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The Fencer

The Fencer

Mar. 13, 2015 Finland90 Min.
Your rating: 0
9.1 1,064 votes

Video trailer


Klaus Härö


Jaak Prints isPrincipal's assistant
Principal's assistant
Lembit Ulfsak isJaan's grandfather
Jaan's grandfather
Tõnu Oja isParent in the meeting
Parent in the meeting


Fleeing from the Russian secret police, a young Estonian fencer is forced to return to his homeland, where he becomes a physical education teacher at a local school. The past however catches up and puts him in front of a difficult choice.

The Fencer
The Fencer
The Fencer
The Fencer
Original titleVehkleja
IMDb Rating7.2 2,894 votes
TMDb Rating7.2 13 votes

(11) comments

  • sakari-lonnApril 4, 2015Reply

    Beautiful film about small people under the Soviet rule.

    A good film about seldom-seen topic. Living was difficult and sometimes
    dangerous under the Soviet rule in Estonia straight after WW II and
    Klaus Härö’s film tells story about that. It has been built around true
    story about a teacher which teaches his pupils to fence.

    Problem on this film was that I knew too much about the story before
    seeing it. So it didn’t give many surprises.

    Not much to complain about directing, acting or anything else. Maybe
    the story needed something more to be more interesting but the film
    depends on true story so it could have been wrong to make up something.

    Best thing about this film is that there is used both languages
    Estonian and Russian. So the characters use the right languages. It is
    of course subtitled.

  • av-ankurDecember 18, 2015Reply

    Good film with fine cast

    ”The Fencer” is a typical sports and underdog film: which make you root
    for the underdog. It’s slightly different from many others in that
    there is some history for solid context: however, that also has been
    done so far, and the director does not experiment much with the pace of
    the film. Some of the landscapes are beautiful, and in my opinion they
    afforded the director to be much slower and absorbed in the atmosphere,
    like the German film ”Barbara” did, but that does not happen. However,
    the film is a lovely watch and touches your heart because of the fine
    cast: a special mention should be made here for the boy (Joonas Koff)
    playing Jaan, who has given the most impressive performance of the

  • Thomas ([email protected])January 4, 2016Reply

    Historically interesting, story-wise not really

    *** This review may contain spoilers ***

  • Thom SFebruary 9, 2016Reply

    Great film featuring both good fencing and history

    When I first heard about this film, I was rather apprehensive about its
    portrayal of fencing. Too often such films fall prey to unrealistic
    swordplay, or to relegating the fencing to some metaphors and maybe a
    lunge every now and then.

    Not so with this movie. Not only are the lessons portrayed in a
    realistic way, the tournament itself had the feel of an actual
    tournament and the actions executed looked like they were supposed to.
    I did notice the modern scoring system was used, but I assume this is
    so as not to confuse the viewer; the old system kept track of hits
    scored against a fencer, and as such the numbers would be reversed.

    History-wise, it gave a good picture of the time period and the perils
    in which Soviet citizens found themselves.

    In my eyes, the only ‘weak point’ would be that the underdog story is a
    rather standard one, but I honestly didn’t feel that it detracted from
    the movie at all.

  • Bene CumbFebruary 26, 2016Reply

    Another fine example of Estonian film under foreign direction

    Last year, we could all witness the fame of Estonian-Georgian film
    Tangerines which got both Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination,
    and lots of fame and praise among exacting audience. And another
    surprise already this year – the film in question, a
    Finnish/German/Estonian co-production which was nominated for Golden
    Globe ”only”…

    As I kept track of the origin and development of this film, I did not
    even think of it as a kind of sports film, although fencing plays here
    a significant role, both directly and in the background. Later I have
    read that several foreign viewers had previously perceived it as a
    sports film but were pleasantly surprised afterwards that it was no
    Rocky within the different kind of sports but a realistic picture of a
    Stalin-era town in a Soviet Estonia. The atmosphere and environment are
    depicted in a realistic manner, enhanced by post-WWII poverty and gray
    weather scenes, but there is enough space for human dimension and even
    some romance.

