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Letters to Father Jacob -- Film Review

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PALM SPRINGS -- "Letters to Father Jacob" ("Postia pappi Jaakobille") serves as a stirring example of just what can be accomplished in a mere 74 minutes.

A deceptively simple two-hander involving a blind elderly pastor and the hardened ex-con he takes in to assist him in his correspondences with parishioners, Finland's official Oscar submission is the kind of film that makes a truly lasting impression despite its brevity.

Winner of the Bridging the Borders prize at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival, the latest effort from filmmaker Klaus Haro (whose "Mother of Mine" took home the festival's 2006 Audience Award) quickly establishes the strained dynamic between Heikki Nousiainen's Father Jacob and Kaarina Hazard's Leila.

Pardoned after serving 12 years of a life sentence, the distrustful Leila is no less wary of the blind, frail pastor whose isolated rural outpost feels like a prison all of its own.

But, little by little, as Haro gently peels back those carefully concealed truths, the exquisitely acted, gracefully photographed (by Tuomo Hutri) tale of redemption ultimately reveals its liberating power.

In the filmmaker's hands, the sounds of a whistling tea kettle, water dripping from a leaky roof and wind rustling through tall weeds become important components of the naturalistic soundtrack, subtly but movingly underscored by composer Dani Stromback's plaintive piano.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

Sales agent: The Finnish Film Foundation
Cast: Kaarina Hazard, Heikki Nousiainen, Jukka Keinonen
Director-screenwriter: Klaus Haro
Producers: Rimbo Salomaa, Lasse Saarinen
Director of photography: Tuomo Hutri
Music: Dani Stromback
Editor: Samu Heikkila
No rating, 74 minutes