This Finnish documentary, surely the best film ever made about men sitting in saunas, will not be for all tastes. For a start, almost every one of the men who appear in it are wearing only their birthday suits. And it's not all eye candy, the bodies on show run the full spectrum from seriously buff (a commando just back from Afghanistan) to the other kind.

In a cheering display of official broadmindedness, the film has been given an exemption from classification on the grounds that none of this nudity is gratuitous. But the candour is more than visual. As they cast ladles of water on to the hissing stones, these men tell the stories close to their hearts.

Directors Berghall and Hotakainen reportedly travelled the country for three years looking for candidates, and many of the men they found relate painful histories: of being beaten by a stepfather; losing custody of and access to children; dealing with the death of parents or children. A retired train driver recalls a fatal accident. Other just reflect on the burden of having to act strong when they feel weak.

It's sometimes sobering but there are plenty of moments of the deadpan humour that Aki Kaurismaki deals in: an episode involving a large brown bear is alone worth the price of admission. In any case, it is deeply engrossing to watch people being so real and receiving nothing from each other except respectful attention. In the heat of its moments, the film achieves something close to a sacramental rhythm.


It also provides a gallery of sauna construction, which suggests that a place to sweat it out is as important to a Finnish bloke as a place to burn sausages is to a New Zealand man: any enclosed or enclosable space gets converted - a caravan, a phone booth, a woodshed. The only bit I can't figure out is how they stopped the camera lens steaming up.

Stars: 4/5
Directors: Joonas Berghall, Mika Hotakainen
Running time: 82 mins
Rating: Exempt. In Finnish with English subtitles
Verdict: Naked men talk about their lives

- TimeOut