Is it ever too late to seek forgiveness? In Absolution, Finnish writer-director Petri Kotwica explores themes of guilt and obligation through the experiences of a husband and wife, Lauri (Eero Aho) and Kiia (Laura Birn).
Driving home from a party one night, Kiia, 34 weeks pregnant, goes into premature labour. She’s behind the wheel (her choice as she, unlike her husband, hasn’t been drinking) and as they speed across a bridge they’re involved in a collision. Lauri is convinced they’ve hit a deer and runs back into the darkness to check, but when his wife’s cries call him back to the car he reassures her there was nothing to see.
Later in hospital the couple meet Hanna (Mari Rantasila). She’s there for her husband Timo (Teijo Eloranta) who’s in a coma after being knocked down and left to die on the side of the road during their journey home from a house inspection. The two women develop a tentative friendship and so the revelations begin.
More and more information comes to light about what happened on the bridge that night, and soon Lauri and Kiia are both looking for ways to be freed from the consequences of their actions. In their search for absolution, each of them is forced to make decisions, testing moral boundaries and the strength of their own relationship. At first Lauri’s actions seem incredible. Would we expect a priest to make different decisions if faced with these circumstances? Despite his apparent failure of conscience his choices can be justified at each turn. The couple had good reason to be anxious about this birth and they both believed they were making the best decisions at the time.
When Kiia tries to make up for the devastation they’ve caused she’s unable to stay away from Hanna, and struggles to make amends despite Lauri’s insistence that she hide their involvement. Lauri refuses his wife’s pleas to clarify what happened, and this in turn places great strain on the couple’s relationship and Kiia’s ability to maintain their normal routines. The pace of the action is measured, creeping slowly toward a startling and unexpected climax.
The key to Absolution’s attraction is the way it invites the viewer’s opinion at every turn, then quickly subverts any attempt to judge the characters’ actions. Lauri, Kiia and Hanna each display with raw emotion the crippling effects of the circumstances they find themselves in. In addition to the fabulous acting the film is gorgeous to look at. Kotwica has opted for an elegant minimalist palette, with cool interiors and a classical soundtrack. The simple locations – home, church, hospital, cabin – are elegant and restrained, with nothing to detract from the unease brewing as each new layer of this taught emotional thriller is revealed.
Absolution is a slick, gently seductive drama that’ll keep you absorbed until the final frame.
Reviewed by Jo Vabolis
Rating out of 10: 9