Finnish director Veikko Aaltonen, whose offbeat s&m psychodrama “The Prodigal Son” was a sleeper at last year’s Berlin festival, returns in style with his third feature, “Pater Noster.” Creepy, oddball examination of a son’s dark relationship with his crippled father lacks the previous movie’s eye-opening bravura but looks a strong candidate for quality tube sales and further fest dates.
With its look into the stygian depths of human nature, pic has the same cage-rattling quality as “Prodigal,” sans latter’s contentious sadomasochistic content, which should make it an easier sell to nervous webs. And where “Prodigal” was urban-set and in color, “Pater Noster” is in monochrome (sharply lensed by Olavi Tuomi) and locationed in the backwoods, playing on a whole tradition of rural Finnish cinema going back to the 1950s. Script was written before “Prodigal” commenced shooting. Juhani (Hannu Kivioja), a sailor, returns after 20 years to take his hospitalized father (Martti Katajisto) back to their abandoned family smallholding and reach some kind of understanding with the older man. While there, he meets Marja (Elina Hurme), who has a young daughter.
First 20 minutes function as a prologue to the real story, with Juhani visiting the family farm, reliving memories of his father and finally crying out , “That’s not how it was!” Pic, which freely intercuts fantasy flashbacks to his childhood with present-day scenes, demands considerable attention to sort out all the psychology, especially the obscure ending.
Though the drama is played straight, there’s still a sense (as in “Prodigal”) that Aaltonen delights in manipulating his audience, which adds a blackly comic edge to the serious goings-on. Deliberately melodramatic bursts of music contrast sharply with the hyper-controlled visual style, reminding auds that this is, after all, a movie from the maverick Kaurismaki brothers’ Villealfa Filmprods.
The gaunt-looking Kivioja, so good as the hired muscle in “Prodigal,” encores strongly in the role of the tortured Juhani. Other roles, essentially support, fit the ticket. Tech credits are clean, with no trace of the rapid 25-day shoot.