Review: In the Crosswind – Risttuules (2014)

In the Crosswind – Risttuules (2014)

Directed by: Martti Helde | 87 minutes | drama, history | Actors: Laura Peterson, Tarmo Song, Mirt Preegel, Ingrid Isotamm, Einar Hillep

Surprisingly many people’s lives actually show parallels, certainly in a radical period such as the Second World War. ‘In the Crosswind’ (‘Risttuules’), the feature film debut of Martti Helde, born in 1987 in the Estonian capital Tallinn, tells the story of Erna and Heldur, a young married couple, parents of a cute daughter Eliide, but at the same time of tens of thousands victims of the brutal regime of Russian authorities. Erna and Heldur live in an idyllic place (dream-like in the catchy opening scenes). They are healthy, in love and very happy. But then the Second World War enters the life of the young couple. On the orders of Josef Stalin, tens of thousands of residents from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are deported. So are Erna, Heldur and Eliide. The couple is separated from each other, Erna and Eliide along with countless other women and children are transported to Siberia in a cattle truck, Heldur disappears to a penal camp.

Helde based his film, which follows the female protagonist after the divorce of the two lovers, on the letters Erna – who actually existed – wrote to her husband in diary form. Erna knows exactly how to analyze and display the daily course of events. The inhumane situations in which she, her daughter and her fellow prisoners find themselves are articulated in razor-sharp, but also poetic terms. The desire for her husband is so intense that the viewer is overcome with emotions. At first, there is hope in her words, but as time goes on and uncertainty grows, her reflections become more philosophical (the real Erna was a philosophy student, an exception at the time). However, the beauty of her letters is not lost. The fate of these people seems predestined immediately after deportation, and this deprivation of freedom of choice remains shocking, even though you have seen or read hundreds of films or books about the Holocaust.

What is special about ‘In the Crosswind’ is the way in which Helde has shaped this moving history. In moody black and white, he brings the story to life with a series of thirteen tableaux vivants. The camera moves slowly along and around the characters, who seem frozen in time, in their actions, but not quite. By a minute movement, it can be a puff around the mouth, a blinking eye or a fluttering skirt, the viewer sees that it is actually a set, with live actors. Cleverly, the off-screen pose changes every now and then in that same shot when you get back to Erna, for example, so you can see what the next picture is like in a comic strip. It is stunning, original and an incredibly fitting technique to tell this forgotten story. It took the filmmaker a lot of preparation time (two to six months for one scene, after which it was shot in one day), but what a satisfaction the end result gives.

You can also tell the talent of this young filmmaker from the sound effects. The clatter of the wagons, the penetrating whispers of people, glasses of drink being poured, it provides an enchanting combination with the heartbreaking images. ‘In the Crosswind’ is like no movie you’ve ever seen and jumps right into the top five must-see movies. Tears of emotion for this gem of a film.

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