The Temptation of St. Tony puts a new shine on classic Surrealism
by Theodore Schwinke
Veiko Õunpuu's film The Temptation of St. Tony [+see also:
film profile], screening in Karlovy Vary's East of the West competition, is a fascinating meditation on good and evil likely to offend all the right people.
In the film Õunpuu delves deeper into alienation and hostility in modern society, which he explored in Autumn Ball [+see also:
film profile], this time letting his imagination run wild. Among the people thanked in the film's closing credits is Luis Buñuel, whose inspiration is particularly evident.
Shot in gorgeous black-and-white by Mart Taniel, the film begins with the opening lines of Dante's Divine Comedy, suggesting a soul's progress. That soul belongs to Tony, a Bentley-driving factory manager. Following his father's funeral, Tony slips from his bourgeois existence into a world of filth and depravity which, Õunpuu suggests, the middle class chooses to ignore.
Tony's discomfort with humanity is expressed in a staging of Chekov's Uncle Vanya (“The peasants are all alike; they are stupid and live in dirt, and the educated people are hard to get along with.”) His marriage is a failure. He goes in search of God, but the man he finds has also lost his faith. He falls in love with a girl, who is ultimately kidnapped. Pursuing her, he finds himself in a hellish cabaret called Das Goldene Zeitalter (cf. Buñuel's L'Âge d'or). He escapes, but without his sanity or, a closing scene suggests, his soul.
The Temptation of St. Tony is rich in references and homages, offering film fans hours of cocktail-party fodder. Playful despite its dark imagery, the film offers plenty of humor to help wash down its bitter judgment of mankind. Taavi Eelmaa (Autumn Ball) is excellent as the tortured Tony, while Rain Tolk, Sten Ljungren and Denis Lavant are outstanding in their cameos.
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