Archive for the ‘Tallinn Black Nights’ Category

Masha (2020)

Dir.: Anastasiya Palchikova; Cast: Polina Gukhman, Anna Chipovskaya; Maksim Sukhanov, Alexander Mizev, Iris Lebedeva; Russia 2020, 86 min.

This first feature from Russian writer/director Anastasiya Palchikova is a thinly veiled critique of the nation post Stalinism, wrapped up as a crime/revenge story. The director takes the forces to task in creating a society riddled with violence where Putin and his oligarchy cronies rule with impunity given the lack of a legitimate opposition.

We meet Masha (Gukhman) just before her thirteenth birthday; she lives in a small Russian town and is the darling of her uncle (Sukhanov), who is a crime lord, involving his sons and other relatives in all his schemes from robbery to murder. Masha, a gifted singer, has the family in thrall – and when school friend Sergey ignores her approaches, she asks Uncle’s sons to beat him up until he relents and offers her the attention she craves. But Sergey has also got mixed up in the family business and will later pay with his life for getting out of his depth.

Uncle is very critical of Masha’s mother Nadya (Lebedeva), who has married outside the clan, and has left her husband while remaining a close friend. Nadya wants to take Masha to a relative in far away Samara, but Uncle does not want to give up control, and asks his son Andrei (Mizev) to burn Nadya’s flat down, killing Nadya’s husband in the process. And he’s not the only one sleeping there.

The end is set in Moscow where a grown-up Masha (Chipovskaya) gets ready for a performance with Uncle, Andrei and other family members are in attendance, getting rich on the spoils of the now legitimate music business. But Masha has not forgotten.

Polina Gukhman carries the feature as Masha the 13 year old whose uncle and sons fulfil her every wish, the big family cushioning her from the big wide world. Violence is the norm for her – but the victims are always the ones fighting Uncle and his clan. Only once is the order disturbed, when one of Uncle’s relatives is killed by a rival gang, having raped an under aged girl. Told from the POV of Masha, for whom Uncle is a sort of God granting her every wish, this is a study of a regressive dog eat dog world, where violence holds sway. In Masha’s infantile understanding of the situation, brutality is just part of getting what you want – just ask Uncle whose soft spot for her (rather like the Kray twins for their mother) contrasts with his harsh treatment of all others, including his wider family. DoP Gleb Filatov’s harsh realism is sometimes hard to bear, but never gratuitous in showing how casually normal this hostile environment is for an adolescent like Masha. But Uncle’s little Princess would grow up one day. AS

MASHA is showing as part of the London Russian Film Festival, currently being held for the first time in the UK – from November 12 to December 10, 2021. New customers can enjoy the festival films as part of an extended Subscription free trial on BFI player using the voucher code RFF21.


A Place Called Dignity (2021) Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Matias Rojas Valencia; Cast: Salvador Insunza, Hanns Zischler, Amalia Kassai, Noa Westermeyer, Tato Dubó, David Gaete, Leonie Wesselow; Chile/France/Germany/ Argentina/Columbia; 2021, 95 min.

The final years of the ‘Colonia Dignidad’ in Parral, Southern Chile are the subject of this spirited drama with its pervasive political undercurrents from Chilean writer/director Matias Rojas Valencia.

The former German Nazi soldier Paul Schäfer (1921-2010) founded a cult colony in 1961. Later, Schäfer supported General Pinochet, the latter’s opponents were tortured and killed in the colony. Schäfer was later accused of sexual abuse by 25 children, sentenced for several decades and fined 1.5 m$. He escaped to Argentina, but was extradited to Chile in 2006 and died in jail four years later. Colonia Dignidad – The True Story, a 2015 semi-documentary has covered some of the same ground as this feature film.

Pablo (Insunza), a twelve-year old local boy – whose father has deserted the family – is given a place in the school by ‘Uncle’ Paul (Zischler), the leader of the colony ‘Dignidad’. Pablo is very insecure, he urinates in public and is permanently taunted by the white boys, mostly Germans. Pablo shares a room with Rudolph (Westermeyer), who is Uncle Paul’s favourite, and can spend the night with him watching TV. Paul and his minions terrorising the teenagers, with regular sessions in the assembly hall, where the misfits are publicly punished. Paul is devious in his approach to the sexual assault victims.

Meanwhile Rudolph has never left the colony, and Pablo has to explain to him what traffic lights are, such is his naivety. Gisela (Kassai), who wants a child, tries her luck with Johannes (Gaete), copying the positions from a book about rhino procreation. Gisela is punished by being forced to wear a white jumper, the sign of a ‘wrong-doer’. White is the theme that runs through house: the huge piano is gleaming white, with a German shepherd languidly stretched out on top.

