My Sailor, My Love

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The Finnish director Klaus Härö’s English-language debut, “My Sailor, My Love,” centers on a tense story of familial love gone wrong and romantic love discovered almost too late. Despite its best efforts, it frequently sacrifices the most analytical elements of its family drama in favor of an overly corny twilight romance, despite attempting to address the weighty issue of generational trauma.

In group therapy, where women talk openly to one another about their personal experiences, Härö opens his film. Grace (Catherine Walker) freezes up when it’s her turn to speak, unable to explain why she joined the group. Following Grace’s automobile to a remote house in coastal Ireland, the movie then switches to a wide tracking shot.

Here, we get to meet her obnoxious father, Howard (James Cosmo), a widowed sea captain who spends his days spinning yarn and telling false tales. Howard hasn’t even finished washing the nasty laundry he left in the sink when it’s time for his birthday party. Her brothers show there with tales of their travels, but they don’t bother to help Grace with the festivities. Howard even turns down a piece of the beautiful chocolate cake Grace brought. It is obvious that the toxic dynamics present in this fractured family are the cause of Grace’s traumas.

Grace, fed up with his filth, places an ad for a maid at the neighborhood bar and almost immediately hires the outgoing older woman Annie (Brd Brennan). When gruff Howard abuses Annie while she is cooking, cleaning, and talking about her grandchildren, she departs. Of course, Howard’s apologies and a gift of flowers managed to win her back.

The rest of the movie alternates between Grace’s life falling apart as she loses her job and her husband and Howard and Annie’s developing romance. High melodrama material, yet it’s generally presented at a very slow pace. Instead of fighting in a passion, Grace and her husband argue coolly and rationally. Little, intimate moments help Howard and Annie fall in love.

All of this may seem extremely sophisticated, but the execution, particularly with the romance, severely lacks nuance. When plucking apples, Howard and Annie at one point both reach for the same apple, grazing their hands as they do so. This tired scene is captured and used without any apparent irony. It’s challenging to discern what Annie sees in Howard outside a smattering of chemistry and his capacity to amuse her grandsons. In fact, because both characters are painted with such broad strokes and have hazy personalities and histories, the only depth they have comes from Cosmo and Brennan’s carefully calibrated performances.

The considerably richer personal history Grace is given is at least slowly revealed. She first comes out as being merely too protective and intrusive in her father’s life. She then acts unfavorably toward Howard’s connection with Annie and the delight he seems to feel at joining Annie’s big, noisy family, giving off the impression that she is envious. Nevertheless, we soon come to see that the developing hostility between Grace and Howard is the result of years of emotional abuse and neglect. She was hurt by the particular wounds that could only be inflicted by a parent on their child.

The hardest role here belongs to Walker. She must depict Grace’s pain, particularly her rage, without alienating the audience.

She mostly accomplishes this through her nonverbal communication; her restricted breathing obviously conceals years of agony. As soon as she says something in mixed company that would make her seem like the evil guy, her sentences are cut off. She has been practicing this dance for years; it is a tactic that anyone living in an abusive family situation is all too familiar with. It feels as though she has snuffed out everyone in the room’s air supply when she slips and says a bit too much. Yet there is always a stinging remnant of love that lingers in the back of her throat.

“My Sailor, My Love” is at its best when it analyzes Grace’s sorrow and demonstrates how it has poisoned her capacity to relate to others, whether it be the other ladies in group therapy, her coworkers, her husband, or even herself.

Unfortunately, Grace’s more complex tale is frequently put on hold in favor of Howard and Annie’s story’s more overdone romantic elements since the film also wants to be about the curative power of romantic love. Even if their story ends in the most cliched possible manner, “My Sailor, My Love” is aware that Grace is the one who will experience the final emotional high point. It’s unfortunate that the directors lacked the guts to make the entire movie about her story as well.

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