• Film

Klaus Härö is an Emphatic Storyteller

Golden Globe-nominated director Klaus Härö is full of energy when we meet at a shopping mall’s eatery in Helsinki. At first, the plan was to do the interview over the phone. At the last minute, he suggested getting together. He prefers an in-person connection. That also drives him as a filmmaker.

Klaus Härö loves interacting with people, listening to their stories as well as telling them. When he was a young cinephile in Finland, he watched François Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman movies in a theater.

“There were a few other people with me, usually older than me. Back then I was thinking that, if I ever make films, only a handful of people will see them. That’s why I’m still surprised if people have seen my movies, sometimes even multiple times, or if I get overly positive feedback.”

He studied directing and attended screenwriting seminars at the University of Industrial Arts in Helsinki. He directed his first short movie, Johannes 10-11 Years Old, in 1993.

“Sometimes, people introduce me like I’m an old Maestro. But I still feel like I just started my filmmaking career. I’m always nervous if the film is going to happen. I start every project from scratch, figuring out where to find the money. It’s comforting to hear that directors in Hollywood are saying the same thing: it doesn’t matter if your budget is 150 million or 1.5 million.”

His previous films include titles like Elina, As if I Wasn’t There (2003), Mother of Mine (2005), Letters to Father Jacob (2009), and The Fencer (2015). They were all selected to represent Finland in the Best Foreign Film Category at the Oscars. His latest one, My Sailor, My Love, was filmed in Ireland. It’s a story about a retired sea captain (James Cosmo) who falls in love with Annie (Brid Brennan), a lady that his daughter (Catherine Walker) hires to help him around the house. 


“I’ve used English as a working language in some of my previous movies but it was different because back then it was a second language for most people. This time everybody spoke better English than I did. And Irish people can have a bit of a rough sense of humor. I often got tired in the late afternoon and started to lose my words. They noticed that immediately and started to banter with me.”

He remembers the experience with joy. Working with industry professionals went smoothly. He rehearsed with Cosmo, Walker, and Brennan for a week.

“We sat around the table, read the script, talked about it as well as everything else. Sometimes we laughed and sometimes we cried. During that week the actors found trust towards each other. That was beneficial when we were filming. They worked so well together that I was often happy with the first shot.”

Cosmo, who is known for his tough guy roles in productions like Braveheart and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, was excited to do a drama. When he was under Covid-19 quarantine and before he agreed to film My Sailor, My Love he watched Härö’s The Fencer. He liked it. The movie is about the life of Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi), an accomplished Estonian fencer and coach who flees from the Russian secret police and returns to his homeland in the early 1950s. He is afraid that his past catches up with him. The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2016. Back then Härö was campaigning for his film in the United States. His people skills became handy.

“I got to meet lots of cinephiles. The most memorable comment was from an esteemed Chinese woman. It was simple but meaningful. She said: ‘I lived in Mao’s China. I know what it was like.” Härö knew she meant that everyone was glancing at each other, like they did in The Fencer.


There was another important thing he took away from countless conversations in Los Angeles. “People kept telling me ‘Believe in yourself’, ‘Make authentic movies so that the audience enjoys watching them’ and ‘Don’t try to copy American movies’.”

Empathy is his strength. That trait has brought him to explore underprivileged girls in 1950s Sweden who faced compulsory sterilization (The New Man, 2007). Or getting familiar with the prison system in Finland while preparing for Letter to Father Jacob. And telling an untold story of one of about 70,000 children evacuated from Finland to neutral Sweden during the Second World War, in Mother of Mine (2005).

“I have been living a pretty normal middle-class life in a safe environment. Making movies has opened my eyes to different kinds of realities. It humanized me. I’m not quick to judge or give my opinions and I try to think about other people’s points of view. I hope that happens also to the audience. They come to see movies to be entertained but, hopefully, they get out something else as well. Maybe even getting a little bit wiser.”

For the past fifteen years he has been working on another passion project of his, Never Alone. It is set in 1942, when Finland was allied with Nazi Germany at war against the Soviet Union. The script centers on the true story of the attempts by Abraham Stiller, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Finland, to stop the Finnish State Police from handing over foreign Jewish refugees to the Gestapo to be deported to the death camps. This chapter of Finnish history has not been seen on a big screen before.

“It’s based on a true story of a well-connected man who thought he could help people. He promises that people are safe in Finland, like he has been. But it ends up that Finland was good to him but not to eight Jews who were handed to the Gestapo.”

Härö hopes that the filming starts in the fall. In this story, he wants to explore how to live with the consciousness that, even if someone’s intention is good, the worst thing ends up happening. “Sometimes you are doing your best and you still make things worse.”