Äideistä parhain (Mother of Mine) (2005)

In my capacity as a Spout Maven, I’ve reviewed a number of films distributed by Film Movement, including Mother of Mine, the movie under discussion here, A Peck on the Cheek, Be With Me, and Drifters. The promotional material included with the DVDs of these movies and the introductions on the disks themselves describe Film Movement as a film-of-the-month subscription club. Members receive award-winning foreign films in early release, by mail, “to keep,” once a month. The films can later be found at Netflix, Blockbuster, or your local library. A nifty idea for some few film buffs, but every time that I hear about this club, I worry about its health and survivability. What kind of market can there be for a little club like this? How long can a company like Film Movement survive, if it relies upon a subscription base that is bound to be relatively small?

Visiting the company’s website, I saw that Film Movement now also acts as a film distributor, with theatrical, institutional, television, DVD, rental, retail, wholesale, in-flight, and emerging-channel segments. Larry Meistrich, who founded the company as a film club in 2001, has since moved on. I contacted Film Movement to ask about their move into distribution and how it now compared, revenue-wise, with the subscription side of the business. After some back and forth, the president of the company, Adley Gartenstein, was kind enough to update me on Film Movement’s current direction. His response, in part: “The original plan was to be a DVD-of-the-month club. Now we pride ourselves on being a full-service North American distribution company with many creative and successful windows of exploitation. We still have a DVD of the month which gets an exclusive window, often before the theatrical. We think of it as a private preview club. But it is the smallest revenue generator for us. It is still important to us and we feel very devoted to our loyal members, but we have over the last two years put a lot of resources into building our theatrical distribution and our VOD channel. I am proud to say we have had our greatest box office success with our recent theatrical releases, and we launched a VOD channel called Film Festival on Demand which is available in approximately 9 million homes and we expect it to grow to 18 million during 2009.” So I can enjoy watching and reviewing their films without feeling concern for them.

Meanwhile, Äideistä parhain (Mother of Mine) is a well-made Finnish film that I enjoyed and that I can recommend. Solidly acted and beautifully shot around Turku, Finland and Ystad, Skåne, on the southern coast of Sweden, the movie tells the tale of a boy taken from his mother during World War II, who must adjust to a new family in a neutral country but then return home, fundamentally altered by his experience.

The boy Eero (Topi Majaniemi) is called upon to look concerned, angry, pensive, and occasionally to ask a question or blurt out a passionate protest, and does it all well. I watched Birth the other night and Cameron Bright, another ten-year-old actor, comports himself well in the same way, including his time in the bathtub with Nicole Kidman. The dialog in Mother of Mine is limited, the expressions heartfelt. Eero’s Swedish foster parents, Signe and Hjalmar (Maria Lundqvist and Michael Nyqvist) made me want to go live on the farm, too. I’ve got a soft spot for movie dads who stand up straight, square their shoulders, and with great sympathy say and do the right thing when it isn’t easy to. Atticus Finch comes to mind. In my younger days I had a good friend who was a farmer. He didn’t say much, but he was as solid as a rock and when he spoke, he meant what he said and he always made sense. Michael Nyqvist in this film reminds me of him.

Eero’s mom, Kirsti, played by Marjaana Maijala, provides the Finnish glamour. Esko Salminen and Aino-Maija Tikkanen, Eero and Kirsti in their twilight years, both seem sufficiently worn down by life to contrast dramatically with their younger selves. And what is it about Scandanavian husbands and wives arguing with each other? Have we been trained by Bergman to just settle back and enjoy it as the two of them go back and forth in that Scandanavian tongue while outside their mossy-roofed houses the wind bends the grass in waves on the förtöja?

It says here that the movie is quite different from the book it was based upon. Or does it say that? Sample Google translation to English of Swedish webpages on the subject:

“Härö not, in any case would like to condemn other people more closely than themselves. Haluaisin olla rmollisempi mutta toisaalta myös rohkeampi sanomaan stop silloin, kun tiedän, että jokin asia on väärin. “I would like to have Merciful but on the other bolder also say stop, when I know that one of asia is wrong. Haluaisin astua rohkeammin heikkojen puolelle.» I would like to enter braver the weak side.”

