January 13, 2006
By Sheri Linden
PALM SPRINGS -- Finland's evacuation of more than 70,000 children to Sweden, Denmark and Norway during World War II, the world's largest such undertaking, receives affecting treatment in "Mother of Mine," the official Finnish submission to the Academy Awards. This fictional story of one of the "war children" unfolds with fierce restraint under Klaus Haro's helm, and the film departs from most memory pieces about the war in its emphasis on the complex psychology of its characters, brought to vivid life by the strong cast.
After his father is killed on the Finnish-Russian front in 1943, 9-year-old Eero (newcomer Topi Majaniemi) reluctantly leaves his mother (Marjaana Maijala), joining a large transport of kids promised dolls and bikes in the haven of neutral Sweden. At a remote farm on the coast, he's taken in by a childless couple in their 40s, though Signe (the terrific Maria Lundqvist), still grieving and blaming herself for the drowning death of her daughter, refuses to let him into her heart. Their conflict flares up in angry words and occasional physical tousles but mostly plays out in resentful silence.
Determined not to be touched by the tumult of being uprooted, Eero develops an easy rapport with Signe's good-natured husband, Hjalmar (Michael Nyqvist), a former sailor whose "boots got stuck in this dirt" when he fell in love with her. Signe forces Hjalmar to confront the lingering pain of their loss, but soon she's caught up in a new drama, when Eero's mother asks Signe to keep the boy, even after the war. Offended by this "appeal to her conscience," Signe nonetheless softens toward Eero, and they withstand, just barely, a series of devastating emotional reversals.
The lifelong wounds from this tug of war become clear in the film's present-day black-and-white sequences, in which the middle-aged Eero (Esko Salminen) visits his mother (Aino-Maija Tikkanen), eager to talk about the war. The screenplay by Jimmy Karlsson and Kirsi Vikman, based on the novel by Heikki Hietamies, delivers sharp insights into the ways people use children to fill their needs.
The contrast between Finland's frigid birch forests and the open expanse of the Swedish coast, captured in Jarkko T. Laine's striking camerawork, is a key element of the film's quiet power, but composer Tuomas Kantelinen tugs too hard at heartstrings.
--Sheri/ The Hollywood Reporter - Review
By Gunnar Rehlin
The true story of how Finnish kids during WWII were transported to neutral Sweden to be safe from the conflict, "Mother of Mine" has all the right ingredients to become a big hit across Scandinavia. Finnish helmer Klaus Haro comes up with an emotionally involving tale that could also resonate beyond the region in specialty situations. Pic is Finland's official submission for the Oscars' foreign film category.
More than 70,000 Finnish children were uprooted from their homes and sent to Sweden. For many, it was an adventure; for others, especially the very young, it was a tragedy. The latter returned to Finland after the war, not knowing their parents and speaking only Swedish.
Film starts in the present, as Eero (Esko Salminen), a Finn in his 60s, visits his aged mother, Kirsti (Aino-Maija Tikkanen). He tells her he's just been to Sweden for the funeral of a woman called Signe, and it's now time to have a proper talk about the war and what happened during and after Eero's stay in Sweden. The mother grudgingly agrees, and in long flashbacks Eero's story unspools.
After his father (Kari-Pekka Toivonen) was killed during the war, young Eero (Topi Majaniemi) was sent by his mother (Marjaana Maijala) to Sweden. The boy protests, but is transported along with hundreds of other children, ending up at a farm belonging to married couple Signe (Maria Lundqvist) and Hjalmar (Michael Nyqvist). Signe, who was expecting a girl, is initially hostile towards him, but Hjalmar is more welcoming.
Eero starts going to school, but is ridiculed by the other kids and desperately wants to return to Finland. Overhearing a conversation between Hjalmar and Signe, he realizes they once had a child who died.
Eero occasionally receives letters from his mother, and at Christmas she also calls him from Helsinki. When he hears the Finnish capital has been bombed by the Russians, he tries to sail home on a raft and almost drowns.
Soon after, Eero's mom writes that she's met a German officer and wants to go to live with him in Germany. Could Eero stay with Hjalmar and Signe forever? But as the audience knows from the beginning, it's not meant to be.
Pic has many similar themes to helmer Haro's first movie, "Elina," about a fatherless little Finnish girl whose teacher tried to force her to speak Swedish. But where "Elina" was an optimistic story about a feisty girl who fought back, "Mother of Mine" is a tragedy. Eero is a victim, bereft of parental love -- most strikingly captured in the B&W modern-day scenes where he confronts his aged mother. Though sentimental, pic never feels manipulative.
As in "Elina," Haro's direction is slow and somewhat old-fashioned, with Jarkko T. Laine's widescreen lensing often contrasting the wide open landscapes of southern Sweden with the murky interiors of the farmhouse, where time seems to stand still. In some sequences, all natural sound is removed, with a melancholy piano tune used instead, to striking effect.
Majaniemi is a find as the young Eero, often letting just his eyes and face do the talking. As Hjalmar, Nyqvist (last seen in "As It Is in Heaven") is fine, as always. However, both are almost acted off the screen by Lundqvist, in the pivotal role of Signe. Mostly known for TV comedy, thesp proves herself here as a dramatic actress to be reckoned with.
--Gunnar Rehlin/ Variety - Review