'One Last Deal' ('Tuntematon mestari'): Film Review | TIFF 2018

The Art of the Deal, Scandinavian style.

An aging art dealer grabs at one last chance to fix his broken life in former Oscar nominee Klaus Haro's bittersweet Toronto world premiere.

A crusty old art dealer puts a fresh coat of paint on his hopes and dreams in One Last Deal, Finnish director Klaus Haro's first feature since his historical thriller The Fencer (2015) was nominated for a Golden Globe and shortlisted for an Academy Award. This warm-hearted charmer presses some obvious emotional buttons, but with enough deadpan humor and self-aware attitude to avoid schmaltzy overload. Following its world premiere in Toronto this week, Haro's bittersweet heart-tugger should be an easy sell to further film festivals, while its universal narrative of broken families and late-life regrets has clear theatrical potential with the right marketing, particularly to older audiences. It opens domestically in January.

The modern world has left Helsinki art connoisseur Olavi Launio (Heikki Nousiainen) behind. In a high-tech era of glitzy auction houses and jet-sitting playboy collectors, this elderly widower remains obstinately old-school. Largely as a consequence of this, he is now struggling to keep afloat with mounting debts and a dwindling trickle of customers at his cluttered, dusty, dimly lit store. With bankruptcy looming, Olavi dreams of one last big sale to end his career on a high, solving his financial woes and, perhaps more importantly, restoring his battered pride.

So it almost feels like divine intervention when Olavi stumbles across a small Christ-like portrait at his local auction house, which sets his scholarly antennae twitching. Working on a hunch that this anonymous canvas is actually an obscure work by the renowned 19th century Russian realist Ilya Repin, he takes a big gamble, borrowing money and alerting his last few wealthy collector contacts on the promise of a huge payback if his guesswork proves true. But his efforts to determine the painting's true authorship prove an uphill struggle, alerting unscrupulous rivals in the art world to try and hijack any potential deal to their own advantage.

Framing Olavi in golden hues and twinkly musical cues, Haro clearly intends us to think fondly of his curmudgeonly protagonist — but not too fondly. All those years of obsessively pursuing artistic perfection have made him selfish and cranky, with little time for his middle-aged daughter Lea (Pirjo Lonka) and teenage grandson Otto (Amos Brotherus). Even after turning down Lea's desperate pleas to help out the troubled Otto with a temporary internship in his gallery store, Olavi still has the audacity to ask her for a loan. "I am your only child," she rages, "and you know nothing about my life."

Ironically, Olavi's enforced reunion with Otto provides him with just enough youthful energy and technological savvy to complete his dogged detective work on the painting. Lending an extra note of levity to this melancholy setup, the ill-matched pair form a productive partnership, a predictable piece of corny redemption which Haro thankfully does not oversentimentalize. But even as Olavi's career-topping deal starts to looks more likely, saboteurs lurk in the wings.

Nousiainen gives an agreeably grainy central performance, humanizing Olavi without entirely letting him off the hook, while Lonka brings an appealingly prickly energy to her few scenes as a long-suffering adult daughter with a wounded child insider her. Cinematographer Tuomo Hutri gives Helsinki a handsome autumnal look and Matti Bye's glistening, pulsing, occasionally overemphatic score stands proud alongside pieces by Mozart, Handel, Rachmaninov and more. No spoilers here, but One Last Deal is no feel-good fairy tale, leaving us with the payoff message that sometimes the most valuable bargains we strike in life are more emotional than financial.

Production company: Making Movies
Cast: Heikki Nousiainen, Pirjo Lonka, Amos Brotherus, Jakob Ohrman
Director: Klaus Haro
Screenwriter: Anna Heinamaa
Cinematographer: Tuomo Hutri
Editor: Benjamin Mercer
Music: Matti Bye
Producers: Kai Nordberg, Kaarle Aho
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema)
Sales : LevelK, Denmark

95 minutes