Rukajärven tie (Ambush) (1999) - Olli Saarela

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Country: Finland
Language: Finnish, Italian, Russian

It is the summer of 1941 and the Finnish army has been mobilized along the border with Russia. A platoon led by Lt. Eero Perkola is waiting for orders to go on the offensive. The platoon receives orders for a recon mission through the wilderness around the Lieksa lake to search for possible Russian defensive positions. When the platoon rests in a newly conquered village Lt. Perkola meets his fiancee Kaarina Vainikainen, who is serving in the Women's Auxilary Corps (Lotta). The platoon continues with the mission, but after some time a terrible message reaches Lt. Perkola. The message causes Perkola to become totally indifferent to his and his platoon's safety during the remainder of the mission.

After Nazi Germany attacked Poland in 1939, the Soviet Union demanded military bases from Finland. Helsinki refused, whereupon the Red Army attacked Finland in November 1939 in what is known as the Winter War. Using skis, the Finnish army held back the Soviets for several months but ultimately surrendered, signing a treaty of peace in March 1940 that gave up Eastern Karelia, whereupon some 420,000 Karelians fled to western Finland. In 1941 Finland allied with Germany, and while the Reischswehr invaded the Soviet Union, Finland advanced in midsummer 1941 to recover the territory previously lost in Eastern Karelia. Ambush, directed by Olli Saarela, is the story of one episode in what Finland calls the Continuation War. At the beginning of the film begins, Lt. Eero Perkola (played by Peter Franzén) receives an order to lead his platoon to Repola, a military encampment where he fortuitously encounters his girlfriend Kaarina Vainikainen (played by Irina Björklund), a member of the Auxiliaries who are attending to the men in uniform and the casualties. He then asks the commanding officer of the base to evacuate the women in case of a future Soviet attack. The commander agrees, but he then presses Eero to volunteer to lead his platoon to hold a riverbed at Koroly, indicating that he has incomplete intelligence regarding where Soviet troops are, a military situation familiar to those who have recently seen We Were Brothers. Eero and Kaarina then part in opposite directions. Tuomas Kantelinen's music, a cross between Sibelius and Tschaikovky, already tells us that tragedy lies ahead. En route, a group of Soviet Partisans ambushes the caravan of Auxiliaries. Although Kaarina is the only survivor, Eero is informed that she died by a courier who delivers new orders -- to bicycle to Koroly on a lake and then to report on locations of Soviet troops, if any. Eero at first reflects on his lost girlfriend but soon leads his men, though he dreams of Kaarina and sheds tears from time to time; a sensitive young man in the beginning, he commands with increasing brutality, presumably to avenge her death. Several men in Eero's unit die as they proceed. Simo Kappinen (played by Tommi Eronen) trips, demonstrating fear, and is sent back to Repola alone, but Partisans shoot him dead along the way. Tapio Heikkinen (played by Petri Manninen) fails to exercise caution when he is warned that an abandoned house may be boobytrapped. Corporal Jussi Lukkari (played by Kari Heiskanen) shoots two prisoners, Partisans who were left for dead, provoking Sergeant Unto Saarinen (played by Taisto Reimaluoto) to complain to Eero that the executions were immoral. Eero then sends Saarinen forward as a scout along a bridge, but enemy soldiers open fire, and Saarinen is shot, presumably falling into a watery grave, though he appears alive later. After the platoon reaches Koroly, having encountered little resistance, Eero is ordered to lead his men to join the Finnish Army at Virta; to do so, they must fight through the rear of enemy lines. Many die, but Ville Snicker (played by Arttu Kapulainen) dies while covering the survivors with a machine gun as Eero leads them in swimming across the lake to join the Finnish Army. In the battle Eero is hit and is momentarily unconscious, so when his unit reaches safety, he is transferred to a makeshift hospital, where he encounters Kaarina, also a survivor, and the film ends as they embrace. With a minimum of actual violence, Ambush is almost an antiwar film, demonstrating through the conflict between Lukkari and Saarinen the way in which war can turn young men into savages, separating those who are mentally ill equipped from those who become obsessively vicious, with most somewhere on the scale between. The film is based on Life for Fatherland, a novel by Antti Tuuri, who cowrote the screenplay along with director Olli Saarela.


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