Thursday, December 4, 2014

Finnish Independence Day Special: The Unknown Soldier (1955)

The Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon Sotilas)
Starring: Kosti Klemelä, Heikki Savolainen, Reino Tolvanen, Veikko Sinisalo, Åke Lindman, Pentti Siimes, Leo Riuttu, Kaarlo Halttunen, Matti Ranin, Jussi Jurkka, Tauno Palo, Pentti Irjala, Vilho Siivola, Olavi Ahonen, Tarmo Manni, Veli-Matti Kaitala, Tapio Hämäläinen, Martti Romppanen, Vili Auvinen
Director: Edvin Laine
Suomen Filmiteollisuus, Finland, 1955.
unknown soldier tuntematon sotilas 1955 title
This is a special review for Finnish Independence Day on 6 December. 

The Unknown Soldier is based on the novel by Väinö Linna published in 1954, so it is now  the 60th anniversary! By 2004 the book has sold over 700000 copies. Much of the book was based on Linna's own war experiences, and many characters were composite characters of real soldiers. The movie is the most popular movie of all time in Finland, with 2.8 million viewers in movie theatres. It is shown on Finnish television on every Independence Day. A Finnish DVD is available with English and Swedish subtitles.

The Unknown Soldier tells the story of Finnish machine gun company in Continuation War. In the preceding Winter War 1939-40 Soviet Union tried to claim parts of Finnish territory. During the Winter War Finland gained some support mainly from Scandinavian countries, United Kingdom and Italy. Finnish Army was badly equipped and Finland had to give 11% of its land area to Soviet Union, including the Karelian Isthmus, Salla and Rybachi Peninsula. However Soviets suffered also huge losses in the battles. Finland had to resettle 420000 people evacuated from the lost territories. 
As Germany and Soviet Union expanded their territories in Europe, Finland allied with Germany to gain military support against Soviet Union. Soviet Union began again to demand territories from Finland. On 25 June 1941 Soviet bombers attacked Finland, allegedly targeting German bases. Finnish Army began their offensive, in order to regain the lost territories. In December 1941 Finnish advancement ceased and a trench warfare phase began. In June 1944 the Soviet Union ended the stalemate with heavy offensive, forcing Finnish troops to retreat. The Continuation War lasted from 1941 to 1944. The Moscow Armistice treaty signed on September 19 1944 required Finland to give back the conquered areas plus Petsamo and military base in Porkkala. Finland had also to drive out German troops (resulting to Lapland War) and pay reparations. However Finland was not occupied like Baltic or East European countries. The sacrifices of war veterans made it possible for Finland to maintain its independence. 
The movie depicts the war from the viewpoint of common Finnish soldiers. It covers their way from the end of their training to first battles, offensive phase, trench warfare phase, retreat and end of the war. As such the movie has almost documentary style narrative. There is not just one central character but all characters have their own story lines. The characters represent different ideologies and social groups. Some will die and some will survive. The characters are colourful and many of them have become well-liked, especially Hietanen, Rokka and Koskela. The soldiers come from various parts of Finland and use different regional dialects. This makes it difficult to translate to other languages. However new English translation of the book is under way by Penguin Books and should be released in 2014. There are many sayings and one-liners that have become part of Finnish culture. Despite the grimness of war there is plenty of humour. For example the dialogues of Corporals Rokka and Hietanen are funny and sometimes a bit philosophical. There is also an episode where the soldiers drink some home brew. Next morning Hietanen has hangover and he goes to ask salted herrings from stingy Mäkilä (the pictures below).
The soldiers often use rough language, which shocked many contemporaries. The combat scenes were realistic when the movie was made, but of course show their age at some scenes. The realistic style violence was criticised but also acclaimed for showing the real face of war. Lots of actual war footage were used in the montages.
A remake was made in 1985 by Rauni Mollberg. It never gained as much popularity as the 1955 version because it was grimmer, almost completely lacking music and the characters were presented in a less sympathetic way.
Rating: Excellent

Main characters of the Unknown Soldier (with some quotes roughly translated by me):

Sarastie (Tauno Palo)
Maj. Sarastie (Tauno Palo)
Charismatic battalion commander, who is respected by his men. He is still strict when necessary.
Quote: "War does not long for one man, be he whatever kind of a man."

Kaarna (Pentti Irjala)
Cpt. Kaarna (Pentti Irjala)
Old and respected officer. A father figure to his men.
Quote: "Sure, sure, you can doubt but it is a tank nevertheless. But, look at all those berries. And so many flowers too!"

 Kariluoto (Matti Ranin)
Cpt. Kariluoto (Matti Ranin)
Idealistic and nationalistic young officer, who has to give up his idealism. He grows up to be a brave leader.
Quote: "Don't just stay lying under fire!"

Lammio (Jussi Jurkka)
Lt. Lammio (Jussi Jurkka)
He is a strict by the book officer who tries to enforce the military discipline. This makes him unpopular among the soldiers.
Quote: "Listen, I am not a good man, I am your superior. You will do as you have been told."