Inmates disappear regularly from the tightly guarded compound. And soon Pablo will replace Rudolph as Uncle Paul’s sex object. Paul making sure that Pablo wins a race against other boys, declaring him the new ‘sprinter’, an honourable position, even though the other boys, protest, that Pablo is ‘only’ an indigenous boy.

Christmas is still celebrated despite the evil goings-on – but instead of Father Christmas, a ghostly, devil like creature with two horns appears (Johannes in disguise, to make up for transgression). Pablo has enough of being molested, in a dream sequence, his mother visits him, lying in an open coffin. Pablo takes this as a sign and talks Rudolph into joining him in a escape bid, but Paul’s henchmen are alert.

DoP Benjamin Echazarreta creates a startling visual environment that really brings to life the pervading atmosphere of deceit and repression. The dream sequences are fantastic but the the director never neglects politics: in 1989 Paul and a visiting army officer openly discuss the possible implication of Pinochet losing the approaching referendum. Paul is full of angst, but the officer tells him to be hopeful: The dictator will watch out for them even if defeated. Crucially, the film reminds us how Nazi torturers became active after WWII and continue to influence the South American continent to this day – Barby and Mengele being only the tip of the iceberg. AS



Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2021

Hungary is to be the focus of this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) announces Hungary as the Focus Country for this year’s 25th edition of the festival. The 25th celebration will open with Ildikó Enyedi’s ninth feature The Story of My Wife, which premiered in competition at Cannes this year, with 18 more Hungarian films screening as part of the In Focus: Hungary programme, including 10 films in a special archive section and 8 new films representing the best of current Hungarian cinema.

Eight current feature films will be shown at PÖFF25, including Gábor Fabricius’ Erasing Frank, which premiered in Venice this summer, Kornél Mundruczó’s Evolution, which premiered in Cannes, and Péter Bergendy’s Post Mortem, Hungary’s entry for the Academy Awards. The archive programme includes cinematic gems from acclaimed directors including Ildikó Enyedi, Miklós Jancsó, Márta Mészáros and István Szabó.

The Story of My Wife is set in the 1920s and sees a middle-aged Dutch seaman betting his cynical business partner that he will marry the next woman who comes into the café they’re sitting in, and unfolds from there in an adaptation of the Hungarian poet Milán Füst’s novel of the same title – oosely based on the legend of the cursed Flying Dutchman.

The Hungarian theme continues with György Pálfi’s Perpetuity. And another, Wild Roots, will screen as part of the Just Film sub festival.

Opening Film / In Focus: Hungary

The Story Of My Wife / A feleségem története (2021, Hungary/Germany/Italy/France, Director: Ildikó Enyedi)

Official Selection – In Competition / In Focus: Hungary
Perpetuity (2021, Hungary, Director: György Pálfi)

In Focus: Hungary Programme

Erasing Frank (2021, Hungary, Director: Gabor Fabricius)
Evolution (2021, Germany/Hungary, Director: Kornél Mundruczó)
Post Mortem (2021, Hungary, Director: Péter Bergendy)
Things Worth Weeping for (2020, Hungary, Director: Cristina Grosan)
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2020, Hungary, Dir: Lili Horvát)
Cream (2019, Hungary, Director: Nóra Lakos)

In Focus: Hungary / Just Film Programme

Wild Roots (2021, Hungary, Director: Hajni Kis)

In Focus: Hungary Archive Programme

Merry-Go-Round / Körhinta (1955, Director: Zoltán Fábri)
Current / Sodrásban (1963, Director: István Gaál)
The Round-Up / Szegénylegények (1965, Director: Miklós Jancsó)
Love / Szerelem (1970, Director: Károly Makk)
Sindbad / Szindbád (1971, Director: Huszárik Zoltán)
Nine Months / Kilenc Hólnap (1976, Director: Márta Mészáros)
Mephisto / Mephisto I-II. (1981, Director: István Szabó)
Son of the White Mare / Fehérlófia (1981, Director: Marcell Jankovics)
The Midas Touch / Eldorádó (1988, Director: Géza Bereményi)
My 20th Century / Az én XX. századom (1988, Director: Ildikó Enyedi)

Tallinn Black Nights | 12-28 November 2021

Rain (2020) Tallinn Black Nights Festival

Dir/Wri: Janno Jurgens | Cast: Aleksi Beijajev, Marcus Borkmann, Meelo Eliisabet Kriisa, Laine Magi, Indrek Ojari, Magdalena Poplawska | Estonia, Drama

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the Estonian Way…. 

