25 November 2017 | Vartiainen
An exploration of war, independence and grit
In the year of this film's release, Finland celebrates its 100th year of independence. As such it was decided that a remake of The Unknown Soldier was needed. The original book by Väinö Linna was the first book about the Continuation War written by an actual veteran of the war. It has now been turned into a movie three times, this film by Aku Louhimies being the latest. The story follows a machine gun company from the early days of the mobilization to the eventual cessation of hostilities and the signing of armistice between the forces of Finland and Soviet Union. All three years of battle seen through the eyes of few men.
I shall try to be objective as I talk about this film, but as a Finn it's going to be a bit difficult. Winter War and Continuation War are still seen as Finland's proudest moment as a nation. We held back a giant. We didn't win, exactly speaking, but it was a victory nonetheless, unlike few others seen during World War Two. Linna's novel is still almost compulsory reading during our schooling. So how to make a movie about something like that? Especially if you're the third one to do so.
I have to admit I like this film a lot, especially in comparison to the two previous films. Louhimies has the courage to take a step back from the source material and expand upon it. We, for the first time in an Unknown Soldier film, focus rather heavily on the happenings back home. We see what it was like for those that stayed behind and kept Finland running even as their husbands, sons and brothers fought and died on the battlefield. It's good to focus on those stories as well and they're told well.
The film also looks phenomenal. Rarely have I seen my own country showcased so beautifully. And in a war movie of all things. No matter your nationality, you'll get why someone would want to defend a place such as this. Why someone would want to die for it.
The film has also reaped praise for its historical accuracy. Many veterans of the war have remarked how real the battle scenes seemed, how it captured the claustrophobia, intensity and grittiness of the battle as you crawled through mud and moss, over fallen trees and through grenade craters. The costuming, sets and props all look really good and it's hard to find any flaws in the narrative without having a degree in history.
Then the stuff that could be improved upon. While I for the most part do enjoy the new casting, there are some things I would have changed. The film focuses heavily on Rokka (Eero Aho), one of the soldiers of the company, and that's fair as he is the best character in the book as well. I'm however somewhat disappointed that they reduced the role of lieutenant Koskela (Jussi Vatanen) as he was my personal favourite from the book and a good counterpoint to Rokka. There are also some minor casting hiccups, Finland not having all that many actors to begin with, but they are really minor in the grand scheme of things.
There are scenes added to the book that I don't enjoy quite as much as the scenes focusing on the life back home. Most of these scenes are near the end of the film so I shall not spoil them, but I don't feel like they added enough to merit inclusion.
Even still, this is a good film, great even if you're asking a Finn. It works very well as a war film and as a piece of history. Very well acted, very well shot and a beautiful piece of film making as a whole.