Controlling the Past through Cinema in the Baltic Region

Vesa Vares (University of Turku)

This presentation examines historical films made after the break of 1989 and investigates how they present national struggles for independence and other periods which are considered important to national identity and sovereignty.

In countries with experience with socialism, films tend to represent the case of national liberation—examples include the Estonian film Tuulepaelne maa (“The Wind-Ribboned Land”) and the Latvian film The Struggle of Riga.  In the Polish film Katyn, it is not a question of victory, but of martyrs essential to Polish identity.  In these films, the struggle is described as a brave and necessary one, and the enemy—the Bolshevik Russians or German nobility—is depicted as repulsive in many ways.

In Finland, on the other hand, the image of the Independence / Civil War of 1918 is quite closely parallels the Western European genre of war films; the aspect of independence is taken into account hardly at all, and instead the focus is only on “White” terror and tragedy.  However, films about the Winter War and Continuation War represent a heroic struggle, which preserved Finnish independence.  The only major difference in comparison with the Baltic and Polish films is the almost total absence of the “evil enemy” image.

In this presentation I also include Norway and the film Max Manus.  This film describes the struggle of the resistance movement against the Germans in 1940-1945 and interestingly combines the “cruel war” genre and the aspect of a battle which was heroic and not futile.

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