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IFFR 2024 Big Screen Competition

Review: Children of War and Peace

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- Ville Suhonen’s new documentary is dotted with archive footage as it explores the pro-military indoctrination of Finnish youngsters from the first post-war period onwards

Review: Children of War and Peace

Presented within the IFFR’s Big Screen Competition, Children of War and Peace by Ville Suhonen spotlights the efforts made by the barely formed Finnish state to promote pro-military ideology among the general populace from very early childhood onwards. Thanks to footage from the time and extracts from various propaganda films from the first postwar period, Ville Suhonen successfully reconstructs that particular period in history running from 1919 to the end of the Second World War, a period that was so crucial to the development of Finland as a nation that it has found itself having to adhere to the 2023 Atlantic Pact as a fully-fledged adult.

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Suhonen’s authentic philological and chronological reconstruction of the various steps which saw Finland first side with the Nazis and later with the Allies is explained through a variety of materials: archive footage, radio programmes, photographs and educational pamphlets produced by the pro-military apparatus of the nation-state. The orthodox, educational approach taken by postwar Finland relied on a sinister parallel between the infancy of the nation and that of its own citizens, debunking the myth of a country with solid and modern educational foundations and overturning the narrative of the Scandinavian state as an advanced country in terms of education policies. This ambiguity is also present in the film’s title, which contrasts with the beautiful images carefully selected by Suhonen; images which clash with their content, which is composed of pompous, rhetorical messages of hate exalting patriotic ideology and inevitably leading towards the disaster of the Second World War.

The texts which Ville Suhonen uses to describe the aggressive nature of the Finnish state’s propaganda, hail from various sources, most notably scientific in order to carry more weight within society. But there’s no lack of poetry or art in the country’s endeavours to celebrate war. In fact, we need only remember the teachings of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in Italy, who co-authored the Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals, and his description of war as “the world’s only hygiene”, to understand how this incredible warmongering took hold at all levels of society in the thirty-year period spanning 1914 and 1945.

It’s troubling to see footage and to hear speeches from a hundred years ago which nevertheless resonate with our complicated present. Words such as sacrifice, blood and nation punctuate the obtuse rhetoric which has always gone hand in hand with wars, whether past or present, especially those dominating the media, in the Ukraine and Gaza, with the usual result of child-soldiers being sent to die at the front. It’s a rhetoric which is spreading like wildfire in Europe, alongside the worrying arms race among the most powerful countries in the world, the reintroduction of compulsory military service in nearby Sweden, and Finland’s afore-mentioned entry into NATO. And it’s within this context that Children of War and Peace comes into its own, analysing repercussions on the present-day and highlighting the value of images created a century ago; images which started out as vehicles for toxic ideology, which can now act as a warning against unrestrained war propaganda, and which have assumed a real educational role over time, above and beyond their aesthetic power.

Children of War and Peace is produced by Illume Oy, who are also handling international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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