Program

Steam of Life

Fat men, thin men, fit men, men who dress as Santa, vagrants: all of them go to the Finnish sauna. If they don't have a sauna nearby, they build one. Scenes of men in an old, beat-up mobile home, car or phone booth seem like they're straight out of an absurdist play. But once the men are in the sauna, usually with a drink in hand, the stories start flowing. Naked and sweaty, surrounded by steam, the Fins reveal their sensitive sides. In between sobs, a heavyset fellow talks about his troubled youth. Another discusses how thankful he is for his simple life, after an adolescence of alcohol and crime. A father cries over his deceased child. In the steam of the sauna, tears blend in better. Beautiful, touching stories are interspersed with footage of the Finnish landscape. Our image of the Scandinavian male as a tough guy who is rough around the edges will never be the same after watching Steam of Life. And for a short moment, when we see a group of half-naked, beer-guzzling guys bent over a cell phone in the locker room, there's still hope for some predictable man-talk about sports, sex and cars. Then we see what they are looking at: baby pictures.