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"We always solve problems in the sauna"
Culture & Life

"We always solve problems in the sauna"

2 min. 04.03.2012 From our online archive
What do you get, when you sit a bunch of strangers down in a sauna together and tell them to just talk? What if one of them has been a soldier for 35 years and has just returned from a mission in Afghanistan?

What do you get, when you sit a bunch of strangers down in a sauna together and tell them to just talk? What if one of them has been a soldier for 35 years and has just returned from a mission in Afghanistan?

The set-up for Joonas Berghälls documentary might seem strange, but considering that Finland has one sauna for every two inhabitants, the idea makes sense. And so, the sauna becomes a place of catharsis, where secrets are shared and hearts open up.

One of the film's main protagonists is 53-year-old Kari Tenhunen, now a retired soldier. When the film was shot, he had just returned from a one-year mission in Afghanistan.

"It was a hard year for me," he says, "before I went there my brother died and during my year there, my mother passed away. I lost my girlfriend, because she didn't want to wait anymore."

“I feel human again”

For Tenhunen the film became more than just a sauna movie. "After Afghanistan we had a military back-brief. Nobody wants to do it and it didn't give me anything." Instead, sharing his story with a strangers while learning about their hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows, became Tenhunen's very own back-briefing.

"Afterwards, I was free," he says. Free to leave some of what he has seen and done behind. "During my time in the army I thought, I'm a tough guy, I have a black belt, I've been shot. But since we did this film, I feel human again."

Since then, the film has gone on to success at home and overseas. And it is achieving what Tenhunen hopes most, to reach other soldiers and help them realise it's okay to talk about their experiences.

"Our commander in the army bought the film for the new sergeants. In our grammar school there is a picture of Mikko and men saying 'Sauna is good for you'," he says.

Strangers become friends

Mikko, his sauna partner has become "like a lost brother. Mikko knows me better than anyone else." The two have formed a friendship that is likely to last a lifetime.

The film has taken them to places across the world. The two even accidentally ended up in the Palm Springs gay pride. "They didn't know what the sauna is, but they saw there were naked men." He says women have come up to him to say he has given them hope that there are real men with feelings out there.

And Tenhunen seems to take it all in his stride, enjoying every step of the way, including his stay in Luxembourg.

Still, his story is far from over. Even though retired, he may be called back to Afghanistan. "I could get a call tomorrow and be there the day after," he says. "But now, I can talk about it."

You can catch the last festival screening of Steam of Life on Tuesday, March 6, 6.30pm at Utopia. Watch the trailer below.