De pers over IN THE CROSSWIND – RISTTUULES
“Hartverscheurend zwart-wit en verbluffende tableaux vivants voeren je mee naar een vergeten genocide.”
De Filmkrant 5*****
“Misschien wel de perfecte visualisering (…) filmschilderijen die je soms de adem benemen.”
Trouw 4 ****
“Uitgekiende mix tussen film en fotografie (…) verbluffende tableaux vivants.”
“Visueel verbluffend werk (…) Zowel het realisme als de levendigheid van de taferelen worden versterkt door de geluidseffecten.”
Het Parool 4 ****
“De choreografie is knap, de manier van vertellen soepel; het geluid en de muziek vullen het beeld schitterend aan.”
De Volkskrant 4****
“Indrukwekkend relaas Russische holocaust.”
“Indrukwekkende, ingetogen cinema met prachtige originele soundtrack.”
“Springt met stip in de top vijf van films die je gezien moet hebben. Tranen van ontroering voor dit juweel van een film.”
“Wacht ook tot de aftiteling als het haast hypnotisch melodisch repeterende Estse volkslied Ohtu Ilu in een meeslepende koorversie uit de speakers klinkt.”
Filmtoaal.nl 4½ *****
“Naarmate de film vordert, kruipen de schilderachtige, zwart-witte taferelen steeds verder onder de huid; een film van een tijdloze schoonheid.”
Filmvandaag.nl 4½ *****
“FILM VAN DE WEEK”
The Soviet Holocaust is chillingly recounted in an Estonian woman’s letters from Siberia
A landmark film and a bitter reminder of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of 40,000 Baltic citizens at the outbreak of WWII, In the Crosswind is a not only a patriotic memorial financed by major Estonian institutions, but a timely topic in the year of Russia’s incorporation of Crimea. Here the horrors that followed the USSR’s annexation of the Baltic States in 1940 are memorably recounted in a story inspired by a real woman’s deportation to Siberia with her small daughter, while her husband was sentenced to a gulag.
What makes the film special and worthy of study in film classes is its visual language. In his impressive feature debut, Martti Helde makes the bold if controversial choice to tell the story in an unbroken series of tableaux vivants, a technique in which the actors stand stock still in dramatic poses while (in this case) the camera weaves through them.
Tableaux are not such an unusual technique to underline a highly charged moment in time, and action films in particular love to follow a bullet in slow-mo as it flies past a frozen crowd. Chris Marker and Raul Ruiz have told idiosyncratic stories this way. But it’s hard to imagine a narrative film composed entirely of stop-action, where the only discernable movement is the wind flapping a coat or an involuntary eye blink. Though the constantly roving camera and off-screen voices and sounds move the story ahead, such a massive visual experiment, in black and white to boot, demands much adjustment on the audience’s part and will limit the film’s appeal outside of festivals. Above all, it undercuts the natural emotion of the scenes, turning the horror into still pictures and distancing the characters and action. The viewer ends up marveling at the ability of more than 400 actors to freeze in position, instead of emotionally participating in Erna’s (Laura Peterson) inhuman fate in a Siberian labor camp, living on one slice of bread a day.
In the opening scenes, Erna and her beloved young husband Heldur (hyper-dignified stage thesp Tarmo Song) live an idyll in their pretty house in the country, which they share with little Eliide (Mirt Preegel) and a maid. But it’s June 14, 1941, the Soviet Union is occupying Estonia and Stalin has ordered the massive deportation of ordinary citizens. And thus, just one week before the German army invaded the Baltic countries, some 10,000 Estonians (including over 400 Jews) were rounded up without warning and sent to Soviet labor camps and prisons, while others were shot. The same thing was happening in Latvia and Lithuania with the aim to purge the Baltics of their native inhabitants.
Suddenly the family idyll turns into hell.
Based on the letters the real-life Erna wrote to her husband, without knowing where he was, the story is told through Peterson’s brave, off-screen reading voice and staged scenes which are by turns dramatic, poetic and mysteriously sinister. Along with 50 other women and children, Erna and Eliide are crammed into a cattle car, which they will ride for 26 days without changing clothes or washing. Nine people don’t make it through the journey, and Eliide weakens from dysentery even before they reach Novosibirsk. There the women, called “enemies of the people,” are forced to perform the work of lumberjacks and meet tough work quotas. Surrounded by infinite space, they are “prisoners of nature” with nowhere to run, and punishment awaits those who try to slip away. Like others, Erna has to come to terms with the local collective farm boss to avoid starvation.
