War Movie Watchalong – Talvisota aka The Winter War

Talvisota -The Winter War is the second movie in the war movie watchalong. Unlike Master & Commander I hadn’t seen this one before and it is possible that I will dedicate another review to it as it has very interesting elements and I’m not sure to cover them all in answering the questions below.

Talvisota that is based on Antti Tuuri’s eponymous novel, shows the short but intense war that Russia and Finland fought at the beginning of WWII. It started at the end of 1939 and lasted until March 1940.  The movie is a very realistic and unemotional epic of over 3 hours. More about the Winter War can be found here. It seesm this was the only important movie of fim director Pekka Parikka. Parikka was born during the Winter War. It’s sad to know that he committed suicide in 1997.

How did you like the movie?

This was one of the grittier war movies I have watched so far. Gritty and bleak. It’s a very surprising movie, surprising because it didn’t go the way most Hollywood productions go and also because I wasn’t familiar with the war as such. At times it didn’t feel like watching a WWII movie but a WWI film as most of the fighting took place in the trenches. Watching it was similar to watching Battle of Britain. Both movies are excellent and give a great impression of the historical facts they cover but they are closer to documentary than movies as they hardly tell a story outside of the war itself.

Talvisota is often compared to Stalingrad, do you think that is justified?

I have it seen compared to Stalingrad but I cannot see any similarities besides the fact that both are set in winter. I also think it does Talvisota a disservice to compare it to Stalingrad. If I hadn’t expected something more similar I would have appreciated it much more but Stalingrad is and will always be one of my top 5 and it’s hard to compete with that.

Who is your favourite character and why?

The aim of the director wasn’t to pick a few remarkable individuals and tell their story but to tell the story of his people. That’s why there is really only Mattri and his brother who did stand out for me. Their story is exemplary for many others but during the fighting almost all of them are given the same amount of camera time.

Do you identify with any particular side or character? Why?

I cannot say I identified but I rooted for the Finns. This was such a David & Goliath situation, such an unjustified and brutal act by the Russians and it was amazing to see how couragoeus and un-emotional they fought this enemy that was so much stronger in numbers.

How is the enemy represented?  Are they stereotyped?  Demonized?

I saw them like a dark and malevolent mass. Their rows where never-ending. No matter how many the Finns shot down, there were more and more coming. The individual Russians are not shown and it’s also obvious that the Finns blamed Stalin and not the people as such but still, they felt negative.

Does the film present violence as the only way to solve problems?

I would say, yes, indeed, it does. There is no diplomacy or talking. The Russian’s attack was a suprise attack and could have ended like it did in Poland.

What are they fighting for?

They fought for their freedom. If they hadn’t fought so bravely they would have become part of the Soviet Union like so many small countries (Latvia…)

What hardships do the soldiers have to overcome?

The hardships are maybe the only real parallel I see with Stalingrad. The war took place in winter, it was cold and snow-covered the whole time. Maybe it wasn’t as hard on the Finns as on the Germans, as they were probably used to that kind of temperature. During most of the war they were trapped in trenches, in the dark and the cold. It must have been very strenuous. Add dirt and hunger to that and you get the picture.

Is the combat realistic?

The combat looked quite realistic but the explosions were overdone and the blood looked very artificial. Maybe that was a choice, maybe it wasn’t. In any case it’s one of the grittier movies I’ve seen. Some of the wounds were very gruesome and one of the main characters dies a death like I haven’t seen before. It could very well figure on a list of most gruesome deaths and wounds.

Is the movie solidly anti-war?

Despite the fact that the Finns were heroic, this isn’t an uplifting tale at all. This is one of the purest anti-war films I have ever seen.

How does it compare to movies like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line?

I don’t think it can be compared to any of the two. It’s much less character driven. It’s more documentary style, as I said before.

Did you think the ending was satisfying?

This tiny country was able to defend itself against the huge number of Russians that were constantly attacking and shelling them. As such, it was satisfying but I think there should have been some additional information before the final credits, stating how many people died, and what became of Finland and Russia after this war.

I am very glad I watched it and I’m sure, if I hadn’t expected it to be more like Stalingrad I would have liked it better. Still I think it’s a very importnat movie and one that should be better known.

Other reviews

Guy Savage (Phoenix Cinema)

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War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander

This is the first time I’m doing a watchalong and I’m quite excited. The first pick was Master & Commander and we watched it before and are now posting the answers to the questions today.

How did you like the movie?

I have seen Master & Commander before and always liked it. The story is suspenseful, the characters are interesting and what is even more important to me, the cinematography is stunning. It is one of those movies you can re-watch and you will see it in a different way every time.

Is Aubrey a good Captain?

I think this depends on how you define a good Captain. He certainly is a very charismatic Captain and his people would do everything for him. He is also said to be very lucky and since seamen seem to be a very superstitious lot, it’s good for him to be considered lucky. This assures their respect. But apart from being charismatic and lucky, he is adept and very cunning.

Who is your favourite character and why?

