Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Letters to Father Jacob

Postia pappi Jaakobille, or, Letters to Father Jacob, is a movie by Finnish director, Klaus Härö. 
It has two main characters, a female ex-con, and an elderly and blind priest. A postman plays a smaller role, and there is a man at the beginning who asks where Leila, the pardoned prisoner, is going to go. That's the cast. The setting is a remote rectory with a leaky roof, and bundles of letters stored everywhere. The nearby church has been unused for some long time, it appears. 

Leila reluctantly accepts the offer of a live-in job not as the priest's housekeeper but as the reader of the letters he receives every day from people far and wide asking for prayer and help. She is also expected to write the replies he dictates. Leila is not much impressed with the job; she's obviously long since given up on God, and believes what she did that caused her to be put in prison is probably unforgivable. The priest has more faith than this, though he too has a struggle at one point in the story. 

The film takes its slow way forward, allowing for plenty of subtlety and reflection, and relies heavily on the skills of the two leading actors, Kaarina Hazard and Heikki Nousiainen. Though Nousiainen was only sixty-four when the movie was his face appears much older, full of lines and crags. He has been an actor since the late sixties, but because we don't know him, we can come to him fresh in this movie, without the baggage of having seen him in dozens of other roles, and can believe in the sanctity that surrounds his character. 

Finland is a country in which Protestantism is the registered faith of around 75% of the population, though few of those actually go to church most of the year. Christmas and Easter are the main times when people attend. So it would be easy to expect that the film would take a somewhat negative approach to Christian belief; in fact it presents a Christian faith as a perfectly reasonable thing, and doesn't undermine it at any point. 

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