‘American Summer’: Finally a good Estonian comedy (1)
Rain Rannu’s “American Summer” was made with modest means, but the film doesn’t leave a cheap impression at all. A fast-moving comedy, it depicts the lives of booksellers, which would almost make it a documentary, if it weren’t for the acting, which at times is deliberately over the top.
“Estonian comedy” has become a term that doesn’t make many laugh anymore, because the attempts to please the masses often as not have seen it descend into tasteless vulgarity. But the humor of Rannu’s film is refreshingly healthy. It’s clearly visible that its makers are having a friendly, not a mean laugh at their characters. And their troubles are obviously based on true events. If you think about it, it all doesn’t seem all that exaggerated, only the presentation is grotesque, the kind the young booksellers would use themselves when they talk about their adventures in America to good friends sometime later.
The film is one summer’s story, told in an hour and a half. Striking symbols are found to convey the controversy of the people themselves in the film’s language, for example, with Alan (Jarmo Murumaa) stressing the necessity of only speaking to each other in English all the time in order to blend in better, while at the same time the bunch always listen to Estonian music in the car. The film’s soundtrack at least to me came with lots of joy of recognition, but there could also just be a generational quirk behind it.
The main part is played by Einar Kuusk, the facial expression of whose character Martin certainly gained a lot from Kuusk’s earlier practice as a Youtuber. Helena Pruuli’s character Anna is Latvian, but still comes across as an Estonian girl – meaning the performance is about as plausible as Americans playing Russians in Hollywood films, but it’s not really annoying in the case of this film. Kristo Viiding’s Norris is essentially the Duracell bunny, constantly sporting a keep-smiling face. Murumaa’s character Alan also relies on facial expression a lot.
It would be difficult to make another film like this. On one hand, it’s a quite personal story, as Rain Rannu, the director and writer of the film, used to work as a door-to-door bookseller himself in America one summer. On the other hand, only young actors to whom 18-hour shooting days on the other side of the world and a potentially hypothetical pay check are not insurmountable problems can afford to participate in such an ascetic film. “American Summer” made it to the silver screen with the help of crowd-funding, with no state funding at all, but the future of the whole Estonian film industry couldn’t be based on that model.
Who should watch it? At the screening that took place in the Sakala Centre in Viljandi, the audience was largely younger people, and even the filmmakers describe it as a youth film. But when “American Summer” is broadcast on TV one day, it will definitely be suitable evening entertainment for an older older age group as well.
Watch the trailer of “American Summer” here:
Andres Laiapea is an Estonian culture blogger and former civic activist. He ran a political blog for 13 years called the “Infopartisan” and has been a supporter and candidate of several protest movements, the Pirate Party among others. He writes for Culture.ee’s blog from time to time.