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A remake of the 1955 Finnish classic and adapted from the book of the same name, The Unknown Soldier (Finnish: Tuntematon Sotilas) was made to celebrate Finland’s centenary in 2017 and is already set to become a classic itself. Upon its release, the film was so popular in Finland it outsold Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of Finnish soldiers in the Continuation War, which, unlike the original film, goes into their backstories and personal lives in greater detail, making them much more sympathetic and increasing the tragedy even further.
An old classic, Inspector Palmu’s Error (Finnish: Komisario Palmun erehdys) is often regarded as the best Finnish film ever. It has a pretty standard murder mystery premise – a wealthy man is murdered, and a detective comes to check things out and interrogate each of the quirky suspects. Inspector Palmu had already been the subject of a 1940 novel, and people enjoyed his antics on film enough that three additional movies were made with the same characters. This film is still quite popular and hilarious even when watched with subtitles.
When The White Reindeer (Finnish: Valkoinen peura) was released, it immediately gained recognition worldwide, garnering an award for Best Fairy Tale Film at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival on a jury led by Jean Cocteau and winning a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 1957. It’s a horror film that draws its inspiration from Finnish mythology and shamanism of the Sami people of Lapland. If for nothing else, watch this film for the scenery and costumes, which will take you right into the depths of winter in Northern Finland.
There is nothing more Finnish than a sauna, and there’s no better way to understand sauna culture as a non-Finn than by watching Steam of Life (Finnish: Miesten vuoro). The film stops in at saunas all around Finland, and audiences get to hear the deep thoughts of all of the people who enjoy them. Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to go into a sauna with a bear? Probably not, but one of the men featured in Steam of Life can tell you anyway. Be wary if you’re a little squeamish because for obvious reasons, this film contains a lot of nudity!
Another feature about one of Finland’s conflicts during World War II, The Winter War (Finnish: Talvisota) follows a set of Finnish brothers in the reserve army in 1939 as they go to fight against the Soviets. This event happened right after Germany invaded Poland, and goes largely unnoticed in World War II history. One thing to note is that whenever possible, the director used the actual war machinery and only created replicas when the originals were not available. The Winter War received much acclaim in the Finnish film world when it was released, but has remained largely obscure outside of that.
The Man Without A Past (Finnish: Mies vailla menneisyyttä) was nominated for an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and four awards at Cannes. The director, Aki Kaurismäki, is one of Finland’s greatest and most prolific contemporary directors. This film, like many of his others, centers on the Finnish capital of Helsinki and takes a cynical and darkly comedic look at the country – which, fittingly, is how many Finns would look at it.
Frozen Land (Finnish: Paha maa) basically tells the opposite of the ‘pay it forward’ idea, with one cruel action after another being transferred from character to character. It all starts with a fired schoolteacher taking his bad mood out on his teenage son, and then the film follows the chain reaction that ensues. It won eight Finnish Jussi awards, including Best Film and Best Direction, in addition to a number of awards at film festivals across Europe.
Based upon the Finnish song of the same name, One Way Ticket to Mombasa (Finnish: Menolippu Mombasaan) is the darkly comic story of two cancer patients breaking out of hospital to hitchhike across Finland and achieve their final dreams of seeing Mombasa. The film features hilarious performances by the two lead actors, Antti Tarvain and Joonas Saartamo, stunning cinematography, a tearful ending and an awesome, heavy metal cover of the title song.
Don’t be confused by the suspiciously erotic cover; Bad Boys (Finnish: Pahat Pojat) is actually a crime drama based upon a true story. In the year it was released, it was the second-best performing film in the Finnish box office after The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. When the four Takkunen brothers are left in poverty when their father (played by legendary Finnish actor Vesa-Matti Loiri) is admitted to a mental hospital, they resort to crime to survive. Their crime spree is simultaneously tense, comedic and even a little bit tear-jerking.
About Seven Brothers (Finnish: Noin Seitsemän Veljestä) is named after the famous Finnish book Seven Brothers but is actually a comedic farce based upon the Robin Hood tales, and often considered to be the Finnish equivalent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This version transplants the Robin Hood characters to Finland and was filmed around the Finnish fortress of Suomenlinna with Olavinlinna standing in as the castle. The hammy performances and outdated special effects are highly cheesy by modern standards, yet this is what makes the film so enjoyable. Some fun pieces of film trivia: this was one of the earliest film roles for Vesa-Matti Loiri and is most likely the first ever Finnish film to feature a black actor.
Another great film based on the experiences of ordinary Finnish people during World War II. Mother of Mine (Finnish: Äideistä parhain) tells the story of a Finnish boy who feels abandoned when his mother sends him to an unwelcoming Swedish foster family during the war. Director Klaus Härö is a Finnish Swede, and at only 47 he has already had four of his movies submitted to the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards, including Mother of Mine, and has also won Finland’s State Prize for Art.