the temptation of st tony

SUNDAY I went to the cinema. As part of the BFI London Film Festival I saw Estonian writer/director Veiko Ounpuu’s second feature film, The Temptation of St Tony. Having booked the tickets long enough ago for me to have forgotten about them, my friend and I went in clueless as to any details regarding the film. At most I could inform her that according to the BFI this was the type of film ‘from which cults are born’.

And so, all possible preconceptions aside we observed the opening scene unfurl in grainy black & white, to the accompaniment of a shaky band. We laughed out load at the dead pan reaction of the characters to the startling incident that ensued. And then puzzled as to which country the film was set in upon hearing the alien language that sporadically escaped their lips. On reflection perhaps this was the best way in which to encounter the film, as inevitably it would catch you off guard at each turn anyway.

As if in a trance, one is confronted with the increasingly surreal incidents that are encountered by Tony, a middle-aged man who has reached a crisis point, the result of which is the loss of his job, his family, and a grasp of reality itself.

Visually the film excites. Beautifully shot in black and white this format serves not only to reflect how grey and desolate Tony’s surroundings can at times be, but also impressively heightens the viewer’s perception of the events themselves. Variety was the key. At times the camera would pan calmly over a scene allowing you to absorb every minute detail, and at others one was bombarded with the abstract or the bizarre.

However most memorable for me was the use of sound. Speech was not of utmost importance within this film. ( NB. At this point I must criticise the subtitles, for I am sure that due to the infrequency of them what words were spoken were of significance, yet many of them were lost on us due to their disappearance against pale backgrounds. ) Instead, The Temptation of St Tony masterfully enveloped you in an intensely emotional experience. Through the use of music, ‘white noise’ and ambiguous sound it exquisitely influenced the way in which one interacted with that which was on screen.

When watching this film I believe you should simply empty your mind and let the film be your guide; for just when you think you have successfully grappled with that which has gone before you, yet more absurd and disturbing events will unfold. Not one to see for the ‘story’ as such, this is more of an adventure, certainly leaving an imprint on the consciousness that made exiting the cinema and entering the world of reality a slightly uncanny experience in itself.

The Temptation of St Tony skillfully takes the viewer on a journey from the mundane to the alluring to the repulsive. The contrasts render you transfixed and, in a way, exhausted. A great balancing act of the comical and the unsettling. I am now intrigued to see what Ounpuu will conjure up next; though first off I plan to watch his previous offering ‘Autumn Ball’.

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