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The grandiose exploitation war film “Sisu” is profoundly nationalistic and is set in the 1944 ruins that dot the Finnish landscape during World War II. The violence is deliriously joyful and outrageous. The grizzled, bearded Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), dressed in a basic woolen shirt and suspenders, appears out of place and time as he comes at a charming stream. He is painted in the surprisingly reverent iconography of the prospector. He does what is apparently a common routine while being accompanied by his horse and small gray dog: He dips his pan into the stream and sifts through the water looking for flecks of gold while crouching down. He finds a little nugget inside. As gunfire and exploding shells close in on his outmoded site, he starts to dig holes and clear the area. When he eventually hits the jackpot, the gold’s radiance is enough to cause him to collapse and start screaming ecstatic tears.
Though the word “sisu” is nearly impossible to translate, its closest meaning connotes an unwavering resolve that even seems to stave off death. When Korpi comes across a group of grumpy Nazis while returning home with his fortune of nuggets hanging on his horse’s saddlebag, he will need all the determination he can muster. A group of Finnish ladies are being transported by the Nazis as a sort of “treasure” (although they are not treated as such). In spite of his best efforts, the troops find his booty, which sparks a conflict over the dug treasure.
For its exploitation cinema, spaghetti Western, and 1980s action roots—which are owed to Sergio Leone’s films and “Rambo: First Blood,” respectively—writer/director Jalmari Helander’s viciously bloody film would be an easy watch. Tommila’s portrayal of the guy of few words is undoubtedly inspired by Clint Eastwood’s The guy with No Name. Like Rambo, he also has a peculiar background: Former special forces soldier Korpi is regarded as an unstoppable ghost by the Russians due to his alleged 300 murders of Russians during the Winter War, which he committed to exact revenge for the deaths of his wife and daughter. Bruno (Aksel Hennie), the brutal commander of the German company, is unaffected by such revelation, nevertheless. Bruno believes that the gold is his ticket out of future punishment as the war is coming to an end and the possibility of war crimes is beginning to take shape. The movie builds up bodies as high as a Rambo death toll during their conflict. However, “Sisu” is more than just entertaining carnage.
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Prospectors have always been seen as symbols of colonization and land theft. They come to steal the area’s critical resources from the local indigenous population. Gold rushes in America have been an extension of the concept of manifest destiny. But Helander modifies these conventional wisdoms in a subtle way.
For instance, the way Helander and cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos depict the bleak Finnish landscape—a barren wasteland littered with craters, villages torn apart, and dead dangling from telephone poles—is telling. Bullets, bombs, and landmines have destroyed the entire country’s infrastructure, from the ground to its means of communication. When Korpi creates crater-like holes in the peaceful ground near the stream to begin the movie, he isn’t doing it to destroy the area’s natural boundaries. He is a local man who may have decided to take the gold in order to defend one of his nation’s last remaining resources. Of course, the Nazis are portrayed as colonizers trying to steal the one treasure in this nation that they haven’t already destroyed. The use of a strongly nationalistic message while subverting the historical picture of the prospector is exhilarating.
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When the Nazis take his gold, the battle to recover it gives this hero a near-supernatural sense of resolve that is as caked on as the blood and mud that settle in his facial crevices. He battles across landmine-filled highways, survives a hanging, and cuts men’s necks underwater to breathe off their escaping air bubbles in order to escape capture. The audience may really enjoy the gore and carnage seeping from every nook and cranny of the picture thanks to his supernatural strength and resolve. Even the narrative’s chapter names, straightforward expressions like “Minefield” and “The Legend,” as well as the ominous soundscape, share Korpi’s unwavering determination.
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The quest to recover his loot also involves helping the Finnish ladies the Nazis are holding hostage and planning to rape. Like the gold and not unlike the women in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the imperialist Nazis have colonized their fate and freedom. These women, like Mimosa Willamo, have fewer lines than Korpi. Even though they only exist as symbols, they are not flat characters. That’s because Helander used performers like Willamo, Tommila, and Hennie, whose rugged features can conjure up their individual characters’ terrible, torturous, and horrible pasts without the need for extensive history.
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Contrary to its deeper concerns, “Sisu” is also absurdly enjoyable, largely because it isn’t afraid to be absurd. The movie features the silly action beats, creative killings, and corny but entertaining banter that Hollywood used to be so good at generating. It is reminded that heroes can be impervious to harm while being interesting, and that villains can be completely evil. The movie “Sisu” isn’t afraid to make fun of itself and doesn’t feel the need to explain every story aspect. Just by having you along for the voyage, the movie makes you feel comfortable.
Friday in cinemas.
For more personality quizzes check this: Breeding Difficulty Quiz.