Heikki Nousainen as Father Jacob

Letters to Father Jacob (originally, Postia pappi Jacobille) (2009. Kinotaur. Finnish with English subtitles)

My pal Gerry Henkel sends me movies about Finland and Karelia, mostly in Finnish (which I don’t understand) with English subtitles. His most recent post brought me a copy of Postia pappi Jacobille. After a hard day of work (see my post entitled “Rewards” below) and a fine summer-inspired meal of brauts and tuna salad, I settled into my comfortable recliner with a Rolling Rock (thanks, Chris!) and watched the DVD Gerry had mailed me.

“Why are all Finnish movies so dark?” my fourteen year old son Jack asked when he stopped by in the Great Room of our house to see what I was up to.

“I don’t know.”

“Seems weird that people from a place that’s dark half the year would want to watch such depressing movies.”

I nodded and watched the opening credits.

“Don’t they have a high rate of suicide, like Iceland?”

I nodded again and sipped beer.

My son soon gave up and wandered off to his XBox.

To the movie. Essentially, the film is the story of Leila, a thick bodied, flat faced, somewhat dowdy creature who, as the film begins, we understand is being released from prison. We learn nothing of why she is in prison (that’s for later and I won’t spoil the plot by revealing it here!) but we do learn that, as a released prisoner, she has little choice but to take a job working for an elderly man in the Finnish countryside as his helpmate and housekeeper. Leila is played, with nuanced perfection, by Kaarina Hazard.

The old man is Father Jacob, a priest, who lives alone in a leaky, run-down rectory next to his country church. Heikki Nousainen portrays the failing cleric admirably, bringing dignity and holiness to a role that could have been reduced to a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor.

This is essentially a morality play between the world weary convict and the diminishing holy man. Leila discovers, upon meeting the priest, that he is not only aging, he is also blind. His one pleasure in life is to receive letters from believers who ask for intercession with God. Leila’s main task, she soon learns, is not to care for the old man: It is to read him the letters and pen responses to the pitiful pleas as directed by the kindly Father Jacob. Not only is Leila resentful of this duty, she is soon tempted to disregard her obligation in ways that spell trouble.

Some of the action and the dialogue between the two characters is telegraphed and predictable. At times, Nousainen overacts a bit, appearing too distraught and morally unhinged for the steadfastness of the priest’s seemingly strong convictions. But all in all, if you enjoy foreign films that spark discussion and pull at your heartstrings, this is a worthy movie to watch after a day’s work is done.

4 stars out of 5.

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