Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier). 1985. Finland. Directed by Rauni Mollberg. Screenplay by Veikko Aaltonen, Väinö Linna. With Risto Tuorila, Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Paavo Liski, Mika Mäkelä, Pertti Koivula, Tero Niva. In Finnish; English subtitles. 35mm. 199 min.
"There they stood, these victims chosen by Mother Finland for world history." Released in 1954, Väino Linna’s novel The Unknown Soldier begins in 1941 and ends in 1944, following a platoon of Finnish machine-gunners who must make their way into the Soviet Union via the Karelian Front. Often branded Finland’s All’s Quiet on the Western Front, the book was heralded as a literary masterpiece and adapted for the screen a year after publication by filmmaker Edvin Laine. But Laine’s rendition was understood as a work of chest-thumping nationalism, designed to lift the spirits of a country still traumatized by its unique position during the War, having fended off the invading Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-40, onto to semi-forcibly ally with Germany in the “Continuation War” of 1941-44.
Three decades later, maverick filmmaker Rauni Mollberg’s The Unknown Soldier was the biggest-budgeted Finnish film of all time and a box office sensation across Scandinavia; its location photography, gritty handheld camerawork and lack of exegetic music spoke to Mollberg’s ambition to depict war as hell, as did his hiring of Linna to co-author the screenplay. Assisting Mollberg was the 23-year-old Ilkka Järvi-Laturi, who also appears among The Uknown Soldier’s ensemble of grunts from all different walks of Finnish life. Järvi-Laturi also worked as an assistant to the director, an experience which heavily informed his own technique as a filmmaker. “[The film] is staunchly anti-war in its impact, but it is also a soberly honest, straight goods piece of entertainment…. [It] competes favourably with both book and Laine’s work by bringing viewpoints and technical credits handsomely up to date” (Variety).