Intentionally recalling Scandi pictures of the ’50s in look and feel, “A Summer by the River” is a charming coming-of-ager that’s been a B.O. hit on home turf in Finland and could generate some foreign interest as well. Director Markku Polonen also scored locally with his previous film, the rural-set “The Last Wedding.” Actually set in the mid-’50s, new pic centers on Tenho (Pertti Koivula) who, after his wife dies, takes his 10-year-old son, Topi (Simo Kontio) , to eastern Finland and gets a summer job as a logger. The work is hard, and the cynical, sometimes brutal loggers initially harass Tenho when he makes mistakes. During the course of the summer, however, he improves, and earns the respect of those who mistreated him. Topi also helps out when he can, and the events of the summer bring him and his father closer than they were before.
It would be easy to be cynical about “A Summer by the River.” All the cliches of the genre are there, including a beautiful blonde local who falls for Tenho and teaches him to love again, and a scene at an outdoor dance where tension between the loggers and local men erupts in a violent fistfight. However, unlike logging pix made in Sweden and Finland during the ’50s, where the job was simply a backdrop to a drama or romance, Polonen’s film is primarily driven forward by details of the job, with the story evolving out of what happens on the river.
Acting and tech credits are good, especially in scenes on the river in which the characters are seen actually riding the logs through the violent currents. Pic’s main asset, though, is the Scandinavian summer, magically caught by Kari Sohlberg’s cinematography in all its sights, smells and feelings.