He’s just sayin. The director Härö is in his thirties, whereas the author of Äideistä parhain, Heikki Hietamies, was born in 1933 and would have been the age of Eero during the Russian/Finnish conflict. Hietamies is known to include considerable autobiographical material in his fiction.

And finally, this is a golden age for cinematographers. Having just admired Raúl Pérez Ureta’s work in Madeinusa, I got to feast my eyes on Jarkko T. Laineen’s Skåne. Some of these movies are so good-looking, it’s worth putting up with any other problems in them just to take in the views.

One question I did have: The boy goes from Finland to Sweden. He has to learn Swedish, which probably wasn’t easy, as Finish is not an Indo-European tongue and completely unrelated to Swedish. There is a great deal of correspondence by letter in the movie – writing letters, reading letters, reading the letters out loud, so forth, shots of the letters lying around. Did Kirsti write in Finnish? If so, how could Signe read them as she did (the movie made clear that she didn’t speak or understand Finish). Likewise with letters from Signe to Kirsti. I’m guessing that Härö skated over this one.

This concludes my review of Mother of Mine. In what follows, I speculate about why the director, Klaus Härö, made some of the choices that he did as he shot and cut together the movie.

Note: The movie features a busy flock of Skåne geese. These good-natured birds have lived in southern Sweden since the Stone Age and I was all awww at the sight of the notable fowl until while chatting with a relative from Ystad, I learned that, at least for him, the main function of the Skåne goose is to act as centerpiece at the family’s annual Martinmas dinner.

I was listening to a movie podcast the other day and one of the hosts on it opined in passing that there has never been a movie with bookends that wouldn’t have been better without them. (Bookends are single scenes at the beginning and end of a movie that together serve as a framing device for the narrative, providing context or serving a variety of other dramatic and esthetic purposes.) This caught my ear for two reasons: I had just watched Flawless, an ok though silly movie that uses bookends to first misdirect and then uplift the viewer, effectively, I thought; and Chaos Theory, the bookends for which just provide extra time to enjoy the happy ending; and somewhere recently I heard or read that Mother of Mine itself included bookends. As I listened to the podcast, I imagined myself on it, called upon to defend the Mother-of-Mine bookends. Later while actually watching the movie, I discovered that while bookends are present, I was interested in all of the movie’s non-sequential scenes, not just those at start and finish. I ended up noting all of Härö’s chronological editing choices and herewith speculate on why he made them – why he arranged scenes in the order that he did. Was he shuffling clips in time to mask a lack of dramatic material, or to reset expectations in the narrative arc, or infuse the film with artificial nostalgia, or perhaps gin up a little auteur before releasing his small Finnish film into the Eurocinema market?

*****SPOILERS ALERT: Various plot points are discussed below, in detail.*****

First, the bookends:

An onscreen notice informs us that during Finnish/Russian hostilities at the beginning of World War II, 70,000 children were sent from Finland to safety in non-combatant countries, most to Sweden. Then, the movie begins with Eero the boy standing in the woods, staring up at the stars at night. We hear him, voice over, now sixty, saying “Mother, do you still remember how it all began? How the war began?” Russian bombers approach and bombs fall. (At first impact the boy is startled and jumps so convincingly that the director might have fired off a gun right behind him on the set.) The boy runs to his mother and they cling to each other outside their home. Cut to present day for the opening bookend. Eero at sixty brings his mother a birthday present, late. It is clear that they are estranged and have been so for a long time. He tells her that he’s been to a woman’s funeral in Sweden. Quick cut back to his visit to a farm in Sweden for the funeral. We understand that he spent time there as a boy and that he had a strong bond to the woman who has died; his mother comments about this in voiceover. Härö, the director, is telling us immediately that war came, that mother and son survived it, but that something happened in Sweden to destroy the bond between them – the bond dramatized as they held each other during the bombing raid. Given the notice at the beginning about war children and this awkward moment between the two adults, the theme of the movie is announced: sending the children to safety was not to be all good. The leading bookend ends with a cut back to a time when mother, father, and boy were still together and happy.

