Gemma Creagh reviews darkly comic revenge romp, Sisu.
The opening credits introduce us to the concept of sisu – with no direct translation, the Finnish use this word to describe stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience – all the tough, manly attributes of one lone action hero.
In 1944, the film opens on an isolated region of northern Finland, where a rugged prospector Aatami (Jorma Tommila) searches the harsh terrain. Striking it lucky, he finds a comically large haul of gold. As he transports his weighty treasure south, he crosses paths with a violent brood of Nazis. With the war ending, this gang of monstrous heathens transport a truck of rape victims. They are armed to the gills, as they embark on a scorched-earth retreat – destroying everything in their path. Subtlety , as you probably have twigged by now, is not on the cards for this film.
The leader of this vile squadron is the Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) who’s followed by a tenacious and loyal brute, his second in command Wolf (Jack Doolan). After a gory run in, the Nazis locate Aatami’s dog tag, and quickly discover that the prospector was a former Finnish commando. Aatami’s family and home are gone, destroyed by the Red Army. Known as the “Immortal,” this one man killing machine murdered hundreds of Communist soldiers. Bruno disobeys his orders to continue on, and turns back to kill their newfound foe. A decision he will inevitably come to regret.
The simplicity of the plot, teamed with superb creative choices from HODs, meld together well, making this a real treat to watch. The flavours of Tarantino’s greatest hits are strong in the creative casserole; however, the Finnish setting, the european talent and the unique cinematic style, do give Sisu a distinct regional flavour. Although the premise of the captured women, led by Mimosa Willamo in her role as resilient fighter Aino, isn’t the most enlightened, thankfully there’s enough to distract that the fridging can be overlooked, and at least there’s nothing visually exploitative.
Sisu is a darkly humorous piece of self aware cinema from director Jalmari Helander, known for horror comedy Rare Exports (2010). The writing is razor sharp: the dialogue sparse and functional, and the storytelling skillfully visual, heighted by the OTT comic book violence which contrasts against the perfectly realised and pared back dramatic performances. The script is divided up into chapters, each separated by one gruesome form of violence or another, for instance landmines are casually slung around, bloodied limbs might sail through the air from time to time. There’s a momentum, a continuous series of starts and stops; tension then action, and all are very lightly sprinkled with character development.
In many ways, Sisu harks back to a simpler era, a happier time when heroes were monosyllabic and Nazis were exploded bloodied pools of goo.
Sisu is in cinemas from 26th May 2023.