Finland sends The Fencer to fight for the Oscar
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
- Klaus Härö’s new film, shot in Estonia, will be his third submission for the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-language Film
Finnish director Klaus Härö admits that he had never imagined he would make a film in Estonia, until he received the screenplay for The Fencer [+see also:
interview: Ivo Felt
film profile]. He read 15 pages, then “I thought this story was so brilliant, so cinematic. I’d love to do it,” he later said in an interview.
“This film manages to find optimism, humanity and beauty in a tragic historical era,” explained the Finnish Oscar committee, which praised it for “its classical and solid storyline” when deciding to submit it for the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-language Film. It is Härö’s third effort to qualify for the nomination – both of his first two films, Elina: As If I Wasn’t There (2002) and Mother of Mine [+see also:
film profile] (2005), were official candidates. Besides this, his four features – two produced in Finland, two in Sweden – have won more than 60 prizes on the international festival circuit.
Finnish writer Anna Heinämaa’s original screenplay is based on the true story of Estonian fencer and coach Endel Nelis, who is on the run from the Soviet secret police. When he arrives in Haapsalu, in Estonia, he gets a job as a teacher of physical education, and finds it difficult to communicate with his pupils, until he starts to train them in fencing.
Estonian actors Märt Avandi and Ursula Ratasepp play the leads in the film, which is set in the 1950s; in spite of problems with the head teacher, the fencing coach gradually realises that life in this small coastal town is exactly what he has dreamt of – until a dilemma arises: should he or should he not return to take part in a fencing tournament in Leningrad?
Produced by Kai Norberg and Kaarle Aho for Finland’s Making Movies, with Estonia’s Allfilm and Germany’s Kick Film, The Fencer received the German Bernhard Wicki Film Award at the Munich International Film Festival on 2 July. Nordisk Film Finland is handling local distribution, while US/UK firm The Little Film Company is in charge of international sales.