Restored in August 2014 by Cinémathèque suisse (Lausanne). Kopierwerk: Digimage, Paris.
Music excerpts include: Jean Sibelius: "Finlandia", "The Swan of Tuonela", and "Belshazzar's Feast".
Featuring: Wäinö Aaltonen, flygflott 19 commander Bäckhammar, A. K. Cajander, minister Ecker (Swiss ambassador), Carl-August Ehrensvärd, Erik von Frenckell, Ragnar Grönvall, Haakon VII, Väinö Hakkila, Kristian X, Kustaa V, Kyösti Kallio, Heikki Kekoni, C. G. E. Mannerheim, Jussi Mäntynen, Johan Nykopp, Aitanga Oesch, Alli Paasikivi, J. K. Paasikivi, Aladár Paasonen, E. O. Stauffer, Väinö Tanner, Charles Zbinden.
A 1940 French-language parallel version: La Bataille de la Finlande / Un petit peuple se défend / La Bataille de Finlande.
A 1970 re-release version, 50 min
A 1988 re-release version, at 16 mm, in a German version and a French version, 25 min
A screener dvd of the 2014 Lausanne restoration viewed at home, 24 Nov 2014
Commissioned by the Schweizer Hilfswerk für Finnland two young Swiss, E. O. Stauffer and Charles Zbinden, traveled to Finland to cover the Winter War (30 November 1939 - 13 March 1940) equipped with a 35 mm camera and a 16 mm Bolex camera. The temperatures of minus 30-40 grades Centigrade did not scare them.
There is an introduction to Finland and to events in the autumn 1939 before the war. We witness a modern total war with an all-out murderous bombing of civilians in order totally to demoralize the people. We see huge crowds of refugees. Most of this footage is from pre-existing sources.
The film then is structured as a travel story.
The first journey takes us to Lemetti. Finnish officers explain us the motti tactics with which courageous fighters can cut up a superior aggressor and destroy it bit by bit. The tactics was put into practice against the fearsome Blue Division, the 44th Division, infamous from the attack to Poland, now destroyed by Finns the Raate road / Raatteen tie. The stunning footage of the destroyed enemy is shot at Itä-Lemetti and perhaps Länsi-Lemetti
The second journey brings us to the bitter cold of Lapland, to Salla, where some of the most ferocious battles of the war took place. The Swiss film the Finnish counterattack to Joutsijärvi. The Russians are beaten with heavy losses. Mannerheim inspects the troops and decorates Swedish volunteers.
The film is a heartfelt tribute to the heroism of the Finnish people. It is not a militaristic film, however. There is a profound sense of mourning about the devastation of the war. There is a human connection in the footage which always emphasizes the human face, often eloquently: the children at play, the Lotta women helping with air defense and medical care, the refugees who have lost their homes, the firemen facing superhuman challenges, the soldiers with their laconic attitude on the front, and the Russian prisoners-of-war who are treated as human beings, too. Stauffer and Zbinden also cover the Finnish madness of the sauna ritual of rolling naked in the snow at minus 30 grades temperature.
Frontline combat footage in war films, including documentaries, is almost always faked, and that is the case here, too. The combat scenes have been photographed at show battle demonstrations for foreign journalists and at military training centers.
Cinémathèque suisse has conducted a valuable work of restoration. Thanks are due to Roland Cosandey who has championed this film and reminded also us in Finland about it. There has been a 16 mm study print in Finland, but it has not been in general release.