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Sidse Babett Knudsen,
The people of Finland, me included, had high expectations for the third film adaptation of Väinö Linna's novel Tuntematon Sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), boldly made by celebrated Finnish director Aku Louhimies for the 100-year anniversary of Finland's independence. I tried my best to block all positive and negative expectations out of my mind, so that I could watch the film with an open mind and form my own opinions. That isn't an easy job, as this story is something very iconic and personal to the Finnish people. After seeing the film and doing a lot of analyzing and over-analyzing about what parts I liked and didn't like, the strongest thought I have is still the one that I had for the movie's entire three-hour run time and in the moments after it: this movie is pretty great.
Everything that I say should be taken with a large grain of salt, as I haven't read the original novel. Therefore my opinions are based partially on a comparison with the original movie from 1955, and mostly on how I liked this as a film of its own and as a part of Finnish culture. The directing by Louhimies is decent, as modern film technology allows for more intense action sequences and realistic sound effects, thus capturing the atmosphere of war well. At times, the modern style was a bit more polished and Hollywood- style than I would've liked - for example I wasn't a big fan of the instrumental soundtrack, which relied on slightly cliché string melodies that took away from the gritty and realistic story. That is a minor complaint though, as for the most part the film did a good job portraying the story in a more modern fashion. Also, it was one of the most justifiable cases for a three-hour run time that I have ever seen - everything was relevant for the plot and character development, and I didn't feel especially bored even once.
The soul of The Unknown Soldier has always been considered to be in the characters, many of whom have a legendary status in Finnish culture. The casting department did an excellent job in finding suitable actors for these roles, as some of the characters are just as interesting or even better than their counterparts in the original film. A good example is lieutenant Koskela, wonderfully played by Jussi Vatanen, who is fleshed out and fascinating to follow throughout the film. Eero Aho fills the shoes of his predecessor Reino Tolvanen amazingly in the iconic role of corporal Antero Rokka, and Hannes Suominen is incredibly similar in his mannerisms to the original film version of the character Vanhala. I was a bit skeptic about the romantic subplot involving the character Kariluoto shown in the trailers, but the film did a great job with it. Having one of the major characters missing someone they truly loved back home added depth to his motivations, making it more relatable when considering what the soldiers were fighting for - and what they risked losing.
The actors must have had a hard job pulling off dialects that aren't typical for today's Finland, but most of them did a great job with it. I was a bit let down by the casting of Aku Hirviniemi as corporal Hietanen, as I felt he didn't come anywhere near the original film's Hietanen in terms of likability and character development. I was also a bit annoyed by the cameo of Finnish teen idol Robin, which took away from the emotion and darkness of an otherwise powerful scene in my opinion. But again, these complaints are small, especially in comparison to everything that the film succeeded in.
In many aspects, the original movie is better, but Louhimies's version also rises higher in quite a few categories. While the 1955 film is a great gritty exploration of Finnish soldiers on the front, the 2017 adaptation is more deep and layered. We see the characters grow through grim moments of pain as well as warm moments of humorous interaction, while certain scenes and story lines provoke thoughts of the larger picture at hand - what the job that soldiers like that did for Finland truly means. As a Finn, I can't view a film like this purely objectively, so the fact that it makes me emotional and grateful of my homeland adds very much to my opinion of the movie. Many moments in the film made me think about the society Finland has today, and how we have it all because men just like the fictional yet realistic characters in this movie once fought to keep Finland independent. That is what makes this film truly powerful and though-provoking, and I admire Aku Louhimies for managing to subtly convey that message into his film without getting over-patriotic about it.
Although the movie has an almost celebratory tone at times (which is proper considering the year of its release), it certainly doesn't fall into the trap of over-romanticizing or glorifying war. Though there are moments of heroics and bravery, there are themes of cowardice, conflict within the Finnish side and human cruelty throughout the film. It gives a gripping account on the lives of Finnish soldiers during the Continuation War, and doesn't try to hide painful facts like Finland's partnership with Nazi Germany or the one-time execution of own troops for disobeying commands. All in all, Louhimies's films manages to capture the audience with a deep and powerful story, filled with memorable characters, great acting and a brutally honest depiction of war.
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