29 October 2017 | terhitapiainen
How to endure the war and defeat
In Finland, we have a tradition to tell the story of WW2 as we actually almost won the war against the Soviet Union which is of course true in the sense that Finland was not occupied by the Soviet Union. After the painful war, the Unknown Soldier was a novel that was appreciated therapy for the wounded nation and it introduced dozens of catch phrases and iconic characters that were needed for the healing process. Every Finn can quote the book, often in a cheerful manner. Ask any Finn in the late hours in the bar and they will keep going forever.
The novel has been filmed twice before but the present version is the best and the most ambitious. Here, in the modernized version of the Unknown Soldier, the war between Finland and the Soviet Union is brutal, exhausting and devastating, and definitely Finland does not almost win the war. The humor used by the characters is a coping mechanism and is not used as a national therapy.
We see a beautiful and melancholic film that is very sincere. Finland fights side by side with Germany which may have been necessary to fight the Soviet Union, but usually the fact is hidden beneath Finnish pride of independence. Now, we see Hitler visiting Finland, we see Nazi flags.
We see how men are gradually broken. The heroes die, and in the end, the most unlikely characters still need to fight. The four main characters, Koskela, Rokka, Kariluoto and Hietanen are all played very well by leading Finnish actors. I was especially moved by Koskela played by Jussi Vatanen, who reminds me of Damian Lewis as Richard Winters in Band of Brothers. However, Rokka played by Eero Aho is the center and the heart of the movie. The opening scene with two swimming boys, filmed like in a Terence Malick movie, is the starting point for the story of Rokka who is brave, keeps the good spirit, encourages and teaches younger ones. In the end, he shows in one last scene how the defeat feels after several years of fighting. He endures but is not anymore the same cheerful happy farmer. Eero Aho tells the story of losing the war in a superb way. He should definitely be nominated for Jussi, the Finnish Oscar.
The film is a bit long and has some scenes like the compulsory "Finns getting really drunk" scenes that I always found rather boring. However, the film is so much better than the original war novel. My Finnish teacher tried to explain the idea of the original novel in the 80's: You will first get to know all the main characters, you really start to like them, and then, suddenly, one by one they are taken away from you. Now, in this film, I finally understood what my literature teacher wanted to make us to see in the Unknown Soldier novel.
In Finland, the reviews of the film have been really polarized, which reflects the unique importance of the Unknown Soldier for Finns. It is the story of endurance and suffering. This is not as good as TV series Band of Brothers, not as good as Unsere Mutter Unsere Väter (Generation War) or Saving Private Ryan. However, this is a solid war film using Finnish perspective and with two amazing actors in main roles, Jussi Vatanen and Eero Aho.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the independent Finland. The film is humble but strong, like the story of Finland, as I like to see it. My rating 7/10 aims to be objective but as a Finn, the objective rating of the Unknown Soldier is impossible. Yet, I recommend the film for everybody who aims to understand Finnish history and the way we see the world.