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“I am not keen on presenting heroes”

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Aku Louhimies • Director

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- Finnish director Aku Louhimies talks to us about his upcoming film version of Väinö Linna's literary classic The Unknown Soldier

Aku Louhimies  • Director

“The story of The Unknown Soldier is universal – it is a gripping portrayal of how tragedy changes us all,” is how Finnish director Aku Louhimies introduces his new war epic, currently shooting on location in Finland. “I will try to stay faithful to the thoughts in the book, and depict the lives of ordinary people and their experiences in wartime.”

After eight Finnish features, including the award-winning 8-Ball [+see also:
trailer
interview: Aku Louhimies
festival scope
film profile
]
(2013) and Naked Harbour [+see also:
trailer
interview: Laura Birn
film profile
]
(2012), Louhimies most recently helmed the Irish project Rebellion (2016), a five-part RTÉ television series about the birth of modern Ireland.

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“It was a good rehearsal before this,” said the director, before he started production on The Unknown Soldier (read the news). Translated into 23 languages, with the first uncensored version published in 2000 (as A War Novel, the original working title), the 1954 Finnish literary classic by Väinö Linna is set during the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union (1941-1944), and describes the experiences of a platoon of ordinary Finnish soldiers.

Finnish director Edvin Laine was the first to film The Unknown Soldier in 1955, and 30 years later, Rauni Mollberg made another colourised adaptation, mostly shot with a handheld camera and featuring a cast of unknown actors, which was selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes.

Starring Samuel Vauramo, Joonas Sartamo, Jussi Vatanen, Aku Hirviniemi, Jarkko Lahti, Matti Ristinen and Eero Aho, the €7 million 2017 version has been scripted by Louhimies with Jari Olavi Rantala, and is being produced for Louhimies' new company, Suomi 2017, by Mikko Tenhunen and himself.

Shot in the Finnish regions of Valkeala (where the Karelia Brigade is based), Kotka-Hamina, Helsinki and North Karelia, and backed by Finnish pubcaster YLE and the Finnish Film Foundation, The Unknown Soldier will be world-premiered on 27 October 2017 by SF Film Finland, as part of the celebrations for the centenary of Finland’s independence. The international sales of The Unknown Soldier are handled by Munich-based Beta Films.

Cineuropa: Why are you staging the same story for the third time?
Aku Louhimies
: First of all, The Unknown Soldier has the best source material – it is one of Finland’s most important ID cards. All Finns know its characters, its lines – it is like our Hamlet. It gives us our cultural background, it is engraved in our national identity, and everybody is hungry for news about it. When the new film was announced, more than 14,000 Finns volunteered right away to become extras. The first film was made just after the war, the actors had been fighting in the conflict, and the atmosphere was totally different. I think Linna’s original idea was to show the events so that they would also act as a warning. To be true to that idea, I am not keen on presenting heroes.

Is there anything that you wanted to emphasise?
It is one of those stories that every generation should tell themselves – there are so many different approaches to it, and I am sure my film will not be the last adaptation of it. For me, it is about young guys who go to war and return, and how it affects them and their lives – how extreme situations change human nature. My interpretation is probably more realistic than the previous ones. I wanted to illustrate the experiences of war as realistically and humanely as possible – to show what the soldiers were fighting for, and what they left behind. This was not heroic – Finland lost the war. But I hope that the historical background will give the audiences an idea of the world’s present-day power crisis, and how it feels to leave your home or send your son to the battlefield.

It must be a big production to handle.
It is the biggest Finnish production ever undertaken, running over three years. All the actors have been well prepared – they have had thorough military training, carried military equipment across rough terrain, and been sleeping in tents in the woods. The Finnish Defence Forces have been very helpful, providing locations for the battle scenes, so our artillery could destroy beautiful forests without us having to feel guilty. We've just filmed the largest scene in Sveaborg, outside Helsinki, with 250 cast members and extras taking part in a military parade.

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