Sulev Keedus – Georgica (1998)


Plot Synopsis
Jakub Luukas, who had gone to Africa as a christian missionary shortly after World War II, returns to the small Estonian island where he was born more than 70 years ago. Since it is now being used as a testing-ground for bombs, it is completely deserted. With a horse and three beehives, Jakub lives here in complete isolation, dreaming of translating Vergil’s pastorale “Georgica” into Swahili. His life changes when a young, mute boy comes onto the island: even though they both live in completely different internal worlds;

The film continuously shows us Jakubs memories of Africa and the boy’s longing for his mother. They form an intense human bond, full of poetry and mutual respect. As a theme for his film, the director names the new inspirations his country needs to find its own identity after the fall of the Soviet empire.

Review from
Willfully obscure art pic is guaranteed to please Tarkovsky fans and others willing to do the hard work of providing clear meaning to a epigrammatic tale. “Georgica,” which takes its name from a pastoral Latin poem by Virgil, is a spare two-hander set on an unnamed island during what might be the latter days of the Soviet empire, but could just as easily be a feverish, child’s-eye remembrance of WWII or its immediate aftermath. Pic stands no chance on the open market, but its opaquely self-confident (and self-conscious) style practically guarantees a cultish following on the cinematheque circuit.

Frequently silent saga follows the misfortunes and occasional bright spots of a preteen boy (Mait Merekulski) who’s punished for some small misdeed by being sent from the Russian mainland to an obscure Estonian island. The place is populated only by an old man named Jakub (Evald Aavik), a white stallion kept locked in strange, abandoned fort tower, and the various fish and small animals who inhabit the swampy waters around the island. You could say the terrain is also haunted by Jakub’s memories: As a young missionary, he collected photographs and songs of Zulus and other African tribes, as we see in numerous sepia-tinted flashbacks, and hear, via his antique Edison recording cylinders.

The boy, whom Jakub calls Maecenas (after a patron who helped the Roman poet finish his epic more than 2000 years ago), is nagged by visions of his own, mostly of the trauma of finding his mom amidst a demimonde of prostitutes and drunken army officers, and his mildly violent reaction.

Writer-helmer Sulev Keedus ups the confusion ante by starting his pic with an image of the boy getting his blond locks shorn by military types, only to have his head also shaved during flashback segs. Defenders can argue that memory, and dreams, often reflect one’s current persona, but helmer’s stubborn approach — his unwillingness to throw viewers even the smallest of structural crumbs to follow — borders on the stoically perverse.

Still, many of the well-lensed, sharply edited images are memorable, particularly those with the holy fool blowing dust off an abandoned church organ and plying some howling, wheezy Bach from it. A climactic conflict, with the white horse trapped in a fiery debacle, is less well handled, and it’s hard to know what to make of the geezer’s job, which consists of winding up a battered telephone and telling Russians how their planes did in target practice on the island.

Ditto for Jakub’s lifelong dream of translating Virgil’s work into Swahili. Messages about fading empires, lost innocence and general windmill-tilting abound, but Keedus’ intentions will be impenetrable to all but the most clued-in East European auds. Sulev Keedus 1998.avi Sulev Keedus 1998.idx Sulev Keedus 1998.rar

Subtitles:English, Russian, Dutch, Finnish, Estonian