Miekkailja (The Fencer) by the Finnish director, Klaus Härö, is visually stunning – a story about sacrifice, belief, fear and survival – a touching portrait of Estonia under the rigid Russian rule in the ’50s, where the resisters faced a risk of possible jail time or a deportation to the cold Siberia.
Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi), a mid-aged man, arrives at Haapsalu, Estonia from Leningrad, Russia to start a new life as a teacher of physical education in a primary school.
After meeting the kids, he observes the need for activities after school in the small rural village-like community, where the children’s fathers have been recruited by the Russian army or possibly deported to Siberia.
After trying a few unsuccessful ways to engage the students, one night after visiting the old tumbledown gym, Endel pulls out his old sabre. It’s as if he can’t resist the call – he was, after all, a fencing champion in Leningrad.
A meeting with a young student at the very same night convinces Endel that teaching the art of fencing might be just the thing the kids need to uplift their spirit during the desperate times. Soon, Endel becomes like a father-like figure to the kids and he also finds love awaiting around the corner after meeting Kadri (Ursula Ratasepp). But there are hardships ahead when the jealous principal starts digging Endel’s background.
Klaus Härö is a director with a nose for a good story. He’s an avid reader of scripts and while reading he is expecting the story to fold at any given moment. If it doesn’t fail and it’s touching, he might give the script a shot.
This time it was the script of Anna Heinämaa that got Härö to establish a movie set in Estonia, where he hadn’t even visited before he started filming.
Härö has proven his ability to create deeply touching films with classics such as, the tear-jerkers Näkymätön Elina (Invisible Elina, 2002) or Äideistä parhain (Mother of mine, 2005).
In this sense, The Fencer continues the legacy of Härö’s humane ability to direct; he will keep the viewer in suspense, fall in love, drop a tear or two and make the viewer believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Märt Avandi who plays Endel is one of the most famous and popular actors in Estonia. His act is engaging and the same can be said about Ursula Ratasepp, another popular Estonian actor.
And then there is the mass amount of kids.
Härö has amazing ability to bring the best out of the actors, and while directing kids, he reaches the level of a master craftsman.
The Fencer, which premieres on March 13, is the best Finnish film to come out in since Mother of mine, Härö’s last film a decade ago.