In the time of a modern civil war, a young mother hunts down her daughter’s murdered. Her hate-stricken obsession has driven her to tread through a war-torn wilderness to find this man. On her journey she meets a young soldier, whose willing to help her on her path.

‘Maria’ is a short film written and directed by Finnish filmmaker Matias Raassina, who’s brought us films like ‘Virtaus‘ and ‘Vain Me Kaksi‘. Just like the other two, ‘Maria’ runs just under 30 minutes, showcasing Matias’ love for deep and slow-burning character development. This film takes us to a modern civil war where a hate-stricken young mother (Eilen Silva) hunts down her daughter’s murdered. While the story in itself is harrowing on such a personal level, the film took on a much deeper meaning and reflection after the brutal events that have been taking place in Ukraine. We caught up with Matias who told us a little more on the film, and how the current war reflected on his film’s theme.

Read our scene breakdown for ‘Vain Me Kaksi’.

Can you tell me a little bit about ‘Maria’, how did this film come about?

First and foremost ‘Maria’ is a film about mother’s love, and the blinding pain that comes along with the loss of a child. The story started cooking up in 2019 when I moved to England from Finland and seeing how much it affected my mother. I started to ponder, if mere distance affects this much, how devastating it would be if you were not to see your child ever again. How would it affect your judgement and how it would come to reshape everything about you as an individual.

Not being a parent myself, I’ve had people disagree with the choices the characters make, for example that a father would not act the way that is presented in the film. And that is exactly more to the point, that almost none of the characters make choices that we would like to make, but then again, people rarely act the way we would want in a moment of distress.

The film did not start as a war-time story at first, but came about after we wanted to shape the entire world of the story as a metaphor for the Mother’s journey. So, the war setting was a natural progression, since otherwise the film would’ve been a police drama to a certain extent. And that was something I was not interested in, since the details of something like that would get in the way of the characters.

Has the film hit new meanings with the events happening around the world today?

Unfortunately it has. The film was shot in the summer of 2020, and we finished editing the film in the spring of 2021. I had many discussions with a friend who was also part of the crew, that placing the film in a modern war-time setting was unbelievable since we haven’t seen anything like this in modern Europe, and the film should’ve been a WW2 drama instead.

After seeing the unbelievable occur this spring, and the devastating horrors that we’ve heard and seen from Ukraine. I’ve had lots to reflect about the events, and realised that I can not think of our film ‘Maria’ as a war-film, since if I did, it would be an overly romanticised depiction of what war actually is to people. And there is certainly nothing romantic about people fleeing their homes that are being bombed to rubble.

The sound design had a big part in setting the mood for the film (particularly with the fighter jet sounds), what was that design process like?

The sound design of the film was thought out from the get-go. Most of the sounds, especially the fighter jets and gunshots are written in the script. The sound design and editing process itself was quite straightforward, since we always knew we wanted the sound to come in first before we saw any planes. That came straight from my experience of spending time near a forest area which the Finnish Air Force used to practise over, and I remember very distinctively that you would feel and hear this loud low-end rumble, before seeing the plane itself for minutes at times. So, once the reference was there, the actual technical execution was quite straightforward. We mixed in tens of different sounds from planes to wind tumble to achieve the fighter jets.

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

Well, there is not really a scene in the film that was easy to film per se. As the film was scheduled maybe a bit too tightly, as we shot the whole thing in six days in various locations. We had to carry a home-built dolly that my dad built for kilometres at times through the forests of Finland to get to our locations. Due to the scheduling, we had only couple cracks at each take we did. Since the film was designed without coverage and we did not shoot alternative angles, everything was achievable over the tight schedule.

The two most challenging scenes were probably the boat scene and the final confrontation by the lake. But then again, the car crash scene was the most takes, to get the rotation of the camera right and have the actors react accordingly. The whole film was the hardest thing I’ve done in terms of filmmaking, and I still pinch myself to think it was done with a crew of six and 5000€ from my student loans and borrowed money.

What do you hope people will take away from ‘Maria’?

It’s hard to hope a certain thing that they might take away from it, since you just hope the film works in terms of storytelling and immersion. One thing that I always try to push, is how much we can make our points across with just the tools of Cinema. How much we can show with image and sound and cut out as much as dialogue we can.

Hopefully the different perspectives of the characters come through.
Hopefully it makes people reflect on themselves and see things from the opposing perspective as well.
Hopefully, the film is emotive.

But, you can only hope.

What are your favorite films?

My favourite films array from so many different genres and filmmaking styles, that it’s very hard to pinpoint only a few.
But, to mention a few that have shaped me from a young age and got me excited about Cinema:

Children of Men (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Network (1976)
Mirror (1975)
500 Days of Summer (2009)

And two films that made me want to start making films as a kid are Inception (2010) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)


What are your favorite short films?

I must confess, I don’t watch many short films, as you probably can tell from the runtime of most of my work.
I really liked Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter (2004) and a short film that always stuck with me is this German short film from 2016 called ‘BACKSTORY’ (FS Best Short 2018). It broke me down. It’s a very beautiful film.

Is there a particular film(s) you can say directly inspired this one?

While writing I was looking a lot at films like Bong Joon-ho’s Mother (2009), The Revenant (2015), The Lost City of Z (2016) and of course Apocalypse Now (1979). Also, the mother’s grief from Arrival (2016) affected me a lot and the longing in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s eyes from Twelve Years a Slave (2013).

A lot of the shot choices and how they progress throughout a scene, probably come from Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in There Will be Blood (2007), how lot of the shots are played in evolving masters and calmer more traditional camera work. And well, the car crash scene is straight out of Children of Men (2006), I must confess.

Also Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and the video game The Last of Us Part II (2020) were in my mind while writing and shooting the film.