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The Unknown Soldier is a cinematic epic as well as a Finnish film
classic. Though I have never read the original novel its easy to see
why many Finns find it so compelling. Also, generally as a film it is
an extremely strong example of what Finnish cinema is capable of.
The movie is a grade-A example of a good war-film, that doesn't rely solely on gruesome imagery or battle footage, but is interesting because of its strong characterization. The characters in deed are the most memorable part of the movie, despite being somewhat over-blown. The over-all tone also varies nicely, between light-hearted humour as well as extremely bleak imagery.
In all the film has only two major weaknesses. First the slightly dragging narrative responsible for the over-all length of the film as well as occasional lack of authenticity. But even with these weaknesses the film delivers a powerful message.
Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), based on Väinö Linna's novel,
is the most succeeded domestic movie in Finland. It's easy to
understand how it has gained such a high position.
The direction of Edvin Laine shows all that is essential and transitions between scenes work because of authentic war film material. Music does its purpose and serves patriotic positive atmosphere, especially Jean Sibelius' Finlandia hymn is impressive. Some hilarious comments make smile besides of dark subject. Sound effects have however gotten old-fashioned, especially the voice of bouncing bullets from old westerns is extremely unrealistic.
There's lots of strong performances in Tuntematon sotilas, Heikki Savolainen's delighted Hietanen, Leo Riuttu's funny Vanhala and Jussi Jurkka's swaggering Lammio are only few examples. Although the actors are professionals and superstars of their time most of them are way too old to be their young role characters. Especially Olavi Ahonen's middle-aged timid Riitaoja didn't make positive impact. Also some of the actors die too theatrically.
The script of the movie is good but it presumes too much that all of the viewers have read the novel. For example most of the characters names are not mentioned at all or are only mentioned in the near of the end of their lives. Mostly the only way for those who haven't read the novel to recognize the characters is to recognize the actors who are playing them. Also some aspects of the book witch emphasize the Continiuty War's violent and absurd points, like insane Viirilä, are completely left off, which little dims the novel's strong antiwar message. The only significant error in Tuntematon sotilas is that it's too much a prisoner of its time.
In any case, Tuntematon sotilas is still worth of watching because of it's impressive narration, atmosphere and characters, even though the movie doesn't feel as fresh as 52 years ago.
Okay, I know in Finland this is like Citizen Kane to them, I've even
looked at message boards here to see how much Finland loves this movie.
I thought that I might take a look.
My overall reaction of the 169 minute version was that it displayed the violence like how you'd want it to be, for a 50's movie I was expecting tamer violence, Although... As far as Finnish war films go I prefer the 1989 film Talvisota, it's all opinion. The one thing I did find weird was that the characters went through violence like that and they're acting light-hearted for what you'd expect the dialogue to be, I was expecting the dialogue to be more grim than it actually was, Not that it wasn't grim - There is a scene where a soldier gets shot and injured, the platoon then believes he's dead and he then wants to die and that The Russians can't aim for him and he then commits suicide, it's just the dialogue that's light-hearted.
In my opinion this movie has full reason to be considered a classic, (I rated The Seven Samurai the same rating) I will watch the remake done by Rauni Mollberg, I will not expect the same quality type of movie though I will expect a remake that is still good yet nothing on this, maybe a perfect example of a remake being not as good as the original yet still good is the remake of the German movie Nosferatu.
In my opinion I think this does have full reason to be considered a classic (unlike a few American films I've seen) but it's not as good as the hype around it was suggesting - will watch the remake though.
I consider this epic as the war movie of all time. Words are insufficient to describe something, that has been such successfully transferred through real-life experience to screen. To help understand the miracle of Winter War where small, but unique spirited Finland stopped the attack of an overwhelming enemy. The events of courage and will that ensured the nation's independence.
Released one year after the publication of Väinö Linna's renowned novel
"The Unknown Soldier" (1954), the film was an impressively rapid
adaption. Director Edvin Laine's epic interpretation is an important
milestone in Finnish movie history.
Letterboxd: Mårten Larsson (Morten_5).
This oddly toned war movie still remains the definitive film
representation of the Continuation War, the part of World War 2 where
Finnish and German soldiers fought alongside one another as part of the
failed conquest of Russia. THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER wisely remains
apolitical, but the rather grim ending feels a tad out of step with the
historical reality that Finland was able to quit the war on the most
favorable terms of any Axis country, and kept its government, military,
and most of its pre-war territory intact.
The film follows a group of Finnish soldiers around beginning with their mobilization in the late summer of 1941 up to the major retreats of 1944. Mostly we focus on Koskela, the high-spirited goof-ball of the group, and to a lesser extent a defiant and selfish corporal Lehto, and later in the film by the angry volunteer Karelian farmer corporal Ante Rokka. Rokka is played by a non-actor (heavily resembling a young Eli Wallach) who however delivers such an animated and impassioned performance that he easily steals the whole movie. Most of the last half of the film are various acts of battlefield heroism interspersed with vignettes where one of the veterans will take a green recruit under his wing only to lose them in ensuing battle.
There's a lot of good action and the stark black and white photography fits the subject matter well and helps to integrate it with the frequent use of stock footage (some of which is quite impressive). The film progresses at a solid pace, covers a lot of story, shows some fun character development, and overall packs a lot into its 3 hour running time.
Unfortunately it's hampered on a few occasions by budgetary constraints and lack of authentic equipment. On two occasions the filmmakers use a Panzer IV to sub in for a Soviet T-34 and it really doesn't work. No Finnish artillery or heavy weaponry is shown outside of stock footage. Another thing which could put a lot of viewers off are the dated exaggerated performances and stereotypical depictions of the officers. Personally I wasn't too fond of the film's frequent forays off-target like a drawn out sequence where most of the platoon gets inebriated on hooch or when three soldiers go AWOL to harass some Soviet women who proceed to happily dance for them.
However it's all much, much better presented than the 1985 remake and works very well as a "bridger film" going from TALVISOTA to TALI IHANTALA 1944 for those of you looking for a filmed historical time-line of Finland's Karelian front in World War 2. Overall I can say that for the time and budget, this film really is quite good and Finns can proudly look upon this as their version of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.
If you are preparing to take on the so-called Finnish Epic, here are a
few tips that may help you on the way:
1. The book that the film is based on ("The Unknown Soldier") was heavily censored for political and religious commentary and wasn't published in its full form until 2000 ("Sotaromaani"). You can safely assume that the script is somewhat lacking.
2. There isn't any narration besides the character dialog, so unless you are familiar with the story, you may have trouble following the events.
Overall, the film doesn't stand well on its own and is little more than a visual guide for those who have read the book.
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