Eija-Liisa Athila Consolation Service 1999 (still from film installation)

Eija-Liisa Athila
Consolation Service 1999
© Crystal Eye Ltd, Helsinki

The end of a marriage forms the basis of this work, which is one of Ahtila’s most linear narratives. The film commences with a female narrator setting the scene for the tale of the separation of a young couple, Anni and JP. Set in early spring in Helsinki, with its frozen landscape on the cusp of thawing, the atmosphere is one of inevitable endings and the possibility of new beginnings.

In the opening scene, a counselling session with their therapist, the couple are given advice on how to come to terms with the end of the relationship. As Anni and JP’s discussion escalates into a row, they are asked to express their feelings using only sounds. They choose to bark at each other, after which they are joined by a group of silent onlookers, who observe the therapist’s practical guidance.

The plot moves to the celebration of JP’s birthday in the couple’s apartment with a group of friends. As they leave to continue the evening at a restaurant, taking a short-cut across an icy lake, an uneasy conversation ensues about the physical consequences of falling into freezing water. At that point, the ice breaks, plunging the group into the abyss. The camera moves through the water, as the drowned friends drift to the bottom of the lake, while voiceovers ruminate on the past, and the sudden manner of death.

In the final part of the film, JP suddenly appears in the hallway of Anni’s apartment. As she moves forward to embrace him, he bows, shrinks and de-materialises into tiny fragments. This process recurs several times until Anni finally understands what is required and returns JP’s bow, a gesture which heralds the disappearance of his apparition and a form of final acceptance on the matter of their divorce.