“Better jobless and drunk than just jobless.” Ah, words to live by. So begins the darkly humorous “A Patriotic Man, a Finland/Croatia production.
An accident sends our down-on-his-luck hero, Toivo, to the hospital where it’s discovered that he has a very rich type of O-type blood—blood that is highly desired by athletes. Fortuitously, this hospital has ties to the Finnish Olympic ski team. Before you know it, Toivo is recruited to help the team with the question, “Are you a patriotic man?”
Directed, written and produced by Arto Halonen and co-written by Jouni Kemppainen, “A Patriotic Man” is a witty, slightly whimsical look at the sinister side of competition at the highest levels. It’s an unusual approach, but it’s works. In the U.S. we normally associate blood doping and pharmaceuticals with baseball, or when it’s time for the Olympics, with cycling, swimming and track and field. But as this film beautifully illustrates, the need to win is common to all nationalities and all sports—no matter how big or small the competition or country.
Martti Suosalo as Toivo is terrific as the sought-after blood donor. His expressive face and way with a line makes his character immediately and extremely likeable. In his own droll way, Toivo conveys the moral conflict between serving one’s country and doing what is right. And just what is right? A frustrated skier himself, it’s hard for Toivo not to be tempted by the appeal of being a part of the Olympic family and basking in the glory and rewards that come with that family.
Suosalo is surrounded by a great supporting cast including those portraying the skiers who “thirst” for his blood, in particular Pamela Tola, as the skier who catches Toivo’s eye (and blood), his friends and most especially Pirjo Lonka as his wife, Pirkko. Pirkko comes across as a ball-busting shrew, but then you stop and think about Toivo’s character and some of his short-comings, and you wonder if you’ve judged her too harshly. Making a pointed cameo appearance is Ben Johnson, the real-life disgraced Olympian charged with illegal doping, as Toivo’s cab driver.
“A Patriotic Man,” set in the 1970s, states at the film’s beginning that while the characters are fictional, the story is based on fact. That’s not hard to believe. A film with a message hidden in humor, “A Patriotic Man’s” creative team have come up with a winner… hopefully using their own blood in so doing.