AUTUMN BALL (Veiko Õunpuu, 2007)

Heavily influenced by David Lynch (what Estonian film isn’t?), as well as by Aki Kaurismäki, Veiko Õunpuu’s first feature is largely set in a prefabricated 1970s housing complex whose grounds, a construction mess, resemble an abandoned war field in the African desert in Werner Herzog’s Fata Morgana (1969). A tone poem of frayed or desperate relationships in a lonely urban environment, Sügisball suffuses harsh reality with deadpan humor and poetic dreaminess, punctuating it with outbursts of violence. Like Chantal Äkerman’s Toute une nuit (1982), its episodes catch human drama at a point of high intensity.
     Õunpuu’s confidence and expressive clarity are such that when he applies agonizing slow motion to someone’s behavior we think agony rather than slow motion.
     There is a wonderful scene where a woman breaks up with her bored partner by confronting him with “the truth.” He is like a Bergman character suffering God’s silence in a black-and-white world, she tells him! Indeed, there is a good deal of silent suffering in this film, such as that of young coat attendant, who gets plenty of sexual action, but all of it fleeting and poor compensation for his lowly status. One day a drunk filmmaker stumbles in and Theo “loses it,” dragging the celebrity out for a drubbing and possible killing; the man’s face is out of the frame, but Theo keeps punching and punching, visibly bloodying his own hand and splattering his white shirt. When Õunpuu erases all sound, we know that Theo has retreated into his own head; Theo keeps punching the unseen man, but neither of them at this point is feeling a thing.
     Sügisball is based on what I gather is Mati Unt’s semi-autobiographical novel. A major character is named Mati.
     Best film, Brussels, Valencia; best director, Thessaloniki, Bratislava.

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