When the ‘cinematograph’ was first introduced into Estonia at the beginning of the last century, it was seen as a corrupting influence: a cultural entity on par with gambling, race tracks, and circuses. People were warned not to let their children go to the cinematograph, a form of entertainment that ‘poisons, tickles, excites and corrupts’. With the country’s subsequent absorption into the Soviet Empire, the suspicion grew wilder as cinema was used as propaganda bludgeon under Moscow’s control.
These days, Estonia seems to have resolved its troubled relationship with cinema. Estonia has a rich, intensely creative history and the country’s cinematic output, especially in recent years, has included some of the most interesting films being made in Europe today. Films such as THE TEMPTATION OF ST TONY, AUTUMN BALL and THE IDIOT offered up existentialism, beauty and bleakness, interwoven with the distinctive humour and style of the Baltic region.
MUSHROOMING (SEENELKÄIK) is an out and out comedy from Toomas Hussar, his directorial debut. Hussar, who previously worked with lead actor Raivo E. Tamm in absurdist theatre productions, ‘cannot imagine life seriously’ and MUSHROOMING’s simple premise creates its comedy naturally. Aadu, a proud and pompous politician, escapes from his recent party-sanctioned humiliation on a degenerate game show, by going mushroom picking with his wife. Circumstance throws them together with rock star Zäk, another brilliant performance by Juhan Ulfsak, whose turn as the hysterical Ippolit in THE IDIOT threatened to steal the film. The couple get lost in a forest and are reliant on others to help them find their way out.
Part slapstick, part comedy of manners, part political satire, MUSHROOMING is one of Estonia’s most successful films of all time.
The film mingles these disparate elements in a satire on the conflict between social decency and people’s true and hidden natures. Hussar himself said in a recent interview ‘If you want to get to know more about people, study animal behaviour.’ Circumstance leads to more and more base behaviour for either political or physical survival. Who is displays more humanity? The ‘crazy’ who lives alone in the woods yet loves to learn, or those from ‘civilisation’ who know how to deceive to get what they want?
Part slapstick, part comedy of manners, part political satire, MUSHROOMING is one of Estonia’s most successful films of all time, even setting cultural reference points for real life political scandals. Toomas Hussar’s outlook on life is refreshing and very funny. One hopes that this will not be his last film.