In The Fencer Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi) arrives in the small town of Haapsalu, Estonia, to take a job in a school. Among his duties is to have a sports club. But no one is very interested, until one of his students finds him practicing his fencing and asked to be taught. Many of the children join. But soon, the school administrator takes issue with Endel’s popularity and begins checking his background. He discovers that Endel is hiding out from the Soviet Secret Police. When a tournament is held in Leningrad, he must decide if he should risk his freedom to let the children advance their skills or deny them that opportunity for his own self-preservation.
Set in the early 1950s, Estonia was at that time under the control of the Soviet Union. During World War II, it bounced back and forth between the Germans and the Soviets, making many of those living there come under suspicion after the war. The war also left many of the children in Haapsalu fatherless. Endel is reluctant to be seen as a father-figure, but for the children he offers a model that has been missing for many of them.
Endel also becomes a symbol of hope, giving the children a vision of something more to their lives than the dreary post-war Soviet era life. Much of the film seems filled with grey and dull colors that point to the depressing sense that was a part of the life in Haapsalu at the time. The very act of being able to learn something as exotic as fencing gave them a vision of something more. The school administrator dismissed fencing as “a relic of feudal times”. Yet within this film it is more of a symbol for learning to fight not so much an opponent, but one’s fears and doubts.
The film cherishes the role of those (especially teachers) who show us something more in life than we are able to see. It is that new vision that serves as hope that we can become more than we have imagined.
Directed by Finnish director Klaus Härö, The Fencer received a Golden Globe nomination and was Finland’s Official Oscar entry.
Photos courtesy of CFI Releasing