Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In the Crosswind (orig. Risttuules) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing listing*
CSFD listing* listing* listing* interview w. director review* (F. Mignard) review* (L. Boyce) review* (K. Reardon) review* (R. Puust) review* (K. Kieninger) review*

In the Crosswind (orig. Risttuules) [2014] [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]* (directed and cowritten by Martti Helde [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]* along with Liis Nimik [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]*) is an ESTONIAN docudrama that tells the story of the first wave of the Stalin-era mass deportations [en.wikip] of residents of the freshly Soviet-occupied Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia [en.wikip] to Siberia following the signing of the then secret protocols [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact [en.wikip] [et.wikip]*[pl.wikip].*

The story based on archival materials is told through the letters/diary of a fictionalized Estonian woman named Erna (played in the film by the Estonian actress Laura Peterson [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]*).  The film played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

Erna begins the story as a 27 y/o university educated woman living with her husband Heldur (played by Tarmo Song [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]*) who was a former Estonian military officer, and young daughter Eliide (played by Mirt Preegel [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]*) on a lovely apple orchard in the rolling Estonian countryside.

Her (family's) lives were forever altered when on June 14, 1941 (8 days before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union) the NKVD came, arrested the family, separated the Erna's husband from her and her daughter and sent them all along with some 10,000 other Estonians (and 30,000 others - Lithuanians, Latvians - from the Baltic States) to Siberia.  For the next 15 years (!) Erna writes her husband from her place of exile, never receiving a reply.

The fifteen years of exile are portrayed STYLISTICALLY in this way:

While THE WHOLE FILM was filmed in black and white, from the moment that the family was arrested taken away, EVERY SCENE WAS FILMED WITH LIVE ACTORS _FROZEN IN POSES_ DEPICTING THE SCENES DESCRIBED IN ERNA'S LETTERS / DIARY ENTRIES -- the train station scene when they were loaded onto cattle cars to be deported to Siberia; the arrival scene in Siberia with their several days march to the location of their exile; a scene depicting their work camp barracks and the timber felling/lumber yard work that they were first consigned to, various tilling of the soil, improvement of the work camp into a village (or construction of a village near the original work camp) after they had _clear cut_ a sufficient amount of the timber in the area; a Communist era wedding scene as some of the younger exiles after many years believing that there was no hope of return, progressively decided to "continue on with their lives" "out there."

IN EACH CASE, THE CAMERA WOULD MEANDER through the rather complex scenes of "still" (FROZEN) "life" depicted, while Erma's voice-over would read the diary entry / letter that she was writing to her husband at the time.

The effect is haunting, intentionally so, and an expression of a description of the period of Exile that the writer director found while researching Estonia's archival records to make the film.  In a diary written by a woman, perhaps not unlike Erna of the film, she describes the experience of Exile as that of "time entering into a entirely different dimension," that is, that TIME ... STOOD ... STILL.

This was a profound film, and one of several made recently by various peoples that suffered these Soviet era deportaions.

Among the excellent films on this theme that I've reviewed here are Siberian Exile (orig. Syberiada Polska) [2013] from Poland and The Excursionist (orig. Ekskursantė) [2013] from Lithuania.

Together they tell stories of awful industrialized suffering at the hands of arrogant rulers who really didn't care about the little people that they crushed as bugs under their heels.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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