The movie ends with a trailing bookend, again mother and son: the old Eero, touching his mother’s arm as he leaves her, signifying reestablished emotional contact after a lifetime, makes his way outside to look up again at the stars, and the scene fades into the original image of him as a boy looking up.

In my last review, I wondered why some movies are better the second time around. One reason, or so I supposed, was that in some cases on second viewing you aren’t waiting for something bad to happen when nothing bad is going to happen. You know what’s coming and what’s not coming and can spend your time enjoying the movie scene by scene, without, for example, worrying that someone is going to get killed at any moment. One way that a director can help the viewer get a leg up on such enjoyment the first time around rather than the second, is to serve notice up front of what to expect. Such might be the case with the director of Mother of Mine. Before the movie begins, he posts the notice about war children. Then he shows us the child of interest and informs us with the bookends that Eero and his mother both will survive the war and live out their lives. And so, with this introduction, we know in advance that the boy and his mother and his temporary alternate mother are all going to live through the war, that he will develop a bond with the alternate mother, and that he will become estranged from his mother. Perhaps this presages some trauma to him that will cause this fifty-year emotional separation from her. We do know that no resolution of their problems will come when he is young; whatever happened back then, it has taken the man fifty years to approach his mother with reconciliation in mind. In other words, the bookends are not entirely volitional for the director. He can start with a bookend or, at the end of the movie, he’s going to have to do a “fifty years later…” jump to get to this resolution. The other, untaken, option would have been for mother and son to settle up while they were both still young. But with the bookends, as viewers we are invited to experience the unfolding film as one instance of the lasting bad effects of war on a child. Or so we imagine.

And now, the other flashback and flashforward cuts in the movie and my speculations about them:

CUT: Back to Eero’s happy family time before the bombs fall. Having set the context, the director returns to the beginning of the story and the movie now proceeds sequentially in time. Father leaves to fight. Jump ahead to news that father is dead. Jump ahead from there to Eero being shipped out to Sweden. The movie moves forward steadily now in time, with no flashforwards and only three flashbacks to Finland that serve to emphasize how much Eero misses his mother and worries about her, and how hard it is to get a straight answer out of her about the dangers ahead. These come one-quarter, one-half, and three-quarters through the movie.

Up to this point, the movie has fleshed out its central thesis with a variety of dramatic incidents, that thesis being, again, that in the fog of war, the adults try to shield the children from physical and psychological harm, in this case by (a) removing them to a distant safe place and (b) refusing to share with them any meaningful details about the actual situation at hand. Kirsti (the boy Eero’s mom) and his dad (before his death) tell Eero only that everything will soon be fine and as before. However, children hear things. Eero hears of the Russian bombing of Helsinki. He hears that his mother is working for the Nazis. His overriding concern for his mother interferes with him forming any sort of connection with his new foster mother, Signe. The adults’ refusal to share information with him is only exacerbated by what he does manage to learn on his own.

