Finland’s Oscar entry this year, Teemu Nikki’s Euthanizer, sets up some intriguing paradoxes about the way humans treat animals, and the way humans treat each other.

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Local Finnish character actor Matt Onnismaa stars as Veijo, a mechanic who on the side euthanizes sick animals. Though twisted, he’s not some cold-hearted killer who just eliminates animals at a rate that’s cheaper than the vets. His supposed talent lies in assessing whether a pet should go down, or whether their owner is the real problem. Throughout Veijo’s experiences, he rubs a nationalist gang the wrong way, but finds hot romance in nurse Lotta (Hannamaija Nikander) who is tending to his ailing, hospital-ridden father. The irony? Veijo has no desire to put his father out of his misery.

It’s a film, which Nikki also wrote and produced, that’s intended to get audiences thinking, especially with its surprise ending. “I wanted to make Dirty Harry with animals with my values, not the ’70s values,” says the filmmaker who drew inspirations from ’70s loner action films.

“It’s the biggest taboo for the hero (in American action films) to kill a dog. Rambo can kill nations, but you can’t imagine Rambo to kill a dog. It’s impossible. There’s a rule: If you want to make a bad guy in the film, have him kill a dog. I want to make the opposite, I wanted to make the main character do the unspeakable thing and make you love him anyway,” says Nikki about defying cinematic conventions.

Nikki appeared with actress Nikander and Euthanizer producer Jani Poso at last night’s Awardsline screening in Los Angeles. The trio were gobsmacked that they were selected as Finland’s Oscar entry, and confessed that they had no idea how the selection process operates in their homeland. They have a sense though how they were chosen: Euthanizer had a prolific world premiere splash at TIFF in 2017 and went on to be nominated by the Nordic Council and take key festival prizes at the Tokyo and Norwegian International Festivals, in addition to two Jussi Awards (Finland’s top film awards) for best script and music.

Finland has yet to win an Oscar in the foreign film category, but the country has been shortlisted twice in 2002 for Aki Kaurismaki’s The Man Without a Past and in 2015 for The Fencer in 2015.