A group therapy: Grace (Catherine Walker) doesn’t say a word other than her name. So deep is the pain of her disturbed relationship with her father Howard (James Cosmo), a retired ship captain who cannot be helped with his old age problems and is gradually becoming neglected in his remote house right by the sea. Because she doesn’t know what to do on her own, Grace hires domestic help Annie (Brid Brennan). She succeeds in the miracle of gradually luring the old stubborn man out of his reserve and even igniting feelings in him. But that is exactly what brings new and unforeseen problems in the complex mix of old age romance and family drama by the Finn Klaus Härö. The experienced director is presenting his first English-language film, shot in wildly romantic Irish landscapes.
Skeletons in the closet
The camera (Robert Nordström) keeps returning to the sailor’s long hallway. Here are the photos of a long life, pictures from happy days and the family milestones of a father who could hardly be at home for professional reasons. You would think that everything would be revealed here, but the long, dark hallway holds secrets, as so often in the dramas and films of Scandinavian playwrights and filmmakers. Crucial things are kept quiet and repressed in these often well-heeled families. There are corpses in the basement that burden current life and come to light in the course of the action. That’s one strand in My Sailor, My Love. The other is indicated in extended camera flights that celebrate the Irish landscape and the unexpected happiness of late love – much more cheerful than the tradition of analytical drama with its darkness.
Despite the sophisticated camera work and the many exterior shots, the triangle between Grace, Howard and Annie remains at its core a chamber play that would also work in the theater. And so everything depends on the convincing performances of the actors, of which Catherine Walker as Grace has the most demanding, complex and difficult part. She empathizes admirably with the problems of one of those women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, whose traumas from their youth have deeply eaten into the present. Grace sacrifices herself tirelessly, both in her job as a nurse and in caring for her father. But their willingness to help is poisoned by unresolved conflicts. One cannot help but think that behind the exuberant charity there is something selfish lurking. Father Howard feels this very clearly, as does the audience.
Last awakening of spring
However, none of this leads to tortured drama, but is contrasted by a late love that exudes hope. Brid Brennan as Annie brings to light in Howard everything that was buried by a messed up family history. It’s nice to see in all the lightness that a romance brings with it. Especially because the last spring awakening of an old man turns into pure kitsch in just a few moments. The melancholic piano sounds are mostly reserved and the grumpy charm of James Cosmo as Howard also contributes to the minimalist, economical production, which rarely features violins.
Over long stretches, the interweaving of the two opposing genre elements of drama and romance works extremely elegantly. The camera repeatedly switches from close shots to wide long shots that provide distance, orientation and an overview and thus loosen the identification with Grace’s suffering. But there are also moments in which the unexpected happiness of the two old men is sugar-coated by too much golden light, especially in the first third of the story.
“My Sailor, my Love tells the story of enduring suffering and surprising happiness in a complex love triangle between daughter, father and his new domestic help. Between jealousy and repressed conflicts, Finnish director Klaus Härö navigates the story between the cliffs of an unusual genre mix.