'A Patriotic Man' ('Isänmaallinen mies'): SIFF Review

A Patriotic Man Film Still - H 2014
Courtesy of SIFF

A Patriotic Man Film Still - H 2014

Arto Halonen's semi-comic period piece is substantially less supercharged than its subject's high-hemoglobin blood.

A laid-off Finn finds a way to help the national ski team cheat with transfusions of his rocket-fuel blood.

SEATTLE — A dramatization of sports-doping scandals in which athletes are only secondary characters, Arto Halonen's A Patriotic Man focuses on a sad-sack Finn who discovers a way to help his nation's ski team cheat their way to victory. Engaging in a dry, melancholy way, the film lacks the oomph that might help it connect with fest auds outside Scandinavia; Stateside distributors aren't likely to pay much attention.

The picture's strength is an unassuming, roll-with-it performance by Martti Suosalo as Toivo, a fiftysomething man who loses his job only to find he's not wholly without value to the community: Donating blood at his local hospital, he learns that not only is he a universal donor, but his blood is so hemoglobin-rich "many athletes would kill" for it. A doctor hooks him up with the Finnish ski team, which quickly hires him, ostensibly to wrangle equipment but actually as a "reserve tank" for skiers in need of a pre-race transfusion.

Toivo is charmed by one skier, a petite blonde named Aino (Pamela Tola) who needs help competing with her more successful teammates. She flirts just enough to get him invested in her career; though the team's highly competitive coach (Janne Reinikainen) isn't thrilled about it, Toivo eventually makes her the sole beneficiary of his precious bodily fluids. Suosalo spends the film balancing proud moments with pathetic ones as Toivo struggles with his conscience; emasculated by his wife at home, he's eager to believe this beautiful girl cares about more than his red blood cells.

Halonen's episodic screenplay, inspired by but not bound to actual events, focuses on the way the team's support crew keeps Toivo in the conspiracy despite his repeated attempts to quit (and, failing that, to drown his guilt in beer and strippers). But the stakes never feel very high, despite the fact that all of Finland seems to be watching these three skiers progress toward the Olympics; only quite late, after Toivo's dramatic arc is over, does the film give voice to the pressure these athletes feel to cheat.

The story's late-70s period is recreated nicely, with Alfi Kabiljo's piano-heavy score setting the tone so well the design team needn't beat us over the head with retro fashions and other visual cues.

Production company: Art Films Productions

Cast: Martti Suosalo, Pamela Tola, Janne Reinikainen, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Mikko Kouki

Director-Screenwriter: Arto Halonen

Producers: Arto Halonen, Igor Nola

Director of photography: Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen

Costume designer: Johanna Heikkila

Editor: Tuuli Kuittinen

Music: Alfi Kabiljo

No rating, 96 minutes