(a “SPECIAL FEATURES DVD interview with the film’s director, Klaus Härö” review by Timothy J. Verret)
Truth be told, I was not prepared to write a review of THE FENCER (2015), as I was ever so slightly underwhelmed at this film’s conclusion, but after watching the SPECIAL FEATURES DVD interview with the film’s director, Klaus Härö, I knew I had no other choice. I seek to bridge that interview with the actual film in this review, as coupled together I can now see how they wonderfully and spiritually feed off each other. Yes, BOTH!
THE FENCER (2015) is a Finnish/an Estonian film adapted from the real-life story of Endel Nelis, an accomplished Estonian fencer and coach who is basically on the run from the Soviet Police. What “fences” Endel in, as does most, is his sordid yet “did I have a choice?” past and how that comes back to haunt him, maybe for good. When films go the political or war route, I’m typically going for the hills unless same is in the background, lingering but not protruding, which is the case in this film. And this should be in the background because THE FENCER is a “triumphant human” story, a story about relationships, and a story about professional and personal triumph, all things that can easily get hijacked when politics and war in a film predominate. Endel teaches fencing to some wide-eyed and cute-as-a-button little ones, but alas he teaches them much more. He teaches them about focus, technique, and responsibility when fencing (and not) but, above all, Endel plays a hugely patriarchal role in these children’s impressionable minds and hearts. Not to bring up the “war” stuff too much that I just discounted, but many of these children had fathers who abandoned them because of the war or the affiliation therein, so the last thing Endel wants to do is abandon them one more time. He, in fact, puts all his cards on the table (I know, wrong game!) to NOT abandon them for fear of crushing what little hope they have left in someone, a father figure, to believe in them and never leave them. In this respect, THE FENCER is a VERY spiritual film (as you will see below in Klaus Härö’s interview), because I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Endel is a “Father God” figure to these children, and he backs up this Bible verse with his great love and devotion to these “fencing” children. What I think had slightly underwhelmed me about THE FENCER is that when Endel and the children head off to a fencing tournament, as THE KARATE KID exciting as this part of the film was, it was hard to get too excited because the film did not explain the fencing techniques and rules all that well. Of course, that could just be me as someone who is VERY “un-sports-inclined.”
Now, I get to talk about the SPECIAL FEATURES DVD interview with the film’s director, Klaus Härö, most definitely my favorite part of this review of THE FENCER. Director Härö is a very handsome fellow, so let me just get that out of the way. But handsome or not, Härö is very intelligent, very honest, and very spiritual. Those traits right there put in the background, ironically like the war and politics I mentioned above, his good looks. The interviewer asks Härö some really probing questions in this interview that the director handles effortlessly. What is revealed along the way is how completely “human” Härö is and why he probably chooses only projects that are “human,” as well, i.e., films about the triumph of the human spirit (with the word, “spirit” in BOLD). One question the interviewer asks Härö is, “What films influenced you to be a film director?” Now, this might have been wishful thinking on my part, but I just knew at that question Häröh was going to mention an Ingmar Bergman film….and he did! He actually mentioned the Swedish film, THE BEST INTENTIONS (1992), that was NOT directed by Bergman (Bille August sat in the director’s chair), though Bergman wrote the screenplay to this film, and the film was about Ingmar Bergman’s parents. Maybe Bergman chose not to direct this film because it “hit too close to home.” I’m embarrassed to say I don’t believe I saw this film (though I will now, of course), probably because it was not directed by Ingmar Bergman. What Härö says about the influence of this film is that it had such a simple premise and storyline and yet tackled with such great drive and fire the complexity of human relationships and human emotions. Härö even coined a recovery term when he said he likes films, like these, that “keep it simple.” The other film that Härö mentioned as an influence, and this really blew me away maybe because it was an American film, was E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL (1982). Härö described how he saw this film as a youngster (I take it) at an IMAX theatre in Helsinki, Finland, and when Elliot and his friends on “simple” bikes escaped the police by flying into the air because of E.T.’s powers, Härö knew that he could become and desperately wanted to become a film director. He clearly saw the impossible in that scene and knew that all things would be possible for him with that movie magic! Restated (and I don’t think Härö would mind), “all things are possible to those who believe” (Mark 9:23). This prayerful insight on my part also makes Klaus Härö a VERY spiritual film director.
And keeping this review on the spiritual plane and even personalizing it a bit, I searched all my life for a “father,” like Endel Nelis, who would never leave me nor forsake me. I found that in Father God, and I’m so happy these children in THE FENCER found a father in Endel. And going back to this very handsome film director, did I fail to mention that Märt Avandi, the actor who plays Endel, is also very handsome? Okay, Timothy, enough! End the review….NOW! 😉