(Dir. Klaus Härö) (2016)
A serious young mystery-man comes to teach at a provincial school, his friend’s advice to keep his head down reverberating in our ears, if not in his. This is Estonia under Stalin, a particularly problematic satellite for that nefarious head of the Union of Soviet Socialist Repression. The new sport teacher (Mart Avandi, in a quietly polished performance as a ‘sad man with a secret’) might be of interest to Stalin’s goons, but with 30 to 50 million people to kill, they are flat-out. So keep your head down teach, and don’t go near Leningrad!
But while our hero isn’t looking for trouble, it has a way of finding him. The school principal, and his apparatchik, are suspicious of his background (or lack of it) and don’t approve of an elite sport such as fencing. There’s no equipment anyway. Still, Estonians are stubborn and eventually the children find the challenge of their Saturday morning sports club, and the recondite art of this ancient pastime, a welcome distraction from their workers’ paradise, and they come to look on their tutor as a father figure.
Eventually, an opportunity to compete in a tournament arises, and the teacher faces a choice between risk for reward and safe obscurity. His choice is not a happy one but this is a feel-good movie, a kind of fencing Mighty Ducks, and the conclusion, though schmaltzy, is handled with sufficient taste and discretion to lift the spirits without upsetting the stomach. P insisted we add half a star for the triumph of the hometown heroes and heroines.