Art of Fencing, Art of Life

The Fencer: A Movie Review

The Fencer movie review: a true story about Estonian fencer and fencing coach Endel NelisWe really LOVED this film! It’s quite unusual to come out of a film feeling as good about it as we felt coming out of this one, but then again not every movie has got as much heart and is as beautifully told. While we were at first interested in this film because it was about fencing, it turned out that we loved it because it was a compelling and well told story. What’s more, it’s based on a true story, which makes it that much more compelling.

For Everyone

It’s important to point out that while this movie centers around the art of fencing as the catalyst for the action that takes place, you don’t have to be a fencer to enjoy it – not at all! It’s a lovely film for the whole family and is very much accessible for non-fencers. In fact what’s so beautiful about the film is that it submerges you in the world of fencing through the day to day lives of people. While it’s a movie about fencing, it’s by no means a movie just for fencers.

The Fencing

Before we had ever seen this movie we loved it. After all it’s not every day we get a real fencing movie in the Oscars! We knew that just based on it’s being about fencing and it’s being an Oscar contender that we would love it. However once we watched it we loved it so much more than we ever thought we would.

The real Endel Nelis was a fantastic fencing coach who left his mark on the whole Estonian (and maybe even Soviet) fencing going on even today. We loved that everything fencing related is depicted exactly as it happened and is happening every day in any coach’s life.

The story is beautifully told – you believe every scene, every character, every word of every person. It is extremely trustable. As fencers and coaches, we tend to criticize “fencing” movies, seeing it all as just Hollywood using fencing for excitement and meaningless swordplay. In this movie you really can identify with this teacher and with the steps he and his students go through. It also shows what the real life values of fencing bring to the children. They become united, they help each other, care about each other, support each other and help each other to improve – not just in terms of fencing but in terms of life.

Beautifully Told

This film boasts breathtaking cinematography. Every frame is excellent and could be pulled out whole and admired as a work of art on it’s own.

There is not even one wasted moment, and the movie is very streamlined and focused in its mere 90 minutes of running time.  Too often recently we see movies that have a running time of more than two hours, and we find ourselves just longing for the good old days when movies were more complete in telling their story but told it beautifully in half the time. The Fencer truly captures that art of gentle but focused storytelling that is missing in many other movies. Like all great movies it pulls you into the story so it feels like you’re right there and time just melts away, so immersed does the audience feel in this world created by the filmmakers.

The acting in it is also just fantastic. The children who portray the fencing students are absolutely phenomenal. For example, there is a scene when Jaan’s grandfather is taken by two KGB agents – the scene was played by the child almost exclusively with his eyes and you physically feel what he is going through – all of his thoughts, fears and emotions are right there in just his eyes. All of the children in the film are amazing, and never once do you think of them as anything other than their characters. It’s fantastic, just remarkable!

One great point about The Fencer is it’s authenticity. They even took real Russian and Estonian actors to play the roles, unlike most of the blockbuster Hollywood movies which have terrible languages that are mostly parody when they aren’t just in English. The move sounds real.The dialog and the language are real, and it makes this movie so special.

A Compelling Story

As former USSR citizen – you physically feel the truth in the movie. The local rulers (the principal and his assistants) decided to take down the main character because he did something inconceivable – he united his students around him, students who were desperate to have fathers and grown ups who they could rely and look up to. These school managers were envious of Endel’s spirit and energy, and they were shown to be really evil. The evil in the system is shown in these two school bureaucrats, and while these characters might be fictional, there were really bad things that happened in Russia to people when people in power found themselves ready to do anything to others to find and justify their place in the system.

However the films shows how truth is in humanity, love, real friendship and commitment. These are the things that can win against the system, and against each single person. And this is this person who is remembered forever, not the people who blindly were cogs in the machine of the system.

Oscar Contender

As avid moviegoers, it’s our opinion that this movie is a strong contender to win at the Academy Awards. And we truly aren’t saying that because it’s about fencing, but because it’s really a wonderful film and deserves that kind of recognition!

This is a story that’s about the idea of a hero, and how a normal person can become a hero. His loyalty to himself, his ideals, and his belief in the maxim “Do what you must – come what may.”

Despite the very small budget, this movie had big ideas, ideas that the life and relationships are built upon. The movie is really indie movie. The whole budget was merely 2M euro – compare this with a huge Hollywood blockbuster! Yet for a film that cost so little to make, it packs an emotional and aesthetic punch. Klaus Haro (the director) is the leading Finnish director today – for the 3rd time it is one of his films that is the Finnish entry to Oscars!

We started to watch this movie with a bit of bias because it was about fencing. But it turned out to be well beyond any expectation that we might have had.  Thank you to “The Fencer” for showing us that there is so much more to this story, and thank you for taking us on this journey.  Thank you for showing the heart of fencing and the amazing things that it can inspire people to do, that we didn’t need to justify this bias. We really hope this film will go all the way to the Oscars!

We are so happy that we had the marvelous opportunity to support this movie and to promote it via all our channels. We hope you will join too in their campaign and help this fantastic movie to make a history!


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  1. John

    Since many Estonians served at the SS units and took a great part in murdering Jews, I would like to get more details about the nurture of service of Mr. Nellis in the German Nazi army.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi John,
      Your question sounds like accusation or guilt by association. Lets focus on the story and fencing, and not start investigating some theories based on nationality.

  2. Anonymous

    Where can this be streamed?

  3. JC Castro

    I just happened upon this movie because I wanted to see something interesting. Man was I blown away by, “The Fencer.” So much more than I expected, I live it when movies you think might just be so, so, wake you up from start to finish, take you on a trip about real people. A 10 out of 10.

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