On a cool fall day, we sat down and watched Kevade (1969) on ETV. I have been consuming more Estonian film output recently. Only last month we enjoyed Jan Uuspõld Läheb Tartusse. So it was quite a jump to go from that film, where the ghost of Georg Ots guides Uuspõld to Tartu, to Kevade, which is a romantic and honest film about a school in Palamuse village in current day Jõgevamaa* at the end of the 19th century, based on the works of Estonian writer Oskar Luts.
If you drive around Tartu you are likely to bump into a statue of Luts, who lived from 1887 to 1953. His home is now a museum at the start of Tammelinn, a wealthier neighborhood of large wooden homes southwest of the center. But for all the black and white images and busts of Luts' head, the film version of his novel Kevade (Spring) really helped to understand why Luts' work is important to Estonians to this day.
The main character is Arno, a romantic teen who has a semi-platonic, semi-yearning thing for Teele, a girl who attends the same school. Factor in Tõnisson, a rotund youth with an appetite for fighting with Baltic German school boys who is Arno's friend. There is also Joosep Toots, pictured at left, who is the 'Tom Sawyer' of the bunch, always -- and quite humorously -- getting into trouble.
I am told that this Toots character has become something of a part of the Estonian dialog. A person who acts according to Toots' credo of "There are many things in the world that people shouldn't do, but they do it anyway!" becomes themselves a Toots. If there are several of these kinds of alpha individuals, they can be referred to as Tootsid, in the plural.
Halfway through the film, Jaan Imelik shows up with his kannel and bouncing locks of golden hair, making him an instant favorite among the girls, including Teele, which pushes Arno into fits of jealousy. Because Arno never had a romantic relationship with Teele, his jealousy towards the attentions he gives Imelik helps capture the awkwardness of youth quite well, and carries the film.
A final character in the film is the amazing landscapes as Jõgevamaa turns from winter to spring. Too often Jõgevamaa itself is a beautiful, forgotten corner of Estonia, eclipsed by Saaremaa or Läänemaa. The black and white of the film captures the light from Christmas candles or the sheets of descending snow, and when put together with the characters themselves helps to light a fire under the ass of Estonian national identity. I am told that one of the reasons Kevade is still so popular is that it expressed the moody nordic landscapes and golden moments of silence cherished by Estonians at a time when Estonia was quite deep in Soviet winter.
Anyway, the acting is excellent and it's still a great film, nearly 40 years on. Highly recommended.
* In Luts' day Jõgevamaa was actually part of Tartumaa. The Estonian Declaration of Independence from Feb 24, 1918, describes Estonia as "Harjumaa, Läänemaa, Järvamaa, Virumaa, with the city of Narva and its surroundings, Tartumaa, Võrumaa, Viljandimaa, and Pärnumaa with the Baltic islands of Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, Muhumaa, and others where the Estonians have settled for ages in large majorities."
Modern Estonian counties, like Raplamaa, Põlvamaa, and Jõgevamaa came into being when Estonia was divided into rajonid following the establishment of Soviet rule.