The Temptation of St Tony

The Temptation of St Tony

Format: DVD Region 1

Release date: 25 January 2011

Distributor: Olive Films

Director: Veiko &#213unpuu

Writer: Veiko &#213unpuu

Original title: Püha T&#245nu kiusamine

Cast: Taavi Eelmaa, Ravshana Kurkova, Tiina Tauraite, Sten Ljunggren, Denis Lavant

Estonia 2009

110 mins

The Temptation of St Tony website

It needs to be said that Tony (Taavi Eelmaa) is not an angel. Tony exhibits rarely the defenceless qualities that other characters see as angelic traits, and only then does he do so to highlight the abject emotional poverty of the people he is surrounded by. In every other instance Tony is as cold as the world around him, lacking the iconic properties of sainthood or martyrdom. Tony is unmoving, and unmoved by his immediate landscape. Tony’s outbursts - such as they are - are tiny compared to the scale of atrocity heaped upon the earth. Tony is swimming in big themes, big metaphors, but doesn’t have the power to react to them himself. Tony is not where the audience can find themselves. Tony is a role played onscreen.

The ordeals are unevenly distributed among five parts. They may see Tony’s father buried, his wife cheating on him, his spirituality shaken, his workers sacked, his mistress abused, his car hit a dog, his life threatened. They may not. It is unclear how these intersect with the surreality of a pastor possessed, Satan’s private club The Golden Age, the ritualised slaughter and devouring of whores. The symbolism is heaped, it doth overflow, it bludgeons the viewer about the head with the words INTERPRET ME until five parts seem like five thousand.

Tony’s landscape is a panorama of depression. Empty vistas filled with negative space swamp the screen in shades of grey of cinematographer Mart Taniel’s vision, drowning every character, isolating them among loved ones. Where there are buildings there are no trees; where there is nature it is permitted no beauty. It is a caricature of the contemporary suburban landscape, wet with mud, striking but grotesque. When scenes end, fading to white or black, the characters are literally swallowed by this bleak world - you may find yourself hoping that when the sequences fade back in they are no longer alive to live through the ceaseless horror of existence. Yes, the threat of unburied bodies lies in every frame, but that certainty becomes one of the film’s only redeeming qualities.

There are, in the first act, glimmers of a world without hate, cast into darkness by bystanders who say things like ‘A life isn’t worth a shit’. After that the metaphysical evisceration of love, marriage, religion and glamour is superseded by the physical evisceration of Nadezhda (Ravshana Kurkova), the only person that represents escape. She is the closest to human that any character comes in the film, allowed to portray a grand total of two emotional traits - the sadness of a doting and loyal daughter and the feistiness of a whore - while lacking the agency to do anything but submit to the darkness of her circumstances.

The Temptation of St Tony leaves the viewer desolate, inconsolate, incredulous. There remains, throughout, a distinct lack of temptation, no moment of promise or redemption, no sense that Tony has any say in his destiny. Instead the slow crawl to its brutal, silent finale is crushing and depressing. The world the film inhabits is, in its totality, entirely shit and the viewer has no reason to believe otherwise. Its desired effect is to upset, but it lacks the emotional traction for that; instead the viewer is moved only if they project their feelings about lust, hate and horror onto the screen. You come to despise the film as object, not the content.

Matthew Sheret

The Temptation of St Tony will be released on Region 1 DVD by Olive Films on 25 January 2011. More information at Olive Films and on the The Temptation of St Tony website.