Monday, 8 September 2014

TIFF14: Estonia's Martii Helde's Fresh Vision (In the Crosswind)

Estonian director, Martti Helde shared with me that he felt his grandfather's presence on the set of his first feature film, In the Crosswind. During my conversation with Martii, I learned that the history of the Baltic "deportations" is studied in school, and his grandfather (who lost a leg in WWII) openly spoke about the time period, although never too much about being in the camps; rather, his impact on Martii was about how to be a good person and to live life to the fullest. 

In the Crosswind, in which Martii labels the "deportations" as a "Soviet Holocaust" to symbolize the universality of these horrible and continuing human actions, we follow the forced journey of Erna (Laura Peterson) and her daughter  (and to a lesser extent, her husband Heldur) to Siberia. Martii was given Erna's letters by an archivist while doing research and, spurred by the stories from his grandfather, he decided to make a film about the consequences of June 14, 1941. What began as an attempt to make a short film about a time when thousands of Baltic citizens were forced from their homes in Stalin's attempt to purge the region of its people, turned into a feature when Martii was told that his style of telling the story was neither documentary nor short enough for a short fiction film. 

His style, that of tableaux vivants, forces the viewer to move their eyes and fill in the gaps as the camera weaves in and around their bodies. Months were spent placing the actors in their positions so that by the time shooting occurred, blocking and camera movements were worked out. Imagine looking at a portrait that suddenly becomes almost three dimensional, and your eye and brain follow the movements that are slowly revealed. Sometimes it is as if you are looking at a triptych framed by walls or trees providing a barrier that interrupts a shot. In these cases, you move your head to see what's beyond the wall or behind a tree. 

Shot in beautiful black and white (a deliberate choice influenced by flipping through the period photographs of his grandfather's album), the film is scored simply and presented in with delicacy that it will overcome any sentiments of holocaust viewer fatigue. Give yourself about ten minutes to get used to the fact that you will be hearing voiceover narration instead of dialogue, that there will be no re-enactments, and you will find yourself experiencing film in a brand new way. You will also find unexpected beauty in this "frozen in time" cinematic historical drama.

My full interview with Martii Helde will be broadcast on The More the Merrier on CIUT 89.5 FM (date TBC). Follow me on Facebook so you don't miss the broadcast.

TIFF 4-14.14

Tue, Sep 9
Thu, Sep 11
Sun, Sep 14

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