A word on war children: The term can refer to children forced to serve in the army during a war (widespread in Somalia), children left behind when their soldier fathers go home (children of Viet Nam fathered by American soldiers; children of Finland fathered by Nazis), or children displaced by war, like those in England (the Narnia books), Finland, and Germany. The first of the Finnish children sent to safety in other countries (mostly to Sweden) left during the Winter War between Finland and Russia (30 November 1939 to 13 March 1940). At that time, most believed that Russia would easily invest Finland. Finnish parents feared the coming Russians and their mistreatment of women and children. In the event, Russia took Karelia and then the struggle bogged down and a truce was agreed. After an interim, Finland signed a pact with Germany, Great Britain declared war against Finland (but didn’t do much fighting there), and with Germany’s assistance, Finland took back Kerelia. This second phase of their war with Russia the Finns named the Continuation War (25 June 1941 to 19 September 1944). Russia and Germany saw it simply as part of the struggle against each other. Most of the children sent out of the country left as their parents returned to Karelia to rebuild. Finland later fought Germany in Lapland. Between 60,000 and 80,000 children were moved out of Finland during these periods of conflict, most during the Continuation War. (If the children were all as much trouble as Eero, 80,000 seems like an awful large number.) 20% never returned (about 15,000), because they had no family to return to, or because of concerns that Russia wasn’t finished with the country, or because the Finnish economy lay in ruins. Of those who did return, a large number went back to Sweden during Finland’s economic doldrums and Sweden’s hot economy of the 1950s and 1960s. Studies conducted later suggest that the children who stayed behind in Finland made out better than those who left, psychologically. There were 2,000 civilian casualties in Finland during the war, some of them children, but a much greater number of the war children struggled to adjust once the war ended, part of their problem being that the country was unaware of any such problem. There is a documentary, War Children (Sotalapset)(2003) on the subject. The movie seems a little casual about chronology, but we know for sure that Eero doesn’t arrive in Sweden before late 1942, because that’s the year on Signe’s daughter’s gravestone. Yet after Eero talks to his mother over the phone at Christmas dinner, we’re given a scene where the Russians bomb Helsinki and to me, the implication was that this was happening for the first time; that bombing occurred in December, 1939.

To this point, one hour into the movie, the director’s use of cuts to jump back and forth in time seem straightforward to me. He sets context at the outset by placing a scene in present time and he uses three flashbacks during his telling of Eero’s story to emphasize the impact of events in Skåne on Eero’s frame of mind. We have seen Eero grow increasingly concerned about his mother and her welfare, making two attempts to return to Finland, at the risk of his own life. As he tells Signe, he doesn’t want his mother to die. But the director now jumps forward into bookend territory again. Why? The immediate impression is that we’ve reached a point of inflection in the narrative and this jump lets us catch our breath and serves as a semicolon: the boy now will settle in at the farm. The old Eero says to his mother, “You did survive, but I wasn’t important to you.” Puzzling. Where does this come from? He was obviously important to her, in every scene so far. Or does he mean that she didn’t keep him adequately informed? “Do you want me to have a guilty conscience again?” she asks him. “No, Mother. That’s exactly what I don’t want.” “Why didn’t you ever talk about it?” his mother asks. Aha. So we now learn, in advance, that after he returns from Sweden, he won’t talk to his mother about his experiences there. “I tried but you didn’t listen,” he says. Hmm. So obviously we don’t know what’s going on here. The conversation is essentially a foreshadowing. “Not true,” Kirsti says. “I would’ve listened. I’m your mother.” “You just wanted everything to be all right. That’s what you wrote me and I never knew how you were doing.” “You were only a child. You must understand that. I couldn’t burden you with my worries. Why didn’t you talk when you came back home?” she asks. “Talk to you?” “Who else?” “Don’t you understand? You weren’t my mother anymore.” So. Foreshadowing. We’ve already seen that Eero is constantly frustrated in his need to know how his mother is doing back in Finland. Her failure to be forthcoming is the cause of what is to come, it seems. We’ll now see how his mother’s refusal to share her situation with him culminates in his rejecting her as his mother and taking Signe to replace her.

