The Unknown Soldier is a 2017 Finnish movie based off the 1952 novel by Väinö Linna about his war experiences. This was the most expensive film to make in Finland so far and the third adaptation of the book. It follows a machine gun company through the Continuation War in WWII – raw recruits at the start of the war advancing across the border into Russia, the gradual turn of the war, and the retreat under Soviet offensives pushing back into Finland. The film keeps it tight to the battle experiences of the soldiers – shooting battles through pine forests, family back home, and how the war is seen through frontline eyes. It didn’t feel like a three hour movie – it’s had the right mix of heroism and random shock and horror that makes a good war movie.
The most jarring thing visually is that at the time, Finland was on Germany’s side – their uniforms even reflect that. It is kind of surreal to see a WWII movie from an Axis country. Finland’s position in WWII did change, however, and each of their three “Wars” during that time had different belligerents – the Winter War was essentially Finland alone defending itself from a Soviet invasion, the Continuation War was as an ally of Germany and part of Operation Barbarossa, and then Finland switched sides towards the end of the war and fought the Lapland War with the Soviets against Germany.
Finland’s legacy in WWII is controversial, but their priorities seemed to be largely territorial – defending what they had, retaking what they had lost in previous wars – specifically Karelia. Even while allied to Germany they stayed a democracy, refused to persecute Jewish Finns, and did not take part directly in the Siege of Leningrad. Still, it gives an unsettling feeling to see the historically accurate Axis elements mixed in with the protagonists of a war movie.