(The ARCANUM feature is my attempt to present some of my older write-ups to newer Good and Most Beloved and Precious Readers)
I watched SAUNA – well – four years ago and I liked it so much I kept the Blockbuster video and paid the fee. This movie is really excellent – but you have to read it or know Finnish – and I highly recommend it. I present it here, remastered in HD with some pictures that weren’t found on the original. I hope you enjoy!
This movie is Finnish, subtitled and full of so much ancient Swedish-Christian and Russian-Pagan imagery that I doubt any casual, intelligent viewer will ever likely figure out what exactly is truly going on. I’ve watched this three times since I first ever saw it at the local DVD store shelf, and each time I come away with a little better understanding (I think). All three times I have loved the filmmaking, the actors, the director, the props, the setting, the film and what I think I understand of the story, but each time I also think “what are these Swedish bastards saying here that I don’t get because I think I’m smart and I should understand everything??!!?” Quick synopsis: after a long war between Russia and Sweden is finally over, two “commissions” of soldiers and mapmakers are sent to map a new border between the two countries of a deserted, cold, hard wasteland. Two of the men, Swedish brothers (a very hard soldier and a geologist) commit a crime and are subsequently haunted, leading up to cryptic, hard to decipher atonements for their sins. The movie is bleak and grim throughout and does not contain a happy ending. BUT – it’s very well done.
So – spoilers ahead – the movie starts off with Knut coming across his hard-as-war brother Erik brutally and repeatedly stabbing a peasant who was “concealing an axe” and “planned to use it” (atonement to come). Knut is returning from locking the peasant’s very comely daughter in the cellar. She is locked in the cellar because Knut had some unkind intentions towards her, before he realizes he is not the type of guy who forces himself on young ladies (atonement to come). Covered in blood, Erik utters the number “73”, because that is how many people he has killed / murdered during the course of the war (atonement to come). Some locals (I think) appear to be coming and they get out of there to not be “fingered” with the murder, leaving the girl trapped in the cellar to die or be a victim of whoever is following them. They meet up with their Russian counterparts the next morning and they begin mapping out the border, coming to a bleak, depressing, unmapped swamp. In the middle of the swamp they come across a building, the SAUNA from the title, which symbolizes different things in either the Russian or Swedish religion (as it is discussed). Near the SAUNA, is an unmapped, untaxed village with 73 inhabitants, including one young teenage girl (who is not comely btw).
What follows is where it gets kind of confusing. Knut is distraught over the girl in the cellar and is haunted by her appearing every now and then covered in blood; I am sure it’s his guilty conscience. We come across a dead dog who has clawed its own eyes out. The Swedes go into a building away from everything, “to find the taxing papers” and come across dozens of Russian-Pagan ornaments and woodcuts, one that appears to be what we modern folks know as the symbol / figure of death. They lock an “elder” in there who eventually cuts out his own eyes and we are introduced to a hospital where villagers go who never die. One of the Russians writes suicide letters in his own blood, plucks his own eyes out and, in a very odd scene, hands Knut a couple of his bloody teeth, telling Knut that they (the teeth) are “perfect”. Knut then enters the SAUNA and cold hearted, killing Erik has a change of heart so they cede the swamp to the Russians, who are dying off as well, as acts of love. SOOOOOO – Knut now appears to be “Death” and the Sauna is where someone can atone for their sins before dying, which makes sense. BUT – Erik sends off the girl from the village (maybe a representation of the girl in the cellar) to escape and be free, but she is killed by one of the most gnarly looking man/demons I’ve ever seen.
In the end – I really like watching this movie – but I don’t totally get it, I think because I was raised here in the U.S. and haven’t studied Finnish/Russian Religious mythology. I wish I did. It’s well worth the watch. I would love to read anyone else’s take on this bad boy.