Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) (1985)

 

 

 

Director:     Rauni Mollberg.

Starring:     Risto Tuorila (Koskela), Pirkka-Pekka Petelius (Hietanen), Paavo Liski (Rokka), Mika Mäkelä (Rahikainen), Pertti Koivula (Lahtinen), Tero Niva (Vanhala), Ossi-Ensio Korvuo (Määttä), Mikko Niskanen (Salo), Pauli Poranen (Lehto), Hannu Kivioja (Riitaoja), Juha Riihimäki (Sihvonen), Seppo Juusonen (Suentassu), Timo Virkki (Honkajoki), Vesa Ala-Seppälä (Hauhia), Risto Hetta (Vuorela).

Time:            3 hours and 20 minutes.

remake of the 1955 film of the same name

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  (Also I had a hard time identifying the various characters in the film with their helmets on or their fighting in very dark areas.  Nevertheless, I got the main thrust of this story.)

Young men are being given an injection to be taken into the Finnish army.  Other young men are taking off their clothes getting ready for an injection.  One fellow still looks a bit drunk.  He says:  "My dad came home drunk from the Winter War and went to work with a hangover.  Me too.  I came here drunk and start the war with a hangover." 

The men are in their uniforms now.  The drill instructors yell commands at the young men.  Marching in formation, Private Riitaoja asks Hietanen if he got laid on leave?  Hietanen smiles. 

Koskela calls his group leaders to the front.  He tells them that the battalion has been transported to another place.  Therefore, all extra equipment has to be returned to the supply stores.  They are only to take their clothes and their backpack.  All else has to be turned in. 

The young men return to the barracks and start packing their backpacks.  One fellow says he heard that they will be taken to Joensuu.  Another fellow says he heard they were headed to Helsinki.  Following the Winter War, there has been peace.  And war has yet to reach Finland again. 

The men are moved out on the back of trucks. 

A minister speaks on the radio saying that Germany has already hit hard their common enemy:  Russia.  They now are confident of both a German and a Finnish victory against the Russians. 

While the men move forward, refugees head away from the area. 

Koskela marches his men through the forest.  When they hear a loud noise the men all dive for the ground.  Koskela tells his men that those sounds are from Finnish guns. 

The men are in place at the front lines.  Artillery shells explode around the area. The order is given:  "Fourth forward!"  The men are told not to lay down under fire.  One man, Riitaoja, lies down in a depression in the ground.  He is so scared that he gets into a fetal position.

As the men move forward, they suffer more casualties.  They reach an abandoned Russian fortification, but one of the guys says that he didn't even see one Russian down.  In a little while that changes, as they find a dead Russian officer. 

The next day the Finnish troops move forward again.  A little later they are being held down by fire from a machine gun nest.  Koskela decides to take some explosives with him and sneak closer to the enemy nest.  He gets up very close and then tosses the explosives at the nest.    A big explosion goes off  and the machine gun no longer fires.  Now the men can move up to where Koskela is. 

A corporal picks on Riitaoja because of his cowardice.  He slaps the guy a couple of times and then tells him to go back to the road and pick up some ammunition and bring it to them.  Then he is to go back with the medics. 

Back with his unit, Riitaoja says that at the roadside he saw a lot of dead and wounded men and even dead horses.  He speaks of seeing medics with tears in their eyes. 

The next day the unit opens up on a group of Russian soldiers walking along a road.  The machine gunner knocks many of them out of action, but then is shot and has to be replaced.  Another fellow tries, but can't get the machine gun to fire. 

One fellow finds a large sack filled with big sugar cubes, but he won't share the sugar with Koskela's unit.  He says they are only for his own unit.  Koskela tells the young man that he is not supposed to take anything if it belongs to someone.  He continues by saying the sugar will be for all the units, not just one unit. 

A Russian soldier shoots at Koskela's group.  He then takes a hand grenade and blows himself up. 

The major pays a visit to Koskela's unit.  Along with him come four women, most likely members of the Lotta volunteer service organization. 

The units moves through the forest.  It starts raining hard on them.  When it stops raining, the guys take a break.  Some of the guys open their emergency rations when they are not supposed to, but Koskela tells the fellows it's all right.  So they all dig into the emergency rations. 

