In something of a structural innovation, Valentin Vaala’s film begins where so many might end, on someone’s wedding day. But all is not as it seems at the nuptials of Kilian (Olavi Reimas) and Elisa (Kaija Rahola), a chain of escalating disasters soon revealed in a series of flashbacks.
Two years earlier, Kilian was a happy-go-lucky philosophy student, forced to retrain as a lawyer after the sinking of a lumber transport placed his father’s business in jeopardy. Putting a brave face on corporate brinkmanship, Kilian is dispatched to a remote region to turn around a small business, only to find a bunch of surly locals who rightly do not trust him. But the good-hearted new trouble-shooter makes friends after saving the life of a young boy, and falls for local girl Hanna (Irma Seikkula). That might have been the beginnings of a happy ending, but Kilian is obliged to marry for money, not love… which brings us back to where we came in, a wedding tinged with tragedy, and just about to be tinged with a load more.
The screenplay for this film was written by Turo Kartto, an actor last seen on this blog being entertainingly dickish as a reluctant British tourist in All Kinds of Guests (1936). He does a nice job hammering Lauri Haarla’s 1937 novel into a movie, to the extent that the TV reviewer in the Helsingin Sanomat a generation later commented that the only thing wrong with it was the occasions where it had to adhere to the “pompous and pathetic” dialogue from the original book. That’s a little economical with the truth – Kaija Rahola sports an utterly ridiculous hat that is liable to be the most memorable thing about this film, while the gorgeous Kirsti Hurme is forced to wear a costume that makes her look like a fondant fancy, and not in a good way.
Haarla purportedly based this 1890s melodrama on an incident from the history of his own extended family, and one gets the sense that its adaptation in 1940 was intended to impart a little allegorical message of the necessity of self-sacrifice on a nation still reeling from the Winter War. The film took several years to earn back the cost of its production, although once the Continuation War was underway, it did get a little boost from being released in Germany, inexplicably with Uuno Klami’s stirring score ripped out and replaced by that of a German composer.
For reasons unknown, the film was premiered in November 1940 not in That Fancy Helsinki, but hundreds of miles to the north in Oulu, despite featuring location work shot on the shores of lake Päijänne in the middle of Finland.
Jonathan Clements is the author of A Short History of Finland. He is watching all the Finnish films so you don’t have to.