By Don Simpson | October 14, 2010
Director: Klaus Härö
Writer(s): Klaus Härö (screenplay), Jaana Makkonen (original script & idea)
Starring: Kaarina Hazard, Jukka Keinonen, Heikki Nousiainen, Kaija Pakarinen, Esko Roine
Unexpectedly and undesirably pardoned from serving life in prison for murder, Leila (Kaarina Hazard) finds herself employed by Father Jacob (Heikki Nousiainen). Built like a linebacker and sporting a permanent scowl, Leila yields quite an intimidating and imposing presence; Father Jacob, a blind priest residing in an isolated and dilapidated old house where he has dedicated his life to answering letters from people seeking prayers and advice, is not the least bit frightened. Leila has been hired to assist Father Jacob by reading the stacks of letters received by him and transcribing his dictated responses.
The story primarily focuses on Father Jacob and Leila, but there is a third character of this tale — the postman (Jukka Keinonen) who faithfully rides his bicycle to Father Jacob’s house with a handful of letters each and every day. Whenever Father Jacob hears the postman announce his arrival, it is as if Father Jacob hears the voice of an angel sent from God. The postman apparently worries about Father Jacob’s well being, so Leila’s foreboding appearance (and murderous history) is quite disconcerting to him. When Leila begins waiting outside for the postman’s arrival, he begins skipping Father Jacob’s house altogether. Suddenly, Father Jacob is not receiving any more letters and his life is without purpose.
Leila’s apparent lack of faith is quite purposefully juxtaposed with Father Jacob’s blind faith, but it is Leila’s brutal indifference towards Father Jacob and frustration about what she views as the futile task of reading letters that are the primary sources of tension within the narrative. I am not one to typically fall for overtly Christian morality tales, but Härö’s film transcends Christianity. Clocking in at a mere 74 minutes, writer-director Klaus Härö’s Letters to Father Jacob serves as an intimate character study about solitariness, redemption, and the tremendous powers of faith. Hazard and Nousiainen’s noteworthy performances are intricately framed by Tuomo Hutri’s luscious cinematography.
Letters to Father Jacob was submitted by Finland for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 82th Academy Awards.
I find it interesting that, other than the letters, Father Jacob shows no signs of having a congregation. On the one occasion when Father Jacob wanders to his church (presumably the only one in town) it appears as though the church was abandoned a very long time ago. The climactic reveal of Leila’s back-story is prompted by a chain of very earthly events — Härö cleverly avoids bringing God into it (though one could definitely interpret this turn of events via a Christian perspective). Even more importantly, Leila may find redemption but she never discovers God. If anything, Leila’s redemption shows that people can change. If Leila had committed murder in the United States, she would have probably served her sentence on death row (and eventually executed); she certainly would have never been pardoned. In other words, Leila is very lucky to be Finnish, because, for the most part, the United States abides by the assumption that murderers cannot change.