• Datum 16-01-2014
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As a foreigner making his home in Estonia, it sometimes feels impertinent to cast judgement on its cinematic output. But perhaps my outsider point-of-view gives a different view in a relatively small country whose media can often be quite harsh when it comes to domestic releases.
In many ways Estonia has spent the last few years trying to replicate the success it had in 2007, when Kadri Kõusaar’s Magnus premiered at Cannes, Ilmar Raag’s Klass was unveiled at Karlovy Vary and Veiko Õunpuu’s Autumn Ball (regularly voted by domestic critics as the best modern Estonian film of all time) was first screened at Venice. There’s always been a lingering sense of regret that Estonia was not able to capitalise on this success in the way that for instance Romania was able to.
2013 saw new releases from all three aforementioned directors and their films provide an interesting snapshot of a cinematic landscape pitched between commercialism and experimentation. Kõusaar’s The Arbiter is an intriguing piece about a nebbish man who decides he’s the moral arbiter of what is right and wrong. A cross between a standard serial killer genre affair and a treatise on notions of good and evil, the film is an ambitious (and sometimes flawed) piece full of surreal touches and glorious moments. The darkness in Kõusaar’s film certainly tested some audiences.
This polarisation was echoed in Õunpuu’s Free Range, the tale of a film critic who discovers he’s going to be a father and consequently struggles with his place in society and hedonistic impulses. Also falling between two genres (this time a relationship drama and philosophical essay examining modern life) the film delighted and enraged audiences equally; to me, it was a mesmerising and thoughtful piece of work riddled with stylistic flourishes. Raag’s Kertu was an altogether more classical affair, in which a sheltered woman falls in love with the village drunk. It managed to gain great respect both at home and abroad with numerous popular festival showings.
Perhaps the most successful film of the year was Georgian director Zaza Urushadze’s Tangerines, a Georgian/Estonian co-production that follows an Estonian farmer who takes in two wounded soldiers at the height of Abkhazia war in 1990. Full of subtle humour and some heartbreaking moments, it’s been lauded at international festivals and has proved massively popular amongst Estonian audiences.
These examples show a national cinema that is still struggling to find an identity yet often brave in searching for new ideas. With a new generation of filmmakers poised to make their marks in the next few years — with many wanting to see if genre cinema can work in Estonia as it has in Lithuania, where Vanishing Waves became one of the most successful Baltic films of the past few years — Estonian cinema may garner a new appreciation. The question will be whether this time it can be capitalised on

Laurence Boyce (@LaurenceBoyce) divides his time between Tallinn and his native Leeds and is a contributor to Little White Lies and The Baltic Times, among others.