On Martti Helde’s In The Crosswind (2014) #TIFF14


by Jennifer Valencia

In The Crosswind is the real life story of a family separated from each other during the Russian occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1941 where thousands of people were relocated to remote outposts in Siberia. Over 390,000 people were casualties of what some call the “Russian holocaust”. The film focuses on letters that philosophy student Erna wrote to her husband Heldur after they were removed from their home, separated, and relocated to labour camps. She writes to him not knowing where he is, telling him their daughter Eliide’s hardships. The film is done entirely through voice overs of Erna reading the letters she has written to Heldur.

In The Crosswinds is divided into two forms of visual story telling. When Erna is remembering the time before the occupation the setting is romantic, idyllic, and nostalgic. The characters are happy and engulfed in a bright glow. As soon as they are forced out of their home the story is told through dream like and very dark tableaux. At first I was not sure what to make of them but once I realized that the tableaux was how the story would be told visually I stopped thinking about it and I let it unfold. The director, Martti Helde, used long panning shots that scanned across the still setting, often swooping around the characters to reveal a change in the action and thus the story. I thought the scenes flowed seamlessly into each other. The panning reminded me a lot of Jean-Luc Goddard‘s Weekend (1967) in the way the camera would move over the events and slowly would reveal what was happening. Suspension builds because you can’t wait to get to the end of the shot. While watching In The Crosswind I often found myself wanting to look around corners before the camera even got there. It was a very unique way of showing the horrors in the events.

Sound is very important to this film as it fills in the gaps where physical action and dialogue are missing. The sounds (wind, the radio, cars, music etc…) provide the viewer with atmosphere, tone, suspense, and all the elements that keep an audience interested. Without the vivid use of sound the film would fall flat. There would be nothing for the audience to connect to. The sound submerges you into the tableaux giving the audience something to connect with.

This is an unconventional film in that it manages to bring forth a story that is not well known, but doing so in an entirely different way. The film could have been boring being told only in still photography. The use of the ever moving and panning camera draws the eye in while the sound keeps the viewer interested helping to build the story along with the voice over. This story could have been told cinematically like so many like it before,  but In The Crosswind sets itself apart. It’s a film that stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre. It is hard to forget. With what has been going on in the modern world this film provides an cautionary and prescient tale of an event almost forgotten but very much poignant for today.




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