Jalmari Helander on Sisu: Film Interview
We met with Sisu director Jalmari Helander for an interview on the film’s inspirations, the process of making it, and what he hoped to accomplish with it!
Sisu is an upcoming action/survival film written and directed by Jalmari Helander, taking place during the last days of World War II. Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) is a lone prospector wandering the wilderness of Lapland, Finland. Just when he’s hit it big, a horde of Nazis attack him and steal his gold. Little do they know that Aatami is a hardened, white-knuckled killer with an uncanny refusal to die, and he’s now on a mission to hunt down those who took his gold and exact brutal, bloody vengeance, fighting through everything thrown at him in the process.
Sisu takes a very typical type of revenge tale and tells it through a refreshingly old-school, visceral way. The rugged backdrop of the Lapland wilderness, the primal nature of Aatami’s methods, and the meticulous, visual-driven pacing lend to an absurdly violent and satisfying experience that greatly transcends its simple premise. After seeing Sisu myself, I met with writer/director Jalmari Helander for an interview about the film ’s inspirations, the process of making it, and what he hoped to accomplish with it.
THE INSPIRATIONS AND INFLUENCES OF SISU
This isn’t the first film with this kind of revenge setup, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in this World War II environment with a prospector as the main character. What specifically gave you that idea?
Jalmari Helander: Rambo: First Blood [points to the First Blood poster behind him] was one of the main influences, making me want to do a film about a guy you shouldn’t mess with. I’ve also always wanted to do a film about the Gold Rush in the olden days of Lapland, because there are quite a lot of cool stories about it. But I thought I’d never figure out how to make that as an action film until a couple of years ago, when I was thinking about the Nazis who burned Lapland in 1945. Then it clicked with me that I could combine these two ideas, and I knew exactly what I was going to do.
Sisu reminded me of a lot of pulpy 80s action movies for the stunts and violence, but it also had a more atmospheric mood and pacing. What were some more inspirations just from a filmmaking perspective?
J. H.: The biggest influences style-wise were a lot of old Western movies. I like that idea of this visual emptiness and open spaces. I like shooting it in a way where you’re not in a rush and can take your time, and where you show everything in a cinematic way rather than explaining it through dialogue.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF CREATING SISU
There are many stunts that were clearly done in-person and looked hard to pull off. Did anyone get hurt, or did any issues rise up during filming?
Jalmari Helander: They were crazy hard conditions. Everyone’s all out in the middle of nowhere doing this. I think we had a couple of small accidents with the stunt guys, like when they were jumping from the top of a truck to a tank. There was some kind of knee injury as well, and somebody hit his head while falling from the tanks, but nothing serious.
Sisu mixes white-knuckled realism with over-the-top craziness. Was it difficult to strike a balance between those two tones?
J. H.: I didn’t really try to do anything. I just did what felt good to me. I want to be serious with all the stuff that’s happening, but at the same time, I don’t want to be dark within that and I want to have some fun. I’m proud of the tone the film has, because people who don’t like violent movies have been saying to me that they were a bit confused as to why they had so much fun with the film.
WHAT JALMARI HELANDER HOPES WE TAKE AWAY FROM SISU
What do you ultimately hope people take away from Sisu?
Jalmari Helander:I’m just hoping they enjoy it. I’m not one to say what they should or shouldn’t feel, but I think it’s a really cool ride in a really cool landscape. You won’t be able to guess what’s going to happen next, and you can be surprised by the different ways Aatami is surviving and killing the bad guys.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sisu will be released in US theaters on April 28, 2023.