We know war is hell, but we don’t know enough about the scars it leaves on a country’s psyche. Many European countries tore themselves apart with civil wars after WWII, so it’s not surprising, but even more tragic; particularly for the innocent. And even that is a matter of perspective.
One case in point is Estonia which was occupied by the Germans. Young men were drafted into the forces, against their will. When Russia later took over, Stalin wanted these men arrested. It’s an evil catch 22. You’re damned if you do and dead if you don’t, then damned all over again.
Our story begins much later when Endel Nelis (Mart Avandi), strolls into a village called Haspsalu, and takes a job as a sports teacher at the school. He seems shell shocked and keeps himself very tight. As he’s the only male under 50, he attracts attention, even when he avoids it.
The headmaster reminds him that setting up a sports class was part of the job, and Endel reveals himself as a fencer. (The type with lances, not the Mexican wall kind). And all of a sudden, official sensibilities are rankled, even though the kids take to it with enthusiasm. So much, they want to enter a Soviet-wide school challenge back in Moscow, a place he should be avoiding. They are also victims of the war. Should you risk your freedom, so that these war ravaged kids can enjoy a day of their own?
The power of this story is in the gut-wrenching fact it’s loosely based on a true tale, which shows us how morality is skewed and screwed by nationalism. It’s as relevant and dangerous today.
The other source of power is in the acting and direction of Klaus Haro. It’s when the dialogue is sparse that actors and directors work hardest. One to convey, the other to refine their actions and complement it with lighting and framing. It’s beautifully shot and the romance is underplayed.
There’s outstanding work all the way through here, particularly from Avandi and the children. Only the headmaster and his offsider lack depth, but there are enough well-drawn characters to capture and move your heart here.
There are plenty of anti-war films out there already, but not many of them achieve it without a single bullet being fired. And there have been many about how a classroom of children change their teacher… but not many that combine the two. This powerfully moving film achieves this combination.
Con’s Score: 4 on-guards!
Con Nats – Talking Arts