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Klaus Haro, My Sailor My Love / PHOTO: Martin Maguire

Klaus Härö on Toronto-bound My Sailor My Love

The Golden Globe nominated director discusses timeless love, his passion for Irish film and talents, and filmmaking as a collaborative effort.

Härö’s first English-language film world premiering at this week’s Toronto International Film Festival’s Contemporary World Cinema, is one of his most emotional works to date, filmed on the rugged Irish Achill Island.

The story written by Mother of Mine’s Jimmy Karlsson and Kirsi Vikman, centres on an elderly retired sailor and widower, who unexpectedly falls in love with his housekeeper in her 60s, hired by his daughter. The latter who struggles with a mid-life crisis and strained relationship with her dad, has difficulty accepting his newfound love.

The stellar Irish cast is led by James Cosmo (Braveheart, The Pyramid Texts), Catherine Walker (Dark Song, The Deceived) and Bríd Brennan (Dancing at Lughnasa, Brooklyn).

The Finnish/Irish/Belgium co-production between Making Movies, Samson Film and U-Media is due to open in Finland September 30 via Nordisk Film.

We spoke to Härö ahead of Toronto.

How did the idea for the film first emerge?
Klaus Härö:
Often my desire comes from the wish to work with certain people. I’m grateful that the producers of my other film The Fencer Kaarle [Aho] and Kai [Norberg], wanted to work with me again. It shows their appreciation of my work. But I also wanted to work with Jimmy Karlsson and Kirsi Wikman again. We did Mother of Mine years ago together and I had such a wonderful memory of that collaboration.

We started brainstorming about the kind of story we could tell next and felt that many films talk about first love, but actually few about final love. In many ways, it is similar to first love. It comes unexpectedly, sometimes through a friendship that evolves, it comes creeping in and when it hits you, it does full on!

The writers then started to think of opposing that love story between this man and his housekeeper, with the story of a third person - the daughter here - who is bitter and resents what those two people have. Jimmy and Kirsi created the characters but we had all witnessed similar situations.

It’s really an unusual type of triangle love story - where the third person who feels unloved and jealous is the daughter. You seem to have a particular soft point for stories about parenthood and children?
KH: Yes. All my films, in one way or another, deal with relationships with children. Whether they are young or elderly. You can never get rid of your parents, and if you have a very charged and difficult relationship, it will affect the way you behave. It’s only when you make peace with your own heritage, where you come from, that you can make peace with yourself. Here the father has done something horrendous-he left his daughter fend for herself and she hasn’t yet dealt with this.
But also, if you crave for love, and force love, it can drive people away. If you accept that you won’t have all the love you want, you will be all right.

Annie the housekeeper on the contrary, just takes Howard “as she has found him”, she is open, giving, and attracts love from others. She is also discreet about her own difficult past.

How hard was it to find the leads James Cosmo, Bred Brennan, Catherine Walker and how was your experience of working with them?
KH: I have worked most of the time on co-productions, filmed in Sweden, Estonia among others, and it’s always nerve-wracking when you go abroad. You don’t know what type of crew you will get. But here, the Irish crew was absolutely amazing. This was true with the actors as well.

I actually grew up with Irish films. When I started film school in the early 90s, there were great film influences from Ireland-such as Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot and The Field. I was stunned that a small country such as Ireland-about the size of Finland, could create such landmark movies, at a time when Finland truly lacked a thriving film environment. Later in the early 2000, Finnish films picked up, and so did the audience.

So when we decided to make the film in English-language, we naturally thought of Ireland, including Irish actors. Local casting agents helped us find the amazing actors we have like Catherine Walker, who has been many great films, such as Dark Song where she had a fantastic screen presence.

For the part of Annie, we had the wonderful Northern Irish Bríd Brennan. For her character we wanted someone truthful, honest, and she gave warmth, a true voice to her character.

As for James Cosmo, he has often been cast as a bad guy from Braveheart to Game of Thrones. But I sensed that next to his threatening presence, there was a true warmth and sensibility in him.

On set, we were simply blown away by those actors. I often stay close to the actors when we shoot, and I would exchange glances with the closest in the crew, meaning-did you see what I just saw? It was just magic!


Klaus Härö on Toronto-bound My Sailor My Love

My Sailor My Love, James Cosmo, Brid Brennanc / PHOTO: Making Movies

How challenging was it for you to make your first fully-English language film?
Yes I was one of the few people on set without English as a mother tongue. In Ireland it is wonderful to see how much they talk, eat, and joke! I am quite fluent in English, but after 3-4pm I would get tired, after speaking a language that is not my first language - I would simply…run out of English!! My fuse was gone. I would communicate with sign language! It was very a special experience.

How was it to shoot on the Achill Island?
It was heavenly. We stayed there for a month and a half. I had told my Irish producer [David Collins] that I would like a setting that is both barren and romantic. I had a clear vision and wanted to have a house by the sea, with an apple tree. The producer said you can have a house by the sea no problem, apples somewhere else, but certainly not both at the same spot. In the end, we did find this beautiful old isolated house-with apple trees!! The wind there was crazy; some days the actors could hardly stand up due to the wind. But again, their concentration level was perfect.

There is a harsh contrast between the harsh exteriors and warm interiors. The photography by Robert Nordström is very effective and beautiful. How was your collaboration?
In every country we have crew treasures and can be lucky that Hollywood hasn’t yet caught Robert Nordström. He is super ambitious and eager to achieve the best. I was so lucky to work with him again after my previous film Life after Death.

We also had a great production designer in the Irish John Hand. He could have stayed in Dublin, but he was always there, checking things, cheering and challenging us. He also gave me the idea to use an Irish folk singer Finbar Furey for the scene at the wedding.

The is a sweeping score from Michelino Bisceglia, who uses a lot of simple piano to large orchestra arrangements. How did you find him?
KH: Michelino is a Belgium composer. A wonderful professional. Music is super important for me-when I was young, my friends were listening to Duran Duran, Bruce Springsteen I grew up with film scores - Nino Rota among others. After the actors, for me the music is the most important. When we knew we would work with Belgium, I checked on the web, googled Belgium composers-there were hundreds of composers, I was amazed. Michelino has a great combination of understanding the core, what the story is about, what a score is supposed to do and creating his own score that is a good match between Hollywood and something local and unique. He is another member of the crew, with years of experience, who was there to challenge me.

Is this one of the aspects of filmmaking that you love most-team work?
When I started out of film school in the 1990s, my first films weren’t very good. I went through a crisis. I felt so bad about my films and if I had a plan B I would have done something else but I was too much into film. When I felt I couldn’t go on by myself, I finally started asking people for advice and experienced a true change in both atmosphere and the quality of my final films. It is my greatest joy to collaborate with every single craftsperson-from the writer, the producer to the sound designer to make the best film possible.

The film is a great gift to the adult crowd, who are a bit reluctant to go back to the cinema after Covid. You must be looking forward to seeing their reaction?
Every director wants people to watch his films - but it’s not something we can control - we can only do so much. We have to trust distributors. But I do hope that it will contribute to bringing those adult audiences back to the cinemas.

What’s next?
I am already working on my next film Never Alone, which has been in the making for over a decade - it’s about the deportation of Jewish people from Finland during WW2.


Klaus Härö on Toronto-bound My Sailor My Love

My Sailor My Love, Behind the Scenes / PHOTO: Emily O'Callaghan