. It’s a thought-provoking moment, and there should have been more moments like it.

The incorporation of the biodiversity research was a little difficult for me because it didn’t really come together with the memory stuff for me. Yes, it’s also part of the island’s history but is there something you are trying to say? I don’t know.

Maybe this film would have hit differently if I could have seen it in the cinema where I tend to be more focused in any case. But it just didn’t work for me here.

A forest with some mist.

Summarizing: maybe you’ll get into it more than I did.

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