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.