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)

16 thoughts on “War Movie Watchalong – Talvisota aka The Winter War

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    Thanks for hosting the two watchalongs. It was fun.

    I am answering these before looking at your answers (like with Master)

    1. I didn’t like the movie, sadly. It was too simplistic. Who’s going to die next and how? Even though it is long, I could not really get into most of the characters.

    2. I have not seen Stalingrad yet, but I sure hope it is better.

    3. My favorite character is Martti. He is level-headed and a good friend.

    4. The Russians are faceless and moronic. They are not demonized.

    5. The film does present violence as a solution to problems BETWEEN NATIONS.

    6. They are fighting to defend their country.

    7. There were a lot of hardships. Lack of uniforms,lack of training, death of friends, snow, horse-drawn transport, naivete, the fog of war

    8. The combat is adequetely realistic. It’s no Saving Private Ryan.

    9. The movie is solidly anti-war. Almost all the main characters die.

    10. The movie is inferior even to The Thin Red Line. There is no depth, it’s just who dies next. I had a hard time following who was who because most were bland. I did not care about most of them. Some of the deaths were repetitive. It is much closer in plot to “All Quiet…” and of course much less of a movie..

    11. The ending was not satisfying. It is unclear what happened. If you don’t know history, you would have to look up who won.

    • I thought you were going to post on your blog as well….
      Again we are pretty much on the same page, only I did appreciate it.
      I didn’t “like”it as such but I see where he is coming from. It’s very documentary style. I too had a hard time telling who is who.
      On the other hand I had a feeling I learned a lot. This was so much closer to WWI trenchwarfare than WWII. I think it’s absolutely astonishing they were not overrun.
      I think that those people who say it’s one of their favourites, rather love the story as such than the movie.
      We’ll see. I hope Guy does review it or has at least watched it. I’m interested to see what he thought.

      • warmoviebuff says:

        I did not post on my blog because I did not think you wanted me to. I guess I misunderstood the arrangement. I’m very concerned about the ethics of blogging. My bad.

        I did not get the documentary vibe that you got. It seemed a straight-forward movie to me.

        I found their not being overrun to be very unrealistic. Molotov cocktails should not have been able to stop those tanks in the long run. The movie gives you the impression that the Finns either won or held their own. In reality, the Russians won the war after the Finns put up a valiant fight.

      • That’s the idea of a readalong/watchalong that everyone posts and the you vist the other blogs mutually… Next time. 🙂
        But I thought it was very authentic. That’s how it happend , no?

  2. Guy Savage says:

    Once the prolonged trenchwar fare started (and kept going) I wasn’t sure how much I’d end up liking the film. I watched it over two nights and found myself very interested to get back into the story.
    I think just a page of explanation re: background to the war would have added a great deal to the film’s grounding. Nothing like Stalingrad (agree on that score). There was also guerilla warfare on the part of the Finns which the film didn’t touch.

    • I also watched it over two evenings and found the first part considerably less interesting. I had a hard time knowing who is who but once I could tell them apart I found it much better. My biggest problem was that I was expecting some Stalingrad type movie. But Stalingrad has at least four very disinct parts. And no trenches.
      Yes, I did miss the background info as well. I read some things before watching or I would have been totally lost.
      I wonder what they cut because the Finnish version is another 60 minutes longer.

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    My memory of the Winter War from my reading on WWII was not anything like the movie. I pictured Finnish soldiers on skis moving through the forests to give the Russians hell. That would have made a better movie.

  4. Guy Savage says:

    I wondered if the guerrilla-type-warfare wasn’t included in the film simply due to budget constraints. I’m not talking about these sections being cut from the version we watched but rather this aspect of the war was not shown at all and yet it did exist. Showing the Finns sneaking back behind the Russians would have created a different feel to the film and probably expanded the budget.

    I also wondered if some footage was cut from the visits home as these parts seemed a little choppy.

    • I’m convinced that the guerilla pieces are not what they cut at all. I rather think they cut some home scenes (there was something missing, I agree) and another 45min of trenches.
      Maybe it was budget, if so, then rather not do it. It looks as if all they did was shooting out of trenches while zombie-like Russians moved towards them.

  5. As a Finn it was interesting to read your comments. I might give you some answers:

    – The movie is probably as accurate historically than it can be. The book is based on military journals of a infantry regiment and participants’ memoirs. They were not overrun, Molotov cocktails (this is the war that gave it its name) were used and they worked, and we may have lost the war but USSR didn’t achieve their goals (the occupation of Finland).

    -Actually Finnish troops were well trained. There were no volunteers but a draft and there had been a compulsary military service for most men (for a year, I think), still is. Men in Civil Guard just had been training more.

    – Most of the fighting happened in trenches (also in the next war), where else? It was a defensive battle after all. Taipaleenjoki was one of the biggest battles and it lasted throughout the war. There were no real guerilla action on the Karelian isthmus, that happened hundreds of kilometres to the north, at Finland’s “waist”. It depends on the terrain and the situation. No Finn would have believed the story if that was added.

    -It was made by Finns to Finns and every Finn knows the history. We are also taught world history and expect that others know enough, too. Also explaining it completely would take time, I think the main points were mentioned, anything more and it would have been too simplified.

    • Thank you very much for your comments. They are very helpful. It’s also interesting to hear how you perceived it from a Finnish point of view.
      I will have to re-watch it as a lot is a bit blurred by now.

  6. David McNicol says:

    The film makes a subtle historical point by drawing attention to the excellent condition of the rifles carried by the Finnish infantry, We see this at least twice–once in the opening scenes and a second time when, in a lull in the fighting, Finnish soldiers in a bunker are shown cleaning and oiling their rifles. The Finnish Army was massively out numbered and out gunned by the Soviets. That the Finns held so much ground for so long reflected several factors. My understanding is that one of those is that the Finns generally were very good shots.

  7. David McNicol says:

    Fair enough. There are a number of good books out in English on the topic. When time permits you might try one–it is truly an extraordinary story.

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