A Film a Week - The Days That Confused / Päevad, mis ajasid segadusse

A Film a Week is a weekly column on this blog, run on Sunday for our English-language readers and friends, presenting usually local or European festival films to a wider audience. Every review is directly written and not translated.

Note #2: This review has been developed through the NisiMasa workshop on this year's edition of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It has been originally published on Nisimazine.
For Eastern Europe, the nineties consisted mostly of days that confused many people and left a whole generation in a limbo of shifting identities. Simply put, the transition from socialism to capitalism was not an easy process, and most certainly not a uniform one. The actress-turned-director Triin Ruumet tried to tackle the subject in a specific context of Estonia for her feature debut The Days That Confused.

After the introduction scene of driving wild on a patch of a gravel road, the story starts as our protagonist Allar, played by Hendrik Toompere Jr. Jr. (not a mistake - it is the full name of the actor, also known from Elmo Nüganen's WW2 epic 1944), hangs out with his group of friends at a practice session of a local women volleyball team, drinking and blasting saucy comments. The setting is summer in a rural, wooded area, and the feeling is that for these young people there is not much else to do. Allar has just finished his high-school and is not sure whether he wants to continue his education, while the prospect of becoming a woodsman or a carpenter in the only lumber company in town, does not seem appealing to him.

But when he accidentally meets Juulius (Juhan Ulfsak from Autumn Ball), a mid-level henchman for a local crime lord, the things quickly get into perspective for him. Why not become a criminal, making easy money stealing lumber instead of sweating his days in the workshop? Juulius sees the potential in the ambitious kid, and has big plans for both of them.

The problem is that the film feels disjointed, both thematically and style-wise. The reason for that can be the fact that Ruumet (born in 1988) was in her early teens during the period, so her perspective is certainly clouded, coloured by an illogical nostalgia with very little attitude towards the political moment. This is evident from the themes she keeps opening, from the base story that feels like a combination of coming-of-age story and standard crime rise-and-fall narrative, to the topics of generational and lifestyle differences between the rural and the urban that she barely touches upon.

In terms of style, the film is also inconsistent, varying from the grim realism of dusty colours, to very filtered nightmarish and dream-like sequences accompanied by score of varying music styles, from piano and strings to moody folk tunes, and aggressively loud pop hits of the period. But on the other hand, Ruumet's timing is pretty accurate, making the shifts in rhythm and pace in all the right places.

However, there is a feeling that the film is not going anywhere, not just because of thin motivations of the characters, with the exception of Allar and maybe Juulius, but because of the confusion that it creates in the terms how the audience should perceive the genre and themes. It is an interesting debut by an inspired and passionate director with a lot of good ideas that could be covered in several different films, but lacking the structure to put them together in just one.

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