Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Estonian film critics named The Ideal Landscape the third-best Estonian film of all time. A newly restored version opens at the Sõprus in Tallinn today, along with a short "Making of" documentary, both with English and Russian subtitles. It's worth a watch.
It's about one of the darkest periods in Estonian history -- forced collectivization after World War II. A young communist functionary (top left), no more than a boy, is sent to a remote village to supervise the spring sowing. Of course the schedule was drawn up in some office somewhere and the idea to start sowing in waterlogged fields is completely insane. The people are exhausted from war and oppression as it is.
This was made in 1980 by Estonians, so obviously it couldn't have big obvious ideological conclusions (nor a Hollywood happy ending). And be prepared for a seemingly slow pace. That automatically forces the film to focus on the human relationships and gives it subtlety and intelligence. But it could still easily have been a boring, unwatchable Soviet-era agriculture drama, or at best a Jüri Müür documentary about the plight of the Estonian farmer. You know, tractor wheels coming off, people fiddling with things, criticizing Moscow in code.
What makes it interesting and optimistic (despite ancient tragedy elements) and elevates it to a sort of a hymn is that it is a bildungsfilm -- it is told from the unlikely point of view of the young functionary, who is partly a useful idiot, of course, but only because he is so young.
He even falls in love. It's absurd that there is a love "subplot" in a movie about war-weary people whose last "possession" -- their ancient peasant intuition about planting times -- is being assailed by stupid Party policies. It could almost a satirical comment about commercial films -- yet it's also completely within the internal logic of the character and the film. Kevade still comes, even in the darkest Soviet era.
The true heroes are the antiheroes -- the Estonian "peasants", led by the method actor Tõnu Kark (top right) -- Estonia doesn't really have Brandos, but he is as big and as magisterial a star as you can get. The scenes between Kark and the young functionary (played by Arvo Kukumägi) were largely improvised.
A lot of young folks worked on this film -- director Peeter Simm was under 30. Kark was 34. Kalju Kommisarov (bottom left) is...young, but rigid as a Party boss, yet even he lets the mask slip in a moment, never explained in the film, that reminds us that some things (loss of nationhood?!) were big enough to be mourned by all sides in the conflict.
And as a side note, Urmas Kibuspuu, an Estonian actor who died five years later at 31, is everywhere, basically as an extra with one or two speaking lines, leaning and sauntering in a boater hat -- the Fonz of the kolkhoz. I had a weird feeling of macabre recognition watching him -- he was weirdly angelic and I had the feeling he must be dead, since I hadn't heard his name.
Posted by Kristopher at 12:43 AM