Four Little Adults: an engaging polyamory drama

Evoking the middle-class relationship sturm-und-drang of much of Ingmar Bergman’s work, albeit without his propensity for dramatic heft, this Finnish film charts not so much a love triangle as a love rhombus.

Eero Milonoff and Alma Pöysti as Matias and Juulia in Four Little Adults (2023)
  • Reviewed from the 2023 International Film Festival Rotterdam

Having tackled familial dysfunction in her fiction feature debut Little Wing (2017) and romantic woe in her follow-up Stupid Young Heart (2018), Finnish writer-director Selma Vilhunen appears to blend the two themes in her engaging polyamory drama Four Little Adults.

It’s October in Helsinki when we’re invited into the bedroom of not quite middle-aged couple Juulia (Alma Pöysti) and Matias (Eero Milonoff), who are having passionate sex – enthusiastically inhaling a bottle of poppers to enhance their enjoyment. The morning after, they have breakfast with pre-teen son Milo and prepare for work: Juulia is a rising political star in the Equality Party, Matias the respected local parish priest. Later, we see Matias discussing a secret trip to Stockholm with his lover of 18 months, Enni (Oona Airola) – but Juulia soon finds out. The expected tearful confrontation follows, but when Juulia sits down with Matias and Enni together, she suggests an open marriage and hands the pair a guide to polyamory.

If Juulia’s magnanimous reaction to such repeated infidelity seems too good to be true, Pöysti’s careful performance keeps plausibility from disappearing completely. When Juulia takes a new lover – non-binary nurse and drag performer Miska (Pietu Wikström) – Matias’s hypocritical outrage seems a more recognisable emotional reaction. It’s enough for his mother, the film’s key proxy for the societal status quo, to voice more open dissent at their new lifestyle: she confronts Juulia at a dinner party, hoping the couple will soon “grow up” and return to monogamy. An uneasy truce soon settles – until Enni becomes pregnant with Matias’s baby.

Vilhunen has spoken about her admiration for Ingmar Bergman, particularly his Fanny and Alexander (1982), and one can imagine him creating a film of this type were he still alive. It’s primo Bergman territory: a mature piece stuffed with thorny relationship dilemmas, pre-occupied by sex, and populated chiefly by a sparse cast of well-heeled, intelligent characters in safe, comfortable surroundings. But Four Little Adults lacks the psychological weight of Bergman at his best: one never senses that any of the characters will be anything other than alright in the end.

As a study of polyamory, gender and jealousy, the life and work of R.W. Fassbinder may be a less overt reference point, but extreme emotional devastation is not the name of Vilhunen’s game. She doesn’t sensationalise the polyamorous life. And though one might feel Vilhunen could have approached the central premise – swirling as it does around a priest and a politician – a little more quizzically, the film should be commended for its even-handed, considered approach to exploring relationship choices outside the monogamous mainstream.