Sugisball (Autumn Ball)

  • 2007-10-10
  • By Joel Alas

HOPELESS: The bleak characters in Sugisball (Autumn Ball) search for happiness in the drab surroundings of Soviet housing

Director: Veio Ounpuu

"Sugisball" is a bleak but beautiful study of the struggles of life in the concrete confines of a Soviet-era suburb.
It tells the parallel stories of several disconnected characters who battle to find their own slice of contentment. The overbearing ugliness of the buildings in which they live seems to infect the characters although there are pinpricks of light through the grey gloom. It is at times laugh-out-loud funny though the source of the humor is pitch-black.

The opening scene of "Sugsiball" shows the main character, the writer Mati (Rain Tolk), gripping the handrail of his balcony,  surveying the expanse of his surroundings. Suicide seems on his mind and his face is a tortured mask of anguish. Mati then slumps into a drunken stupor as he wallows in pity over the departure of his girlfriend.
Next we meet the architect Maurer (Juhan Ulfsak), an idealist who chooses to live in a housing project as some kind of social experiment. The move draws cynicism from his colleagues and sends his girlfriend into depression. Ultimately we realize it's not the landscape but Maurer's own personality that is embittered.
Then there's the hapless doorman Theo (Taavi Eelmaa) who sleeps with a procession of needy women although he yearns for something more meaningful. In the end it's Theo who seems the most affected by the soulnessness of the people surrounding him.

Mati delivers the moral of the story in a moving monologue. We are all looking for happiness, he says while smoking and staring out at the city lights, each of us in our own little box.
Shot in the Tallinn suburb of Lasnamae last November, the outdoor cinematography captures the brittle frosty grass and miserable grey skies of the onset of winter with chilling accuracy. With deft direction, the camera manages to make even the ugliest of surroundings seem beautiful.
There are some brilliant moments of acting, particularly one stirring scene where the protective mother Laura (Maarja Jakobson) loses her daughter  and breaks down in the middle of a playground.
The score and soundtrack are perfect,  occasionally providing relief from the heaviness of the topic.
"Sugisball" is not without fault. It could have used some judicious editing as some of its lengthy shots are a little too self-indulgent.

Yet it's a fine piece of cinema and deserving of the praise that has been heaped upon it at international film festivals.

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