The Finnish/Swedish drama Heart of a Lion, directed by Dome Karuskoski (Lapland Odyssey), will Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this September as part of its Contemporary World Cinema program.

Lion, described as a redemption story about the seemingly irredeemable” in the Festival’s website, centers around Teppo (Peter Franzen) a racist and leader of a skinhead gang, who, after discovering that the woman he falls for has a son (Yusufa Sidibeh) who is of African descent, finds himself challenging his own values and loyalties for the desire of love and a family. 

See more about the film below:

Set against the rise of far-right, ultranationalist groups in Europe, Dome Karukoski’s Heart of a Lion is a redemption story about the seemingly irredeemable: the leader of a ramshackle gang of racist skinheads who finds his prejudices and misplaced loyalties challenged by his desire for love and a family.

While loitering in a café one day, Teppo (Peter Franzén) hits it off with the waitress, Sari (Laura Birn, one of Finland’s most versatile young actors); he goes home with her, only to be abruptly, inexplicably tossed out in the morning. 

But Teppo refuses to give up, returning the next day, and soon meets Sari’s son Rhamu, who, it turns out, is of partly African heritage. When Sari falls ill, Teppo agrees to look after Rhamu, struggling with his own bigotry while hiding his relationship with the boy from his fellow skinheads. That is until his violence-prone brother Harri shows up, and Teppo is forced to make some life-changing decisions.

Heart of a Lion is as socially conscious as a Stanley Kramer film, but instead of preaching, Karukoski stresses empathy, suspense, and a discomfiting sense of humour. (Karukoski’s last film was the raucous hoser comedy Lapland Odyssey.) 

 Rarely do you get to see a scene as awkwardly hilarious as Teppo’s attempt to make dinner for Harri, Rhamu, and Rhamu’s confrontational father. Nor do you see something quite as terrifying as the gang’s violent raid on a makeshift refugee camp. It’s all held together by a fine, energetic performance by Franzén, who oscillates in a heartbeat from slapstick comic to brute, and the young Yusufa Sidibeh, perfect as a boy whose experience has taught him to be far too suspicious for his age. At the heart of it all is Karukoski’s conviction that it’s our connections with others that make us what we are — for better or worse.

Watch the teaser clip below, in which Teppo meets his girlfriend’s son Rhamu, and offers him a banana.