TIFF 2022: Sisu, by David Bax

Jalmari Helander’s Sisu is the kind of movie you might catch the characters in a Quentin Tarantino movie watching. That is by no means intended to be a slight. On the contrary, with retro graphic title cards announcing each new chapter and the many buckets of fake blood on the screen, that seems to be exactly the tone Helander is trying to strike. Only those mistakenly anticipating a sober, respectful World War II drama will be put off. Those who know they’re in for the latest movie from the guy who made the ancient, evil Santa Claus troll movie (Rare Exports) will find their pulpy expectations neatly satisfied.

Once the (low) stakes are understood, Helander is free to get to work assembling an action thriller that is as efficient in its relentless forward momentum as it is preposterously schlocky. We first meet our hero (Jorma Tommila) in an extended, wordless sequence of digging for gold that winkingly recalls the prologue of There Will Be Blood. But this aging, battle-scarred former Finnish soldier isn’t out to be some kind of baron. He just wants to get home quietly with his well-earned loot. Unfortunately, a squadron of retreating German soldiers come upon him and his booty, forcing him out of retirement from his life as a one-man killing machine.

That Nazi squadron’s leader is played by the reliable Aksel Hennie, whose expressive face and wide eyes have allowed him to play good guys (Pioneer), bad guys (The Doorman) and guys that are somewhere in between (Headhunters). Here, he’s most definitely a bad guy and the amount of character etched into both his and Tommila’s visages are nearly enough to power the film on its own.

It’s worth noting here that, despite being an entirely Finnish production, Sisu is an English language movie. That threw me at first but, honestly, it’s probably not a bad idea since this is the kind of movie that will likely appeal to English language speakers who don’t like to read subtitles. Once again, I do not intend that to be the insult it may seem.

Sisu takes place in 1944 but pulls liberally from 1970s grindhouse flicks and 1980s superhuman one-man army action movies. In at least one major way, though, it’s also a movie that speaks to the here and now; it has utter contempt for Nazis. Helander knows that, in movies, Nazis (like zombies) are guilt free fodder for bullets, bombs, bayonets and whatever else you’ve got. He also understands another crucial fact of fun, bloody B-movies. You can kill off as many Nazis as you want as long as you don’t kill the dog.

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