Vet thesp Lasse Poysti portrays a lonely old widower in novice helmer Miika Soini’s slight low-budgeter, “Thomas.” Adapted by Soini from an award-winning short story collection by Norwegian author Kjell Askildsen, the pic feels too much like a young man’s depressed imaginings of the elderly, rather than a snapshot of what old age is really like, though the marvelous Poysti is never less than a pleasure to watch. Fests focusing on new directors may take a peek, and Euro cable will undoubtedly pick up any slack.
Thomas (Poysti), a former doctor, lives alone in a basement apartment in Helsinki. His routine becomes even more limited when his misanthropic brother (Mauri Heikkila) dies, reducing Thomas’ human contact to practically nil. As with many seniors, he’s basically invisible to passersby, though Thomas in particular avoids engaging with those around him. When he runs into estranged daughter Marie (Eila Halonen), he tries to create a bridge, but she’s quick to make an awkward escape.
Only later is it clear why Marie is so cold to her father: She can’t forgive his decision to take his wife off life support 30 years earlier. This revelation is awkwardly constructed, tied in with Thomas’ gradual acquaintance, on a park bench, with another elderly man (Pentti Siimes) who turns out to be connected to his past.
In capturing the daily points of isolation in a senior’s life, Soini has a proper sensitivity for the subject. But he’s asking auds to believe that Thomas’ hermetic life hasn’t changed for nearly 30 years, as if his wife’s death created an exit-less tunnel that’s deposited him in the present without any ties. It’s a melancholy, romantic view, and it feels entirely like the creation of a youth projecting sympathetically tragic notions onto a one-dimensional old man.
Luckily, the pic is saved by Poysti’s performance. Not unlike Mickey Rooney in MGM’s Andy Hardy films, the actor grew up on Finnish screens in the Suominen Family movie series, beginning in the early 1940s. Later on he developed a more mature career both in front of and behind the camera, carrying with him 60 years of film acting experience. With his remarkably fleshy face and heavy-lidded eyes, he registers emotions with the merest of head wags or eyebrow lifts, constantly underplaying without resorting to mannerisms or shtick.
Digital quality is surprisingly sharp, without the coldness so often associated with lesser processing. Helming, characterized by frequent slow zooms into space, lacks definite style but is never less than competent. Lighting in Thomas’ apartment feels too much like that of a stage set, pooling in places where the source doesn’t warrant the wattage.