Dark Humor and Visions of Grandeur in The Temptation of St. Tony

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The Temptation of St. Tony
Directed by Veiko Õunpuu
Olive Films
Opens September 17, Cinema Village

Estonian filmmaker Veiko Õunpuu follows the lead of Bosch and other painters in taking St. Anthony's demonic torment as an inspiration to strut his stuff. But a more modern martyr drifts through his movie's meticulous black-and-white panoramas: Tony (Taavi Eelmaa) is a nattily dressed factory manager with a frizz of close curls, a shaken-awake stare, and, lately, doubts. The challenges that beset Tony have the familiar dark humor of Scandinavian absurdism—e.g., being asked to sack an entire plant for underperforming by four-tenths of a percent—but Õunpuu also aims to stun with wondrous visuals. There's less a plot than a series of moody set pieces: a funeral procession upstaged by a careening car in deep focus; a mysterious, recurring black dog; a nefarious underworld cabaret that's emceed by art-house freak-mascot Denis Lavant (on mini-accordion). As in the director's previous film, Sügisball, extreme situations seem to metastasize out of personal crises and the (somewhat clichéd) angst of modernity. While Sugisball could summon up sloppy rage and desperation with fresh-feeling ferocity, the impact of St. Tony rises and falls with its visions, some whoa, some derivative. But Õunpuu's orchestrations and barbed surprises, which greatly depend on 110 percent game cinematographer Mart Taniel (and various Estonian theater vets), hold continued promise.

 
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