22 March 2010

December Heat / Detsembrikuumus (Asko Kase, 2008, Estonia)

This was Estonia's submission for the best foreign film Oscar. Of the ten I've seen so far, this one is currently ranked at number eight, between number seven from Romania and number nine from Hungary. It's handsomely produced, if melodramatic and intermittently cheesy, but the main thing is that it comes across as a little stridently political, almost propagandistic, which kind of makes sense since it seems like it was basically commissioned by the Estonian government to mark the 90th anniversary of the Republic. Of course, my knowledge of Estonian history is about as vague as possible and is mostly informed by my vague knowledge of the histories of the other Baltic states. I can't really find much information about the specific event depicted in the movie but it seems to have taken place in 1924. What was really strange is that the subtitles were intermittently inept and in particular the dates were rendered in such a way that I couldn't decide even what decade this was taking place in. I think it was more clear in the opening title but I didn't really process it all because of all these infernal latecomers. The dates in the subtitles during the movie ended up being three digits and a pound sign or a quotation mark or something. No, I didn't watch a bootleg with some half-assed internet subtitles, I saw this at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the EU Film Festival, for reals. Anyway... It seems that Estonia had a war of independence in the late teens where they gained their independence for the first time since 1227. Apparently, in 1924, Russia attempted to orchestrate a communist coup in Tallinn, the nation's capital. This is the story of how that coup was prevented, culminating in a sort of silly and hard to believe scene in a telegraph office. Most of the actors are fairly capable. The lead couple is attractive and likable. There's a story about a baker and his wife and son that's pretty effective. I sort of felt like the movie focused too much on a handful of rebels and military personnel and should have liked more context about the locals. It's interesting that the film seems firmly anticommunist and anti-Russian, perhaps resentful toward foreigners in general, but it also depicts rather overtly the abuses of the capitalists during the short-lived Republic. It was certainly engaging but perhaps not quite weighty enough and, I think, a little too nationalistic or something like that. C/C+

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