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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Kari Hotakainen

Title: Sydänkohtauksia
Author: Kari Hotakainen
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 348 pages
Original in: Finnish
Availability: Lieblingsszenen - Deutschland
  • eli kuinka tehtiin Kummisetä
  • Sydänkohtauksia has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fun idea, well-done (especially in the details)

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Sydänkohtauksia -- 'Heart Attacks' -- is a novel that suggests an alternative history of how the film The Godfather was made.
       A young, nervous Francis Ford Coppola sees the movie as making or breaking his career, and his first big hurdle is finding the right actor to play Vito Corleone -- and then getting the studio to sign off on him. More problematic is getting the movie made with the limited available funds -- and without inflaming the Italian community, which has some issues with the Mafia-subject matter. Killing two birds with one stone the popular cost-cutting method of shooting on (a cheap foreign) location is chosen -- and the foreign location is one where there are unlikely to be many Sicilians. Yes, in Sydänkohtauksia the movie is largely filmed in, of all places, Finland.
       Okay, so it's a bit of a stretch -- even with gypsy extras, the largely white-blond local population (as well as the Nordic countryside) make it a bit hard to imagine that this is feasible -- but it's an amusing premise, and Hotakainen runs with it nicely.
       The book begins with chapters that move between Finland and the US as this undertaking is set in motion, converging soon enough on location. Beginning with the studio madness (and a nicely convincing opinionated and tyrannical Charles Bluhdorn), Hotakainen gets the movie-making-system angle down very well.
       In the first Finnish sections the focus is on movie-fanatic Raimo. He's unemployed and it's wife Ilona that is the family breadwinner, but despite that Raimo isn't the most helpful stay-at-home dad. They have two toddlers, but it's mostly up to Ilona to deal with them. Raimo, meanwhile, spends his days doing more important things -- not looking for a job, but, for example, calling up the television station and requesting that his favourite films be aired again (a task he devotes considerable time and energy to).
       Raimo is a film fan but not exactly a cinephile: he has little patience for the likes of 'Ingrid Bergqvist' (i.e. Ingmar Bergman), preferring shoot-em-up action flicks. When he learns that The Godfather is to be shot in Finland -- and that his favourite Finnish director, Mikko Niskanen, is going to be their local point man -- he sees his big opportunity. He's already offered Niskanen all sorts of good advice, writing to him frequently (not that he ever gets any response), and he knows he can help out here too.
       Finland is a small country, and Raimo knows enough people (and is persistent enough) to actually manage to make some headway. He gets his hands on a script, for one thing. But it's Ilona -- getting more and more fed up, with good reason -- who grabs it and makes the useful changes, noticing (not that she's the only one) that the movie's one big failing is that there is no strong woman's part.
       Despite the Hollywood trappings, it's the mundane domestic scenes that give the book much of its power. Ilona puts up with a lot but she also fights back, and in this male-dominated society and book, she's one of the strongest characters. Raimo is presented a bit over the top in his self- (and movie-) obsessed focus, but this is very much a family novel. The book may have a far-fetched premise, but Hotakainen grounds it solidly with the very realistic portrayal of the struggles of day-to-day life with two young children.
       Despite Raimo's best efforts, filming goes reasonably well. Hotakainen doesn't focus as much on the actual film itself as on everything around it, particularly how the American movie folk fare in Finland. Brando, in particular, is a curious explorer who gets around (causing some minor issues), and this is quite effectively done. The young and slightly insecure Coppola sometimes fades a bit too far in the background in the novel, but the supremely confident Marlon Brando is gloriously presented. It's a romanticized vision, too good to be true, but appealing enough (and it works in the book): the Brando-myth from A to Z. From his ability to transform himself into Corleone to his quirks (from trying to keep his penis in check to talking with the animals ...), Hotakainen's portrait is a rich and full one.
       Between the entertaining premise and the excellent domestic portrait (focussed on Ilona) Sydänkohtauksia is an often very entertaining read. Hotakainen doesn't always seem entirely sure how far to push it (God makes a few cameo-appearances, too ...), and the story perhaps doesn't utilise The Godfather to best (or complete) effect, but it's a fine novel.

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Reviews: The Godfather: Other books by Kari Hotakainen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Kari Hotakainen is a leading Finnish author.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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