The Santa Barbara Film Festival is an excellent chance to catch a selection of various countries’ official submissions to the Academy for the foreign film category. This year, Finland has chosen Klaus Härö’s Postia pap Jaakobille (although the Academy did not).
Take a plump, unprepossessing pardoned woman lifer, with hard wary eyes and small set mouth, and send her to rural Finland to read letters for a sweet-faced old blind pastor and you can pretty much figure the rest. The title is the postman’s daily call, the letters being requests for prayer, help or simply thanks, and when they dry up the old man questions his usefulness and indeed the selflessness of his former task. Theological issues are not too extensively troubled and neither does either character undergo too heavy-handed a life-changing learning experience; Härö spends almost as much time watching rain-splashed eaves and drops on leaves as he does his protagonists, but maintains an appealingly gentle pace.
As Jacob, Jukka Nousiainen is required to look sweet and gormless, at which he is very good; Kaarina Hazard as Leila likewise excels at being a grumpy old cow and manages her final revelation scene with some power (though her array of tiny facial tics is allowed to get a tad out of control). It’s completely manipulative and shallow, of course, but without being overtly patronising; the music is thankfully largely confined to a sombre hymn-like piano part; and if one allows it to (I did), ends up being quite moving, even if never quite transcending the dubious category of being a well-made humanistic “foreign” film (one might say “mom movie”).