A war film, a WWI film about the year 1916, about the escape through Finland of German prisoners of war from a Russian hard labour camp at the Murmansk railway. They cross the border in Kainuu (perhaps Suomussalmi) and proceed towards Oulu, Kemi, and Tornio, and to Haparanda in Sweden.
In 1916 Finland was a grand duchy of the Russian Empire, and passing through Finland the German refugees are in enemy territory. The Finns who help German soldiers do so at the risk of their lives. Finnish officials are duty bound to arrest the refugees.
After a two year break Erkki Karu directed again. He had peaked as a film director in 1923-1925, and now he was regressing while the international art of silent cinema was reaching its heights.
But there are interesting things in Muurmanin pakolaiset.
The most endearing feature is the feeling for the wilderness by the director Erkki Karu and the cinematographer Frans Ekebom. They are at home in the forest, on the wild rivers, and the dangerous swamps. The motif of the huuhkaja (eagle owl) is majestic and impressive. The image of the flying cranes, the kurkiaura (the flock of cranes flying in a plow formation) presents a poignant parallel to the refugees' desperate journey. A fine adventure film could have been made from this stuff.
The wilderness is calamitous for the stranger. The refugees meet a skeleton of an unlucky forerunner. The hunger gets desperate, and although "they say that the swan of the wilderness is holy", Hahn and Braun shoot one. But when they set to reach it by a tree trunk, Hahn drowns, and Braun loses consciousness, to be rescued in the nick of time by Saima Niva.
The artist among the refugees discovers in the wilderness imperishable values. The field priest discovers his congregation there. "The people in the South are not happier than us - it is rather on the contrary". These are impressive statements, but the film does only partially justice to them.
Erkki Karu still knows how to create a stream of consciousness. The montages of mental associations and flashbacks are fluid.
The most impressive flashback is of the hard labour camp of the Murmansk railway surrounded by barbed wire. Brutal wardens do not hesitate to use their guns.
As a rule the performances are bland, but Ellen Sylvin (born in Kajaani, in the very milieu of this story) creates a natural and unaffected character of Saima Niva.
Jalmari Sauli seems authentic and in his own element in this sole film role of his. He was an Olympic sportsman (London 1908), a distinguished editor-in-chief in major newspapers, and a prolific author of wilderness adventures and historical novels. As a boy I found him not worse than Jack London or James Oliver Curwood.
The historical background is relevant to the militant independence movement of autonomous Finland. Young Finns were getting recruited by Germans to get military training and exercise. The film is set in 1916, and two years later, in 1918, Germans, with their superior military know-how, sided with the white army in our civil war.
Erkki Karu was a super patriot, and this film of his was his tribute to the Finnish-German Waffenbrüderschaft (brotherhood in arms) in the first world war. As many Erkki Karu films do, it ends with a close-up of the Finnish flag waving in the wind.
It is also the story of a platonic love affair between a German war invalid and a young Finnish woman who nurses him back to health. After the war, the German returns to see her. Teuvo Tulio in his final film Sensuela created a completely mad variation of a similar situation.
The Russians and their minions are portrayed in gross caricature. This diminishes the film and makes the combat sequences tame as there seems to be no real threat from such bunglers.
The Centenary of the Cinema reconstruction of 1995 is complete and makes sense. There are at times beautiful passages of sepia and brown toning. But there are also less fortunate instances of tinting and toning. We screened it at 22 fps, but next time let's try it at 20 fps.
Original music compilation playlists
Partituureissa on muutamia merkintöjä siitä, mihinkä kohtauksiin määrätyt sävellykset
Im Geisterschloss, säv. Hans Erdmann (pakenijat nuotiolla)
Heimkehr aus der Fremde, säv. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (makkaramestarin uni lihakaupasta)
Allegro perpetuo, säv. Domenico Savino (Taipale löytää pakolaiset)
Koraali, säv. Heino Kaski (Taipale kertoo Hahnin kuolemasta)
Les champs, säv. Bradford (Simpura löytää pakolaisten nuotion)
Tanssi-improvisaatio, säv. Toivo Kuula, ja Vienankarjalainen rapsodia, säv. Heino Kaski (tsaarin julistuksen naulaus, Simpura kyläläisten pilkattavana)
Le Rouet d'Omphale, säv. Camille Saint-Saéns (pakolaiset metsätuvassa, Simpura tainnuttaa vartijansa)
Agitato Appasionato, säv. Gaston Borch (Simpuran karkumatka)
valssi sävellyksestä Gardavoy, säv. tuntematon (kalastajaveneen lainaus)
Dramatic Tension, säv. J.E. Andino (venäläinen sotilas löytää Braunin asetakin).
Helsingin Kino-Palatsin musiikkiohjelmaan kuuluivat lisäksi sävellykset:
Aaltoja, säv. Erkki Melartin
Alkusoitto oopperasta Alceste, säv. Christoph Willibald Gluck
Appassionato, säv. Rapee
Balladi, säv. Heino Kaski
Balladi, säv. Erkki Melartin
Barcarole, säv. Erkki Melartin
Fire agitato, säv. W. Axt
Hedge Roses, säv. H. Frey
Hei Härmästä, säv. trad.
Impromptu, säv. Erkki Melartin
Improvisationi, säv. Toivo Kuula
Kevätlaulu, säv. Erkki Melartin
Légende, säv. J. Clemandh
Lied ohne Worte / Sanaton laulu, säv. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Merellä, säv. Oskar Merikanto
Misterioso Dramatico, säv. Gaston Borch
Moderato, säv. Erkki Melartin
Paimenen unelma, säv. Leevi Madetoja
Pieni satu, säv. Leevi Madetoja
Playful Allegro, säv. tuntematon
Sophonisbe, säv. F. Paér
Tuutulaulu, säv. Erkki Melartin
Wanderung, säv. H. Erdmann
Vanha muisto, säv. Leevi Madetoja
Violence, säv. J.S. Zamecnik.
- Suomen kansallisfilmografia 1:n (1996) mukaan