29 November 2010 | random_avenger
"At the Rovaniemi Fair"
Of all the musical rillumarei comedies, Jorma Nortimo's Rovaniemen markkinoilla from 1951 may be the most famous: even the very name of the genre is taken from the chorus of the movie's titular song written by the legendary Reino Helismaa. An obvious follower of the comedic kupletti ("couplet song") tradition, the movie may not be a masterpiece of cinema but still retains its power to amuse fans of silly featherweight entertainment.
In a way the plot premise resembles John Huston's western classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948): three friends travel to the wilderness of Finnish Lapland to prospect gold and find themselves in unexpected situations after succeeding. Of course, Rovaniemen markkinoilla is a pure comedy as opposed to a serious drama, so the focus is put largely on catchy songs and the comical malfunctioning of the villains' schemes to steal the heroes' gold, not to mention the romantic subplots when the men return to the city with bags full of gold. The three protagonists can be said to represent three different types of Finnish men: Roope Kormu (the writer Helismaa) is the level-headed one, while Severi Suhonen (Esa Pakarinen) is a laid-back Savonian personality and the Karelian dialect and antics of Julle Ilonen (Jorma Ikävalko) evoke an instant mental connection to Antti Rokka of The Unknown Soldier even though Linna's novel had not yet been published at the time.
As mentioned above, music is of crucial importance to the story and all major characters get to sing something at one point or another. To me this is certainly an asset; I mean, what good is a musical with too few songs? Well, Rovaniemen markkinoilla does not suffer from lack of catchy ditties, although I understand that those who don't think a dozen songs can comfortably replace a well-written story will probably not enjoy the movie very much. Ikävalko and Pakarinen's rich Karelian and Savonian dialects are naturally fun to hear but perhaps trusted a little too much in the long run. Something more would have been needed to raise the tale to greatness, even though Siiri Angerkoski's performance as the feisty and fast-talking Mimmi is very funny in its own right (Angerkoski seriously seems to pop up in almost every single old Finnish movie, but I don't mind at all since I like her plucky shtick).
In spite of its shortcomings, I enjoyed Rovaniemen markkinoilla a lot. The lead trio is very lovable and so are the ladies Angerkoski and Maj-Britt Heljo (the bad guys' girlfriend Hulda). Less imaginative jokes like the Dutch woman's foreign accent are quickly buried under new songs and incidents, which prevents the movie from ever becoming boring during the 80 minute runtime. All in all, it is certainly an entertaining flick, but not explosively exhilarating like the best musicals out there. Nevertheless, I would not hesitate to recommend it to fans of the genre and why not others as well.