Dir/scr: Kadri Kousaar. Est/UK 2007. 86 mins
Seamy low life, chic depression and off-the-wall humour make a heady if uneven mixture in the debut feature by Estonia's Kadri Kousaar. Magnus presents a morose, sometimes blackly witty view of life in contemporary Estonia from the point of view of a suicidal young man and his father.

This intense, downbeat fiction proves to be even more closely inspired by reality than its opening intertitle implies: a touching coda reveals that Mart Laisk, the non-professional playing the father, is actually taking part in a fictionalised version of his own experience. In fact, a court case brought by an acquaintance of the people involved has resulted in the film's being banned from distribution in Estonia. Principal drawbacks are an unsteady tone and occasional maudlin feel, together with insipid casting of the title role, but pithy sardonic comedy mostly keeps Magnus afloat. Very much a first-timer's film, its moody introspection suggesting the cinematic equivalent of 'emo' rock, Magnus may have limited export potential, but will find a sympathetic audience at festivals, especially those with a youth or counterculture slant.

Lonely Magnus (pop singer Kasearu, in his screen debut) is first seen as a child, sitting in on modelling auditions held by his pornographer father (Laisk). In childhood, Magnus suffers from a dangerous lung disease, and obsessively sets himself daily tests to determine whether he will stay alive - a habit he maintains as a suicidally inclined adult. After making incestuous advances to his sister (Toim), Magnus survives a near-fatal drug overdose. Dad belatedly takes charge of the boy - which involves offering him copious drugs, and taking him to a weirdly baroque brothel where Magnus's psychiatrist moonlights as a hooker.

During an away-from-it-all session on a windblown island, Magnus decides that the time has come to kill himself, and his understanding father won't stand in his way. In a poignant coda, Dad explains to camera that sometimes a parent simply has to yield to his child's wishes; this sequence appears to be Laisk stepping out of character to make his own confession.

Impatient viewers may simply wonder why Magnus doesn't pull himself together, since he comes across somewhat as a self-indulgent representative of the beautiful and damned: a problem caused by Kasearu's blandly hunky self-absorbed presence. The film's real centre is Laisk, a lugubrious hulk who looks like John Belushi, if he'd lived and gone to seed; he's the conduit for some relishably dry humour in a Kaurismaki-esque vein. Tonally, the film veers between broad representations of squalor and introspective, sometimes abstract sequences from Magnus's point of view, via a Felliniesque brothel sequence that might be the fruit of Magnus's drugged-up imagination. For all its flaws, this is an ambitious low-budget venture with heart and integrity.

Production companies
Vitamin K Film
Donus Films

International sales
Onoma International
+33 04 92 998 806

Donal Fernandes

Kadri Kousaar

Pawel Sobczyk

Kaspar Kallas

Set Fire To Flames

Production design
Leen Vörno

Main cast
Kristjan Kasearu
Mart Laisk
Merle Jaager
Kerli Toim
Marika Korolev