Film Club: ‘The Temptation of St. Tony’
A Rare Film From Estonia
Friday, January 21, 2011
Credit: Olive Films
The critics of the KPBS Film Club of the Air weigh in on the Estonian film, "The Temptation of St. Tony."
We don't often get film from Estonia so "The Temptation of St. Tony" (opening January 21 at Reading Gaslamp Stadium 15 Theaters) is a rare opportunity I do not want to miss. You can listen to our discussion of the film on the KPBS Film Club of the Air from last November (it's taken the film a bit of time to open here).
Seeing a film from a country you rarely get a window to is always exciting. In researching the film I found a lovely site called Estonian Film that served up this description of the country's cinema: "The position of Estonian film in society has, throughout ages, resembled the function of a fool at the king's court - nobody takes him seriously, he is ridiculed, even hated; at the same time, however, everyone is aware that he reflects courtly life in a distorted way."
That seems quite apt for "The Temptation of St. Tony." It also reflects the position of a lot of films from former Soviet satellites and films from the Balkans. Films like "St. Tony," "12:08 East of Bucharest," "Police Adjective," and "Black Cat, White Cat" (among others) occupy. These films share a similar deadpan humor that takes a little getting used to but which proves quite charming and clever. The tone of these films reveals a kind of acceptance that things are out of whack and not particularly fair but what can you do? It's the survivor's humor in these films that I find so appealing.
"The Temptation of St. Tony" (unrated and in Estonian, Russian, and French with English subtitles) is a slow moving but wry and surreal work that pays off if you let it work its spell on you. Listen to our discussion.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, finally, a film from Estonia, called the temptation of saint Tony. The film follows the surreal -- [CHECK AUDIO] of his materialistic lifestyle and sets off on a quest for salvation. Let me go to you first, Scott. Is it fair to say the temptation of saint Tony is an art house film?
SCOTT MARKS (film critic for emulsioncompulsion.com): I haven't heard the term art house. Holy mother of -- yeah, it has that funny writing at the bottom, you know, it's black and white! Ooh! It's black and white? Let me say right at the get go, this is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. But there are so many odd things in this film that you can't look away. You have to keep watching it. A lot of it is very film schoolish. Very film schoolish. I mean, any time you make a first film, and you're referencing Ingmar Bergman, you know you just got out of tech 101. But there's more to this. There's Bunwel, there Bella Tarr, I was told that there's Kubrick in here, but I guess I don't know enough about Kubrick to see it. Here's a guy who grew up watching a lot of movies of it's gorgeous to look at. I mean, to see black and white, I can't wait to see this thing on the screen. But it just -- it takes a couple [CHECK AUDIO] I think it's a great dead pan performance. He looks like if Andre the giant was a normal sized man, this is what he looks like.
ANDERS WRIGHT (film critic for CityBeat): Maybe a little thinner.
SCOTT MARKS: Andre the normal sized guy.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to just mention that it is directed by a gentleman whose name I am about to mispronounce, it's Veiko Õunpuu, and that's the director, just in case you wanted to know. Probably someone can say his name correctly. Anders, what was your impression of this film?
ANDERS WRIGHT: I was basically concur with Scott. And there are things that I really like about it though, as the film goes on, things will happen that you just did in the see coming. All the time. And it is gorgeous to look at. The very opening, it's this slow, somber funeral procession that's suddenly interrupted by this out of control car careening, you know, off of a sand do you know.
BETH ACCOMANDO: But it's a procession with, like, the goofy music playing.
ANDERS WRIGHT: Yeah, like weird accordion.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Yeah, so it's not -- all the elements, there's a discordant quality going on, all of the pieces don't match, but they don't much in a really ineffective way.
SCOTT MARKS: Don't you [CHECK AUDIO] is this a building, they do that throughout the film.
ANDERS WRIGHT: Total he, I think what Beth just said, you've got these two things to begin with, the odd myselfic, the funeral procession, and they go together much better than this car sort of careening toward this whole thing.
BETH ACCOMANDO: But the people barely even acknowledge the car crash, obviously people are hurt badly and they just walk on by.
ANDERS WRIGHT: The main guy hits a dog with his car, drawings it into the woods and that's where he discovers some stuff I'm not even gonna mention. But it's all sort of tied together in so many ways that are [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you guys, how would -- I mean, you go to films all the time. How would you prepare someone to see a movie like this?
SCOTT MARKS: A member of the average viewing public? Wouldn't even -- I would say just go look at a hundred and 27 hours, stay away from this.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Really.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I think it's -- to me, the humor appeals to me. It's a lot like some of these other Balkan films that have come out, the death of Mr. Lazarescu, and [CHECK AUDIO] where it's this very deadpan kind of humor, and a lot of these films, I was reading, someone had written about some of these Estonian films, and these Balkan films and they said that these films are like the Court jester at somebody's court, but they are saying something important and addressing issues of --
ANDERS WRIGHT: You have to be open to black and white, you have to be open to subtitles and you have to be open to something that's very different from most american films.
SCOTT MARKS: And when look at the characters in this film compared to Four Lions, he is very true to his characters. You have a scene where they're having dinner in a glass house, and a homeless guy walks by, so they figure, all right, we'll give him a bottle of wine. And he takes it and pours it out. What would have been the gag in Four Lions. Here he goes one step further, he's not interested in getting drunk. He wants the bottle so he can recycle it and get a few pennies. This to me, this is what was missing in Four Lions.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We've gotta leave it there.
SCOTT MARKS: Happy Thanksgiving.
ANDERS WRIGHT: Happy Thanksgiving.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The temptation of saint Tony opens today at the Redding Gas lamp theatres downtown.
SCOTT MARKS: No, no.
ANDERS WRIGHT: It may not be opening.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right. Okay. Thank you so much. Anders Wright, Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, thank you so much. And I want to let everyone know Beth has done a beautiful piece about movies to be thankful for. You can find it at KPBS.org. Happy thanksgiving. You've been listening to These Days.
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