While on break they discover a lone Russian soldier   They capture him.  Koskela tells one of the men, Sgt. Lehto, to take the prisoner to CP.  The soldier marches the Russian away.  A brief moment after they leave, the unit hears two shots.  They run to see what happened.  Koskela asks what did the prisoner do?  The soldier says:  "Died."  Koskela doesn't like what the sergeant did, but does not punish him. 

The unit now marches along a hard dirt road.  They are being passed by fellow soldiers on bicycles. 

Back into the woods they come across a blue and white striped marker for the old border.  They cross over and say they are in Russia now.   The soldiers pass across a farm field.  An old lady greets them as they go by.  There are a couple of artillery shell explosions.  What look like a wooden church catches fire.  At the farm they come into contact with other Finnish units.  And there are some Russian POWs.  They talk to one Finnish-Russian soldier who says he has never lived in Finland, only Russia, so he can't compare in which country is life better. 

Some of Koskela's men are caught by the major after hitching a ride on a passing truck to get them back to base.    The major calls Lt. Koskela over and says he is punishing Sergeant Lehto, along with Privates Määttä and Rahikainen. Each man will serve a 24-hour close arrest, but this judgment will be changed to two hours standing at attention with rifle and full field pack.  The charges are absent without leave, stealing food and, in the case of the sergeant, insubordination to a superior officer.  Koskela takes over now.  The sergeant says he wanted to kill the maajor.  Koskela suggests it's easier to take the punishment than to get into really serious trouble with the army. 

The goodies are supposed to be send back to supply, but the guys say they will eat and drink most of the food and beverages and leave only a little for supply.  They open up the boxes and have a feast. 

The next day the three rule breakers are marched out to stand at attention for two hours.  The guy watching them says the guys will stand there for awhile, but they are not going to waste two hours doing this.  An enemy airplane is headed their way and the guard tells the men to head into the forest.  Lehto, however, says he is not going any where.  He is going to do his two hours standing right here.  He is joined by the two others.  The plane flies low over the heads of the four soldiers.  More planes fly low over the fellows and then drop their bombs on the Finnish positions. 

Two reservist replacements report to a lieutenant.  The sergeant is Antero Rokka and the other is Private Wolf.  The lieutenant scolds the sergeant for being too chummy with him.  He comments that this is not the reserve.  He tells the two reservists to report to Lt. Koskela.  Since it is the middle of the night, the two new men go into the large tent and settle down for some sleep. 

In the morning Koskela asks the new men if they have ever seen any action?  The sergeant says:  "We did our trembling in Taipale."  (The Battle of Taipale was a Finnish victory over the Soviets in the Winter War.)  He says they are from the Isthmus and the Russians took their homes and farms from them. 

The unit prepares to cross over a river.  The men are lucky.  Each boat has a power motor, so they cross the river very quickly.  Landing on the opposite side of the river, some of the Finnish soldiers are shot dead.  Sgt. Rokka takes the initiative and launches an attack on a Russian position.  The sarge is very savvy about what the men have to do and he leads the way for the others.  Two Russians surrender but they are mowed down.  A very young lieutenant tells Sgt. Rokka:  "The way you cleaned up there was something to watch."  Rokka says that he's all about survival and doesn't care about heroes.

The news of the day is that the city of Vyborg has been retaken. 

Two volunteers will be send over to 2nd platoon.  Sgt. Lehto volunteers and takes the next two men with him.  One of the next men, Rahikainen, is not happy about this at all.  He didn't want to volunteer.  And now he is in favor of heading back.  Lehto, however, demands that they stay put.  Lehto now tries to cross a meadow.  He is hit by machine gun fire.  The moaner Rahikainen leaves, saying that Lehto is dead and he told one of them to report back to their unit if they came under fire.  The other fellow shouts out for Lehto.  The fellow seems very scared and talks too much.  He is hit by machine gun fire.  He's dead, but Lehto is alive at least.  The sergeant cries out in extreme pain.  He shouts at the machine gunner telling him to shoot lower.  He painfully crawls over to his weapon, sticks the barrel in his mouth and fires. 

