Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Klaus Härö's THE FENCER -- shortlisted for 2015's BFLF Oscar -- finally opens in the USA

Lovely, old-fashioned movie-making that has a splendid, based-on-real-life story to tell, it's easy to understand why THE FENCER made the early cut for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination two years back. It's also easy to see why it did not make the final cut of five films, as -- good as it is -- it's a little too predictable in its style, storytelling and just about all else. But that should not detract from the pleasure and enjoyment the movie will bring to audiences, particularly, I suspect, the senior crowd.

As written by Anna Heinämaa and directed by Klaus Härö (shown at left), the film is consistently a treat to view -- even if it is set in a pretty ugly Estonia of the 1950s. That little country, bordering the Baltic Sea across from Finland, was invaded by Germany during World War II, and then occupied post-war by the USSR until that Communist behemoth dissolved into its continuing orgy of Oligarchy Capitalism after 1991. The film begins with a title card explaining how certain Estonian men, having been forcibly conscripted into the German Nazi army, had to then hide their past from the Russian authorities or face prison and worse -- for something over which they had no control.

Such is the fate of the film's hero, Ender, played with a understandable combination of fear and withholding by Märt Avandi (shown above), who flees Leningrad for Estonia and there takes a job teaching physical education in a small-town school.

In better days, he was a competitive fencer, so when he is forced by his nasty superior to coach a Saturday sports class, he ends up teaching that class how to fence.

If his nemesis, the school principal (nicely played by Hendrik Toompere, above center), is a bit too much of a lip-smacking villain (as is his overly eager assistant (Jaak Prints, above, left), well, this is all part of the film's old-fashioned fun.

As is Ender's newly-found girlfriend, another teacher at his school, portrayed with the necessary obeisance-masking-deeper-grit that was required by women back in the 1950s (and, oh gosh, often today, too) by the lovely actress, Ursula Ratasepp (above, center right).

The students are pretty much standard-issue, except for two of them: Jaan, a boy whose caring and intelligent grandfather (Lembit Ulfsak, above, left, of the wonderful Tangerines) evidently has in his past some issues of interest to the Russian police, and the quietly intense girl, Marta (a terrifically alert and focused performance from young Liisa Koppel, shown

at bottom and on the poster image, top), who is the first to ask for fencing lessons and goes on be a part of the fencing team entered into the competition in Leningrad (above) that will bring all the movie's plot strands together for an effective climax.

As I say, other than the unusual tale told, together with its accompanying history and location, the movie is relatively predictable. But it is every bit as enjoyable, too.

From CFI Releasing, in Estonian and Russian with English subtitles, and running 99 minutes, The Fencer opens theatrically this Friday, July 21, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center, and on August 11 in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Royal and Playhouse 7 and in other cities simultaneously. Here in South Florida, it will open on August 18 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters,
click here and then scroll down.

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