Film Review: Land of Soul

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A derelict church stands in a forest six hours drive from Chicago. Battered by weather, it’s a monument to forgotten waves of immigration from Estonia in the early years of the Twentieth century. One of the last surviving monuments to the hopes and dreams of that first group of settlers from the Baltics it’s a historically significant building.

When it seemed that the church might be lost forever due to the elements a saviour arrived determined to restore the building to its former glory and remind the descendants of Estonian immigrants about their heritage.

In 1900 large numbers of Estonians fled the country in search of a better life. Some went to Australia and Russia. For those who arrived in America, the land of opportunity promised greater religious and political freedoms. Close to 200 newly arrived migrants relocated to Gleason when an Estonian language newspaper published an article that noted similarities between the Wisconsin landscape and Estonia’s countryside. In 1907 the community purchased a stretch of land and established its first church on American soil.

Disused for more than half a century this church was forgotten as successive generations left the village and migrated to cities. Abandoned and later vandalised, it looked as though the elements would destroy this touchstone to the first wave of Estonian migration. When it looked like all hope of preserving it was lost a film director came to the rescue. For several decades Bill Rebane has written, directed, and produced low-budget cult movies. The great nephew of the church’s first minister of faith, his emotional attachment to the building galvanised Estonians into banding together to restore the church.

Kullar Viimne and Erik Norkroos documentary follows  Bill Rebane and his band of committed volunteers as they endeavour to restore the building to its former glory. The film successfully communicates why it is so important to preserve this place of worship. More than a testament to long gone generation’s hopes and dreams it’s a physical embodiment of a group of people’s one remaining symbol of home and spiritual freedom.

As the band of volunteers busy themselves restoring the building’s foundations and installing a new roof, Estonian Rock-star Tõnis Mägi is invited to fly to America and play at a benefit concert. Documenting the last few weeks of work on the church, it follows  Tõnis Mägi as he prepares to perform in it’s grounds. Land of Soul shows how song and prayer have united successive generations of Estonians.

Enlightening and moving, Land of Soul reminds descendants of immigrants about the importance of not forgetting their cultural history.  The film is a fitting memorial to those early settlers and a celebration of what their descendants have achieved in America.

The film is available to watch exclusively on Baltic View.

If you want to see Land of Soul send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

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Film Review: Mother

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Baltic Rhapsody: Darkly comedic whodunit.

Elsa is forced to become a full-time carer for her son Lauri when he is left comatose after a robbery. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she dreams of escaping from her life of drudgery and finding self-fulfillment far away from the house that is rapidly becoming her prison.

Inspired by an Irish radio drama, Kadri Kousaar’s third feature film is a wry black comedy filled with eccentric characters. The thin veneer of respectability is peeled away from a backwater town when the police investigate the shooting of Elsa’s son. In a small community where everyone seems to known everyone, someone knows the shooter’s identity. Secrets hidden behind closed doors may be exposed as the police try to solve the puzzle of who attempted to rob Elsa’s’s son at gunpoint.

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One by one, a cast of offbeat characters visit the bedside of Elsa’s comatose son and confess their thwarted dreams and concealed secrets. An unblinking Lauri (Siim Maaten) hears his friends and neighbours expose their inner torments and will never be able to pass on the information. Will the shooter take advantage of Lauri’s comatose state and confess knowing the police will never learn of their guilt?

Compared by critics to the Cohen brothers’ Fargo, Mother is Estonia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars. A sardonic, playful, and claustrophobic mystery which offers hints that Baltic Noir might be on the verge of a breakthrough moment. Exploring possible consequences of self-deception, sacrifice, and selfishness, the deceptively subtle approach taken by the script works on multiple levels as it dissects a mother and son’s relationship.

In her first feature film role, Tiina Malberg demonstrates an ability to mix tragedy with comedy. Her performance is remarkable as she plays a mother crushed by feelings of disillusionment and forced to provide around-the-clock care for a son.

Largely confined to Elsa’s house, the film has a deliberate oppressive texture. It aims to be both domestic and idiosyncratic while weaving a disturbing account of a town where despite appearances to the contrary nobody can be trusted. Like all good whodunnits. everyone is a suspect and viewers will keep guessing throughout the film.

Mother is an ideal introduction to Estonian cinema. A dark comedy with an unexpected bite.

Mother is screening at the Nordic-Baltic Film Festival.