In the morning the unit walks past their two dead comrades. One of the soldiers tells Rahikainen that he Rahikainen told them that Lehto was dead and here it seems he shot himself in the mouth. 

Russian tanks are headed toward the Finnish unit.  Rahikainen is just shooting from a safe position into the air.  A corporal yells at him to stop wasting bullets.  The corporal then makes himself a hero by grabbing an explosive charge from a dead soldier and throwing it at the lead Russian tank.  The explosion goes off and the tank stops.  The corporal sits up and lights up a cigarette and starts smoking.  He says to himself:  "Jesus, was I scared."

The bigwig military men come over and congratulate the corporal for what he did.  The brave man will get the Liberty Cross and a recommendation for sergeant's stripes.   A photo  of the bigwigs and the corporal is taken. 

The unit crosses a potato field and many of the men stop to dig for potatoes.  The field starts being shelled by Russian artillery.  They scurry off the field.  In the farmhouse sits an old Finnish-Russian man abandoned by all the others with nothing even to eat.  One of the Finnish soldiers gives him a piece of bread.  Sgt. Rokka searches in the cabinet he is sitting on for food and finds a basket of bread.  He hands it to the old man, who just keeps asking about a little salt to go with his food.  Rokka opens a small bag and it contains salt.  He takes some of the salt and gives the rest to the old fellow, saying he will give him in return some stew and tobacco. 

The Finnish soldieries reach Petrosakovsk (which is Petrozavodsk, Russia now).  They are happy about that because they say they will go no farther than Petrosakovsk.  At night some of the buildings are set on fire.  Some of the men get drunk.  There's a lot of celebration. 

The officers take hot baths in a sauna.  A naked woman (some nudity) washes one of the officer's hair.  Rahikainen steals religious paintings and brings them to an officer who collects them in exchange for flour and sugar. 

A Finnish soldiers walks into a house and a Finnish-Russian woman is there.  Another soldier comes in.  They listen to some of the woman's records, while she dances for them.   When she finishes dancing the men leave the house. 

The city residents watch as the armed forces march through the streets.  The soldiers walk past the top military brass. 

A lieutenant tells his men that they will all be getting on trucks in one hour.  Any man who refuses to go will be court-martialed.  The men remain obstinate that they are not going, until Keskola gets up and tells them to get ready to leave. 

Two Finnish soldiers are executed by firing squad.  The men were charged with insubordination. 

There is snow all over the ground.  An exchange of fire with the Russians occurs.  The Finns set up their firing positions.  The Russians come at them in a large wave.  The Finns start retreating.  Their machine gunner is killed.  The Russians push farther up the hill. 

Hietanen will cover the left flank. Määttä, Sal and the officer will cover the right flank.  Rokka and Shivonen are also sent to cover the far left.  The two men run into a file of Russian soldiers trying to flank them.  Rokka opens fire on them and kills or wounds all of them. 

Over some type of liquor, the guys talk about the fact that they have been through a lot.  They also speak of some of the men they lost in battle, such as Lehto and Lahtinen. Koskela talks about some of his earliest memories, such as his father returning from a prison camp.  The guys sing a few songs and even do a bit of dancing.  They play records on a phonograph and dance some more.  They are pretty drunk.  Elsewhere, the officers also get drunk and start singing.  Koskela wanders over to the officer's little celebration.  He gets into a fight with another officer, over what is not clear.  The drunken officers now get into what looks like a rugby match, except drunken fists start flying and only sometimes hits something or somebody. 

The officers carry Koskela out and brings him back to his unit.  An officer puts Rokka in charge until Koskela and Hietanen sober up.  Most of the men have passed out. 

The unit goes out on patrol, but they are in a poor state to fight.   

Rokka thinks that they are not going to win this war.  He says that soon their men won't even care who wins.  Two men approach Lt. Koskela to tell him that they are reporting for duty.  The one fellow, Private Honkajoki,  is really a huge guy and he gives a wonderful, patriotic speech about his reporting to duty to fight for his fatherland.  The other fellow's name is Hauhia.  Rokka takes Hauhia on a tour of the perimeter.  He prepares him to assume guard duty. 

