‘First Five’ Review: The Struggles of Making New Ground

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Politics is one of the most dangerous fields to work in. The amount of patience, experience, and ability required to stand out and actually be an agent of change for the people around you is truly immeasurable. Most governments worldwide have always been characterized as male-centric, meaning that women have always had a tough time getting through and finding their own space in governments. However, things are changing quickly, and First Five, a new documentary series on Max, will bring light to the working efforts of five women, who for a time were the center of government in Finland.

First Five is a documentary series developed as a Max Original and focuses on the lives of Sanna Marin’s cabinet of women after she was elected Prime Minister of Finland in 2019.

Mia Halme directs the documentary and jumps around while interviewing each of the five women about their experiences in politics. We get to learn their full life stories, from the moment they were born, their childhood experiences, and, of course, their introduction to politics and all the things they had to do to be considered in a world that mostly sees main representatives in office. The documentary specifically follows the lives of Li Andersson, Annika Saarikko, Anna-Maja Henriksson, Maria Ohisalo, and Sanna Marin.

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Each episode of the series runs for about 40 minutes. This runtime makes for a very easy and digestible documentary. The information is given with precise input, and the director never lets the pace slow down.

We never follow just one character for long. It would be impossible, in fact, as, in retrospect, Marin and her team took her office positions during one of the most difficult times for the entire world. In 2019, a global epidemic was still the stuff of science fiction books, but now we know that Marin has to partake in and experience some of the toughest movements as a political leader in the 21st century. As the documentary progresses, Marin and the rest of the cabinet are shown as very fallible human beings trying to do their best.

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On top of the global COVID-19 Pandemic, the documentary also goes into what Marin and the others have had to experience since the war between Russia and Ukraine started. Finland is, of course, a neighboring country, and thus it is very much affected by the war between these two countries. War is one more of those problems that no political leader wants to have to deal with.

The fact that Marin and her cabinet had to face both the pandemic and the war simultaneously makes for quite a rollercoaster ride. Thus, something is always happening on the show. These last five years have been quite frantic, and the series knows how to depict that on screen. It is really telling when you can really see very well how the toll of stress and other worries has changed a person.

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Furthermore, the documentary also tackles being a woman in a man’s world. This seems to be the major subject of the piece, as it is the most universal. Not all women will be able to relate to another woman who is in a position of power during a global pandemic or in the middle of a war situation. However, most women will be able to relate to the fact that they are often treated differently and have to work hard to stand out in these fields, which have been and still are male-centric.

It is a touchy subject as there are, of course, many ill-intentioned people out there, who are only looking to call attention to what they do, even if that thing they do is to hurt other people’s feelings and being rude for no reason at all.

On this subject, the documentary offers a couple of signs that it is at least trying to be impartial. Marin and her cabinet, consisting of all women, could push and battle for what they believed in.

This by itself is already commendable, but we can see that the path to hell is paved with good intentions, which means that sometimes, their decisions hurt themselves and the projects they want to push forward. The contention between them and the rest of the political voices is quite strong, and that kind of conflict makes for good TV. However, we wouldn’t be lying when saying that sometimes the documentary can feel very dry.

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How is that? The documentary’s main subjects, Marin’s cabinet, all seem to be great people. Still, they don’t jump out as charismatic or interesting characters to follow outside of their working context. You would say, why would I want to see them working or being themselves outside of this political context? Well, the answer is that politics by themselves feel very much like a bunch of kids complaining that they can’t decide what to buy with their allowance.

This is very much not interesting or entertaining, and so the documentary must find other ways to make you interested in these people. By themselves, all of them come across as very boring and mundane.

The cabinets’ stories all come across as classical tales of struggle, from poverty to riches and so on. It is interesting to see each of them telling how they were poor when they were kids and that they grew up without many opportunities, and yet, somehow, they managed to be in the governmental cabinet of Finland, which is quite an accomplishment.

There is a step that seems to be missing from their tales. If there really were no opportunities, how did they get into that space in the first place? They are indeed important figures, but they are not pioneers. It would have been interesting for the documentary to dedicate a bit of time to those who came before. Those who allowed and gave the opportunities for the young to take charge.

There are a couple of mentions here and there, but they feel scattered and are not given the importance they deserve. Outside of that, the documentary is very much a formal piece of work regarding its form.

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The director and the editing team do the best they can to fit the mold that has been used for documentaries for decades. In that sense, there is nothing new or exciting to talk about. Everything feels very classic, contributing to the documentary feeling so formal and dry. For a documentary that is all about change, the documentary itself could be just about any documentary made in the last 30 years.

First Five tells a very important story and shows us politicians battling against some very important events in current history. However, as a piece of filmmaking that tries to illustrate the struggle of women inside a male-centric workforce, it feels too much like a pamphlet and not like something that is worth following all the way through.

SCORE: 6/10

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