A Finnish rom-com with a lot of heart, Aurora tackles tough issues of immigration, racism and alcohol abuse whilst maintaining a light-hearted tone. Although it adheres to certain romantic tropes, the film manages to stay fresh and entertaining throughout, led by the chemistry between leads Mimosa Williamo and Amir Escandari. In Lapland, in the frozen north of Finland, Aurora (Mimosa Williamo) bounces her way between parties, never truly living and always living on the edge of alcohol abuse. Iranian Darien (Amir Escandari) is desperate to gain asylum for his daughter in Finland, even considering suicide to keep her in the country. When Darien encounters Aurora, she agrees to help him find a wife – his only other method for gaining residency. Aurora is hilarious throughout with its deadpan take on Finnish culture and attitudes towards migrants. Although we laugh at the abuse Darien receives, it may not be too far from the truth and writer/director Miia Tervo never shies away from the hilarity of reality much to the film’s credit.
Aurora is a party girl, struggling with money, a force of nature, much like a “hurricane” or a “typhoon”. Her father (Hannu-Pekka Björkman) is an alcoholic, unable to pay his rent and Aurora’s home is soon repossessed. She bunks with best friend Kinky (Oona Airola) as she concocts a plan to move to Norway where she will conduct colonics to earn copious amounts of money. Or so she says. Darien and his daughter are taken in by a local nurse (Ria Kataja) and her suspicious husband Juha (Chike Ohanwe) who wants to have nothing to do with the foreign Darien.
Darien doesn’t understand why the locals hate him so much. On a late-night walk, Darien encounters a drunken Aurora in a café. Despite her initial hostility, Aurora offers to help Darien find a wife so that he can permanently claim asylum in Finland in return for a large lump sum of Euros from Darien. As Aurora sources incompatible partners and lectures Darien on Finnish women, they slowly fall for each other, though denying their obvious chemistry. Throw in another suitor for Darien and you have the ingredients for a hilarious rom-com.
Though Aurora adheres to traditional romantic structure, the intriguing, charismatic relationship between its two main characters carry the film to a more interesting plane. Williamo is particularly strong as Aurora, carrying the film with devastating self-destruction and a tender vulnerability. Lapland is a strong setting for this film in two senses. Firstly, it is incredibly striking as the tottering, high-heeled Aurora stumbles along the icy, snow-clad pavements of Rovaniemi. Secondly, through the attitudes of the locals, including Aurora, who are initially as icy towards Darien as their surroundings. Soon, despite some racist remarks, they thaw to the warm Darien, though he lacks any knowledge of their culture. This theme of acceptance is particularly heart-warming in a comedy that dares to be edgy in its portrayal of European migration.
For all that Aurora gets right, it would have succeeded better had it explored this edge further. All of the tensions that bubble under the surface never boil over into a full conflict and thus, the film never has to deal with this theme head on. Instead the film reverts to trope to resolve issues and Aurora’s alcoholism and Darien’s foreignness are never fully explored.
Aurora is an entertaining and often hilarious riff on the classic rom-com. The film excels in its portrayal of Darien’s initial fish out of water arrival in a hostile country and Aurora’s wild excess. However, it falters a little in its third act, preventing it from entering truly elite territory. Despite this, Tervo has created a sweet and funny story which pokes fun at the prejudices of her countrymen.
Ewan Wood | ★★★ 1/2
Comedy, Drama | 15 | Finland, 2019 | Edinburgh Film Festival 2019 | 21st / 23rd June | Dir.Miia Tervo | Mimosa Willamo, Amir Escandari, Oona Airola, Chike Ohanwe, Ria Kataja, Hannu-Pekka Björkman