The Fencer (2015) Poster

(2015)

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10/10
Great film featuring both good fencing and history
turok-912129 February 2016
When I first heard about this film, I was rather apprehensive about its portrayal of fencing. Too often such films fall prey to unrealistic swordplay, or to relegating the fencing to some metaphors and maybe a lunge every now and then.

Not so with this movie. Not only are the lessons portrayed in a realistic way, the tournament itself had the feel of an actual tournament and the actions executed looked like they were supposed to. I did notice the modern scoring system was used, but I assume this is so as not to confuse the viewer; the old system kept track of hits scored against a fencer, and as such the numbers would be reversed.

History-wise, it gave a good picture of the time period and the perils in which Soviet citizens found themselves.

In my eyes, the only 'weak point' would be that the underdog story is a rather standard one, but I honestly didn't feel that it detracted from the movie at all.
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8/10
Beautiful film about small people under the Soviet rule.
sakari-lonn4 April 2015
A good film about seldom-seen topic. Living was difficult and sometimes dangerous under the Soviet rule in Estonia straight after WW II and Klaus Härö's film tells story about that. It has been built around true story about a teacher which teaches his pupils to fence.

Problem on this film was that I knew too much about the story before seeing it. So it didn't give many surprises.

Not much to complain about directing, acting or anything else. Maybe the story needed something more to be more interesting but the film depends on true story so it could have been wrong to make up something.

Best thing about this film is that there is used both languages Estonian and Russian. So the characters use the right languages. It is of course subtitled.
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10/10
Slow paced, poignant, captivating, well-acted gem
KHamblin-122 October 2016
I came across this gem by accident. A friend gave me several movies and I only just found this one 8 months later. I found this movie extremely touching. The pace was slow but I found that this accentuated the underlying emotions and I was captivated from start to finish. I have certainly seen other movies with this basic plot but this movie stood out because the performances were deep and poignant. I like many Hollywood movies but this was noticeably different: At once simpler -- with less "action" and less dialogue and less "spelling everything out" and maybe at the same time more complex because of what was portrayed in a look or a silence. Glad I watched this.
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8/10
A well-crafted and touching tale of heroism without fanfare under Stalinist rule.
CineMuseFilms3 December 2016
The 'inspiring teacher' film has many variations but its core narrative is always the same: a teacher helping children realise their dreams. The Fencer (2015) is an uplifting story told with sensitivity towards the harsh landscapes of Estonia and a nation that has experienced more terror than Hitchcock could imagine. At its heart is a morality play of historical proportions and a lone teacher's commitment to do what is best for children.

Elite fencer and coach Endel Nelis (Mårt Avandi) escapes Leningrad in the early 1950s to avoid Stalin's secret police. At 18 he was drafted by the Nazis and after the Soviet invasion all men who ever wore the Nazi uniform were sent to Siberia. He hopes for obscurity as a sports teacher in a small Estonian village but the secret police have eyes everywhere. Endel lives in fear and so does the village where most of the menfolk have been taken away in darkness never to be seen again. Amidst this paranoia, he starts a class in the traditional discipline of fencing but his initiative is resented by authorities who investigate his past. Meanwhile he finds romance and the children progress so quickly they are soon pleading to compete in Leningrad. Endel knows if he takes them he may never return.

The filming of this story is its major strength. The camera is in the middle of the fencing classes watching the children develop in an artform based on balletic grace, speed, and knowing precisely when and where to strike. The children's growing sense of control contrasts with the lack of control they have over their lives under Stalinist rule. As Endel becomes a father figure he also becomes another person to lose. Although urged by his former coach to flee again he becomes emotionally invested in the children and his blossoming romance. Several close-up scenes of Endel relating to the children and his girlfriend are poetic portraits of hope struggling against the tyranny of the times.

The story has a dual climax and both are heart-warming and inspirational. The village children bravely compete against big city schools, and the fencing matches themselves are exciting spectacles of cut and thrust. Endel's own survival plays out with all the hallmarks of an espionage thriller and he must live with the consequences of his moral choice. Understated acting performances, minimalist dialogue translations and a balance of political tension and youthful hope help steer the film away from the most obvious clichés of the inspiring teacher genre. This is a well-crafted and touching tale about heroism without fanfare that lives on through Endel's fencing school still operating today.
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7/10
Good film with fine cast
av-ankur18 December 2015
"The Fencer" is a typical sports and underdog film: which make you root for the underdog. It's slightly different from many others in that there is some history for solid context: however, that also has been done so far, and the director does not experiment much with the pace of the film. Some of the landscapes are beautiful, and in my opinion they afforded the director to be much slower and absorbed in the atmosphere, like the German film "Barbara" did, but that does not happen. However, the film is a lovely watch and touches your heart because of the fine cast: a special mention should be made here for the boy (Joonas Koff) playing Jaan, who has given the most impressive performance of the film.
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8/10
Another fine example of Estonian film under foreign direction
BeneCumb26 February 2016
Last year, we could all witness the fame of Estonian-Georgian film Tangerines which got both Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination, and lots of fame and praise among exacting audience. And another surprise already this year - the film in question, a Finnish/German/Estonian co-production which was nominated for Golden Globe "only"...

