30 May 2013

Täällä pohjantähden alla (Under the North Star)

Täällä pohjantähden alla (Under the North Star) 2009
  • Director: Timo Koivusalo
  • Based on trilogy: Here Under the North Star by Väinö Linna
  • Cast: Ilkka Koivula, Vera Kiiskinen, Risto Tuorila, Ritva Jalonen, Mikko Nousianen, Tuukka Huttunen, Mikael Salonen, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Jonas Järnefelt, Antti Luusuaniemi
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • None of them
  • Why bought: have read the trilogy. History. Borrowed from Finnish friend EG.
  • Seen: March 23, 2013

First a short recap of Finnish history: In the Napoleonic Wars Sweden lost Finland to Russia (1809). The bourgeois and aristocratic Swedes retained much of the political and economic power. The Finnish gentry and church had some too.   The Russian tsar was rather remote. The Finnish peasant and working classes had no power and lived in poverty, doing back-breaking work for the upper classes. Then came the Russian Revolution. Finland became independent and civil war broke out between the Reds (workers and peasants) and the Whites (gentry, church and Swedish bigwigs).
This movie is about the civil war.
All of the classes are represented. The crushing oppression, the individual nastiness (and sometimes decency – within limits) of the ruling classes towards the crofters of the village, the resentment, the violence of revenge.
We follow Akseli Koskela from childhood to leader of a Red troop fighting against pathetically impossible odds.  The Reds are uneducated, untrained farmers with a motley collection of hunting rifles against White soldiers trained in Germany with machine guns. The Reds don’t have a chance. They are completely crushed and the revenge of the Whites makes the Reds’ word for them, “butchers”, all too applicable. Most of the young men and some of the old and some of the women we have gotten to know in the film are executed and thrown into mass graves.
For a person who doesn’t speak Finnish or know anything about Finnish history this movie would probably be impossibly confusing at first.  I do know quite a lot about the Finnish history of this period and I still had trouble keeping up with the English subtitles and figuring out who all these people were and how they were connected.
But that didn’t really matter. In a slow paced deliberate manner, with beautiful nature shots and many close-ups of the characters, we are drawn into this sweeping epic.  We feel the hope and excitement of the peasants as they realize that finally they are getting power. We wish they would refrain from violence against their oppressors but understand why they don’t. And we feel the despair of their defeat.
The scars of this civil war remain in Finland today. The trilogy the film is based on was written in 1959, 1960 and 1962. The film is from 2009.
The people in the film will stay with me.

4* of 5.


  1. How true! It's interesting that you find it diffucult to follow the story and I can't even imagine how difficult it is when you don't understand a word they say.
    These books and films (there are two old films from the 1960's)are as important part of the Finnish culture as the "Utvandrarna" - books are of the Swedish culture. Most of the Finns know the characters somehow, and at least we who aren't so terribly young anymore, have read the books.Also, some pop songs and commericials have quoted some lines from the books. I must say that I was positively surprised when I saw this movie - I didn't expect that this director could make a film of this quality.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! It's good to get the view of a Finnish history and literature expert and some insight into the contemporary Finnish cultural soul.