Why this jump to what seems to be bookmark 1b? Why foreshadow Eero’s apparently upcoming lifelong change of allegiance to Signe? Is this break in the nature of an intermission plus recapitulation? Or is the director unsure of his case and arguing for it in advance? Will Eero’s concerns for his mother simply ebb now? Has he maintained his relationship with Signe up to the present day? (Recall that he’s just come from her funeral.) Why come to his mother now to discuss this after fifty years of silence? Is Härö just reminding us that we’re vectored in the end to this elderly couple, so that we don’t come to the end of the movie and think “Oh, yeah, forgot about this part” when we get there? The answer is that Härö has a couple of revelations in store for us and needs more time to set them up than the end of the film allows, but watching the movie in real time, my reaction was “Huh?” All signs up till then pointed to a simple but powerful human drama, told without artifice. So that perhaps here Härö here is simply articulating what he has been showing heretofore – that Kirsti chose the wrong path in addressing the concerns of the child by not talking/sharing frankly enough with him. This should be the essence of the movie. Eero here implies that it is the essence, that because his mother would never share the truth with him, he finally transferred his emotional attachment to Signe (who, ironically, shared even less with him than his mother did, in the end). The director, however, did not trust this human truth enough to let it carry the movie, even though he showcases it here. Instead, in what follows he extends the lack of communication between adult and child into the realm of soap opera, ruining the film’s chances for emotional greatness. It turns out, as we come to see, that Eero isn’t talking as much about his mother’s refusal to share up until this point in the narrative, as about a misapprehension that he acquires later on. Given that fact, the dialog in this interlude was a real head-scratcher. Quite a bit of plot machinery, relatively speaking, will be required to resolve it while I, as a simple viewer watching it, was still back on the farm with Eero recovering from his frantic attempts to escape.

The movie proceeds, with Signe and Hjalmar learning that Kirsti has a German lover; Kirsti asks them to keep it a secret and raise her boy. Eero learns of this. After all his worry, he now learns that his mother doesn’t want him back. He is accepted into the Jönsson family. Flash forward to see him at Signe’s funeral; this cut is used in the same way as the three flashbacks in the first half of the movie – to accentuate his feelings and experiences when young, in this case by contrasting them with his grief at Signe’s death.Back to his happy life with his new family. Signe swears that she’ll never let him go. The war ends. A letter comes from Kirsti; she’s changed her mind. Signe doesn’t tell Eero. She struggles to keep him, but can’t. He returns to Finland, unhappily.

And so, now, one-and-a-half hours into the movie, in the final less-than-ten-minutes of the boy’s narrative, Härö has one last opportunity to dramatize the effect of the war and Eero’s separation from his mother. Eero arrives in Finland not knowing that his mother wants him back and not knowing that Signe only let him go because Kirsti did want him so badly. This information has been withheld from him. As far as he’s concerned, an indifferent mom ordered him back and a promise-breaking Signe made him go. If the director had trusted the simple power of the situation, he could have let Signe tell the boy that his mother wanted him, and then they could have both dealt with their conflicting emotions, and Eero and Kirsti could have done the same. Or Härö could have let Signe withhold that information but then let mother and son have it out in Finland, with all revealed and dealt with at that end. But such would lead to reconciliation and healing and would undermine the whole point of the movie: that war children in many cases concluded their escape from war in a permanently damaged condition. Thus, the boy must refuse to talk to his mother and she must dither and let him remain silent, even though most moms at this point would force the child to discuss the situation presenting us with the scene we want to see and deserve to see without having to wait for a fifty-year jump for it to arrive, drained of its power by the decrepitude of the protagonists – the scene that could raise this film above melodrama. Eero confronting his mother with the fact that he knows about her lover. How could she be unfaithful to the memory of his father like that? How could she ask Signe to keep him if she truly loved him? And how could Signe, who also claimed to love him, now unaccountably send him back like this? The rage and grief of a damaged young soul, bared.

But no. Härö goes so badly wrong from the moment that Eero steps off the boat, back in Finland, if not already by having Signe stay mum. Härö turns his back on a grand dramatic opportunity. Instead, he sticks with the machinery of melodrama, which dictates that there are things that Eero must know and other things that he must not know. In the course of the movie, he must learn that his mother is in Helsinki, not at home; that she’s with a German; that she doesn’t want him back; that Signe wants him desperately and swears never to give him up. He must not know that his mother gives up the German for him and tells Signe so.

