Mother of Mine Review

AKA: Äideistä parhain, Den bästa av mödrar
Genre: Drama
Year Released: 2005

Distributor: Film Movement
Origin: Finland/Sweden
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Carol’s Journey, Life is Beautiful, Grave of the Fireflies
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:

-Mother of Mine was based on a book by the Finnish author Heikki Hietamies.-In the film’s native Finland, it won awards at the Jussis (the Finnish Oscars) for Best Actress, Best Cinematography, and Best Set Design.

-Hey there, Millennium Trilogy fans! Recognize Hjalmar Jonsson? That’s none other than Michael Nyqvist himself playing Eero’s foster dad. That’s right, it’s the same person who played Mikael Blomqvist, the owner and head journalist of Millennium from the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series.

World War II period pieces have been common film subjects for decades. It’s a popular subject regardless of which country it’s filmed in. Truth be told, several films often become Oscar-bait with their stories and presentation, let’s be honest. What I do like about some period pieces is that they show a side to an event that people rarely hear about unless if they were from another country. Some of those movies when done right are quite good, but they never get the kind of universal accolades as their American counterparts.

It’s at those times where I say “Can someone explain to me why a movie like this didn’t win an Oscar let alone get shortlisted for a nomination?”

For this example, I watched a Scandinavian movie that I hadn’t seen in ages.

Mother of Mine starts out in 1940s Finland. There’s a boy named Eero (sounds like arrow) Lahti who’s in a war-torn area as the Russian forces are attacking the country. The sounds of fighter planes and bombs fill the air in this reality. Eero’s father enlists in the Finnish army to fight for his country. Unfortunately, Eero and his mother Kirsi get the news that he died on duty. What several Finnish families do at this time is to send their children to nearby Sweden who are neutral during World War II, so they don’t have to worry about their children being bombed or gunned down as they go to this part of Scandinavia. They were known as the Finnish war children and 70,000 children were sent to Sweden at that time in real life. Eero doesn’t want to go, but he’s forced to for his safety where he’s sent to rural Skane, Sweden where his adoptive parents are Hjalmar Jonsson who’s a farmer who’s excited to see him, but his wife Signe looks at the Finnish refugee with disdain. Eero has to adjust to this foreign land as he deals with the language barrier, school, and the disapproval of his foster mother. Besides that, there are scenes that flip to the present where an adult Eero visits his wheelchair bound mother about his trips to Sweden as he verbally confronts her about secrets kept from him for sixty years.

Even though Mother of Mine is an understated and realistic drama, the cinematography is great. The Arcadian setting of Skane really comes to life and I felt like I was at this small coastal farm town. The Finnish scenes are darker and much snowier with reflects the impending doom of that country as they were involved in this war. The scenes in the past have color while the present scenes with the adult version of Eero are done in black and white which I thought was a stark reversal for several films that usually have black and white or sepia tones for past scenes instead of modern ones. That was really creative. Another scene that deserves mention is when Eero reads the first letter from his birth mother Kirsi. There’s a voice narration from her, but when he looks up, he sees both her and Signe talking despite being in the Jonsson’s house instead of his native Finland in this imaginative sequence. That was great writing and innovate cinema work for something that didn’t even need a high budget to pull that off.

The characters were quite fascinating. Eero has a lot of personality as he imagines him and his dad shooting down Russian planes back in Finland. He also has a strong affection for his mom, but feels like she abandoned him despite being sent to a much safer country. When he gets to Sweden, his facials reveal so much confusion, alienation, and hidden anger as he wants to go back. Despite not knowing Finnish or Swedish, I could tell that the first few scenes where he’s trying to speak Swedish revealed so much hesitation and error as he barely knows the language and frequently mispronounces things much to Signe’s great dismay. The dialogue with him and several other characters was just spot on. As Eero is about to be sent to Sweden, his mother Kirsi tells him that they’ll be together soon. He replies with “Dad said that, too.” Wow, that was such a depressing, yet true reply given his father’s fate in World War II. Michael Nyqvist nails it as Hjalmar as someone who really wants to be a father figure to him as he helps him around the house and tells him some fun stories. However, he’s very by-the-book which becomes a character flaw in the final act of the film despite wanting what’s best for the young Eero. Maria Lundqvist who plays Signe did a phenomenal job playing that character. Her emotions are conveyed in a very realistic manner as I actually believed that she hated Eero’s guts as she degraded him, slapped him around, and told him how she doesn’t want him. Her character development was brilliant with her tragic backstory and why she wanted a girl instead of a boy like Eero. I also like that her backstory doesn’t excuse her actions in the beginning as Hjalmar calls her out on her maliciousness and selfishness in a manner-of-fact way and she eventually learns to accept the Finnish boy as her new child. That scene where she talks to her husband later on about the Finnish Aid Committee should’ve gotten her an Oscar as she breaks down in tears while mentioning that she learned to treat Eero like her own biological son.

Mother of Mine is a very powerful film, but there were a few blots I noticed. First of all, I didn’t see the point of the girl Siv being there. I get that they wanted to give Eero a friend while he’s in Sweden, but she served more of a plot device for the brief scenes of his school life, the secret room in the house, and that she’s the Jonsson’s niece, but she didn’t serve much of a purpose during the second half of the film. Secondly, while the film was shot brilliantly, I did have some issues with the DVD. There was one case of a subtitle typo where Signe says “you mother” when it should be “your mother” in the context of the sentence where she excoriates him for wanting to go back to Finland so soon. There was also some aliasing in the DVD with some parts being a bit distracting. That doesn’t take away from the cinematography at large and it may be a coding issue, but I’m sure a Blu-Ray release would correct these visual mistakes.

If you want to see a powerful World War II-themed movie, then I highly recommend Mother of Mine. I never knew about the situation with the Finnish war children as they were forced from their homes to be in a safer country. Eero’s struggle to adjust to Sweden was quite believable and made him a very sympathetic character. Even a character who starts out as harsh as Signe is able to get some believable redemption while still owning up to her actions which is something I can rarely say about some other female protagonists who get consequence-free story arcs. The visual production was great despite some coding errors in my DVD. The writing and dialogue is top notch while the acting is superb from all the different characters. Seriously, why did this movie not get awards at a major film event besides in Finland or Sweden? Mother of Mine is pure evidence that you can make a high-caliber film that uses a lesser-known subject about a popular time period that can go toe-to-toe with any Oscar-winning film. I can’t recommend this film enough. It will pull at your heartstrings and it knows how to portray a powerful story.

Adjustable Point System:
Subtract 2 points if you like your WWII films to have action in it

-Strong writing and dialogue
-Stellar character development
-Excellent cinematography and filming

-Siv being more of a plot device than a character
-Can be too understated for some viewers
-Coding and subtitle issues in the DVD

Final Score: 10/10 points

Content Warning: This would get a solid PG if this got an official rating, and I’d recommended this to older kids and up. There is a couple instances of swearing including a strong curse word said in passing about the grandfather. The wartime backdrop can be dark as Eero and his mother Kirsi run and hug each other as they avoid the airstrikes in Finland. Signe can be quite harsh with Eero as she slaps him when he has trouble understanding her or says mean things to him that no person should ever say to a child. One scene has Eero almost drowning which can be quite dark to watch.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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