Monday, December 11, 2017

Review of 'The Fencer'

Beautiful to look at Estonian film (actually a Finnish-Estonian co-production, but I've never seen an Estonian film before) set in the early 1950s and featuring a young fencer who moves to a small town to become a PE teacher and ends up starting a fencing club for his students. He's on the run from the secret police because he was conscripted into the German army and has to choose between loyalty to his committed pupils (who want to go to a fencing competition in Leningrad, where he is wanted) and maintaining his low profile. He goes, and then it turns into one of those underdog sports team films. It's well made, without cliches, and the Estonian kids are great.

It's very washed out and grim looking, and the Estonian people and landscapes look very authentic. I was a bit uncomfortable about the way the film treats his 'conscription' into the German army. Estonia and Finland both seem to me to have not really reflected very much on the fact that they fought on the side of the Nazis. It is perhaps forgiveable (if wrong) that young Estonian men thought the Nazis were the lesser evil compared to the Soviets, but some recognition that they were evil, and that they chose to do a bad thing that might have had even worse consequences seems warranted. That rarely happens.

My extensive research (well, the Wikipedia article) tells me that the Estonians who fought for the Nazis were volunteers, not conscripts, and that they fought in a Waffen SS Legion. Most Estonian Jews escapted (some taken into the USSR by the occupying Soviet armies in 1940-41 but there were massacres of those that remained, of Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and Jews from other countries in concentration camps located in Estonia.

The film depicts ruthless Soviets hunting down kindly Estonians; naturally it doesn't reflect that the west was by the early 1950s running networks of former Nazi collaborators as anti-communist partisans, the Forest Brothers.

Watched at the Lansdown Film Club on a proper cinema screen on a very snowy and cold night, which made the whole experience more authentic.

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