Olympics 2012 Film Part 5 - Poland, Romania, Finland, Japan, China & Australia

Finland €“ 300 Medals

Although Finnish cinema has developed into a steady and confident domestic product, it has rarely even made ripples on the surface of world cinema. In the early years of cinema, Finland was overshadowed completely by its Nordic neighbors Sweden and Denmark. However, once it gained independence from Russia in 1917, it started to build an identity with the help of Erkki Karu the founder of Suomi-Filmi studios. Focusing upon national values with rural films, Suomi-Filmi were a massive force in the development of Finnish film and the company name is still alive to this day, just without the production arm of the company. For many years there remained a studio type system with more and more companies forming to compete with Suomi. In the 1960s, the Finnish film industry was deemed stagnant. Soon affected by the invention of television, cinemagoers stayed at home, much to the detriment of an industry, which desperately required an injection of creativity. It wasn't really until the introduction of the Kaurismaki brothers, that Finnish cinema began to find its feet again. Imbuing creativity back into the body of Finnish cinema, Aki and Mika helped to put Finland back on the map, utilising minute budgets and localized narratives, to great effect. Unfortunately, the creativity would again be stifled during the economic downturn in the 1990s. With financing favouring films with a broad theme to attract the most amounts of viewers, the development of art house cinema stalled. More recently there appears to be a revival in its cinema, with domestic products seeing more success abroad and at home. Bronze €“ The Unknown Soldier (Edvin Laine, 1955) Shown every year on a local TV channel on the day of Finnish independence (December 6th), you could say that Edvin Laine€™s Unknown Soldier, is an extremely important part of Finnish cinema. Consider that it still is the most successful Finnish film in Finland, almost 60 years after it was first released, and its importance only grows. Following a group of Finnish soldiers in the midst of the Continuation War, the film displays the soldiers attempts to free themselves from Soviet occupation. Young and inexperienced, the soldiers soon come to see the horrors of war, with each one, affected in different ways. A historical piece of cinema, it is interesting to note that a few of the actors were actually veterans of the war, adding a sense authenticity to their otherwise quite theatrical performances. This lends itself to the patriotism which lies at the core of this film, it never shies away from death, but it also refuses to shy away from the will to fight for one€™s country, occupied by a far larger enemy. The Unknown Soldier will always remain an important text in the countries cinematic history. Silver €“ The Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurismaki, 2002)

As I tried to express before, without the Kaurismaki brothers, Finland€™s current cinematic landscape may be drastically different. My favourite film of theirs comes from the younger of the brothers, Aki, with The Man Without a Past. When an unnamed man arrives in Helsinki, he is almost immediately and without provocation, beaten up in a local park. Near death, he awakens in a hospital with no recollection of who he is. Leaving hospital with nowhere to go, he finds a home in a shipping container community where he is taken in by a husband and his wife. Trying to re-piece his life together, he visits the Salvation army seeking clothes and meets a woman called Irma who not only offers him clothes, but compassion for his plight. Becoming unwittingly involved in a bank robbery, his past soon comes searching for him. On the surface it sounds like a thriller, instead it plays out more like a deadpan comedy. Because it is the deepest of deadpan comedy, a lot of the jokes are hit and miss. This isn€™t to say that 50% of the film isn€™t funny. Kaurismaki requires low key performances in his films with everybody speaking in a drone-like tone and a clear lack of body language. Therefore, a few of the jokes simply go unnoticed, because the characters lack an acknowledgement which can manipulate an audience response. Kaurismaki is an extremely enigmatic director, his works whilst popular in Finland, unfortunately lack distribution around the world, The Man Without a Past, was one of the lucky ones. It€™s a massive shame because his unique style makes for an extremely interesting watch. Gold €“ Steam of Life (Joonas Berghail, Mika Hotakainen, 2010) Having seen this recently I knew before I'd started writing this feature, that this would be my pick for Gold. It would also be the only film revolving around naked men in a sauna musing about life. One thing that has to be noted prior to viewing, is the difference in sauna cultures. In England you might pop into a sauna once in a while after the gym, or swimming perhaps. Going to a sauna in Finland however, is seen as pretty much an everyday occurrence. They€™re viewed as a necessity to relax and socialise in life. So with Steam of Life, Berghail and Hotakainen give us a multitude of naked men who discuss love, friendship, anxieties, worries and fears as well as one man who discusses his relationship with an adopted bear. It€™s funny, it€™s touching and it€™s intimate. The men in the documentary bare all both figuratively and physically. The sauna thus becomes a confessional booth, a place which is so public yet so private at the same time. For men to express emotion so openly is considered by some very ignorant people, to be a sign of weakness, here is evidence much to the contrary. All I see in this film are men strong enough to open up their emotions for everyone to see. The fact that the men are naked, becomes less than secondary to the frank stories they all tell.

Dan Lewis is a writer, reader and lover of all things cultural, whether that be Film, Television, Music or Photography. His idol is Louie CK. His favorite Animated TV show is Archer. And if he was a Wire character he'd be Nicky Sobotka.