Heart of a Lion (Dome Karukoski, 2013): Finland

Reviewed by Linnea Nilsson at Santa Barbara International Film Festival

“This movie is about love that concords hate” is how the movie director, Dome Karukoski, describes his movie – The Heart of a Lion.

As I stood in line at the Metro 4 theatre, I had no idea what kind of movie I was about to see. I never thought that I would be so amazed by a movie like this. It’s a movie from Finland that has an amazing crew. Dome Karukoski is a well known director that has shown a lot of his movies at many festivals and the actors are some of the best in Finland. What can go wrong with an ensemble like this?

The Heart of a Lion is about a guy, named Teppo (Peter Franzén), who is the leader of a racist group of skinheads. As they disturbingly fight for the so called “White Finland” he falls madly in love with a woman, Sari (Laura Birn). After she finds out about his lifestyle, she cuts him off. She does, after all, have an African son. But Teppo likes her too much to just walk away, so he decides to give it a try. When her son, Rhamadhani (Yusufa Sidibeh), sees Teppos tattoos, he immediately know what kind of guy Teppo is. To Rhamis big dissapointment, Teppo moves in to their house. Their relationship is not good at all, and it’s about to be tested as Sari has to stay at the hospital for a while, leaving Rhami and Teppo by themselves. Teppo is not leaving his racism behind, but does not that affect Rhami, and still stays in the group. He is now forced to balance his new life with the old one. But it’s about to get worse when Teppos troubled brother, Harri (Jasper Pääkkönen), who also is a member of the group, moves in without knowing about Teppos new son.

I found this movie really capturing. They had a very strong beginning with Teppo walking in slow motion from something that looks like a funeral. That caught my attention right away. They actually had a few other slow motion scenes. All of those scenes occurred when he was with the group, playing soccer, being brutal to foreigners and so on, some of them felt like flashbacks and the other ones felt as they were in present. With showing scenes of the group, the small empathy I had for Teppo immediately disappeared.

The difference between his old and new life are very big. When he is with his friends, they are often at a scabby bar with kind of dark light and living a somewhat roughly lifestyle. When he is with Rhami the scenery is bright lighted and having this family life. The people in the group look like typical skinheads: wearing military clothes, having tattoos and, well, not having any hair on their heads. They had a handheld camera throughout the entire movie, giving it a more realistic look. Usually I’m bothered by handheld cameras, but I barely noticed it in this one, the story caught my attention more than how it was made. Which is kind of bad since I actually had to look how it was made.

But I guess that if the story took my mind of the creation of the movie, the story must have been a really good one. I was so nervous watching this, not knowing what was going to happen. “What will Harri do to towards Rhami, when moving in, and what will the group do to Teppo knowing what he is hiding from them?” went through my head the entire movie. I could not see how it all was going to end and that makes a great movie according to me. 

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