Movie Curiosities: Sisu
Time to go Nazi huntin’, y’all!
Sisu takes place in Finland, during the downfall of the Third Reich. Long story short, the Soviets are forcing the Nazis out of Finland, and the Nazis are naturally blowing up everything they can along the way. What’s worse, because the war is irretrievably lost by this point, the Nazis have every reason to steal anything of value to try and buy a flight to Argentina, or drink stolen liquor and rape kidnapped women for one last laugh on their way to Nuremberg.
The plot begins with Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie), an SS officer leading up one such platoon of Nazis on their way out of Finland. I might add that they’re carrying a group of women (with Aino, played by Mimosa Willamo, as their de facto leader) who’ve been press-ganged into sex slavery for crew morale. Don’t worry, I’m relieved to report that while the sex slavery is heavily implied, there are no instances of sexual assault anywhere in the actual plot.
Enter Aatami (Jorma Tommila), a humble gold miner on his way to town after digging up a fortuitous payday. Our band of Nazis find out that Aatami is carrying a motherlode on the back of his horse and decide they want to steal it from him. Little do they know that Aatami is a Winter War veteran with a kill count and a resurrection count on par with goddamn Jason Voorhees. Carnage ensues.
(Side note: For those who aren’t up on their WWII history, the Winter War was the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939, shortly after the outbreak of WWII. In a fine example of history repeating, the far superior Soviet forces were beaten back by the defending Finland army, the League of Nations declared the war illegal, and Stalin was forced to call off the invasion with the Moscow Peace Treaty in 1940. This Soviet military failure convinced Hitler that the USSR could be invaded, with Finland playing a role in his ill-fated attempt.)
Right off the bat, it’s worth mentioning that the characters are one-dimensional at best. Our villains are either faceless disposable goons or four-color archvillains. The female captives are simply there to be captives until they inevitably break free and take their bloody revenge. Our protagonist doesn’t even talk until the last five seconds of the movie, he just grimaces in pain and glowers in hellish anger all through the picture.
Then again, this is not a movie for anyone expecting deep character-driven drama. This is a movie for anyone who wants to see Nazis getting slaughtered for 90 minutes. The bad guys are trying to kill the good guy for their own fortune and self-preservation, while the good guy is trying to kill the bad guys because they’re fucking Nazis. What more do we need?
If the film has any kind of deeper meaning, it’s right there in the title. An opening title card helpfully tells us that “Sisu” is a concept unique to the Finnish language, a kind of last-minute courage borne of desperation that doesn’t really have a comparable word in any other language. As such, this is very much a nationalist movie made in celebration of the Finns’ unyielding resilience, particularly as demonstrated against the Nazis. Or in this case, by way of a demigod who personifies Finnish bravery and tenacity as he carves his way through a legion of unambigously evil invaders. It’s a tradition of propaganda as old as storytelling itself, really.
That aside, this movie was made for the clear overarching purpose of killing Nazis. Sure, the protagonist gets cut up and shot and bloodied as well — how else is the film going to convey the theme of perseverance and victory against all odds? Even so, Aatami is still only one guy who singlehandedly kills at least two dozen Nazis over the course of the film. Their deaths are all improbable, inventive, and gory as hell.
I don’t even know what else there is to say about Susi. It’s a lean mean 90-minute film that’s all about finding new ways of killing Nazis, new ways of chasing and capturing Nazis, and new ways for our protagonist to cheat death. Every single instance of these is wicked fun to watch, presented with copious creativity and gory glee. Me, I’m really not that hard to please — show me some hapless foot soldier taking a landmine to the face and I’m a happy guy.
There’s no character development, nothing overly intellectual in terms of theme, and nothing to pad out the runtime that barely counts as feature length. It’s nothing more or less than a good old-fashioned slaughterfest that helps to remind us in these concerningly fascist times that the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi. If that’s all you’re looking for, don’t miss out.
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