The children descend from the boat into the arms of their loving parents, with only Eero left to wait on the dock, isolated, for his mother’s late arrival. None of the other children demonstrate any visible damage, as Eero does. Why his mother’s late arrival? No reason. It’s a cheap melodramatic) beat, not meant to show that she is uncaring or unloving or irresponsible, but to mislead Eero into thinking that she doesn’t care enough to show up on time. It also suggests to the viewer that the mother is feckless, whereas her real faults in the movie have been, first, to try and protect her son by reassuring him in the face of evidence and fears to the contrary that he has nothing to worry about, when instead she needed to share more with him a fault that many parents would naturally fall prey to, and which might be part of an argument for not separating the family in the first place – and second, to fall in love while he is away and briefly consider giving him up – something that she then completely abjures, sacrificing her love for Jurgen instead of that for her son. So Härö does her a great disservice in the return scene, having her hustle in late for the return of her son, so as to unnecessarily ratchet up Eero’s alienation another notch. (And by the way, the smooth return of the other children, with only Eero having a problem as a consequence of the knowledge denied him, undercuts the director’s focus on the general damage incurred by the children because of their government’s policies.)

At any rate, Eero has nothing to say to his mother on his return, but instead of staying with this while his mother pursues it, we jump ahead an unspecified number of days to a knock at their apartment door. A letter arrives from Sweden as his mother prepares for a job interview. Eero answers the door. The postman knocks to deliver this letter? Eero tells him that Kirsti doesn’t live there anymore. The postman is mildly surprised but takes the ten-year-old’s word for it and mosies off, letter in hand. “Who was it?” Eero’s mother asks. He doesn’t answer, so as not to spoil the plot. “Eero,” his mother says, conveniently letting that go. “All the bad things are over. Mother is here now.” So much for confrontation. We’re just riding along on the missing information here. The letter sent back, we learn later, contains an explanation from Signe of why she hadn’t told Eero that his mother wanted him back, plus his mother’s original letter saying how much she loved him and wanted him back. The rigors of world war and their lifelong impact on a mother and child have here been reduced to Eero answering the door instead of his mother and sending an acquiescent postman on his way. Did Signe try again? We presume not. Did Kirsti ever write to her? We presume not. Did the two exchange xmas cards? Guess not.

In the present, the old Eero says, “I could never believe what you said. I thought you’d disappear at any moment. I felt I could lose everything at any moment. This,” he shows her the letter he caused to be sent back, “Signe had always wanted to give me. She’d always hoped I’d get them. Or we. They came with the funeral invitation.” His mother has never known that Signe’s letter existed, or that Signe had never shown her (Kirsti’s) letter to Eero.

Now he’s back weeping in the Skåne graveyard. and he reads the two letters. (As I mentioned above, presumably one letter is in Finnish and the other in Swedish. How did that work? We get glimpses of the pages but I couldn’t tell if this was so. Signe didn’t speak Finnish and I don’t imagine she read it either. Did Kirsti have her letters translated before sending? Ditto Signe? Just wondering.) The director is cutting around here to mask the simplicity of his plotting.

Bear with me now as Härö makes his final, climatic run at our hearts. He’s locked in to the final cuts, forced to spin out the reveal. The cuts are dictated to him by his initial lack of confidence in the power of his basic story idea. To repeat myself: wanting to make his point that the trauma of relocation can have, and did have, a lifelong negative effect on many of the children “saved,” he’s got to pay for earlier turning to the shopworn and fundamentally dishonest device of denying his protagonist necessary knowledge, not once but many times throughout the movie, instead of relying on truth in life and film, to propel the narrative forward. So that, the true climatic moments of “Mother of Mine” having been passed by, their power unrealized, moments used as no more than plot highlights, Härö is constrained to juggle the elements of what is really just coda material as he winds up the clockwork that he hopes, unrealistically, will trigger that release of powerful emotion in our breasts that he… How many metaphors have I mixed here? Sorry, I lost control there for a second.

Or, even worse, he had these cuts in mind from the beginning – this is the payoff that he wants – and he employed his gimmicks specifically to get us here.

So.

Eero stands weeping in the Skåne graveyard and reads Signe’s letter, as we see her standing, looking like she did back when she wrote it, staring out to sea, and as she tells his mom to show him her (Kirsti’s) letter, and that she (Signe) was wrong not to show it to him when it came (although actually he probably heard Signe and Hjalmar arguing about it, but pretended that he didn’t), but that she loved him and didn’t hink that Kirsti did, although later she came to her senses about that, after Eero was gone, and wrote this letter. Signe faces the camera. “Please, Kirsti, let him read your letter so he’ll know.” (We presume that she’s sent the letter back with her own.) “And give up any hope of an Oscar.”

