I want people to feel and understand how it is and feels to be at war.
The Finnish WW2 feature drama opened on Friday to a record high box office.
Why did you decide to adapt to the screen Väinö Linna’s iconic novel The Unknown Soldier, and why now?
Aku Louhimies: It’s been my dream project and I’ve been planning to film it for quite a while. The film is a true literary classic, and the best-known IP from Finland. It’s been brought twice to the cinema before, and was made as an opera and even board game! I felt it was time to give it a new modern version, the way people have made new versions of Macbeth or Othello.
How did you collaborate with Jari Olavi Rantala who has worked with you over the past decade, and what were the biggest challenges in turning the 500-page novel into a script?
AL: The book is very modern and written by a man who went to war himself. When the book was published in 1954, Linna said his intention was not to glorify war but to focus on the individuals who took part in it. So the film is the point of view of several ordinary infantry men. Similarly to Terrence Malick’s film The Thin Red Line, there is a multiple story line like in the book, although we only kept the stories we found the most interesting.
What physical and mental preparation did your cast and crew have to go through before filming?
AL: We had a boot camp for the actors, some had military experience, others not. As most of the action is set in a forest, they went through a long period of training to understand how you move and do cross country skiing in a forest. We decided early on that during the 81-day shooting period, the cast would not be driven to the locations in comfortable cars. They would live in the locations, like a real platoon, whatever the weather conditions. I want people to feel and understand how it is and feels to be at war.
How did you work on the visual style with your DoP Mika Orasmaa?
AL: I had worked with him on my previous film 8-Ball. Here we did not have an artificial lighting. We shot the film in a fast and realistic way and used whatever weather conditions we had. We were also lucky to film in the magic hour of the midnight sun, in the deep Finnish forests.
How difficult was it to put the financing together and what was the share of private money?
AL: I had the script, and pitched the project to financiers who were familiar with my previous work. I was extremely motivated and made my vision as clear as possible, with my production partners Mikko Tenhunen and Miia Haavisto. The bulk of the financing came from private funding - €5m out of the €7m budget -, but I had no pressure neither from the private investors nor from the public sector [including the Finnish Ministry of Defence] to film it in a specific way.
How will you structure the mini-series?
AL: It will take time before we decide on the mini-series, but I believe it should be around 5x50’.
AL: I’m very proud to have brought my dream project to the screens. After the Irish drama series Rebellion, I was offered other English language projects, but I focused on the making of The Unknown Soldier. Now I’m on my way to the American Film Market in Los Angeles where I will promote the film.