Abrupt hurried developments and an alienating protagonist aside, the film works because of the way it interprets international politics. The main victim of its fickleness is the common people. This underlying theme renders the film to be an important work about the horrors of political warfare.
3 out of 4 stars
Of Hope and Horror
It is 1931. Jussi Ketola (Tommi Korpela) lives a simple blissful life with his family of two children and a loving wife in rural Finland. The lively greenery around reflects the tranquility of their lives. Except there is a minor flaw. Ketola’s political influences are unclear. A man with an ambiguous political ideology is like a no man’s land. Both sides put their claim on it. Therefore, in the wee hours of one otherwise normal night, a halo of light appears from the edge of the horizon. As it reaches the boundary of the house, Finnish soldiers emerge. They charge Ketola for being a ‘commie’ and forcefully take him away. In the darkness of the cold barren forest, they decide to assassinate Ketola. However, he escapes and crosses the border into the Soviet Union.
In the Soviet Union, Ketola desperately attempts to return to his family. However, he is stopped by party official Kallonen (Hannu-Pekka Björkman). Dubbed a commie in Finland, here Ketola is taken for an American agent. Kallonen informs him that his coded messages have been caught. Thus Kallonen punishes Jussi by forcing him to work as a spy for the Communist government in Hopea. Hopea is a newly emerging collective farm consisting of European and American immigrants. Stalin saw the 1929 economic downturn of America as an opportunity. He presented the Soviet Union as the destination for global workers to work and thrive. Consequently, thousands of westerners land up there. Moreover, Moscow gets its own baseball team. The inhabitants of Hopea are a group of such hopefuls. Thus justifying the farm’s name, and also symbolizing a wish in vain. The diverse shades in which Annila drenches this land reflects his formal capabilities as a visually expressionistic filmmaker.
A New Life
But suspicion looms over Stalin’s mind. And as people start settling themselves in these new establishments like Hopea, the Communist government’s insecurity increases. Anyone, or all, of these people, could be spies. While simultaneously, Ketola begins a new life with a new identity. It is at this point that the film slips. In Hopea, Jussi comes across Sara, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen with a questionable accent. Sara takes care of his body and his aching heart. But she has an agenda. When someone tells her that Jussi is married, she replies ‘nothing is permanent’, thus articulating her intentions. It does not put her in a positive light, though her strength of character is a highlight of the film. But the weak spot here is Jussi himself. Taken away from his family in 1931, it takes him less than a year to become a family man again, this time with Sara, her daughter, and a child of their own. This sudden change of personality, along with his political ambiguity, makes one wonder what exactly is going on in his mind.
Moreover, the development of Jussi and Sara’s relation is abrupt. It brings to the surface the film’s struggle to balance the personal and the social. Similarly, Jussi and Kallonen’s rivalry feels out of place in a plot founded by collective level conflicts. Moreover, this hostility diverts the film from its female characters, who form the pillars of both the film’s and Jussi’s journey. By the end, we come to learn that the entire plot is narrated by Sara’s first daughter. Alas, the film tells us very little about her. Instead, by keeping the focus on Jussi and his wants, the film conforms to the tradition of using the protagonist’s needs as the narrative structure’s hook. Whereas, based on the plot’s developments, the film’s heart should have been the people trying to sustain on the face of massacres whose meanings they don’t exactly fathom.
Game of Politics
But still, the film does stand out as an important work about the horrors of political warfare. It interprets politics as the core of international communication, whose constantly altering dynamics consistently victimizes the common people. Be it the Finnish soldiers or Communist guards, their nature of emergence onto the doorstep of civilians is the same. It indicates what political force essentially means for the common people. When politics use development as a tool, it sells dreams to the people. When politics hold international cooperation of greater significance, it ends up selling the lives of the people. The film ends by informing that during the Second World War, when America partnered with the Soviet Union, it stopped any further mention of the deaths of the thousands of American civilians on Soviet soil.
Credits (from IMDb):
Antti Tuuri … (novel) (screenplay)
Tom Abrams … (collaborating writer)