As I kept track of the origin and development of this film, I did not even think of it as a kind of sports film, although fencing plays here a significant role, both directly and in the background. Later I have read that several foreign viewers had previously perceived it as a sports film but were pleasantly surprised afterwards that it was no Rocky within the different kind of sports but a realistic picture of a Stalin-era town in a Soviet Estonia. The atmosphere and environment are depicted in a realistic manner, enhanced by post-WWII poverty and gray weather scenes, but there is enough space for human dimension and even some romance.

Althouh the plot is not totally smooth, the great performances and taut moments provide additional value to the film. Actors like Märt Avandi or Hendrik Toompere could be easily used abroad as well, and all children did their best (in many films, children lines seem mugged up, but not here).

All in all, a good film about surviving and making choices under tough and unpredictable circumstances, when every "hobby" or non-ideological endeavour helped to move beyond the misery around - at least temporarily.
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8/10
Looking for a new start while the past is on the tail.
Reno-Rangan4 April 2016
The 2016's Golden Globe nominee and also Finland's submission for the Oscars in the same year, but failed to get into the final five. Produced by the Baltic nations that set in when Estonia was a part of the USSR in the early 50s. It chronicles the story of Endel Nelis, a man who's on the run arrives in a small town called Haapsalu to teach the school children sports.

As his life is in danger, he intends to keep a low profile for a while. But seems everything is turning around him against him when he decides to teach his students fencing. It brings a large attention to the surroundings. Then comes a time where he must confront what he's hiding from which brings an end to the narration with little extended end part that reveals further details about the later event.

"It's good to have them focus on something, keep them occupied. It takes their mind off things."

This is a very short story, but somehow the movie managed to run for the 90 minutes with a good pace. It did not cover the entire life story of Endel Nelis, but a small slice. So you definitely feel desperate to know about his past, but this film does not compromise on that. It has a great background score, and overall it is a very inspiring movie.

The actors were so simple, but very good in their parts. Other than the lead character Endel, the two kids Marta and Jaan were excellent. The romance was as its sub-plot, but the theme was sport so all the concentration on the fencing and nothing else. In a couple of sections it feels so cliché, but since it was based on the real, there's nothing to do about it than accepting it.

Fencing is not a popular sport in the world, so it is good to see a movie about it, but sadly it was not internationally well recognised. Like I said earlier the story was quite small, so I can't describe it in a large scale. I think I said everything I wanted to. In its limitedness the movie was pretty impressive. Not everyone who saw it going to suggest it for you, but it is worth a try.

7½/10
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9/10
Historical and poetical drama from Finland
losindiscretoscine20 October 2016
Historical and poetical drama nominated for the Golden Globes, The Fencer tells the true story of Endel Neils, played by the charismatic Märt Avandi. Endel comes back to his hometown in Estonia and try to open a fencer club in the school he works for, even though the Soviet Domination and the censorship cast a shadow over the country. The historical point of view and the period costumes give a certain charm to the love story that remains in the background. But, contrary to what we may think, the true love story is the one that joins together Endel and his students. Thank to fencing, both the children and the teacher will find a shelter where they can forget about the difficult historical context. Ant it was not in vain since the club is still open ! Full review on our blog : https://losindiscretos.org/2016/07/22/the- fencer-2015-klaus-haron/#fenceren
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admirable work
Kirpianuscus1 June 2017
a true story. this is , in too many cases, the most attractive detail. in the case of "The Fencer", the things are little more complicated. because it is, like many Estonian films, first a testimony. about politic pressure, about refuge, about passion and fundamental change. it is not easy to define it only as impressive/motivational/lovely film. because, using a well known recipes, it is a film about conscience. about self definition, honesty and duty. and, maybe, this is the great virtue of the director. to say what must be said. the story of Endel is the story of many "sinners" against Soviet rules. and this fact did it a beautiful eulogy of freedom. for me, this detail did it an admirable work.
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6/10
Intriguing Estonian film starts well but it loses momentum in the second part.
Andy-29627 March 2016
Based on a true story, this Estonian film (directed by a Finn) the film is set on 1952, when that country was under Soviet occupation. A man named Endel (Mart Avandi) arrives to a small Estonian town from Leningrad. He is obviously on the run from Soviet authorities, though we never get to know much of the back story. He presents himself to a school asking for a teaching job. He is given the physical education class, only problem is the school has no sporting equipment for the children. One day he finds in a drawer at the school a fencing sword and he starts playing with it. A girl sees him and asks him to train her in fencing. At first he refuses, but eventually announces in the school board there will be a fencing class on Saturday. To his surprise, a lot of students appear on Saturday, wanting to learn fencing. Despite his lack of charisma, the fencing classes are successful, even though they are disliked by the school director who see the sport as a remnant of a feudal past, but is outvoted by the school's parents. Eventually, Endel is so successful in training the children that he is invited to a tournament in Leningrad. The problem is that going there could blow his cover.

