Põhja Konn: strange little film based on Estonian fairy tale

Riho Unt, “Põhja Konn” (2007)

Quirky 14-minute short that mixes live action and stop-motion animation of sculpted figures, “Põhja Konn” is a strange, almost surreal piece for me, all the more so as part of it is in Estonian with no sub-titles so the plot and theme are inaccessible to me. A young soldier returns from the Napoleonic wars and arrives at a castle in ruins, in the middle of which is a banquet spread out for aristocrats in mediaeval dress who are asleep. Only the court jester is awake and ambling around the ruins. The soldier takes a swig of wine from the table and is soon transported into another realm when he comes to a fountain in which he meets a mysterious and beautiful maiden. He obtains her ring and returns to the ruined castle; he acquires a metal Trojan-horse construct and takes it away with him. The aristocrats awake from their robot slumber and commence feasting.There is a break and the short returns to the live action scene with the s0ldier and the maiden falling in love, only to end with the fountain destroyed and a giant frog sprawled over it.

There was an Estonian animated film of the same name made in 1959 based on a fairy tale by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, the writer of the Estonian national epic “Kalevipoeg”, and Unt’s film may well be a homage and reinterpretation of the original animation. Whatever Unt intended his film to be, it is a very beautiful little piece to watch. The ambience is dreamy and unreal yet not at all sinister with white and airy backgrounds. The live action scenes between the soldier and the girl are completely silent and the two actors’ movements are floaty and unnatural; the scenes are also filmed in monochrome. Colour intrudes only in the stop-motion animated scenes more than halfway through the piece when the mechanical aristocrats come alive and begin stuffing themselves.

The animated figures are crude and cartoony in appearance and the birds on the swing come across as Statler and Waldorf characters, commenting on the action and the soldier below them, rather than as avians of ill omen. At the end of the film, the swing is empty as though the birds fell off in shock and surprise.

I must admit that the film completely flummoxed me though its visual production values look quite impressive. The film’s title translates as “North Frog” or “North of the Frog” and refers to the giant amphibian dominating the ruins at the end of the film.

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