Saturday, September 8, 2018

SHOULD I READ IT? Talvisota (The Winter War) (1989)

       “Talvisota” is a Finnish movie set in the Winter War with the Soviet army in 1938-39.  It was released in the 50th Anniversary of the war.  It was the most expensive movie ever made in Finland.  The movie was directed by Pekka Parikka and was based on a novel by Antti Tuura.  It is “dedicated to the Finns in the Winter War” and they certainly deserved a movie.  The fight the Finnish army put up against the Red Army when it invaded Finland is legendary.

                The film begins on October 13, 1939.  Two brothers named Martti and Paavo (played by brothers Taneli and Konsta Makela) are called up.  They go off to war in a horse and buggy.  They lack uniforms, but the soldiers of their reserve platoon are naïve and optimistic. They are also smack in the fog of war as they have little knowledge of the big picture.  “In war, you never know, you just go where they tell you.”  Their unit is tasked with defending a trench line.  The movie is from the “last stand” subgenre and soon the men are being whittled down.  They come under artillery barrage and attacks from fighters and bombers.  Later, Russian tanks assault them.  This goes on for months.  Paavo and Martti each get to go home so we can learn that the home front is as clueless as it was in “All Quiet on the Western Front”.  Speaking of which, the scenes at the front are similar in vibe to that classic film.  So is the mortality rate of the platoon.

                “Talvisota” is a disappointing movie.  The soldiers that defended Finland so valiantly and against such heavy odds deserved better.  I mentioned it is similar in plot to “All Quiet” but it is certainly not in a league with that movie.  Both movies concentrate on a small group of soldiers.  “Talvisota” does not really develop these men very well.  It is sometimes hard to tell who is who.  The acting is good, especially by Taneli Makela.  The rest of the cast is not really given the chance to shine because there is no dysfunction in the platoon.  Even the officers, with one villainous exception, are nice guys.  I know you are trying to honor the soldiers, but it’s a bit boring in that respect.  The enemy is faceless so we have no Russian perspective.

 The strength of the movie is in its combat.  It has both quantity and quality.  The bombardments are well-done, if unrealistically accurate at times.  There is some visceral and graphic hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches of the modern “Saving Private Ryan” style.  The vehicles and weaponry are either original or excellent replicas.  The producers got hold of some authentic Soviet T-26 tanks.  The trenches and dugouts are true to the war and the soldier behavior is natural.  At first, the deaths are refreshingly random, but after the first few surprises, it becomes obvious who is doomed next.  There is a “who will survive?” theme to the film.  Answer:  not many.


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