This is not a perfect film, it starts well, but it loses momentum in the second part. The Russians and their collaborators in Estonia (like the school director) are caricatures. And in parts of the movie, the story seems undeveloped, as when Endel starts a relationship with a woman teacher in the school.

There is a cameo as a politically persecuted grandfather of one of the boys in the school of Lembit Ufsak, who starred in the more interesting Oscar nominated Estonian film Tangerines.
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6/10
Historically interesting, story-wise not really
Horst_In_Translation4 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Miekkailija" or "The Fencer" is a Finnish/Estonian 90-minute movie from 2015 directed by Klaus Härö, a filmmaker with a long history of successful films and many awards wins, and written by Anna Heinämaa, her first screen writing effort apparently. The lead actor is Märt Avandi and, to me, he is still completely unknown, but he gives a quietly convincing performance here, nothing great, but certainly one of the better aspects of the film. I felt the movie was at its best when it completely focused on the historic background of the time, during which this film is set. The fencing is used as a means early on to elaborate on that political context and that is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, halfway into the film, the fencing becomes the center of the film and it just isn't such a relevant movie anymore at this point.

It turns basically into a "Rocky" story and I am not a fan of this film at all either. David-Goliath has been done so many times and this is one more. Too bad it is just another unrealistic one. I guess they thought showing the girl's face expressions on several occasions made this more significant or funny with the ending, but it was all so unrealistic and predictable that at times it felt difficult for me to take this film serious anymore. Of course you could interpret her fight with the bigger Russian guy as a metaphor for the protagonist fighting the system, which is much bigger than him too, but that's just grasping for straws in trying to find a deeper meaning in here.

Fact is the film lost a lot of quality around the 50-minute mark, basically at this point, during which it turns into another mediocre sports movie. The ending makes a reference back to the early political context, but the movie has gone south so much at this point already that even this is not working anymore. It feels so random that they are suddenly there coming to arrest him, but he chooses to keep watching the fight, after he fled from his home country before the film started. Is it realistic that he stays now? The film has a couple moments that had difficulties in feeling authentic. Another one would be the guy working at his new gym. Early on, he seems like the main antagonist, but at some point, completely out of nowhere, but after a truly demeaning act (did he have regrets?) he suddenly seems to feel for the main character. That really sucked as I liked him as the bad guy.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the early parts, but the longer the film went the more forgettable it became. They did not manage to elaborate convincingly on some really good aspects they brought in early. Quite a shame. This film had potential for more. On the one hand, it surprises me, despite its mediocrity during major parts, that the film is Golden-Globe nominated and made the Oscar films short-list. Then again, they love films about politics with a bit of a sentimental background. We'll see if this one gets the Oscar nomination or not or maybe even has a shot at winning. In my opinion, it's nowhere near the best 5 Foreign Language movies I have seen from this year. Still, it's not a failure either and I guess you can check it out, especially if you like "Rocky" more than I do.
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9/10
A little gem
kevin-5725228 December 2018
Beautifully shot, a script where not a word is wasted and acting that conveys the harshness and guarded nature of adults living under an authoritarian regime.

An Estonian fencer takes a job teaching physical education at an out-of-the-way school in the 1950's. Despite the lack of resources, and a principal who thinks there is more to this man than he is letting on, he decides to set up a fencing club for the children which draws the kind of attention from the authorities he was trying to avoid.
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1/10
Boring & Slow
jimk-9754320 April 2017
The movie, the acting is so slow, so poor, and the movie is filled with random clips to add time the movie. The story line is weak, and weak directing, you feel all the time that you are watching something acted in front of you, even though I have seen more believable theatre! They should have used more international experience and had the story & script reviewed by professionals.
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