I’d say, it’s the young boy, Blakeney who looses an arm but stays so brave and poised. The boy is very intelligent and learns a great deal as well from the Captain  as from the doctor. I liked how he is able to pick the best from every one and make the best out of every situation.

Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?

They are perfect contrasts and they make each other’s characters shine because they are so different. I did however not always think it all that plausible. The discussions yes, I can see that you can be very different and still have a great friendship, great discussions but I would doubt a man like the Captain would enjoy to play music with the doctor.

Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?

I do belive that in general Aubrey is right. He is a very capable Captain, he knows his business but in this particular instance, he isn’t following his own principles anymore. He has become a fanatic, drive by his ego. Maturin, rightly tries to reason with him but to no avail.

What did you think of the way the French are depicted?

They are shown to be the aggressor and very sneaky too. But, as the end shows, they are also very cunning. I didn’t have too big a problem with that. The French are shown as negative but not as stupid, on the very contrary, it’s because they are so cunning that Captain Aubrey feels challenged.

The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?

Seaman are said to be superstitious and it isn’t surprising. Life on a ship is hard and you are constantly exposed, to your enemies, the weather conditions, nature… It’s a precarious life. As much as they believe in luck, they believe in bad luck. The story of the Jonah is a means to explain why they are running out of luck. They try to catalyze the tensions and pick a scapegoat. It’s very unfair and shows how easily the seamen believe in tales. I thought it was very uncanny.

What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?

That depends on the point of view but I would say, the mission was over and they could have dedicated their time to collecting samples. They were not told to follow the French to the end of the world.

Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?

It was a fantastic idea but I think, no, it wasn’t ethical. It served its purpose. I was wondering if something like that could have happened. Were there rules of warfare? I don’t know.

Did you think the ending was satisfying?

I have, as I said, already watched the movie before but had completely forgotten the ending. I was surprised to see that it ended like this. It was satisfying because it showed how clever the enemy was but there is no proper end to the story. I’m meanwhile surprised they didn’t make a sequel  but I’m glad they didn’t. Those sequels often water down a orginal idea. The end also showed that the French Captain was as obsessed as Aubrey himself. These are two worthy opponents.

Here are the links to the answers of others

Novroz (Polychrome Interest)

The 12 Best War Movies I Watched In 2011

Looking back I realized that I have seen quite a lot of very good and some outstanding movies this year (Let’s be honest, I’ve also watched a load of crap but this isn’t the post to talk about them).

I narrowed them down to twelve. This was only possible because I excluded all those movies I have re-watched but reviewed for the first time (like The Downfall). Those I re-watched are mostly quite famous, no need to put them in the spotlight again, but those I list below are not all equally well-known and they deserve to be mentioned especially.

Here we go

Innocent Voices – Voces Inocentes (2004) Mexican/US/Puerto Rican movie. This is a movie on the war in El Salvador and the use of children as soldiers. It may very well be my favourite this year. (Here is the review).

Roma, Città aperta – Rome Open City (1945) Italian movie. Roberto Rosselini’s masterpiece about the resistance in Rome during WWII. A classic of Italian Neo-Realism. (Here is my review)

The Brest Fortress – Brestkaya krepost (2010)  Russian movie. Gritty, realistic and combat driven story of the siege of a fortress. (Here is my review)

Henri de Navarre – Henry 4 (2010) French movie on Henry 4. Historical and epic movie about King Henri 4 of France and the War of Religions. (Here is my review)

The Cranes are Flying – Letyat zhuravli (1957) Russian movie. Very expressive and beautiful movie about a woman who waits for her lover to return from war. WWII. (Here is my review)

First Light (2010) British TVmovie based on the memoir of a Spitfire pilot. (Here is my review)

Harry Brown (2009) British movie about a WWII veteran becoming a vigilante. (Here is my review)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) German movie about the Red Army Fraction.

No Man’s Land (2001) Bosnian movie about the war in Bosnia and, yes, I still think it’s hilarious and a great war satire.

Waterloo (1970) Russian/Italian movie on Napoleon’s great defeat. (Here is my review)

Life and Nothing But – La vie et rien d’autre (1989) French WWI drama by Bertrand Tavernier. Very moving story of a woman who is looking for her husband in war-torn France. (Here is my review)

Tropic Thunder  (2008) US movie. Extremely funny although in dubious taste. (Here is my review)

The Christmas Truce 1914

January 1, 1915: Writing to friends in north Wales, a gentleman who is serving at the front in the City of London Territorials states:- “It was a memorable christmas Day in our trenches as we had a truce with the enemy from Christmas Eve till Boxing Day morning, not a shot being fired. The truce came about in this way. The Germans started singing and lighting candles about 7.30 on Christmas Eve, and one of them challenged any one of us to go across for a bottle of wine. One of our fellows accepted the challenge; that started the ball rolling. We then went half way to shake hands and exchange greetings with them. There were 10 dead Germans in a ditch in front of the trenches and we helped to bury these. I could have had a helmet but I did not fancy taking one off a corpse. These men were trapped one night while trying to get to our outpost trench some time ago. The Germans seemed to be very nice chaps and said they were awfully sick of the war. We were out of the trenches all Christmas Day collecting souvenirs.

