By the end of the 1930s Valentin Vaala was by no means a newcomer in the Finnish film industry but considering the impressive number of films he directed during his cinematic career, his 1938 historical rom-com Sysmäläinen can be seen as an example of his early phase. Besides Vaala's direction, the film is also remembered as the second and penultimate appearance of Sirkka Sari who tragically died in 1939 by falling into a chimney at the age of 19.
The story is based on the novel by Jalmari Finne and features real historical figures Arvid Tandefelt and Brita Ekestubbe as protagonists. In 17th century Finland, the young Arvid is forced to marry the little Brita but their ways soon part when their respective fathers move to different places. Years roll by and Arvid (now played by Olavi Reimas) grows up into a handsome and respected Thirty Years' War veteran known for his excellent fencing skills. However, he has fallen madly in love with a local maiden who does not reciprocate his advances, not to mention that his forced marriage to Brita (Sirkka Sari) is still valid. With his new practically-minded servant Kustaa (Vilho Auvinen) and a romance-hungry woman Johanna (Kerttu Salmi), Arvid travels to meet Brita in order to get a divorce but love has other plans for the originally reluctant couple.
As a romantic comedy Sysmäläinen is surely even sillier than most movies of its kind: the costumes, wigs and facial hair are funny per se, everybody overacts like crazy and the plot is complete fluff from start to finish. Still, in its own context all the pieces somehow fall in place! The romantic misunderstandings, false identities, gender-bending disguises and the swashbuckling swordfight are tremendously entertaining throughout largely thanks to the actors' laid-back approach to the roles. The impulsive Arvid's incredibly antsy and romantically tormented state of mind is joyously conveyed to the audience by Reimas and Sirkka Sari is absolutely adorable as the smart Brita (a.k.a. "Aatu") cursed be the chimney that cut her life so short! Auvinen and Salmi deserve praise too in the roles of Kustaa and the mistreated ditzy Johanna, even though the latter's storyline is wrapped up pretty sloppily (and too early if you ask me).
Everything in the film makes it look like the cast were having a great time making the movie and their enthusiasm reached me through the TV screen very well. The plot may be based on just one idea, Arvid's treatment of Johanna may be questionable and there may not be much serious ambition to be found but who cares when the whole is as entertaining as this and no longer than 80 minutes? In the end, Sysmäläinen is definitely recommended to fans of old rom-coms, period pieces and Vaala's directorial career.
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