|Title:||In the Crosswind|
|Cast:||Laura Peterson, Tarmo Song, Mirt Preegel a.o.|
|Released:||2014, on DVD in 2017|
|Playing time:||87 minutes|
On June 17, 1940, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were invaded and annexed by the Soviet Union. This resulted from the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that was signed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on August 23, 1939. Between the two dictatorships it was agreed that the Baltic states would come inside the Soviet sphere of influence. The Communist occupation would last about a year because following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, these countries were taken by the Germans. The short-lived Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1941 did leave its marks however. Tens of thousands of inhabitants of the Baltic states were designated "enemies of the state" and deported to Siberia from where they would return years after the war, provided they had survived the primitive living conditions.
These deportations, less known in comparison to the prosecution of Jews, is the subject of the movie "In the Crosswind" (original title Ristuules). During a picture research in an archive in Estonia, Estonian film producer Martii Hiede (19877) a few years ago, an employee drew his attention to the diary of a young Estonian female, Erna Nagel. She had kept it in an exercise book in the years she and her daughter Eliide stayed in exile in Siberia. The producer was so impressed by her story she had written down in the form of letters to her husband Heldur, he selected her as the star person in his movie. After a journey of several days in cattle and goods trucks, the women ended up in the extreme eastern part of Russia while her husband was being transferred to a prison camp. He was a member of the Estonian militia and consequently designated a political enemy by the new authorities. His spouse would only learn of his fate after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. She herself was employed in Siberia in a kolkhoz under dismal conditions in forestry and reclamation.
Right from the start, one will notice the movie is anything but average. Of course, one recognizes the black and white images from Schindler’s List where they had a monumental influence. In this Estonian production though, it goes beyond a lack of color, the movie also lacks dialogues, a plot and physical interaction between the actors. Even moving images are mostly absent. In their place, there are 13 tablets which be disrespectfully compared to the recent popular "mannequin challenge" on social media. A more respectful comparison can probably be made with diorama’s in museums but the movie publisher describes them as tableau vivantes. Actors are placed motionless in various interior and exterior décors while the camera moves over them. We see for instance an ice cold, snow covered forest where Erna and her companions are working but also the railway platform, guarded by Soviet soldiers from where she and the others are deported to Siberia.
Facial expressions, frozen movements and the emanation of the décors are the ingredients that tell the story, along with spoken quotes from the diary of the star person and excerpts from historic Soviet speeches. In addition there is music and one hears sounds like the whistling of an icy wind. Remarkably, there is movement in the décors like falling snow and the wind ruffling a woman’s skirt. With these few dynamics and without any vivacity, a pictures emerges of the gruesome privations these exiles were subjected to. While they were intended to colonize Siberia, for many it was a one way trip to a nasty death from starvation, cold and other vexations. It is clever how Martii Hiede manages to convey this misery with limited means at his disposal but "In the Crosswind" is a work of art and not a feature film. Projector onto a wall in an exhibition room the tableaus will be much more impressive than on a television screen for almost 90 minutes. One will soon have enough of this way of presentation. Whoever expects a gripping, dramatic filming of this tragic episode in history, forgotten in the West, will have to look for the next screening.