Klaus Härö (left), the Finnish master director from Porvoo, had a short distance to visit Helsinki for the screening of The Fencer in mid-February 2015. The lead actors from Estonia, Ursula Ratasepp and Märt Avandi, had to cross the Gulf of Finland to pose for Finland Today. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

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.


The films of Klaus Härö have won more than 60 prizes in film festivals across the world. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

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.

Read also:  The Hollywood Action Star Ray Stevenson Calls Finnish Humour Devilish

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 praised the spirit of working with Härö. He said at the press conference that he has worked with bad directors before and would rather quit than do that again. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

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.