Finnish helmer Mika Kaurismaki’s best films have dealt with music or road trips. His latest combines both elements with plenty of heart, as a prodigal father returns to Helsinki to reconnect with the son he abandoned 35 years earlier and con him into a journey on the “Road North.” Boasting the venerable Vesa-Matti Loiri (a prizewinning vocalist as well as thesp) as the roguish pa, and popular actor-songster Samuli Edelmann (“Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”), cast against type as his uptight concert-pianist progeny, this jaunty comedy should accumulate substantial fest mileage on its way to niche arthouse dates offshore.
Pic has performed well in Finland, where it opened at the top of the box office on Aug. 24 and has since drawn more than 36,000 admissions.
Overweight and shambling but still charismatic, Leo (Loiri) has lived to pursue pleasure, always fleeing when he encountered problems. Now, as he nears the end of his metaphoric road, he wants to patch up all the potholes, although in his own unconventional, not necessarily legal way. At first, Timo (Edelmann, here looking positively svelte) seems like Leo’s polar opposite, bound by rules, engagements and a constantly buzzing cellphone. But, out on the highway in the red Catalina convertible that Leo steals for the ride, he proves a chip off the old block.
Although Leo has an ultimate destination in mind, he plays it close to the vest. Instead, he insists that they visit some relatives completely unknown to Timo. A stop at the home of Minna (Mari Perankoski), Timo’s newly discovered half-sister, occasions an ur-Finnish sauna scene and a hilarious fight between Timo and Minna’s ultra-sociable husband (Peter Franzen).
Pausing for the night at a hotel gives the men a chance to show off their musical chops in a swell scene where Leo croons a ballad and Timo accompanies him on keyboard. The encore is better yet, as the band Kaihon Karavaani (one of three composers of the pic’s soundtrack) takes the stage to back them for another number.
Up the Lapland way, just as the narrative seems as if it’s veering perilously close to a shaggy-dog story, Leo’s hidden intentions come to light, and Timo has a chance to connect with his estranged wife (Irina Bjorklund, luminous) and adorable daughter (Minni Laakso).
The views of the vast and beautiful Finnish countryside, the music choices and the casting of two of the country’s most beloved performers all show Kaurismaki celebrating his patrimony even as he gently satirizes male relationships. The overall tone is sweeter than usual for the helmer/co-writer, without being overly sentimental.
Central performances are broad but engaging. Sharp production package is appropriately colorful.