Koskela (Kosti Klemelä)
Lt. Koskela (Kosti Klemelä)
Quiet and down to earth group leader. He is more at home with his crew than with the other officers and is therefore respected by his men. He appears also in Linna's novel trilogy Under the North Star.
Quote: "Man goes and man comes and every man is responsible for his goings and comings."

Sinkkonen (Leevi Linko)
WO Sinkkonen (Leevi Linko)
Strict and humourless supply officer, who is not used to field conditions. Mäkilä practically has to do his work.
Quote: "Considering the circumstances, the food is good!"

Mäkilä (Vilho Siivola)
Supply Cpl. Mäkilä (Vilho Siivola)
Stingy and religious supply officer from Laihia. He does not easily share equipment, which makes him unpopular.
Quote: "Have no time to hand out new boots. And cap'n gives orders as if we were in America where there are more stuff than is needed. But always they invoke cap'n and he tells to give whatever someone cries for."

Hietanen (Heikki Savolainen)
Cpl. Hietanen (Heikki Savolainen)
Happy go lucky lad from Finland Proper. Always jovial and optimistic but also a brave and self-sacrificing warrior.
Quote: "Don't give up your hopefulness! There's plenty of rags and cloths for everyone!"

Rokka (Reino Tolvanen)
Cpl. Rokka (Reino Tolvanen)
Farmer and family man from Karelian Isthmus. Chatty and cheery but also a realist and tough fighter. Does not care for military discipline, which makes him clash with the officers.
Quote: "Where do you need a real good man, here you have one!"

Lahtinen (Veikko Sinisalo)
Cpl. Lahtinen (Veikko Sinisalo)
Sour communist from Tavastia who admires Soviet Union, but is still a brave and dutiful fighter.
Quote: "Who do you think there might be? And whatever happens we will not abandon the machine gun. See you on the tanning rack!"

Lehto (Åke Lindman)
Cpl. Lehto (Åke Lindman)
Brave fighter from Tampere but also cruel and sadistic. Despises weak soldiers, especially Riitaoja.
Quote: "Goddamn bastard! Why are you grinning?"

Määttä (Pentti Siimes)
PFC. Määttä (Pentti Siimes)
Silent and down to earth man from Kainuu. Hardy and dutiful.
Quote: (When Määttä, Lehto and Rahikainen get a standing at attention punishment for being AWOL) "You go stand in the middle, you are the group leader and the biggest bandit."

Riitaoja (Olavi Ahonen)
Pvt. Riitaoja (Olavi Ahonen)
Fearful and panicky soldier. Fails to do his duty because he fears too much and is therefore despised by Lehto.
Quote: "I'm not grinning Corporal, Sir! I'm scared Corporal, Sir! Grenades are whistling!"

Vanhala (Leo Riuttu)
Pvt. Vanhala (Leo Riuttu)
Funny and giggling guy, makes fun of propaganda language. Although he does not seem to take anything seriously, he is a brave soldier.
Quote: "Union of Socialistic Soviet Republics won, but the second place goes to small and gutsy Finland!"

Rahikainen (Kaarlo Halttunen)
Pvt. Rahikainen (Kaarlo Halttunen)
A little bit lazy and slick guy, ladies man. Fixer who can arrange supplies although the origin may be a bit fishy.
Quote: "Surely we won't have to give away our notepads. The girls won't give any, if we don't write them love poems."

Susi (Kale Teuronen)
Pvt Susi (Kale Teuronen)
Neighbour of Rokka and his best friend. He is a silent type man.
Quote: "He's quick to sleep, alright!"

Sihvonen (Martti Romppanen)
Pvt. Sihvonen (Martti Romppanen)
A little bit simple minded and at best an average soldier.
Quote: "They call us bandits when we cross borders. Others are just protecting their safety when they move the borders."

Honkajoki (Tarmo Manni)
Pvt. Honkajoki (Tarmo Manni)
Eccentric inventor, satirical and dead pan comedian. A bit of a rebel.
Quote: "Regarding the fast development of armament and technical equipment in the presently waged great war, I for the aspect of national defense saw it necessary to introduce new weaponry (showing his crossbow)."

Hauhia (Veli-Matti Kaitala)
Pvt. Hauhia (Veli-Matti Kaitala)
Young and naive soldier whom Rokka tries to teach to keep his head low.
Quote: "Do not worry, I will survive!"

Salo (Tapio Hämäläinen)
Pvt. Salo (Tapio Hämäläinen)
A little bit simple minded soldier from Central Ostrobothnia, who believes the military propaganda.
Quote: "We're not gonna feel sorry for one leg. If I've been running in evil ways, now it is gone that made me worse."

Asumaniemi (Vili Auvinen)
Pvt. Asumaniemi (Vili Auvinen)
Young and eager soldier, who thinks the war is some kind of sporting event.
Quote: "Where are the Russians, so I can start killing them!"

Korpela (Topi Kankainen)
Pvt. Korpela (Topi Kankainen)
Old reserve soldier, hates people. He likes horses though.
Quote: "I don't need no goddamn advice. I have driven horses all my life. Mind your own business!"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your interest! (All comments are moderated before publishing so please be patient!)

Recommendations by Engageya