and the Soviet Union shared some complicated history over the last hundred
years or so. They fought at least two
wars against each other, give or take, and then brought the world the term
“Findlandization.” In contrast, Estonia
and the U.S.S.R.’s relations were more straight-forward. The latter forcibly dominated the former and
the Baltic Republic did not like it one little bit. Although it tells an Estonian story, Sofi
Oksanen’s novel has had great resonance for Finnish readers. In fact, former East Carolina University basketball
recruit Antti J. Jokinen’s adaptation of Oksanen’s international bestseller Purge has been selected by Finland as
their official foreign language Academy Award submission (trailer here).
fateful night, Zara, a sex slave fleeing her Russian mobster captors, seeks
refuge at Aliide’s remote farm house.
The old woman is instantly suspicious, but she takes in the exploited
woman nonetheless. As it happens, Zara did
not make her way there by accident. Their
tragic histories are intertwined, as the audience learns in a series of
was always a little strange. While she
fell head over heels for the dashing Hans Pekk, it is her sister Ingel who turns
his head. Yet, Aliide is more than
willing to help Ingel shelter her former freedom fighter brother-in-law from
the Soviet authorities. Frankly, she
kind of likes knowing exactly where he is at all times. Decades later, that secret hiding space under
the floor boards will come in handy again.
a case of ironic symmetry, both women will suffer tremendously at the hands of
Russians. Even though Aliide eventually
marries a true believer, she still cannot avoid seeing the inside of a
Communist torture chamber. Despite all
the humiliations Zara endures as an unwilling prostitute, Aliide’s torments are
probably even worse. As a result, Purge is often a difficult film to
watch, but it is never exploitative or moral ambiguous in the ways its presents
such horrors. Whether motivated by
ideology or sadism, the reality of rape and assault remain the same.
Birn gives an incredible performance as the mid Twentieth Century Aliide. A twitchy young woman in an apparent state of
arrested development, she is not the sort of victim figure viewers can easily
embrace. In truth, she has a bit of a
Machiavellian streak, yet she still experiences more pain and degradation than
anyone could possibly deserve.
is not afraid to confront his audience with all manner atrocities. Nonetheless, he also shows a deft touch with the
quiet moments occasionally stolen by the Estonian lovers. He clearly differentiates each time period
without resorting to distracting visual gimmicks, balancing each narrative
Purge might be a dark horse
contender, but Jokinen has Hollywood ties, having directed Hillary Swank-Kadyrov
and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in The Resident,
so who knows? It is certainly a quality period
production, which often counts for something with Academy voters. It might be a bit too honest for their tastes
though. Regardless, Purge would be an enormously worthy nominee, definitely recommended
for patrons who have a chance to catch it on the festival circuit.
Labels: 85th Academy Awards Foreign Language Submissions, Communism, Scandinavian Cinema