The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow: The tragic triple
by Tristan Priimägi
- Sulev Keedus returns with another exploration of the human condition, premiering in the Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
Estonia’s most seasoned arthouse director, Sulev Keedus, is presenting his new film, The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow [+see also:
interview: Rea Lest
film profile], in the form of three novellas set during different significant periods in Estonian history. Its premiere is being hosted by the Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
Three women have to overcome their respective hardships and show integrity in the face of turpitude. Maara is being forced to get married against her will in The Manslayer, set in the 19th century. In The Virgin, Ingrian Elina faces the same tough choice – the possibility of an unwanted marriage – if she wants to escape the deportation of Ingrians to Siberia in the 1950s. Finally, Luna Lee runs away from home in the third short story, The Shadow, in order to make sense of the chaotic modern life around her and to find out if there’s anything left out there to hold on to.
All three women are played by young up-and-coming actress Rea Lest, who has starred in a succession of new Estonian features and become one of the defining faces of her generation of actors. The casting of Lest to personify all three of these symbolic women in time creates a thread that binds together these three stories from different eras.
As with all omnibus films, there is a certain degree of unevenness in terms of both quality and tone. The first two novellas are similar, and manage to be wistful and emotionally expressive at the same time. In light of the recent wave of feminist revisionism, Keedus’ latest seems to imply that women have been grossly mistreated throughout history, and we owe a lot to their struggle to maintain some form of acceptable existence. In The Manslayer and The Virgin, Lest demonstrates quiet control even in the wildest moments. The third novella, which takes place in the present day – The Shadow – veers suddenly towards the surreal and could be viewed as a revisiting of the mood depicted in his last feature, Letters to Angel, where a man, lost for years at war, finally returns home only to see that the world has moved on and he cannot make sense of it any longer. The Shadow introduces a flurry of characters, most of them acting irrationally, creating a sense of confusion on both the visual and the narrative levels. Keedus has confessed that he feels out of sync with the modern day, where the truth has become fragmented and manifold. The crucial scene in The Shadow, where the old man, Heino (Evald Aavik), walks into the sea, could be seen as a quiet, dignified surrender.
The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow plays a little bit like a composite of familiar tropes from Estonian cinema. The Manslayer brings to mind November [+see also:
interview: Rea Lest
film profile]’s rural dirt, and The Virgin evokes the stifling atmosphere of the 1950s, as seen in The Fencer [+see also:
interview: Ivo Felt
film profile]. While not exactly a return to Keedus’ seminal early works, like Georgica and Somnambulance, The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow offers an intriguing, if slightly disorientating, film experience.
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