If a soldier sticks his head up above the trench, he is exposing himself to snipers.  Hauhia prepares to fire his rifle.  A shot is heard and everyone comes running. A sniper has killed Hauhia with a bullet through his forehead.  Rokka says:  "The damned fool!"

Rokka doesn't like the army's spit and polish.  And he doesn't like being closely watched.  A colonel comes by and finds Rokka doing some whittling.  He asks him what does he think he's doing?  He's on guard duty, doesn't the officer know that?  The colonel asks for his name and gets its.  He turns around to leave while saying that Rokka will hear about this.

When Rokka returns to the dug-out, he is informed that he and his section men have been giving various jobs to do:  cleaning up around command post and decorating the paths with stone borders.  Rokka says he's not going to do it.  Koskela only tells him that he will inform Lammio of his refusal. 

At night Rokka is performing guard duty again.  All of a sudden a Russian soldiers jumps into the trench.  Rokka struggles with him and manages to knock him out.  When two other Russians soldiers arrive, Rokka shoots them both.  Later Rokka brings the capturedt Russian, named Baranov, with him to see the officers.  He says that he heard the officers were considering putting him in prison and he thought he might as well go in with Baranov.  The officers are pleased at having a Russian prisoner.  He is taken away.  Now the top officer wants to know why does Rokka finds following orders so difficult?  Rokka says it's all the fault of the other lieutenant who just took an almost immediate disliking of him and has been riding him way too closely all this time.  In his defense, the major says to Rokka:  "Tell me, Rokka, where you'd find another company commander, who would take as much as I have taken from you?"  Rokka gets angry and replies:  "Call that lieutenant back and let's have the inquiry.  Hell, I've had enough!  My patience has finally run out!"   Because Rokka has been such a valuable soldier, the superior officer says he's going to let this go for now.  But, Rokka must start obeying orders like everyone else and he must not tell a soul about this conversation they have just had. 

The Russians, thousands of them, are on the move.  The Finns are now really being bombarded.   Private Honkajoki is leading a horse who is frightened by all the noise in the area.  A shell hits near the horse and kills it and sends the private rolling down a slope. 

Private Korpela, and older man, is not happy about being called up into the army.  He and the men with him are all older men who have been called up to serve in the military. 

Koskela wants to make an end run around the enemy, but his superior tells him that they have strict orders and they will follow those orders.  The officer orders a forward attack, but the Finns start losing way too many men.  The attack or counter-attack fails.  After a few moments, the officer orders the men to attack again.  The oflficer himself moves forward but is shot and killed.  And now the Russians go to the attack.  A Finnish soldier gets hit by bomb shrapnel and calls for a medic.  The medic runs to him but is killed just as he starts to assess the the wounds of his patient. 

The Finns have to retreat.  Koskela visits a badly wounded man.  The fellow is in such pain that he wants Koskela to give him a pistol so he can end his suffering.  The fellow is put into an ambulance.  The men in the ambulance are screaming with pain.  The ambulance is shot up by the Russians.  The driver is killed, the ambulance rolls into a ditch and catches fire.  The wounded men are shot down as they try to get out of the burning ambulance.  

Koskela gets orders to hold the line, but he responds that the Russian attack cannot be stopped.  He now tells his men to throw the heavy machine guns into the pond.  The small artillery pieces are also thrown into the pond.  Soon the men are engaging in a fighting retreat.  Rokka is hit and falls into the water.  A soldier picks him up and carries him across the river.  Rokka will now be going home to his wife.  His part in the war is over.  Many dead Finns are in the water and the current takes them down stream. 

The top brass blame Koskela for the disaster. Now they ask him to position his battalion quickly to stop an assault from the edge of the marsh. Koskela has to tell the major that he had all but one of the machine guns thrown into a pond so the men could help carry the wounded.  The major declares that this is:  "Mutiny . ..  Deliberate aid to the enemy."  He tells Koskela that he can save his reputation by holding the line.  Now the major balls out the battalion troops.  He says their job is to hold their position or die.  Further, he says, they should be ashamed of themselves.

