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The Fencer

Directed by Klaus Haro

Estonia, 2015

HOME, 9 October 2016

The Fencer

An intriguing film, based apparently on a factual set of events, set in Estonia in the early ‘50s.

It concerns Endel Nelis, a man who takes up a job as a teacher in a village school. As part of his duties he runs a sports club and it is there that he decides to teach the children how to fence; it is useful in life to know something of the art of thrust and parry. They are told that the key to fencing well is an awareness of distance between yourself and the opponent: get in too close and you become a target, stay too far apart and you cannot launch an attack. This motif recurs throughout the film.

Endel becomes committed to the children’s welfare (he gets too close) and takes them to a fencing tournament in Leningrad. His main motivation being to show them that he believes in them. In doing so, he violates his own principle: Stalin’s NKVD (or had they by this time morphed into the KGB?) are hunting him and he is now an easy target.

It is a touching film with an authentic sense of place – look at how many of the children are without fathers, note the poverty in which they live – though the back-history (both Endel’s and that of the village) is touched upon lightly, disingenuously even. Is it really true that Endel took no  part in the war at all? And where are the Jews in this village? They seem strangely absent… Estonia lay in the heart of the Bloodlands (to use Snyder’s epithet), as we know.

A fine film nonetheless.