The original title Rööperi refers to an area of Helsinki known as a previous haven for the mob. Re-titled Helsinki for its North American premiere yesterday, this film initially appeared to be just another one of those “gritty underbelly” crime dramas that seem to be a common theme of what we in the U.S. get to see from Finland. But while it is indeed a mobster flick, it is one of the best of that genre and one of my favorite films so far at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival.
The top-grossing film in Finland this year and based on a true story, Helsinki is about a collection of thugs with big aspirations, but who’s individual lives take very different turns. Kari (Kari Hietalahti) is too attached to his mom. Tom (Samuli Edelmann) falls in love and tries his best to go straight. Krisu (Peter Franzén) ends up on his own and falls prey to a variety of problems.
Helsinki is violent, bloody and funny (in that Finnish kind of way) but the performances are what stand out as extraordinary. Most notable is Franzén who gives one of the best performances in any movie this year, regardless of the country of origin. The script is excellent and the look and sound are great.
I had a chance to speak to Franzén for a few minutes after the film. He has played roles in CSI:Miami and other U.S. productions, but I have a feeling he and the other cast members are big stars in Finland. This guy is going to land and excel in some Hollywood film soon, and he’ll then make his mark on American cinema. Franzen is married to Irina Björklund, who was also at the screening. They live in Los Angeles with their young daughter.