Saturday Matinee 2017 01: Ambush (Finnish, 2002)

Don’t take the DVD cover seriously — there’s a love-and-despair subplot but it’s not a chick flick.

Some of you may have seen this, but it’s pretty far off the beaten track. If you can live with subtitles (or if you understand Finnish, but what are the odds of that?) you may find this one worth pursuing. It’s a Finnish movie based on a novel by the same guy that wrote Talvisota (The Winter War), previously reviewed in this space. Its Finnish name translates to something like The Road to Rukajarvi, a Finnish town that was seized by the Soviets at the end of the Winter War and, in true Soviet style, ethnically cleansed.

The action takes place in the Continuation War, in which the Finns attacked the USSR, with the Soviet empire on the ropes due to the German attack. In the end, the Finns, who were seeking to redress the wrongs of the Winter War settlement, wound up defeated, in part because of the defeat of their German ally, but also because the Red Army of 1942-44 was not the same bag of incompetence that it was in 1940.

These grand-scale doings are told at the lowest level, as we follow the men of a bicycle-mounted reconnaissance platoon as they search the vast wilderness for the enemy axes of attack, and report back to their command. It is a low-budget war, at least on the Finns’ side, a Ruritanian-scale defense against a powerful empire. At this level, individuals, and how they work together, are vitally important. At this level a victory can be more fully shared; a defeat, or a casualty, are more fully taken to heart. You find yourself engaged with these young Finns and their risky mission.

Acting and Production

Unless you are Finnish, you are unlikely to know the actors in this drama. That doesn’t harm audience appreciation of the actors; it may, even, help, because the actors are as new to us foreigners as their characters are. Peter Franzén is especially strong as young lieutenant Eero Perkola, aged by the burden of command.

The Finnish scenery is at once breathtaking and very wild; it is one of the few places in Western Europe that retains significant wilderness. A great deal of cost and effort went into location photography, and it really pays off in the finished movie.

Finnish scenery. two kinds.

The action scenes move along smartly and build tension well. The “inaction scenes” and various flash-forwards and -backs tend to move very, very slowly. This is a long movie that does not need to be so long. Sometimes, the director seems too in love with the beauty of his images and dwells on them, to the detriment of pacing.

Accuracy and Weapons

As far as we could tell, the weapons were exactly what Finns and Soviets would be carrying in the Continuation War: Mosin rifles on both sides, although different in trim; Suomi and PPsh submachine guns; some Russians have Tokarev semi-autos. Supporting weapons like the Finnish Lahti M/26 light machine gun and Russian DP and Maxim MGs abound. Finns use some liberated Russian weapons; Franzén’s character Perkola uses a PPSh.

The weapons are, generally, used appropriately. They don’t produce flaming fireballs and Russian artillery doesn’t fire fireball shells. The vehicles seem period correct, and one has the impression that the crew worked very hard on detail accuracy. The most amazing thing is that this level of accuracy was achieved on the movie’s budget, reportedly $13 million.

The gasoline fire in this scene is simple to explain — this is the eponymous ambush and a truck has been set alight.

The telling of the historical events of the war seem to be accurate, but bear in mind that this film focuses on the platoon — every higher echelon is supposed to be out of focus.

The bottom line

Ambush is a Finnish movie so you have to expect it to comport with the moody, even glum, national character. Moreover, it’s a tale of a decisive war told from the viewpoint of the guys who started the war, and lost. (Yes, they had a grievance, but they did start the war). It lacks the tank attacks and some of the other action of The Winter War, but it is an enjoyable and informative film about a part of Europe that’s off the beaten tourist track, and a phase of World War II that’s off the Anglosphere historical track, as well.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD page. Note that it is an on-demand DVD and we’ve found these somewhat wobbly, quality-wise:

https://www.amazon.com/AMBUSH/dp/B001BXTQB4/

There is also a higher quality import CD for a lot more money. This is the one we watched!:

https://www.amazon.com/Ambush-Peter-Franz-n/dp/B00005Y717/

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0162625/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Ambush_%28Rukaj%C3%A4rven_tie%29

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (no rating):

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/ambush/

  • Infogalactic  page:

https://infogalactic.com/info/Ambush_(1999_film)

  • History vs. Hollywood Page. (none).

Notes

none

11 thoughts on “Saturday Matinee 2017 01: Ambush (Finnish, 2002)

  1. morokko

    If You have the time, this one is also worth checking out – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0308476/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1 It is a comedy-drama set at the end of Continuation War, with two soldiers from opposing sides stranded near hut owned by Lapp widow – the trio has to make do with language barrier and one rifle shared among them. There are almost no battle scenes to speak of, but the storyline is quite clever and can cheer up the viewer. No netflix, but here is Youtube link for the film with Russian language track https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34qTK6KJZqg I suppose it makes it a tiny bit more approachable than Saami or Finnish versions would be.

  2. John M.

    Helsinki appears to be east of Tallinn, Riga, Warsaw, Budapest, Sofia and Belgrade. How does that make it Western Europe?

    -John M.

    1. Josey Wales

      Because they are freedom loving non-communists who were never successfully subjugated by same.

      1. John M.

        Sorta like Morocco is the “Middle East”, even though Rabat is west of Dublin?

        -John M.

      2. AA

        As a Finn, I find this statement hilariously inaccurate. Finland was never *occupied* by the USSR, officially a People’s Republic, or joined the Warsaw Pact (though apparently the official name of the WP appears to be the same as a somewhat different defence-related pact, the YYA treaty, we did make with the USSR), but in many other respects it did dutifully play its part as a puppet state (see “Finlandisation”) masquerading as a free nation up until the decline and demise of its political masters, after which Finland has been mostly serving as a chrysalis where the last remnants of the Soviet Union can pupate into the next iteration of the socialist utopia, i.e. an exact copy of the Soviet Union with surveillance and oppression of its subjects brought up to the standards enabled by modern technology.

        We already have a single-party system where the single party just has a number of brands it’s marketed under, there’s a currently ongoing campaign to crush proponents of free speech and open government, and neither national interest nor existing rights and freedoms of the nation’s subjects have any value to the effectively-single-party political machine or the ridiculously oversized, both in absolute numbers and per capita, bureaucratic machine of non-elected officials who, in aggregate, are the actual policy- and decision-makers of the country, and immune to elections, prosecution, or whatever other currently-legal means a subject might have to try and affect the governance of the country.

        Despite Finnish propaganda, Finland is not a part of western Europe culturally or politically, and especially not geographically.

        1. Y.

          We already have a single-party system where the single party just has a number of brands it’s marketed under, there’s a currently ongoing campaign to crush proponents of free speech and open government, and neither national interest nor existing rights and freedoms of the nation’s subjects have any value to the effectively-single-party political machine or the ridiculously oversized, both in absolute numbers and per capita, bureaucratic machine of non-elected officials who, in aggregate, are the actual policy- and decision-makers of the country, and immune to elections, prosecution, or whatever other currently-legal means a subject might have to try and affect the governance of the country.

          That’s fairly common, isn’t half of Europe like that?

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