This letter is taken from the site The Christmas Truce. If you don’t know it yet, go and have a look, it’s great. If you’d like to watch a movie on the truce, I highly recommend Joyeux Noël – Merry Christmas which I have reviewed last year (here is the review). It is one of my favourite war movies.

Lucie Aubrac (1997) A True Story of the French Resistance

I’m fascinated by Resistance stories and one of my projects is to watch at least all the French resistance movies that I can find. Claude Berri’s Lucie Aubrac is one of them. Like many other resistance movies it is based on a true story.

Lucie Aubrac is a quiet movie and despite some scenes of great violence, including torture, it has a gentle keynote.

At the beginning of the movie Lucie and her husband live in Lyon. He is in one of the resistance groups and, one afternoon, when they meet in the apartment of one of the members, he and his friends are arrested. If it wasn’t for his wife, who invents a cunning plan, he wouldn’t have been released so easily.

After this incident, they know, they have to move. Lyon isn’t safe anymore. They leave their apartment, get new passports and travel with their child to the South of France.

There are many different resistance cells all over France and Lucie’s husband is in the one that is in direct contact with de Gaulle. This is, of course, dangerous and it doesn’t take long and he is arrested again. Arrested and tortured, like his friends.

And that’s when the story takes off. Lucie’s love for her husband is so strong, she will do everything to get him out and save him from the firing squad. Her plan is amazing and to think that it worked amazes me even more.

This isn’t a very fast paced or dramatic movie, as I already said, it’s rather quiet and gentle. The focus is on the two main characters, Lucie (Carole Bouquet) and Raymond (Daniel Auteuil), their love and courage. The role of the nasty German is played by Heino Ferch.

If you are interested in the story of Lucie Aubrac here is the link to her book Outwitting the Gestapo.

The movie is available with English subtitles but I couldn’t find an English trailer.

They Were Expendable (1945)

I read that John Ford’s They Were Expendable was liked by the critics but not by the public when it was released. The public thought it was too patriotic and since people were tired of the war, they didn’t care for the movie all that much.

While I often share the critics’ view, I must say, not in this case. It isn’t a bad movie, it has quite a few scenes that are good but it didn’t work for me as a whole.

At the center of the story are Commander Lt Brickley (Robert Motgomery) and his friend and second in command Lt Ryan Rusty (John Wayne). Brickley is the squadron leader of a crew of PT Boats who are to defend the Philippines just after the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.

Although Brickley is the commanding officer, Rusty is still the main character, he is also the one with a love interest (Donna Reed). For once I didn’t mind John Wayne, I would even say this is one of his better movies. Maybe because he isn’t the commanding officer.

There is a lot of emphasis on duty and honor and “getting the job done” no matter whether you will come back or not. All that is rather on the annoying side of things but what I truly liked is the battle with the speed boats. These are such neat little boats. Although it is said by an Admiral at the beginning of the movie that these boats were not likely to achieve much, their speed and agility makes them a dangerous opponent for the Japanese fleet and they manage to sink a few very big boats.  Their losses are high anyway as they are not only attacked by the Japanese boats but by their planes as well.

They Were Expendable was very important for John Ford who was one of those directors (like Capra, Huston and Wyler) who had served during WWII where he also filmed the documentary on the Battle of Midway (1942). He was chief of the Field Photographic Branch of the US Navy and also present during the Normandy invasion in 44 where he met the man who served as model for Lt. Brickley.

Funny enough what works best in this movie, apart from the speed boats, is the love story as it underlines how much the people fighting in the Pacific are in danger. The scenes with Donna Reed are quite languorous, I particularly liked the many shots with light falling through blinds. That always creates a nice atmosphere.

Something else that I appreciated is the fact that the Japanese are not demonized. They are only present through their planes and boats, we don’t see them.

While this is certainly not one of my favourites, I think it is worth watching for those who are interested in the development of the war movie genre. Despite its flaws, John Ford manages to tell the story in a very unique way with a lot of emphasis on all the individual people involved. Last but not least, I think it is a must-see for John Wayne fans as he is more interesting when he gets to play second in command.

War Movie Watchalong – Talvisota aka The Winter War – The Questions

These are the questions for movie 2 Talvisota -The Winter War which is part of the  double watch along of two movies.

Here are the questions should you want to participate. This time most of the questions have been contributed by Kevin from The War Movie Buff.

You do not need to answer these questions, you can also just post a review on the movie, participate in the discussion and link to my site. I’ll add the review to my post.

  • How did you like the movie?
  • Talvisota is often compared to Stalingrad, do you think that is justified?
  • Who is your favourite character and why?
  • Do you identify with any particular side or character? Why?
  • How is the enemy represented?  Are they stereotyped?  Demonized?
  • Does the film present violence as the only way to solve problems?
  • What are they fighting for?
  • What hardships do the soldiers have to overcome?
  • Is the combat realistic?
  • Is the movie solidly anti-war?
  • How does it compare to movies like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line?
  • Did you think the ending was satisfying?

Tha date for the watchalong is Thursday 29 December 2011.