Meaning: Well … from what I’ve read, “sisu” is a word that doesn’t quite translate outside of its native Finland.
Essentially, "sisu" is a term that touches on traits like determination and perseverance. According to Google.com, it doesn’t mean that one is courageous in the moment but brings courage to each and every action.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“When an ex-soldier who discovers gold in the Lapland wilderness tries to take the loot into the city, Nazi soldiers led by a brutal SS officer battle with him.”
Having seen the coming attraction for Sisu some time ago and already been smitten with its promised charms, I’ll happily admit that writer/director Jalmari Helander’s script still managed to sneak in a surprise history lesson here and there in what’s otherwise little more than a capable and rousing crowd-pleaser. In fact, I knew very little of Finland’s past as it pertains to World War II, so including the plight of both our hero and his people’s backstory strengthened the already relatable dynamic that underscores the bulk of the film. The Nazis? They were bad dudes. Exceptionally bad. Maybe even the baddest in all of civilization. So it’s only natural that Helander and his cast and crew set about giving them this cinematic comeuppance.
The film opens with Aatami Korpi (played wonderfully by Jorma Tommila) well into the ‘broken man’ phase of his existence. He’s old. He’s tired. Though the audience doesn’t yet know the depth of his trials yet, he looks like a fellow worn down by the strife of living a life through some of our planet’s darkest days; so, it’s entirely understandable why he’s chosen isolation over companionship … well, except for the creature comforts of a dog and a horse. He sits peacefully in the countryside barely noticing those fleeing German planes dotting the skies over his head. To Korpi, the world outside no longer matters. It exists only as an inconvenience. It’s little more than a reminder that he’s still breathing.
Because life always finds a way to intrude on those merely existing, Korpi’s harmless panning for gold is suddenly richly rewarded: the discovery of a small nugget points him to a nearby stretch of land that he inevitably cracks open, only to find glistening vein of gold stretching as long as he is tall. Realizing his days have finally taken a turn for the better, he packs what he can carry in his saddlebags and sets out for the big city.
It’s this return to civilization that ultimately brings out the beast in Korpi, and that might very well be the ‘moral to the story’ hidden in the subtext of Sisu: society has a way – intended or not – of bringing out the worst in each of us. Isolated and alone? We’re fine. But when we gather together, things tend to go awry. Sometimes quickly. Sometimes catastrophically. When the road between here and there is paved with Nazi scum (literally here but metaphorically for the rest of us), one does what one must to survive. World War II has turned against Germany, and – in response – these departing occupiers have been ordered to employ a ‘scorched Earth’ policy across Finland, meaning that they’re Hell bent on killing, corrupting, or contaminating anything they find in their way. It’s the inevitable meeting of these opposing forces – Korpi and the Reich – that gives Sisu its heart … and sells theater tickets.
So, yes, Sisu is logically wonderful in the way Korpi relentlessly takes the fight to antiquity’s quintessential villains, and who can really blame him? The war took everything from him, so all that’s left to fight for is himself, what remains of his honor, and a few sacks of gold for his troubles. Director Helander stages these confrontations between right and wrong with increasing delight. About the time one thinks the carnage can’t grow any bigger, Korpi has taken to using a German minefield against the approaching troops, and the sequences deliver as many chuckles as they do grimaces. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s brash. And it’s even balderdash in a few spots … but who’s to care?
If you ask me, then I’d say these Nazis had it coming.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in my duties as influencer of All Things Genre if I failed to mention that Sisu has not gone unnoticed by our cultural betters. At the 2022 Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival, the motion picture took home an incredible four statues in the categories of ‘Best Actor’ (for Tommila), ‘Best Cinematography’ (for Kjell Lagerroos), ‘Best Original Music’ (for Juri Seppä and Tuomas Wäinölä), and ‘Best Motion Picture.’ That’s indeed some high praise for a film that revels so joyously in justly dispatching Nazis with some grim determination.
Sisu (2022) was produced by Stage 6 Films and Subzero Film Entertainment. According to the publicity materials I’ve been provided by Lionsgate, the film is presently slated for theatrical opening this upcoming April 28th, 2022. As for the technical specifications? Wow. This glorious and gleeful wartime revenge thriller rather ably dispenses wayward soldiers of the Third Reich in unrelenting fashion, and it’s all captured wonderfully in vivid sights and sounds from start-to-finish.
Sigh. If only a Nazi would learn to quit while he’s ahead, then maybe – maybe – one or two or three of them might’ve made it out alive of Sisu (2022). But none did, and all suffered as a consequence. Alas, history’s dirtiest evildoers couldn’t help themselves, and this bloodthirsty bunch came up against a single man who was more than their collective equal. Yes, it’s violent. Yes, it’s occasionally a bit gratuitous. And, yes, it strains credibility here and there. But what some might dismiss as a bit of cacophonous revenge porn still turns out to be a fabulous palate cleanser for those tired of too much traditional fare and lean toward the subversive. In the end, the picture is a cleverly brutal escapist Fantasy that shows uniquely how hardened, self-assured independence will likely always stand against socialist greed.
Those who denounce toxic masculinity might want to check with their therapists before buying a ticket.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lionsgate provided me with complimentary streaming access to Sisu (2022) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.