Tears of April -- Film Review

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SEATTLE -- One of the allures of foreign films is that they can open our eyes to parts of the world and fascinating historical incidents that are completely unfamiliar. "Tears of April," a Finnish movie that recently had its North American premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival, accomplishes this almost anthropological feat. More importantly, it tells a compelling story with characters we come to care about. Despite the harsh subject matter, it's a movie that deserves to be snapped up by an adventurous art house distributor.

The film, based on a popular novel by Leena Lander, is set in April 1918, at the end of the Finnish Civil War, when Red and White soldiers were fighting each other, much like their neighbors to the east in Russia. There were many female soldiers fighting for the Red army, and the film begins with a platoon of women being captured by the savage White army. The women are raped and executed, but one of them, the strong-willed Miina (Pihla Viitala), survives thanks to the intercession of one of the few soldiers with a conscience, the handsome Aaro (Samuli Vauramo). As he escorts her to the closest garrison for trial, Aaro falls in love with her; Miina encourages his ardor, though she has been so brutalized by her wartime experience that it's hard to know if she's capable of any real feeling.

At the garrison, they both come under the scrutiny of the judge (Eero Aho) in charge of the fort, a decadent dandy who still dresses formally in the stark wartime setting and turns out to be a voyeur who loves playing games with his captives. These characters exhibit the complexities found in a richly imagined novel. In addition, the film has been given an epic visual sweep by director Aku Louhimies. The desolate settings are beautifully caught, and scenes portraying the horrors of war are powerfully graphic without being exploitative. Louhimies also builds considerable erotic tension in more intimate scenes.

Given the cruelty of the times, a happy ending is unlikely, yet the conclusion is somehow satisfying, holding out a glimmer of hope for at least a couple of the characters. Fine performances all around help to intensify our involvement. This is a rare historical drama that lingers in the memory as it eloquently underscores the devastating human costs of every war.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
Cast: Samuli Vauramo, Pihla Viitala, Eero Aho, Miina Maasola, Riina Maidre
Director: Aku Louhimies
Screenwriter: Jari Olavi Rantala
Based on the novel by: Leena Lander
Producer: Aleksi Bardy
Director of photography: Rauno Ronkainen
Production designer: Markku Patila
Music: Pessi Levanto
Costume designer: Tiina Kaukanen
Editor: Benjamin Mercer
Sales: WIDE Management
No MPAA rating, 109 minutes