The lieutenant gets into another dispute over discipline.  The offender says that everyone is retreating, so why does the officer bother with this showdown routine?  The soldier's horse and cart get stuck in the mud.  The man releases the horse from the cart and walks him out of the mud.  A Russian plane flies overhead strafing the road and the man with the horse is killed.  The horse runs away.  That solves that dispute for the lieutenant. 

The major gets out of his car and tells the men to stop retreating or he will shoot.  This is foolish because thousands of men are retreating without any concern for the major.  He tells one man to stop and the fellow tells the major to go to hell.  So the major shoots him dead.  He starts talking to the troops about why he did what he did, but the troops just don't care about the major and his army rules.  They are going to continue to retreat.  A large group of soldiers gather around the man the major shot dead.  The Russians have caught up with the retreating column and go to the attack.  The major, still demanding that his men stop, is shot and goes down.  Laying on the ground, he still yells at his men, at least until he is completely silence by death. 

Some of the wounded and dying are brought to an aid station.  Koskela sleeps while leaning his back against a small tree.  The Russians with their tanks attack the Finns again.  The only thing that might save the Finns is that they have explosives to take out the tanks.  Koskela stops one of the tanks with the explosives, but then is shot and wounded.  He falls face down in a ditch.  Thousands of soldiers and refugees are trying to escape the disaster.  A cart with three dead bodies in it is pulled along the retreat way.  One of the bodies is that of Koskela. 

 

This is an anti-war film.  The focus is on the men of a machine gun platoon who are led by a natural born leader, Lt. Koskela, who has a great rapport with his men.  The lieutenant is very good, very brave and courageous.  But so are many of his men.  But Koskela seems to be the only officer in the Finnish army who has such a good rapport.  This is best illustrated in what happens to an extremely valuable soldier named Sgt. Rokka.  The other officers give this almost irreplaceable man a very hard time indeed.  He is a reservist and is used to a more relaxed atmosphere between officers and enlisted men and non-commissioned officers.  One particular lieutenant continues to ride this man while he performs fantastic deeds that make him a true Finnish war hero.  None of the officers seem able to appreciate this hero.  They are so petty that they can't see beyond their love for their own rules.  Another illustration, is the battalion commander who has the nerve to ball out Koskela and then all the men in the battalion telling them that they should be ashamed of themselves for retreating.  There are thousands of men retreating in a long column and this idiot chooses one man to shoot and kill.  Of course, the death of this man does nothing to affect the retreat as the men just keep going.  (I was expecting that someone might shoot the major, but they just completely ignored him instead.)

The officers are almost all so petty that they can't possibly treat their soldiers with any real dignity when things start to go bad.  And when they go bad, the officers turn on their own soldiers making a bad situation worse.  Heroes are criticized and belittled, while professional bureaucrats are paid big bucks for their inadequate performances. 

The movie is too long.  There was one long section of about a half-hour in length that I would have cut out.  It's the scene where the officers and men all get drunk after their taking of the town of Petrosakovsk.  Three hours and 20 minutes is too long.  What do they think this movie is?  Gone with the Wind?  The story is not that large enough for nearly three and a half hours of film. 

These Finnish war films are not like so many American films dealing with war.  In the American films they introduce a small group of men to the audience with enough time to get to know the fellows.  Then when they die, the audience feels that they have lost someone they know.   The Finnish films have just too many characters.  You really get to know only a couple of characters well.  So you see a lot of people killed but you can't really feel much empathy for them because you don't know the people killed.  You may have heard their names or remember the one other scene they were in, but you don't really know them.  The emotional impact of the Finnish war films are thereby lessened.  The Finnish films also present too many war scenes, so that one tends to wish this war was over soon. 

The sound quality on my DVD was simply terrible.   The sound would go in and out .  In many sections there was a near constant sound of static noise.  It irked me, to say the least. 

This film is very dark  -- very pessimistic and a bit depressing.  The Finns lost more territory in the Continuation War, but they covered themselves in glory when they finally had a series of defensive victories that stopped the Soviet offensive.  (See some of the other Finnish films in the Winter War and Continuation War section.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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