TORONTO QUICK TAKES: SAUNA
I always admire the blog writings of my colleagues who are able to jump from screening to keyboard, whipping out paragraphs of incisive critical prose. I tend to need more time to mull over the films I see as my opinions will shift from day to day. Take the first picture I saw in Toronto: Finish director Anti Jussi Annila’s Sauna, which was shamelessly hyped in the program book to cine-geeks like myself as recalling both the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Eli Roth. And while, yes, there are clear connections to the work of these two (in its bleak wilderness it echoes Andrei Rublev and Stalker, and the sauna of the film’s title has the same spartan creepiness as the edifice in Hostel), the film also exists in a kind of strange art-horror hybrid zone that’s not as precisely defined as the work of either of these directors. Set in 1595 following one specific episode in what the director told me later is described in his country as the “25 Year Hate,” the film follows two brothers — one a warrior and one a scientist — in the days following Orthodox Russia’s trampling over of Finland in its conquest of Protestant Sweden. But while the film’s setting and its dualing religious and political philosophies are complicated and sometimes hard to track, its central story, about a demon inhabiting a cold stone sauna, is not. This is one of those movies where characters due to their own moral failings and compromises are inexorably drawn to that which will destroy them. Leaving the film I felt that the Tarkovsky/Roth comparison oversold the film; a day later, I began to mull over its unusual blend of history and horror and thought I needed to see the film again.
Here’s the trailer: