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1960s: GREAT DEVELOPMENTS IN ESTONIAN FILM


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Khrushchev's era of the Thaw in the Soviet Union meant new possibilities for Estonian film. The beginning of the 1960s introduced numerous young professional filmmakers in Estonia, educated either in VGIK (Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography) or GITIS (Russian University of Theatre Arts).

Virve Aruoja (b. 1922) directed „Joller the Actor“ (1960) that denoted innovation in the field of feature films – the film was produced by Estonian Television, apart from the film production system directed by Moscow authorities. „Men From the Fisherman's Village“ (1961), directed by Jüri Müür (1929-1984), was produced by Tallinnfilm, telling the story about Estonian fishermen whose boat is drifting to Finnish coast in a storm. Instead of applying the logical and compulsory ideological schemes (contradictions of the era of the Cold War: criticism of the capitalist world and crossing the borders of the Soviet Union as a „crime“), Jüri Müür's debut feature film was free of clichés and true to nature. 

Among the following works by Jüri Müür, „Devil on Earth“ (co-directed with Grigori Kromanov in 1964) must be emphasized. Literary adaptations in film production were used earlier as well, but the choice of literature was much different, even of questionable quality. The film is based on the novel „Devil on Earth“ by famous Estonian author Anton Hansen Tammsaare known as a writer of complex language – it must have been a serious challange for the filmmakers to adapt the allegorical and mythical story. Bringing the top literary works to the screen fulfilled several functions back then; on one hand providing matter of artistic value to the developing art of film, and on the other hand offering certain opportunity to work independently from the directives of Moscow.

„What Happened to Andreas Lapeteus“ (1966), directed by Grigori Kromanov, became an important landmark of the era of the Thaw, analyzing the problems of the cult of personality during the Stalinist era. The co-fighters who have confronted death go separate ways during the post-war years – why?

The great rise in Estonian film in the 1960s culminated in „Madness“ (1968) directed by Kaljo Kiisk (1925-2007). The film with Dürrenmatt-ish dramaturgy full of notions and paradoxes depicts the events in a mental hospital in the last days of World War 2.

How can madness be defined in this story? Can this be applied to the mentally sick people who have failed to withstand the inhumaneness of the totalitarian regime? Or the blind believers of the cult of Führer – the so-called „healthy“ who is madly and faithfully hunting a British spy who is supposedly hiding himself within the hospital walls?

Undoubtedly, Kiisk's „Madness“ belonged to the films of high artistic quality of all times [screenplay by Viktors Lorencs (1927-1992); cinematography by Anatoli Zabolotsky (1935); leading role by Jüri Järvet]. However, because of the weighty social and political message the film met ideological disapproval in Moscow and was banned for screening (the film had restricted screenings only in Estonian SSR; wider audiences across the Soviet Union saw the film only during the times of perestroika).

This was a serious setback both for Kaljo Kiisk and Estonian film in general. During the following years, sensitive subjects and issues had to be hidden between the lines in order to reach the big screen. For instance, socially sensitive Kromanov had to start making genre films from now on.

The soundtrack songs in the romantic adventure film „The Last Relic“ (1969) are influenced by the thirst for freedom, based on Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt (lyrics by Paul-Eerik Rummo, music by Uno Naissoo). Despite of the historical scenery the film is referring to the Soviet times where the film was produced. Kromanov's „The Last Relic“ is probably the most successful and widely known Estonian film of all times.

With its simplicity and sincerity, „Spring“ (1969) directed by Arvo Kruusement (b. 1928) won the hearts of Estonian cinema audience. The film is based on a popular youth novel „Spring“ by Oskar Luts. By all means, „Summer“ (1976) and „Autumn“ (1990) had to follow. „Spring“ was awarded the title of the Estonian film of the century during the celebrations of Estonian Film 100 in April 2012.

The 1960s would be not complete without mentioning the evergreen comedy „Men Don't Cry“ (1968), directed by Sulev Nõmmik (1931-1992). Among the most popular Estonian actresses of the 1960s, Ada Lundver (1942-2011) should be mentioned, even if some of her roles have been not much recognized [„What Happened to Andres Lapeteus?“; „Dark Windows“ (1968) directed by Tõnis Kase (1929)].

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