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Russians turn Estonian play into a movie

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PHOTO: Kaader filmist

It could be a trivia question: what is a Russian movie based on a modern Estonian play called «Iskushenie» or «Temptation»? Doesn't ring any bells?

First clue: the play has been staged in 13 countries beside Estonia for a total of nearly 50 times, most often in Germany – in 29 theaters.

Second clue: the play has already yielded a movie in Estonia.

For those who still haven't guessed it, the correct answer is «Ristumine peateega ehk Muinasjutt kuldsest kalakesest» (The Highway Crossing, or the Tale of a Golden Fish) written by Jaan Tätte more than 20 years ago that, according to the Estonian Theater Academy, has by now become the most produced re-independent Estonian theater text abroad.

The play was first made into a movie by Arko Okk in 1999 and now by Alexander Tyurtyumov – better known in Russia as a producer and actor who has starred mainly in comedies and detective stories, including the popular television series «Lethal Force». His movie debut was produced by Saint Petersburg's ATK studio.

«I immediately liked the play the first time I read it,» Tyurtyumov told Russian publication Peterburgski Drevnik, and adds: «The only difficulty was getting permission to turn it into a movie. Because the author, well-known Estonian actor, writer, and director Jaan Tätte lives on an island. He works as a lighthouse keeper and seldom sets foot on the mainland. We finally managed to contact him; we signed the contract and Ernest Yasan started working on the script.»

Yasan is an 80-year-old screenwriter and director born in Latvia, one of the better-known movies of whom is «Please Accuse Klava K. of My Death» that become a true hit in the Soviet Union towards the end of the 1970s.

This is allegedly the first time a work by an Estonian author in Estonian has inspired foreign filmmakers. (Leaving aside international Estonians, for example Edmund Martin, who turned «Libahunt» into a movie called «Tiina»).

The 80-minute feature premiered in Vyborg at the Russian new movies review festival «Window to Europe». Criticism was merciless, even though it rather concerned the domestic program in its entirety, One critic even described it as a dilettantes' ball, rebuking the movies for detachment from reality and lack of realistic spirit.

One of the best-known Russian critics Viktor Mathiesen wrote about «Temptation» that it is a crude imitation of «Indecent Proposal» (Adrian Lyne, 1993 – T. T.) in domestic guise the morality of which boils down to the realization that youth is wasted on the young.

Critics' opinions have not stopped the movie from winning awards, however, the latest of which was bestowed at Orthodox film festival Pokrov in Kiev just two weeks ago. Special recognition went to lead actor Fyodor Dobronravov and operator Valeri Mühlgaut.

True, festivals where «Temptation» has been a part of the program aren't among the best known and currently number ten in all.

Other actors in addition to Dobronvavov, who is a very well-known movie and theater star in Russia, include Ravshana Kurkova and Kirill Zhandarov. The former should be familiar to the Estonian viewer from Veiko Õunpuu's «The Temptation of St. Tony».

The movie's content has been highlighted in that it characterizes the moral decline of modern day Russia. «An unexpected meeting between a young couple who stray from the road and an old sculptor living in the forest, and how his offer of several million dollars in the end outweighs love, dignity, and eventually human life,» the Russian introduction reads.

It remains unknown whether the director, whom Postimees was unable to contact, has seen Arko Okk's version. The trailer suggests the Russian movie plays out in a different, more realistic key. The main character, who in this version is a sculptor, is very different from Andrus Vaarik's eccentric sign painter Osvald on whose door Laura and Roland knock one evening. Elsewhere the movie seems to stay true to the source.

Jaan Tätte couldn't say anything about the new movie. «It's nice,» he says, and explains: «That play was with me 20 years ago. At one point I let it go so it could take on a life of its own. It is enough for me to hear how it has come to life again somewhere every now and again.»

«Highway Crossing» is currently being played at Saint Petersburg's Za Chernyi Rechkoi theater under the title «Four Billion Dollars, or Caution: Gold Fish!».

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