Inspirational teachers aren’t limited to any one time or place. “The Fencer,” a Finnish-Estonian-German coproduction drawn from a true story, may be set in Estonia in the early 1950s, when the Soviet Union occupied the country, but it follows squarely in the footsteps of “Dead Poets Society” and “Stand and Deliver.”
This movie’s hero is Endel (Mart Avandi), a champion fencer on the run from Leningrad; his wartime past, if known, would get him charged as an enemy of the people. As the film opens, he arrives in a small town, Haapsalu, where he is hired at a school and given the task of running a sports club for the students.
Soon Marta (Liisa Koppel) stumbles on him as he practices fencing in the gymnasium, and she wants to learn the sport. When he starts a fencing group, the children quickly take to it, even as they’re stuck with foils made from reeds in a nearby marsh. But the principal (Hendrik Toompere) fears that fencing isn’t appropriately proletarian. (While the character may be a stooge, it might have been helpful to give him at least one scene of doing something other than thwarting or sneering at Endel.)
The director, Klaus Haro, films the proceedings involvingly enough, particularly when it comes time for the inevitable tournament; his flowing camera moves might be correlatives to the careful balancing required by fencing. But the movie is almost relentlessly predictable and formulaic — a story of one man’s refusal to conform that dutifully hits all its marks.
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