In the graveyard Eero puts the letter away and reads his mother’s. “Dear Signe. There is peace now in Finland, which is a huge relief to us all. Hans-Jurgen returned to Germany without me.”

The elderly mother Kirsti, who wrote the all-important returned unshared letter, is now shown continuing to read it aloud as Eero listens. “The German loves me more than anything and I love him, but I have to ask myself whom I love the most?”

Cut to Eero a week earlier, back in Skåne, staring out to sea after having just read this himself. Kirsti continues, voice-over, “I must’ve been blind and insane. How could I even consider leaving my own child? I may have to carry this guilt for the rest of my life.”

Now she’s young again, looking out at us. “But I ask of you, thankful for all that you’ve done, to send me my beloved son as soon as possible. And you’re right. This sort of thing blasts any Oscar hopes for us both.”

Back to the old Kirsti, reading. She and Eero eye each other. “60 years. a lifetime.” “It sounds ridiculous, but somehow it feels that a part of us has been left there in Skåne. That’s where I decided never to miss you,” Eero says.

I’m sitting on the couch regretting that last toke as I try to keep all this straight.

“But you did,” Kirsti says. “I did, Mother,” Eero says. “Now I understand it.” Huh? Understands what? That as a child he had known the part about the German and Kirsti asking Signe to take care of him, but not the part about Kirsti asking Signe to please send him back, after which Signe made him go home even, as he thought, Kirsti didn’t want him? Kirsti, Signe, and Eero are all just culpable enough, in just the right order, to replace a world war’s blame with their own.

Onscreen, mother and son touch. They’re reconciled after fifty empty years, but I’m not. I’m still reeling from the sequence of rapid cuts, back then and now, images of the pensive trio, all perhaps wondering, like I was on the couch, HOW THEY AVOIDED TALKING ABOUT THIS FOR HALF A CENTURY. He never went back to Skåne? He never asked his mother why Signe sent him back if she, his mother, wanted to go with the German? But there is no point in asking questions like this because the whole narrative is artifice.

These is a deep irony in this movie. Two mothers, one blood and one surrogate, love Eero. As a consequence of their own weaknesses, their actions taken together rob him of the ability to trust either of them. Only at the age of 60 does he come to fully understand this. Thus love, rather than hate or indifference, wounds him worst in the war. Love and a clunky script. See, if THIS – the letters – caused the problem, then it’s no wonder all the other kids ran to their parents when they got off the boat in Finland. All this talk in Finland about alienated children – never happened – because the chain of events that we watch causing the problems is so unlikely. Perhaps the director did not trust himself to tell the basic story, with it’s raw simplicity. Perhaps he made up his mind early on that the boy, in later life, would finally come to terms with the traumas that he suffered as a child. Whatever the reason, to tell his story, he fell back on, or was made to use through lack of imagination, a number of tricks of the melodramatic trade that perforce weakened the movie – its narrative and its impact. So wrong. The point of the movie is to demonstrate why the strategy of moving kids from their homes and relocating them in a foreign country did as much harm as good, and here, this is why? Because a Desperate Housewife/Hollywood Romantic Comedy sidetracked a boy’s affections for his mother for fifty years? The obvious conclusion to be drawn by the viewer, then, is that it was a good idea to ship Eero out, if only Signe and Kristi had stepped up to their responsibilities as in real life they would have (or wouldn’t have, but for more quotidian reasons).

Eero leaves his mother now. Outside in the night, he looks up. He sees the stars. He smiles. Smile if you wish, oh Eero, but you’re sixty, your mother is in her eighties, and Signe has moved on to make another movie.

Segue fade to the young boy staring up at the night sky at the beginning of the movie. Back at the beginning. And this time, Härö, just tell the truth.

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