|Euthanasia: a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.|
Dir. Teemu Nikki
Starring: Matti Onnismaa, Hannamaija Nikander, Jari Virman
Review By Greg Klymkiw
So, when I first decided to see this movie, I did some simple math. I didn't read any press releases, reviews or the blurb in the TIFF 2017 programme guide. All I knew is that it was from Finland and that it was called Euthanizer. I suspected, based on these addends, that the sum might well yield a product worth seeing, but little did I realize it would bestow a picture that, by its end-title credits would have me soaring, steeped in the joy I so seldom experience these days - the sheer, buoyant jubilance that I have indeed just witnessed the very thing that made me first love movies, more than anything, in the first place.
Though Euthanizer is not a period piece, its aesthetic feels gloriously in line with the existential angst (primarily of the male persuasion) that so defined the cinema of the 70s - notably the work of Karel Reizs (The Gambler), James Toback (Fingers), Peter Yates (The Friends of Eddie Coyle), Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter) and pretty much anything by Werner Herzog from this nasty, tough-minded decade of cinematic perfection.
Veijo (Matti Onnismaa) is a self-employed mechanic who moonlights as a more cost-effective alternative for those needing to euthanize their pets. If the animals are small, he's rigged his car for carbon monoxide poisoning, and for larger beasts, he takes them out into the woods and shoots them in the head. When people bring him their pets, he looks deep into the eyes of the animals - it's as if he can see into their souls, hear their thoughts and feel their pain. He then admonishes the owners. He knows that they are the cause of their animals' suffering and he uncannily assesses their failings as human beings. Even those who purport to not hear Veijo know deep-down that he speaks the truth.
His own father lies paralyzed in a palliative ward, taken care of by a compassionate nurse (Hannamaija Nikander) who slowly comes to admire and even fall in love with the distant Veijo. This is a couple inextricably linked by their proximity to suffering, dying and death. They're made for each other.
One day, Veijo is visited by a loathsome racist proletarian who belongs to a right-wing, White Supremacist group called "The Sons of Finland". The racist wants Veijo to put his dog down. Veijo agrees, takes the scumbag's money, but then chooses to keep the dog alive. There is no reason to kill this dog. It's vibrant, alert and deserves to live. Veijo and the dog become as inseparable as he and the nurse are.
Alas, this is Finland. There can be no happy endings here. An act of violence shatters Veijo's life and he has only one choice. Humanity, and Veijo is nothing if not humane, is something with two extremes twixt the shades of grey.
Vengeance must be exacted, but a price will be paid.
Euthanizer is, to be sure, a film of grace. It is also deeply shocking, insanely romantic, sickeningly horrifying, bleakly/blackly funny and a work of complex layers. It provides no easy answers, no pat resolutions, but when you attempt to catch your breath upon its knockout ending, you know - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that you've seen a motion picture that's seared itself upon your soul and it's never, ever going to leave you. It'll be there forever and it's not going away - at least not until you're six feet under.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5-Stars
Euthanizer plays at TIFF 2017