Confusion will be my epitaph

José Sarmiento of the 2014 Talent Press reviews the Estonian masterpiece FREE RANGE, which features in the Berlinale Forum section.

Veiko Ounpuu's FREE RANGE

“You're on earth. There's no cure for that.“ (Samuel Beckett)

Here’s a lifesaver for you: grab on to the best film you’ve seen in the whole festival like it was the last day on earth. And make that film the standard of how all other films must be judged. The new Ounpuu (THE TEMPTATION OF ST. TONY) is not only, I dare say, one of the best films of Berlinale, but it will in time, be recognized as a timeless masterpiece.

A filmic paradise for a cinephile, FREE RANGE (BALLAAD MAAILMA HEAKSKIITMISEST) was wonderfully filmed in 16mm and musicalized by the Estonian filmmaker with a batch of his own vintage albums (a soundtrack that includes artists as varied as Arvo Pärt or Scott Walker). But, beyond the formal aspects of the film, this dark existential comedy carries an enormous weight of Dadaism, a game of the absurd that ignites from the first frames of the reel.

What would happen if, against the weight of regular life, we would put the absurd as a manifestation of existence? Beckett, among others, tried to answer that question many years ago, and so many art forms have dealt with the same question. Ounpuu makes a manifestation of purpose: life sucks, films that celebrate life suck (THE TREE OF LIFE sucks, according to Fred, the lead character, a film critic who is fired after he writes a very picturesque review of the film), and there’s no meaning whatsoever in this life, only space for partying, alcohol, confusion, nothingness.

But in all this darkness, the filmmaker finds such a unique angle to treat his film, derived from 60s hippie films (which of course would read as the ultimate oxymoron). With the photography and mood of a deliriously upbeat life-affirming film (full of slow motion shots), Ounpuu finds in contradiction the tool he needs to make his film work wonderfully, and in that resides the talent and mastery of the filmmaker.

What is this film about? White horses appearing through green fields in slow-mo. And the meaning of life, or the lack thereof.