Most of our awareness of history doesn’t tend to stretch further than events which directly impacted on our own country. Whilst I consider myself relatively knowledgeable, my grasp of wartime history within the Soviet Union is very basic. I’m aware the Baltic states hate Russia, but only in general terms such as deportations, annexation and terror during World War II. Set after the end of the war, Klaus Härö’s film The Fencer tackles the subject of Estonians who were drafted by the Nazis and subsequently persecuted as traitors.
Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi) arrives in a small Estonian town after fleeing Leningrad. He takes up a position as a sports teacher in a school, setting up a Saturday club teaching his passion – fencing. The children are enthusiastic but not the principal (Hendrik Toompere) who believe’s it’s too decadent for proletarians. Endel starts a relationship with a fellow teacher (Ursula Ratasepp) but the safety of his new life is put at risk by an upcoming fencing competition.
The Fencer was Finland’s selection for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film and was nominated for a Golden Globe. It’s a mixture of drama, intrigue and romance, set in a beautifully realised 1950s Estonia. Härö tells a story largely unknown outside of the Baltic States with a light touch, allowing the actors to do all the hard work without resorting to melodrama. The Fencer is an impressive period drama with a great central performance from Märt Avandi.
The Fencer is out in cinemas from Friday.