Heart Of A Lion (Leijonasydän) is a Finnish drama that asks the question, “Should you be ruled your head or by your heart?” It’s an age-old conflict and yet, this film manages to deal with this along with two sensitive and timely topics (racism and nationalism). Directed by Dome Karukoski, Heart Of A Lion is ultimately a provocative, suspenseful and engaging film that despite containing lots of gratuitous violence, exhibits real heart.
The start is quite ominous as the audience is introduced to the leader of the pack, Teppo Salminen (Peter Franzén). He’s the head of a group of neo-Nazi thugs who punish other races for being on welfare (even though they’re just as guilty of this) and for not being a racially pure Finnish person. Franzén shines as Salminen, who is one complicated and multi-faceted character.
One day Teppo meets a beautiful waitress, Sari (Laura Birn (Pearls and Pigs)). The two hit it off, go out and end up spending the night together. The next morning, however, Sari spots Teppo’s tattoos (including a swastika and The Finnish Coat Of Arms over his heart, which denotes nationalistic pride and is also where the film’s title comes from).
Sari throws Teppo out but the latter is hooked and gradually wins back her affections, only to discover that she has a son from a previous relationship. The child, Rhamadhani (Yusufa Sidibeh) has a father who is of African descent. This discovery will prove a shock to Teppo’s prejudices and will test his loyalties between his much-loved gang and his new-found girlfriend.
A criticism of this film is that Sari’s character is not fully described or realised. She falls pregnant with Teppo’s child and gets sick and is largely absent from the screen, as she is forced to remain in hospital. What transpires however, is a more in-depth analysis of Teppo and his psychotic and racist brother, Harri (Jasper Pääkkönen) who is running AWOL from the army. The leader’s gang follow a similar fate to Sari in that their motivations for being skinheads are not fully explored and in some scenes they appear to be violent just for the sake of it.
Over the course of the movie, Teppo goes through a kind of redemption. He evolves as a person and at times appears to outgrow his violent streak. But for every scene that shows him on the road to becoming a mature and caring father figure, there’s another one where he sits like a passenger and condones the explosive thuggery of his gang. It’s a strange dichotomy, one that is discomforting to watch but at the same time engaging, suspenseful and intriguing.
Heart Of A Lion does not contain too many surprises and at times it may even seem a little predictable. But even with these flaws, the film remains a rough diamond that shows a man’s love for his brothers in arms and his partner. It also shows how a man can change over time and become a “Dad”. Heart Of A Lion is a dark drama that doesn’t wallow too much in melancholy and instead celebrates a tough guy who is redeemed by lightness, love and sympathy.
Originally published on 25 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/25/film-review-heart-of-a-lion-leijonasydan-finland-sweden-2013/
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