Weep for the Mopey Finnish Architect of Theo’s House, Who Calls New Buildings ‘Stillborns’


Theo’s House, a film by Finnish director Rax Rinnekangas, captures the moral reckoning of Theo (Hannu-Pekka Björkman), a beefy middle-aged architect who, along with his partner, once filled Finnish cities with the profitable but aesthetically uniform high-rises that he now refers to as “stillborns.”

Like Theo, Rinnekangas is concerned with the morality of physical artifacts; monochrome shots of Theo’s anodyne façades are a shorthand for his distaste for functional art, and stand in sharp contrast to lush shots of the sprawling Brandenburg estate where Theo retreats after his wife leaves him. Maintaining the grounds are a pair of hired hands who have retired early from the mad dash of modern life, and who indulge Theo’s desire to stay on as the sole tenant in the off-season.

They’re a vague group of characters, and Rinnekangas doesn’t provide much in the way of a story. For Theo, the estate’s leafy corridors and decorative statuaries form an attractive purgatory, where he contemplates his sins, notably during a visit from his rakish and long-winded former partner Vincent (Ville Virtanen). His only project is a letter to Clara (Milka Ahlroth), whom he encountered briefly when they were children — his memory of her invades the scenery in the form of grainy black-and-white footage — and the design of his “dream house,” merely fantasy and a few sketches, used as bait to lure Clara in with empty promises of comfort.

It’s a romantic Hail Mary that would surely end in disappointment for any real-life woman, but for some reason Rinnekangas doesn’t give Theo any other outlet. Redemption can be a hard-won prize for the guilty, but for the purposes of his film, it’s cheaply bought.