Even if they’re outwardly frozen, Peterson’s expressions seem animated and courageous, showing the inner strength of a survivor. It is her face the viewer anxiously searches for in each shot. Erna’s letters ask simple but profound questions as they promise to search for Heldur as soon as she’s released.
The director has said it took two to six months to set up each tableau, climaxing in a single day of shooting. The vast cast of extras project themselves through their expressive body language, yet it’s hard to respond directly to these terrible scenes. An eerie, stylized effect is created by Erik Pollumaa’s lyrical, painterly cinematography and the free-wheeling camera that weaves through immobile groups of actors from a dreamer’s point of view. It’s a shock to find actors moving around again in the final scenes in Estonia, as though this was the present and all that went before mere memories. At this point, heart-breaking emotion floods the screen, proving how important moving faces and bodies are in the cinema.
This mix of live-action with living tableaux provides a requiem for the inhabitants of the Baltic countries whom Joseph Stalin ordered deported or killed.
Offering a unique take on the moving picture, “In the Crosswind” is a black-and-white slice of history that mixes live-action with living tableaux to provide a requiem for the inhabitants of the Baltic countries who, in the summer of 1941, were deported to Siberia or killed on Stalin’s orders. Estonian helmer Martti Helde’s debut is an art film in every sense of the word; the extraordinary visual techniques he uses to convey a sense of being frozen in time won’t be to all tastes, but those open to a different sort of cinema will find it a very poignant experience.
Although the film depicts events from more than seven decades ago, the recent Russian annexation of Crimea lends it a sense of urgency. If history truly does consist of patterns that repeat themselves, then “In the Crosswind” serves as a timely warning.
Through well-modulated voiceover narration, the pic adopts the perspective of a pretty Estonian wife and mother, Erna (Laura Peterson), whose Siberian diary, with its acute observations, provides the inspiration for the film. There is no dialogue; instead, Helde employs a highly crafted sound design that includes affecting music, imagined diegetic background sounds and the occasional muffled murmuring of voices in Estonian or Russian.
Before June 14, 1941, Erna lives in a rural idyll with her husband, Heldur (Tarmo Song), a farmer and member of the Estonian Defense League, and their young daughter Eliide (Mirt Preegel). Although some of their friends and relatives, more prescient about the fate of Estonia during the war years, urge them to flee, they decide to remain in their homeland.
From the moment that the Soviet forces arrive at their farm, time takes on another dimension for Erna. To underscore this radical change, the style of the pic changes, too. As Erna’s voice describes events and her feelings, the camera slowly pans, circles and snakes in between groupings of people, frozen in a moment of chaos and panic. Mothers reach out to their children, men grasp weapons, Soviet soldiers snarl. The tableau vivant style remains in effect until 1954, when Erna is allowed to return home.
We see women and children on their way to Siberia by train, suffering in crowded cattle cars. Unbeknownst to them, their men, bloodied and filthy, endure torture in prison camps and eventual execution. By the time Erna reaches the remote, snowy kolkhoz (Siberian collective farm) where she and the other “enemies of the people” are stationed, their ranks have thinned through hunger and disease. They are forced to perform difficult and dangerous lumberjack work and given only a mere 200 grams of bread a day, with no special allowance for the children. One of the most emotionally wrenching tableaux depicts Erna in the act of stealing some bread for the ailing Eliide.
Per press notes, each of the 13 tableaux required two to six months of preparation and only one day of shooting. In addition to obtaining or creating historically accurate costumes and props, Helde and lenser Erik Pollumaa studied paintings, sculptures and even the Alexander technique to mold the actors’ postures and expressions in the most dynamic way.
Responding brilliantly to a different sort of acting challenge, stage and screen performer Peterson evokes a full range of emotions with her voice and static body. The innovative craft package fully supports the director’s intent, with the impressive widescreen lensing a standout.