The Nordic landscape is quite invisible and plays only a supporting role at first sight in two Finnish films, The Visitor (Muukalainen) and Sauna, but if one takes a closer look at the plots, it becomes obvious that the source of all mystery that characterizes these films is the nature itself.

They tend to say that Finnish people don’t speak too much, especially when there is nothing to say. This stereotype can be easily adapted to Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää’s The Visitor and Antti-Jussi Annila’s Sauna on the grounds that these motion pictures rely rather on silence and natural noises than dialogues. Human relationships play definitely important roles in both films but human feelings like greed or guilt, which are affected by the mystery that can be found in nature, brings the plot forward.

In the The Visitor the mystery is connected to a cavern located in a secret place that only a father and his son know about. The latter visit this special spot regularly to collect some mysterious things into a box that he takes to his father who has been previously imprisoned. The boy and his mother live a simple and monotonous life in a farm until a visitor arrives who is more likely one of the father’s criminal fellows. Even though the film concentrates on the visitor and how he affects the boy’s and his mother’s life, the viewers see the events from the speech-impaired boy’s point of view. He is in fact the voyeur within the film. Even if he has no control over his surroundings, and is just observing what is happening in front of his eyes, he’s still the only one who has knowledge of the hidden cavern and its mysterious treasure.

In the film Sauna, as the title already indicates, a steam bath triggers the characters’ feelings. Annila’s film takes place in 1595 after a long war between Sweden and Russia after which two Finnish brothers and some Russians are setting up the borders between these countries. The sauna is located exactly at the border, in a village that isn’t shown on the map and the majority of its inhabitants are elderly people. Only one child can be found, which evokes even more doubts concerning this rural community. The sauna is known for “its ability” to wash people’s sins away, however, local people warn the visitors about it. The brothers have a long trip behind them with full of unpleasant and guilty acts so it’s not a surprise that the younger one, who is fighting his conscious, enters the building anyway.

As both film plots take place in nature the Nordic landscape is always in the background, however, this time not fjords or mountains, but forests and swamplands dominate on the screen. These elements contribute to create the particular atmosphere that describes the films, and also provide the perfect sources for a mystery. Taking consideration either The Visitor or Sauna, it seems that local people (the family and the villagers) live in harmony with nature, but visitors are trying to rule everything around them and take advantage of nature, although they are driven by different feelings. The question is how long they can do it without consequences?

CategoriesFeatures Issue 4
Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.