Friday, October 13, 2017

Back to the USSR – review


Director: Jari Halonen

Release date: 1992

Contains spoilers


Glasnost means different things to different folks. However, given the border proximity between Finland and the USSR it certainly would have had specific impacts in that country. This Finnish film from 1992 is based on this period in history and so I was a little disappointed as I wanted to enjoy it more than I actually did.

The reason? Well I’ll get to that shortly.

Jorma Tommila as Reima
However, first we see an image of a man stood in a coffin paddling towards shore. Later we discover he is Vladimir (Taisto Reimaluoto). Meanwhile, in a small café bar Reima (Jorma Tommila) is trying to convince his estranged wife Molla (Ulla Koivuranta) to come back to him. She lists his failures and yells at him to go hang himself as she leaves. There is a fight in the café bar and Reima is kicked out. We see him walk through the town, causing a scene outside her apartment, until his daughter Liisa (Sanna-Maria Salmi) sends him packing as she has an important exam the next day.

hung
Reima is a communist and hates the way the world is going. It is clear that he used to inform to the USSR and seems generally disliked. He is also loud-mouthed and uncouth and this was one of the issues I had with the film. As our primary protagonist he should have been, at least, pitiable, if not likeable. He was neither. After he gets home he activates his ham radio, looking for a way out and decides to follow Molla’s advice and nail his tie to a beam to hang himself, which he successfully does.

Vladimir and Reima
If the act of being hung was successful, the outcome was not and he swings off the floor but very much alive. At this point the man from the coffin enters his house. He is looking for lodgings and helps Reima down. His luggage is the coffin itself, which is taken to an upstairs room. The film then follows the pair’s misadventures. Beginning with a tour of the town in which Reima abuses a young woman from the Salvation Army, in a scene that borders close to rape – once again I repeat they failed to build any form of sympathy for the Reima character.

meeting the Count
After a botched attempt to rob a post office of Welfare payments, Reima accidentally shoots Vladimir who is unaffected by the accident. This leads him to relate his tale. Joseph had sent him to Transylvania on a mission of urgency (Yes Vladimir, it is insinuated, is Lenin and Joseph would have been Stalin). We see imagery of a nightmare castle, vampires feeding and the Count welcoming Vladimir in. He describes, though we don’t see, the Count falling to his death but biting Vladimir during the event.

invisible on TV
Reima decides that Vladimir will be the immortal symbol of his new party and goes on TV to launch the new revolution. Unfortunately the world thinks him mad as he keeps referring to his companion but he is stood alone – though Vladimir’s cap is in shot, floating in the air. Things go downhill from there. So, why was I disappointed?

a vampire feeds
Partly because the primary character was so unlikable, as I have mentioned, but mainly because the humour didn’t work for me. Admittedly there will have been cultural nuance I missed but the reliance on body humour and misogyny for the laughs also irked. I really hoped for something stronger. I hoped the humour would have been inciteful political commentary rather than (as an example) a spray of diarrhoea as someone was pulled from a toilet. That said, the idea of Lenin living on as a vampire was neat. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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