HILTON! – HERE FOR LIFE
Director Virpi Suutari,
Finland, 2013, 75 min
“Everything I see is grey”, says Mira, one of the residents of Hilton, an apartment complex in East Helsinki that couldn’t be more removed from the chain of luxury hotels with which it shares its name. This Hilton is a boarding house owned by a youth foundation, a kind of haven for troubled young people – but, as Hilton!’s cast of characters are quick to point out, the eponymous tenement is actually a special kind of hell. Virpi Suutari’s sullen documentary follows Mira, Janne, Toni, Pete and Make, five of Hilton’s most disenfranchised youths and their attempts to take control of their lives. Hilton! is a bleak tableau of grimy plates and grease-stained walls, of bloodied knuckles and broken dreams. Hooded youngsters cart about in abandoned parking lots, swigging vodka and wheeling one other around in supermarket trolleys, clutching baseball bats and twirling knives as the thumping beat of noisy synth music bleeds through their earphones. Overgrown teenagers, without money, without jobs and without prospects, cavort around in an ugly caricature of grim social-realism. This is a film about living at the bottom of the food chain. Suutari’s handheld camera is not afraid to get up close and personal with the grisly reality of poverty, capturing the lives of the young Hiltonites with a raw sense of immediacy. Lingering on the disturbing image of a young man banging his head against the wall again and again, irate and unable to pay his bills, Suutari’s extraordinary access shows just how hard it is to break the cycle of dependence. At the centre of the film is raven-haired self-harmer and ex-addict, Mira. She is pregnant. And yet, despite her tragic past, twenty-one year-old Mira is perhaps Hilton!’s most well-adjusted tenant. In a stable relationship, with good health and a steely resilience about her, Mira is a shining beacon of hope amongst her peers. She whispers a lullaby under her breath, a sweet song that acts as a chilling refrain throughout the film. “I’m high enough to fly away now”, she sings, hopeful lyrics that cut against the quiet resignation in her voice.
Less encouraging is twenty-seven-year-old Pete, who has been living at Hilton for eight years. Troubling too, is the deeply antisocial Toni, who despite having a girlfriend of five years (soon-to-be law student Sara), has grown accustomed to living inside the Hilton bubble. “It’s cosy here”, he moans hoarsely when Sara suggests they go on a dinner date, maintaining that Hilton is his “own little doghouse”. Hardened by years of living on the fringes of society, Hilton!’s subjects are unable to imagine a world in which they have the power to take ownership of their futures.
At times, however, it seems as though the Hiltonites are unwilling to even try. In one scene, they interact with a group of English-speaking immigrants, also unemployed, unable to get jobs for lack of speaking Finnish. “Why aren’t you working? Working is better than doing nothing”, one immigrant man chides. Suutari shows these young people, who are totally dependent on social security, to be locked in a self-destructive cycle. Indeed, dealing with any sort of bureaucracy proves all too much for several of them; Make and Toni refuse to even look at their bills, literally tearing them to shreds. “This darkness just fucks me up”, says Toni.
Pete has a point. Victims of abuse, addiction, rape, self-harm and family tragedy, these are individuals who
have lived lives fraught with pain; is it any wonder that Make likens Hilton to an asylum? Hilton!’s greatest strength is in the way it details the often heartbreaking personal histories of these people, people who have not chosen to drop out of society. We learn that Toni’s father died when he was young, that the father of Mira’s unborn child attacked and abused her when they were together. One haunting scene that takes place on a frosty beach sees Mira launch into a violent fantasy in which she imagines confronting him, confessing her desire to enact revenge on the man who silenced her. The pain in this film runs deep.
Yet somehow, there is beauty in the bleakness. Cinematographer Heikki Färm captures the breathtaking sunrises that light the icy concrete jungle that is East Helsinki, illuminating the brief flashes of warmth in the lives of these young people. There is hope, in the relationships that the Hiltonites have been able to create and maintain; Toni and Sara, Mira and her newborn baby Luna.
In the film’s final sequence, Janne, motivated by a burst of inspiration, decides to clean his apartment. This is progress, although Suutari makes it clear that no matter how much bleach he sprays, nor how hard he scrubs at the stains of the past, ridding himself of this mess will be a long and arduous process._