During World War II, 70,000 Finnish children were shipped off to Swedish families who had agreed to shelter them for their own protection until the end of the war.
In his latest film, "Mother of Mine," award-winning Finnish director Klaus Haro tells the story of one such boy, Eero (Topi Majaniemi), a 9-year-old boy who is shipped off to Sweden by his biological mother (Marjaana Maijala) after the death of his father in the war. Confused about this abrupt abandonment by his mother , but unsure about this new world in which he finds himself. Eero's grief and confusion brings to mind the poignant grief displayed in another masterful film, "Ponette."
Haro, who directed the magnificent "Elina," has created in "Mother of Mine" one of the finest family films ever made.
The film begins with Eero as an elderly man (Esko Salminen) returns to his Finnish home from Sweden, where he has just attended the funeral of Signe (Maria Lundqvist), the Swedish woman who had been his surrogate mother. He returns home as confused as when he was a young child, requesting to finally talk with his now aged mother (Aino-Maija Tikkanen) about the events of so long ago.
Gently, Haro directs the film with the most subtle of flashbacks between the past and the present. We begin our journey with Eero on the night before his father (Kari-Pekka Toivonen) is headed off to war, assuring his son that he will return and all will be fine. When all is not fine and the father is killed, the griefstricken mother agrees, with great resistance, to the Swedish/Finnish program to provide safe haven for children.
Eero lands at the farm of Signe and Hjalmar (Michael Nyqvist), a young couple whose recent loss of a daughter is still fresh in their hearts. While Eero and Hjalmar bond quickly, Signe's wounds are deep and her resentments deeper...Both she and Eero rebel against each other leading to scenes that are almost heartbreakingly tough, tender and tragic.
Still, over time, this surrogate family heals and bonds with one another...then, the war is over. Eero's mother sends a letter stating she has fallen in love with a German and wants to run off with him. Would Hjalmar and Signe consider keeping Eero forever?
Alas, it is not to be.
"Mother of Mine" is a heartbreaking film. As the tragic Eero, the young Majaniemi offers a tremendous performance full of courage and strength and vulnerability. A desperate attempt to sail a small raft to return home feels devastating as we watch this young man with so much confusion, so much heartache and seemingly no safe place to express it. Majaniemi's performance is one of the finest performances I've ever seen from a child actor.
Nyqvist, an established dramatic actor in such films as "As It Is In Heaven," is marvelous here, as well. He is a tender father, a loving husband, a strong man and, at times, a seemingly wounded child all in one.
The most powerful performance of all, however, comes from Maria Lundqvist as Signe. Primarily known as a television comedy actress, Lundqvist offers one of this year's finest dramatic performances. As Signe, Lundqvist gives us a woman so deeply grieving the tragic death of her daughter that all semblance of beauty has been sapped from her life. Yet, even in the midst of this ugliness she projects, Lundqvist gives Signe little moments of grace and mercy and tenderness that will make you ache for her loss even more. Lundqvist's performance is insightful, intelligent and devastatingly intimate.
The script, by Jimmy Karlsson and Kirsi Vikman based upon a book by Heikki Hietamies, is warm without being overly sympathetic. The dialogue is simple and sparse, allowing for Haro's magnificent gift of visual imagery to shine through. Jarkko T. Laine's widescreen lensing wonderfully captures both the wide landscape of Sweden and the often dark, narrow settings of the farm.
"Mother of Mine" won a Crystal Heart Award during the 2006 Heartland Film Festival and is Finland's official submission for this year's Academy Awards, and will most assuredly land a place in my Top 10 Films of 2006.