Truth and Justice (Tanel Toom, 2019): Estonia

Reviewed by Justin Tuttle.  Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2020.

Set in 1870 Estonia Truth and Justice (Code Ja Oigus), follows the story of Andres, a hearty strong man along with his wife Kroot who settle outside the farming village of Robber’s Rise.  Andres labors against a marshy, inhospitable land which he toils at farming to support his ever growing family.

The movie is directed by Tanel Toom (The Confession) who also wrote the screenplay.  It was produced by Ivo Felt (Mushrooming). The movie is an adaptation from a novel written by Anton Hansen Tammsaare which has been described as one of the most important books in Estonia. It has received accolades and awards including the Fipresci Prize nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and the Satellite Award winner for Best Motion Picture, International Film.   Truth and Justice was Estonia’s selection to represent the country at the Academy Awards.

The movie has a large cast that includes stars Prit Loog (Andres), Ester Kuntu (Mari), Priit Voigemast (Pearu), Maiken Schmidt (Kroot), Simeoni Sundja (Juss) and Maria Koff (Lisi) to name a few.

The story starts out with Andres and his wife as a newly married couple coming to Robber’s Rise to start a new life.  They have dreams, goals, and ambitions like most new couples starting out.  Having little means they are limited to land requiring a great deal of work to make productive.  One of the immediate necessities is to dig a canal to drain the marsh which much of his land is on.  He makes a deal with his neighbor Pearu to share the cost of the canal but makes an ill fated decision to allow the canal to be built on Pearu’s land, not the common boarder.  Skirmishes develop leading to a lifetime of disputes, arguments and legal actions against each other during the 24 years the film depicts.  The film follows Andres working the land with his wife Kroot and his desire to have a boy who will grow to be an heir off all Andres has built.  Over time, tragedy and heartache overshadow Andres’ farm yet he toils on working day after day.  Filled with many interconnected subplots, one gets a sense of how hard life was in Estonia during that time period.

I felt the acting was superb.  Prior Loog stood out to me with solid acting and he was able to convincingly deliver a wide range of emotions and depth of character.  Visually the movie was well done and gave a sense and feel to the drama and the elements faced by the family and those that lived in Robber’s Rise.

I had the pleasure of attending a screening that was followed by a question and answer session with the Director Tanel Toom.  He explained the process of making the film and the challenges he faced. For instance, because it was to depict a 24 year period with many changing seasons, you could not necessarily film a winter scene if there was no snow.

I would recommend this film.

(Pearu and Andres in one of there many courtroom encounters over a 24 year period.)

 

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