In his astonishing first film that premiered at Tallinn Black Nights, Janno Jurgens opts for a quirky dark comedy approach to exploring complex male dynamics in the wide open lushness of a rainswept Estonian backwater in summer and through to an icebound wintertime. This is essentially a love/hate buddy movie that derives tremendous energy from its widescreen settings, and DoP Erik Pollumaa creates a great sense of place, breathing life into the intense domestic scenes which are imaginative, limpid and gracefully framed despite the quiet hopelessness they often portray.

Taking a freewheeling approach to the storyline Jurgens observes his – largely monosyllabic – family members as they gradually develop, getting to know one another again in a film that relies on its potent atmosphere, wide-screen spaces and breezy occasional score – rather than dialogue-  to lead us into an engaging study of masculinity seen from the perspective of a thoughtful pre-teen boy who seems the most mature and grounded of his male family members, possessing a gentle serenity and self-possession despite his tender years. 12 year old Ats (an impressive debut for Borkmann) lives with his morose and conservative ageing father and willowy blond mother Merlin (Kriisa is a dead ringer for Kati Outinnen). His much older brother Rain (Ojari) has finally come home, as a last resort, after wandering around and presumably failing to find a workable life of his own. Although he’s clearly a bog-standard loser, he seems to exert a strange fascination for Ats, although his days are spent mooning aimlessly around until the arrival of Aleksandra (Poplawska) gives him a sense of gravitas. Meanwhile Merlin also has a secret up her sleeve. Jurgens clearly sees his  female characters as liberated, stabilising influences over their rather brutish male counterparts. And Ats is clearly learning fast while remaining bemused at some of the bizarre adult behaviour he has to countenance: a violent tiff between his father and brother, and overt sexual signals from his friend’s older sister.

In this quiet corner of Estonia society is clearly changing and there is a clear sense of woe and a confusion for these men who are making an uneasy transition from the gilded past, where they were more cognisant and comfortable with their roles, and an uncertain future. But there are often moments of sublime happiness t00, such as Rain’s drive along the beach promenade with Aleksandra, and Merlin’s dance in the factory.

Rain continues to be at odds with his father, but Ats finds his elder brother an inspiring role model as he ponders the mysteries of becoming a man himself, experiencing that love can be transformative for the male psyche. This is a quirky and memorable drama that gets an emotional kick from its silent sequences and introspective characters given considerable depth by a strong and sensitive cast showing how men often struggle with complex emotions they can’t always express. MT


The Last Ones (2020) Tallinn Black Nights 2020

Dir. Veiko Ounpuu. Estonia, Finland. 2020. 117 mins

The vast wastelands of Lapland are the setting for this tortured tale of limited opportunities for those fighting to survive an uncertain future. Traditionally, mining and reindeer herding offered a reasonable living for men like Rupi (Paaru Oja) and his reindeer-herder father, who occupy their own land. But with resources dwindling mining-wise, the county has issued a contract for forced possession and Rupi’s father is resisting the change at all costs. Rupi is also trapped by his love for the vivacious Riita (Laura Birn) who is married to his Goth friend Lievonen (Back), and has also caught the eye of the mine’s ruthless boss Kari (Tomi Korpela) whose only interest is shoring up his faltering business – which requires him to dig deeper and deeper, quite literally – and keep his staff on the job offering hard drugs as a pacifying incentive to keep on keeping on.

Although the drama loses some of its captivating power by the final stages The Last One succeeds in conjuring up the bleakness and strange beauty of this Northern European country and its pioneering hard-bitten people. Veiko Ounpuu’s ‘Eastern Western’ is Estonia’s Oscar hopeful for Best International feature in the 93rd Academy Awards.

Rupi (Paaru Oja) also deals drugs on the quiet, and Kari is his biggest customer. After a gruelling day the workers kick back in booze-soaked evenings of dancing and carousing where the bibulous chain-smoking Riita is the toast of the town sharing her good humour with all the men on the dancefloor, including Kari, who is intoxicated by her blonde looks, and able to provide the luxuries she only dreams of, stuck with her trailer trash partner LIevonen. But as tensions come to a head between the men, so the narrative spins out of control.

Despite its tonal unevenness The Last Ones works well as an exploration of a community in crisis, the fraught human interactions interweaving with serene sequences of barren tundra landscapes captured in Sten-Johan Lill’s widescreen visuals. Music plays a vital part too, with a 1970s retro feel echoing the lost horizons of these desperate grifters whose lives revolve around survival as they cling to the past. Eventually tragedy is the only outcome for some and this plays out appropriately to the sounds of the Byrd’s Lay Lady Lay, adding further grist to the Nashvillian feel of the piece as these last swingers in town fight to make sense of a future that surely must beckon somewhere in the wilderness, if they can only move on. MT


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