Director: Sakari Kirjavainen
Production design & Props:
Jukka Uusitalo, Tiina Tuovinen
Tagline: “When the fire ceases… silence remains”.
From the official presentation in the production information: “The final spring of the Finnish war against Russia in 1944. Right behind the lines there is an evacuation center for the fallen. Dead soldiers are collected there to be sent home. Eino (Joonas Saartamo) together with his friend Antti (Lauri Tilkanen) begins his service in a unit where a few women and men carry a heavy and demanding task. Eino is full of heroic ideals, but life in a small community proves more complicated than war”.
“Eino’s most important duty is to take care of his promise to Antti’s father – to keep him out of trouble and, most importantly, alive. Antti is a happy-go-lucky merchant spirit who charms the lottas with his smile, charges Eino with the heaviest chores and focuses relentlessly on illegal trading with his business partner Siiri (Joanna Hartti) right under the eyes of the military chaplain Hiltunen (Kari Hakala). Together with Korpikangas, a former student of medicine, Eino lands into the twilight zone between dream and reality. Jaana (Terhi Suorlahti) and Miina the cupper (Sinikka Mokkila) perform their uncompromising service in the shadow of death. Like others they try to survive in their everyday life full of contradictions while they send fallen soldiers to their dearest ones to bury.”
“In WWII Finland was the only country which send the corpses of the fallen soldiers home for burial. In the corpse evacuation centers men and women collaborated in 1939-1945 and brought 83.000 fallen heroes back to their home burial grounds. Silence is not an account of history but of the mood of a community which has been been formed in strange circumstances. In the land of the shadow of death hell touches the earth, love touches death, and friendship touches betrayal.” (From the production information, translation mine).
In Kalle Kinnunen’s blog discussion chain Hiljaisuus has been appreciated as one of the two or three best Finnish movies of 2011, and I agree that it is now also my favourite along with Le Havre. Hiljaisuus has not been getting the attention it deserves, but let’s hope it will become a sleeper like Letters to Father Jacob did a few years ago. Certainly there was a rare feeling of concentration and intensity in the screening I visited.
Hiljaisuus belongs to the best Finnish accounts of war. Its approach is new, different, original, interesting, and surprising. It takes place behind the lines, but the soldiers of the corpses’ evacuation center face danger like everybody else, having to enter no-man’s land to retrieve corpses under enemy fire. Also the lottas perform their service under mortal danger. The interaction of young men and women under wartime circumstances rings realistic. The account is beyond clichés.
The main dynamics is between the seemingly simple and stupid Eino and the apparently cunning ladies’ man Antti, but their story is full of surprises. The highlight of the movie is Antti’s funeral at the church of his home village, where Antti’s own father condemns his son and Eino defends him eloquently.
From Esko Salervo’s strong manuscript (which might be good reading in its own right) Sakari Kirjavainen has directed a gripping movie which is driven largely by fine performances. These are people of flesh and blood that we care deeply about. Sakari Kirjavainen was Åke Lindman’s co-director in his war films, but now he shows what he really can, and the result is on a totally different, much higher level than Lindman’s, pardon, wooden films of his final phase as a director.
Among the impressive themes of the movie is the terrible psychological pressure felt by everybody during the last year of the war.
The later parts of the movie are a growing-up story of Eino through hell (planned suicide), purgatory (severely wounded on duty, facing death, but: “Eino, your place is not yet here”), and paradise (having his back washed in the sauna by the lotta Jaana, whom we see as his wife in the epilogue). The account is firmly realistic, yet with an understanding of the dimensions of dreams, nightmares, and myths.
The subject of the movie is deadly earnest, yet it is told with of a sense of humour, as many of the best war stories are. “Man’s wisdom is limited, but his stupidity is limitless”, as the military chaplain states in Biblical terms.
The physical production feels authentic. There is a transitional 2K digital visual quality in the picture; the colour world looks unintentionally gray, and the nature feels unnatural.