There is an old saying that goes, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, all is lost”. In the Soviet Union – where a man’s life is reduced to the bare bones, with no similarities to the life he led before – it is integral to find solace in your passion and maintain your character by bringing your personality into your new reality. Thankfully that is exactly what Endel Nelis (played by Märt Avandi), the protagonist of The Fencer, did.
With countless barriers in his way, from spending his life on the run from the secret police to a boss who refuses to stir from the norm, Nelis’ true story winds up as one of the most inspiring biopics in recent years. Fleeing Leningrad to the Haapsalu in seek of a new life, Nelis began teaching children at the local school with very limited supplies. After feeling uninspired, he begins to utilise his skills to focus on creating a successful fencing club that builds a connection with the children who are eager to learn.
Most of the children were without father figures due to the incessant war dragging on around them, and the desire to impress and succeed with Nelis’ vision is vital to the story. As the children take it upon themselves to enter a tournament to showcase their skills back in Leningrad – a place where Nelis has been exiled from, and bound to never return for fear of his safety – he is left with a dilemma where there is no winner, akin to Sophie’s choice. He either gives up the children’s dream or takes a big risk in returning the Leningrad.
This is very much a film that lets the silence do the talking at times, as the cinematography and art house style convey an atmosphere in ways that words cannot. Containing a lot of similar aspects to the way in which Wes Anderson conducts his filmmaking, the director Klaus Härö has perfectly captured emotion and cannot be faulted.
The Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations of 2016 are more than justified for this wholly selfless and passionate story, giving the children of Haapsalu somebody to look up to and more importantly somebody who believed in them – almost so much, that he was willing to risk his own life to do so.
The Fencer is released in selected cinemas on 30th September 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Fencer here: