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April 28, 2023



Jalmari Helander - 2022

If a Western from Italy is called a "Spaghetti Western", would a Western from Finland be a "Reindeer Western"? Not thatSisu is a Western, but that it plays like one. If the non-verbal lead character is not enough of an indication, there is the Ennio Morricone inspired soundtrack. The title refers to a Finnish word that has no English language equivalent, but essentially means having the spirit to never give up, no matter how desperate the situation.

Off screen narration provides a bit of historical context to the film although some viewers may want to dig a little deeper into Finland's controversial history during World War II. The bulk of the story takes place in Lapland, 1944. Former soldier Aatami Korpi has withdrawn from society to live in a remote area. Nazi soldiers have been ordered to leave Finland but are following a scorched earth policy, burning towns and killing civilians. Aatami has discovered gold on his land and after gathering enough nuggets to carry, tries to travel by horseback to Helsinki. After Nazi platoon leader discovers that Aatami is carrying gold, he goes on an obsessive pursuit, ignoring both the orders that his platoon is to retreat, and that Aatami is a more than capable one-man army noted for killing 300 Russian soldiers.

Those who remember one of the popular bits on SCTV will find that Sisu was made to be reviewed by John Candy and Joe Flaherty in their Farm Film Report. Most viewers are going to show up to see see things "blowed up real good". By things, I mostly mean Nazi soldiers, tanks, and an airplane. There is also stabbings, punch outs, shootings and assorted mayhem. Also self-surgery with improvised needles and thread, as well as cauterization. How much is too much when it comes to slit throats and flying body parts? I guess the adjective overkill may be too obvious even if it is appropriate. The last twenty minutes or so take the film from simply being extreme to the ridiculous, although there is what appears to me a humorous nod to Dr. Strangelove.

Jalmari Helander has shown in his third feature that he likes to lean into the Finland of myths and traditions, again taking place in Lapland. His debut feature, Rare Exports took on Santa Claus. Big Game, digitally released in the U.S., was about a 13 years old boy whose rite of passage involves hunting a deer alone, only to find himself saving the President of the United States from kidnapping and death. Helander has a group of actors he has used in all his films, with Jorma Tommila as Aatami. Much of Sisu is dialogue free. Stateside filmmakers could learn a lesson or two from Helander both in keeping the exposition to a minimum and the running time to an audience friendly hour and a half. The more serious viewer might like to know that Sisu was the big winner at last Fall's Sitges Film Festival winning Best Film, Best Actor, Best Cinematography and Best Music. For everyone else, it is the fun of watching Nazis blown up real good.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 28, 2023 06:59 AM