Daringly utilizing the cinematic medium by suppressing its inherent necessity for movement, Martti Helde‘s “In the Crosswind” tells the story of an obscure genocide in
the Baltic region via a collection of astonishing “living pictures” (tableaux vivant). Shot in black-and-white, each sequence is a static tridimensional
photograph conformed of a meticulously arranged motionless cast. The historical events at hand are approached in a strikingly subtle, but deliberately
Deported to Siberia by the Soviets in 1941 alongside thousands of people from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Erna (Laura Peterson), an Estonian woman, and her young daughter
Eliide are forced to work in the forest as lumberjacks in order to stay alive. Separated from Heldur (Tarmo Song), her husband, Erna’s driving force is to live long
enough to be reunited with him. Since dialogue is non-existent, the guiding narration is taken from the actual letters Erna wrote to her beloved. Whether
she actually believed they would reach him or not, through them she explained in detail the agony and daily tragedies of her imprisoned life. These writings
served as the basis for the film due to their invaluable first hand accounts of the events.
Contrasting with the dreamlike stillness of the present, memories have a special quality in the film: movement. When Erna revisits her life before the
relocation, the images regain their normal rhythm. Joy seems to have stayed in these moments making the darkness in Erna’s current situation all the more
bleak. Her life has been literally frozen by sorrow. Not long after they arrive at their new precarious community, Eliide falls ill. Malnutrition, the
inhospitable Siberian weather, and Erna’s inability to take care of her, eventually take the young girl’s life. Her circumstances prevent Erna from grieving, she
must work to survive. Finding Heldur is now her only motivation. Other people there seem to have resigned and started new lives. New makeshift families built
out of the need for companionship. Erna refuses to abide by these wartime conventions. Heldur’s fainting image fuels her determination.
Like a ghost walking among the tombs of shattered lives, the camera slowly examines each petrified gesture of love, despair, and anger. Under time’s spell
the images captured are so perfectly conceived it is difficult not to be mesmerized. By using cinematography as the most prominent storytelling device,
Helde rids his film of the need for fluid acting. The static performances convey a thousand words in one facial expression. Given that every frame is
looked at with intense scrutiny, every aspect of the film needed to be flawless. Exquisite production design, costumes, and the stylized framing are
adorned by haunting music and the poetry of Erna’s words.
Everything is carefully crafted to be an honest reenactment of the occurrences as if flipping the pages of a live-action history book.
Watching “In the Crosswind” is an awe-inspiring and bone-chilling experience that redefines the concept of “motion picture,” but still finds a unique way
of being truly cinematic. Helde finds meditative beauty in the chaos of a little known chapter in Eastern European history. This is a story
about a massive attempt to subjugate an entire group of people told from the point of view of a strong woman whose most heroic action was staying alive and
lucid enough to chronicle her ordeal. In a bold fashion, this emerging filmmaker has created a film that doesn’t choose substance over form, but which very
successfully makes its visual mechanics work for its enthralling content. Heldr’s powerful language manipulates time and space enabling the viewer to get
lost in the details of such vivid images. A moving film without motion, “In the Crosswind” is Helde’s solemn tribute to his compatriots’ suffering.