Road North (Tie pohjoiseen): Toronto Review

Enjoyable father-son road trip is just offbeat enough to survive the staleness of the genre

Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki's latest comedy tells the story of an absentee father who reunites with a son for a day trip.

TORONTO — A mismatched-buddy road film holding one or two surprises more than such tales usually do, Mika Kaurismäki's Road North pairs a son with the father he never knew. Exhibiting few of the quirks associated with the Kaurismäki name but not exactly generic, its familiar pleasures should satisfy arthouse patrons; if it were in English, the story would easily have connected with a more mainstream audience.

Much of the film's appeal comes from walrus-sized star Vesa-Matti Loiri, whose Leo Porola shambles through an airport like a man ten yards from the finish line of a marathon of gluttony. Arriving at the home of his concert pianist son (Samuli Edelmann's Timo), whose wife and child recently left him, Leo explains who he is -- Timo has seemingly given little thought to his father's identity or whereabouts -- and convinces him to go for a day trip in a stolen Pontiac ragtop. There's something Leo wants to show his son, but he won't say what.

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The tour stops first at the home of Timo's sister -- her existence also news to the stiff but curious young man -- a visit that sets the tone for encounters in which people with every right to disdain the old man for running out on them instead greet him with amused exasperation. Loiri earns that reception, managing to find the charm in a boorish gesture like bringing a just-caught fish as a gift for a couple who aren't expecting him (and, in fact, are busy having sex for the first time in six months).

The script, cowritten by Kaurismäki and Sami Keski-Vähälä, makes a predictable arc from small revelations to large ones, with breaks for comic mishaps and even a genuinely charming musical number. But while there's a mission behind the trip, Kaurismäki stands at arm's length from clichés about emotional self-discovery and learning to love that which irritates us.

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The closest the film gets to sentimentality is an episode with Leo's own mother, a senile woman who enjoys one last chance to cruise with the top down along sun-dappled Lapland roads. But then Kaurismäki takes the trio to Leo's childhood house, which has been plowed down and replaced by a casino. For once, home has abandoned Leo instead of vice versa.

Production Company: Marianna Films Oy

Cast: Vesa-Matti Loiri, Samuli Edelmann, Mari Perankoski, Irina Björklund, Peter Franzen, Elina Knihtilä

Director-Producer: Mika Kaurismäki

Screenwriters: Sami Keski-Vähälä, Mika Kaurismäki

Director of photography: Jari Mutikainen

Production designer: Sasu Joutsi

Music: Kaihon Karavaani, Mauri Sumen

Costume designer: Riitta-Maria Vehman

Editor: Jukka Nykänen

Sales: The Yellow Affair

No rating, 112 minutes