“Bad Luck Love,” the third feature film made by fireman-turned-filmmaker Olli Saarela, invites the viewer to celebrate the seemingly miraculous redemption of a nihilistic and awesomely violent thug. The mixture of extreme violence on the one hand and strongly traditional religious values on the other may not sit easily with audiences outside Finland, where Saarela already has a following after the success of his earlier films, both of which were set during World War II. “Love” (which has no original Finnish title) is the first production nominated in all 12 categories in the Finnish Jussis awards, and fest screenings could propel pic into niche cult status, but otherwise its international future looks limited to vid bins.
Tough guy Ali, played with considerable charisma by Jorma Tommila, and his unstable brother Pulu (Tommi Eronen) hang out at a local gym where they seem to spend as much time smoking pot as exercising. A petty criminal, Ali is in love with the independent-minded Inka (Maria Jarvenhelmi) and it’s mostly because of her that he winds up in prison.
In a jealous rage, and doped to the eyeballs, he publicly pumps several bullets into small-time gangster, then finishes him off with a golf club.
For this he gets a modest four years behind bars (something of a culture shock for non-Finnish audiences, who might expect a longer sentence for such a crime). During his incarceration, Pulu sends him a videotape in which he sees his baby son for the first time, which brings tears to his eyes.
He emerges from the slammer determined to go straight, claiming that smoking will be his only vice from now on and apologizing to his mother for the hurt he’s brought to her. But Inka is now involved with gang boss Alpi (Ikka Koivula), who was the best friend of the man Ali killed, and so the stage is set for a violent climax which, again, is shown in grim, bloody detail.
But this is followed, unexpectedly, by an apparent miracle and a religious redemption which concludes the film on a note of eerie serenity.
It’s certainly a strange mixture, and one is never certain where Saarela is taking the film. The working class criminals of the Helsinki ‘burbs are unflinchingly presented, though pic doesn’t lack a dark sense of humor, and a continuous heavy metal soundtrack keeps things throbbing along.
The principal actors are excellent, with Tommila conveying the pent-up anger and frustration, but also the remorse, of his complex character and Eronen making his volatile kid brother (who drinks turpentine if there’s no regular alcohol available) a pitiable pawn in the cycle of revenge and violence. As the faithless Inka, Jarvenhelmi brings depth and subtlety to what could have been a most irritating character.
Cinematography is grainy but controlled, and all other credits are pro.