2017 is the year that I started following Finnish movies too. Aki Kaurismäki's latest, "Toivon tuolla puolen", and "Tom of Finland" proved to be great starting points.
"Ikitie", on the other hand, reminds me that no matter how good it can get, there are always gonna be mediocre efforts as well.
It's a prestige project belonging to Finland 100 program - which celebrates a century of independence, and includes 13 Finnish movies largely funded by private sector.
It's all about a man (Tommi Korpela) forced to leave family and Finland to start a bitter new life in Soviet territory. He's always in trouble, not having a chance to return to his family, not being able to live peacefully as well.
This is connected to bigger if relatively forgotten part of history of early Soviet era. During the Great Depression of the 1930's, great father Stalin called American people to relocate to Soviet Union - to build a better world behind the iron curtain. Nearly 10,000 followed the call; their community is where Jussi ends up.
"Ikitie" was surely made for international attention and maybe foreign language Oscar in mind, so the makers have found it important to create a Finnish epic which looks like Hollywood project.
This has resulted in roaring success on visual side - production values are great, the movie looks truly beautiful -, but failure on creative side.
I am not familiar with the true story, or novel by Antti Tuuri, that the screenplay is based on, but the storytelling is just weak.
The events are not very varied, interesting or connected too, bringing us just a series of moments from one man's journey. The result is too shallow to have a natural fluidity or be able to address any complex issues contained in the story.
Sadly for a movie concentrating on the state of mind (and life) of the main character, it is not able to create a strong emotional connection with neither him nor any around him.
The characters are paper-thin which is neither a great start for building rapport with audience nor offering great performances, leaving us with exactly one semi-intriguing person on screen.
And this intriguing figure is not the central hero but his nemesis, played by Hannu-Pekka Björkman, who is able to surprise with some devilish charm and uncertainty, like a trickster figure.
The lack of development for Tommy Korpela's much-suffering main character leaves him mostly with a chance to look sad or remorseful.
So they have spent more energy playing with his appearances through time (beard, haircut, etc) rather than character development. Think Brad Pitt in "Legends of the Fall", only with more straight and much more good-looking version of Hillar Kohv.
The main character's life choices may also seem infuriating to modern audiences, especially as his behaviour and motifs are understandable mainly for those familiar with a history of Red Russia's oppression. The background needs some additional explanation to strike a chord with wider, maybe international, circle of movie lovers.
Also, "Ikitie" suffers from too much "acting", resulting in some unnatural-sounding dialogue, resembling a play rather than a movie. The usual problem with Estonian movies too.
The project has other connections to Estonia as well, including the shared history under Russian regime, filming locations (Sillamäe, Tallinn, Haapsalu, and Varangu) and some Estonian actors used, such as Hendrik Toompere Sr. and the late Lembit Ulfsak. But their roles are small.
Based on his resume so far, Antti-Jussi Annila is an interesting director for sure, but "Ikitie" is simply a disappointment, and not a very interesting disappointment at that.
By the way, the screenplay was written by A-J Annila and other famous Finnish filmmaker, Aku Louhimies, who was supposed to direct it but had to honor other commitments instead. Which is directing and co-writing a war drama "Tuntematon Sotilas" ("Unknown Soldier"), another famous movie from the Finland 100 program.