Friday, January 27, 2023

Sisu / Immortal

Jalmari Helander: Sisu / Immortal (FI 2023) starring Jorma Tommila as Aatami Korpi.

From Wikipedia: "Immortal (Finnish: Sisu) is a 2022 Finnish historical action film written and directed by Jalmari Helander. The film takes place in Finnish Lapland during World War II, where a gold digger, played by Jorma Tommila, goes to take the gold he finds to town and has to escape from the Nazi patrol led by a brutal SS officer."

"Deep in the wilderness of Lapland, Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) is looking for gold during the Lapland War. From time to time the overflight of bombers and the distant sounds of war can be heard on clear autumn nights. Finally, the hard work is rewarded and the gold dust in pan grows into gold nuggets. Aatami leaves to take his gold treasure to the nearest town. When a thirty-strong Nazi extermination squad led by SS Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) turns against Aatami, a breathtaking and gold-hungry chase begins through the destroyed and mined wilderness of Lapland, with Aatami having to wage his one-man war against this superior enemy.

AA: Finnish action rampage films tend to take place in Lapland. In Renny Harlin's Born American, three young Americans cross the Soviet border just for the adventure's sake, and all hell breaks loose. In Mika Kaurismäki's The Last Border, Lapland is an ideal landscape for a Mad Max style violent dystopia.

Our Lapland war against Hitler's Germany took place from September 1944 until May 1945. When we switched to the Allies, there were 213.000 troops in Die Armee Lappland / 20. Gebirgs-Armee. A significant part of the soldiers belonged to various SS formations. The prominence of the Totenkopf cap badge is accurate.

The historical background of Helander's story is the Wehrmacht's scorched earth strategy in Lapland. It is conveyed in vivid images, of which two are particularly memorable. One is factual: the fire of Rovaniemi, burned to the ground by the Nazis. Another is imagined: a shock image of a ruined Helsinki, with half of the dome of the Helsinki Cathedral bombed away (in reality Helsinki was devastated by the great raids of the Red Air Force but not like this).

Sisu is a tall tale with little regard for realism. It belongs to the Rambo* school of lone psychotic fighters.

Having abandoned plausibility, Helander goes all the way. The ordeals of the unstoppable guerrilla warrior Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) get increasingly outlandish. I was thinking about Tex Avery cartoons and Weird Al Yankovich's parody trailer Gandhi II from UHF (in Finland: Kaapelit irti!), mixing Shaft and Rambo slogans such as "This is one bad mother you don't wanna mess with" and "He's a one man wrecking crew". In this Tarantinoesque recycling exercise Nazis speak genre-movie American English.

Leaping from history to Neverland, Sisu enters myth, legend and fairytale. Aatami Korpi can survive fire, water and the sky. I was thinking about what my friend Kai Vase told at the time about Rambo in India: he was seen as an incarnation of Shiva.

Jorma Tommila is career-best as Aatami Korpi, a role name with Biblical resonances: Aatami = Adam, Korpi = Wilderness (as in John the Baptist, the voice crying out in the wilderness). Tommila was groomed into the cinema by Jari Halonen in several fierce roles, joining Jalmari Helander since his early days as a director, also repeatedly working with Olli Saarela. He has lost none of his furor, equally at home in fairy-tales and gangster roles, as recently seen in Laitapuolen hyökkääjä / On Thin Ice.

The DP Kjell Lagerroos excels in epic scope-frame panoramas of Lapland, often gloriously evoking classic Westerns. Actually Sisu can be seen belonging to the trend of the Northern, established in the 1910s by William S. Hart, Nell Shipman (the James Oliver Curwood aficionado) and Tom Mix, followed by Sjöström, Stiller and Molander in Sweden.

Tuomas Wäinölä creates a powerful and ominous score, during the end credits paying open hommage to Morricone.

* Rambo happens to be the name of one of the oldest Swedish-Finnish settler families in North America, dating back to the settler Peter Gunnarsson, in America known as Rambo (1611–1698), in the 1640s in the New Sweden colony in then-Delaware, now-Pennsylvania. Peter Gunnarsson was all Swedish, and his wife Brita Matsdotter, whom he married in America, was Finnish, from the city of Vasa. David Morrell picked the name of his antihero from the Rambo apple brand originating with that family. According to Nils William Olsson, the name Rambo means "raven's nest" = ramn + bo and was chosen for Ramberget ("Raven's Mountain").

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