A Film a Week - u.Q.

 previously published on Cineuropa


The name Uku Kuut might not sound familiar outside Estonia or selected music circles in Europe and America, but he was quite a phenomenon both regarding his art and his life story. The story about Uku and his mother, the jazz diva Marju Kuut (also known as Maryn E. Coote) is told by Ivar Murd in his second feature-length documentary u.Q. which just world-premiered in the Baltic Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

After a quick prologue in which various people, mostly musicians, both Estonian and foreign, talk about how they got to know of Uku or got in contact with him, the story turns to his mother Marju and her beginnings as the singer of a hotel band. It was the '60s, she was 17 and usually the only woman in the band, so she often got hit on by her fellow band members. From her relationship with the trumpet player Ivar Krull, she got pregnant and gave birth to Uku who, apparently, gave himself this name by repeating the same sound. Their life journey full of adventure led the nice boy and his mother to Sochi in the '70s (where the two got really connected and where Uku discovered his interest in music), Stockholm in the early '80s (where Uku had his first electro-pop band) and eventually to Los Angeles in the late '80s where the duo created and produced music in the pop-funk and soft jazz register.

They returned to Tallinn in the early '90s, just before the final collapse of the Soviet Union, and tried to power and ride the wave of change, bringing their Western experiences to Estonian society. Uku got married twice, could never handle his money, went into several business ventures, got ALS, tried to combat it by getting back to music and eventually died of the illness. His relationship with his mother who was also his best friend and frequent creative partner was the central one in his life.

Ivar Murd covers the whole story of Uku's relatively short but somewhat adventurous life, during which he travelled to many places and saw many changes of system, in a very snappy fashion and in the compact format of an 83-minute documentary. The end result might as well have been a superficial film, in which the filmmaker checks the boxes of the clichéd portrait musical documentary, but it is not the case here, despite a structure divided into numerous short chapters. Murd's approach is smart enough to avoid the usual traps: there are no talking head interviews, the interviewees\ talks and remarks which sound as though they are coming over the phone line (kudos to the sound designer) are illustrated by a variety of different visual materials from different sources (personal and official archives) in different video formats (mostly Super-8, Beta and VHS, but also modern digital ones) edited by the helmer himself in a rapid fashion. With music by both the mother and son Kuut, u.Q. serves as an apt introduction to Uku's work, an intriguing view into his personal life and also as a testimony to some interesting times in recent history.

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