    Althouh the plot is not totally smooth, the great performances and taut
    moments provide additional value to the film. Actors like Märt Avandi
    or Hendrik Toompere could be easily used abroad as well, and all
    children did their best (in many films, children lines seem mugged up,
    but not here).

    All in all, a good film about surviving and making choices under tough
    and unpredictable circumstances, when every ”hobby” or non-ideological
    endeavour helped to move beyond the misery around – at least

  • Andres SalamaMarch 27, 2016Reply

    Intriguing Estonian film starts well but it loses momentum in the second part.

    Based on a true story, this Estonian film (directed by a Finn) the film
    is set on 1952, when that country was under Soviet occupation. A man
    named Endel (Mart Avandi) arrives to a small Estonian town from
    Leningrad. He is obviously on the run from Soviet authorities, though
    we never get to know much of the back story. He presents himself to a
    school asking for a teaching job. He is given the physical education
    class, only problem is the school has no sporting equipment for the
    children. One day he finds in a drawer at the school a fencing sword
    and he starts playing with it. A girl sees him and asks him to train
    her in fencing. At first he refuses, but eventually announces in the
    school board there will be a fencing class on Saturday. To his
    surprise, a lot of students appear on Saturday, wanting to learn
    fencing. Despite his lack of charisma, the fencing classes are
    successful, even though they are disliked by the school director who
    see the sport as a remnant of a feudal past, but is outvoted by the
    school’s parents. Eventually, Endel is so successful in training the
    children that he is invited to a tournament in Leningrad. The problem
    is that going there could blow his cover.

    This is not a perfect film, it starts well, but it loses momentum in
    the second part. The Russians and their collaborators in Estonia (like
    the school director) are caricatures. And in parts of the movie, the
    story seems undeveloped, as when Endel starts a relationship with a
    woman teacher in the school.

    There is a cameo as a politically persecuted grandfather of one of the
    boys in the school of Lembit Ufsak, who starred in the more interesting
    Oscar nominated Estonian film Tangerines.

  • Reno RanganApril 4, 2016Reply

    Looking for a new start while the past is on the tail.

    The 2016’s Golden Globe nominee and also Finland’s submission for the
    Oscars in the same year, but failed to get into the final five.
    Produced by the Baltic nations that set in when Estonia was a part of
    the USSR in the early 50s. It chronicles the story of Endel Nelis, a
    man who’s on the run arrives in a small town called Haapsalu to teach
    the school children sports.

    As his life is in danger, he intends to keep a low profile for a while.
    But seems everything is turning around him against him when he decides
    to teach his students fencing. It brings a large attention to the
    surroundings. Then comes a time where he must confront what he’s hiding
    from which brings an end to the narration with little extended end part
    that reveals further details about the later event.

    ”It’s good to have them focus on something, keep them occupied. It
    takes their mind off things.”

    This is a very short story, but somehow the movie managed to run for
    the 90 minutes with a good pace. It did not cover the entire life story
    of Endel Nelis, but a small slice. So you definitely feel desperate to
    know about his past, but this film does not compromise on that. It has
    a great background score, and overall it is a very inspiring movie.

    The actors were so simple, but very good in their parts. Other than the
    lead character Endel, the two kids Marta and Jaan were excellent. The
    romance was as its sub-plot, but the theme was sport so all the
    concentration on the fencing and nothing else. In a couple of sections
    it feels so cliché, but since it was based on the real, there’s nothing
    to do about it than accepting it.

    Fencing is not a popular sport in the world, so it is good to see a
    movie about it, but sadly it was not internationally well recognised.
    Like I said earlier the story was quite small, so I can’t describe it
    in a large scale. I think I said everything I wanted to. In its
    limitedness the movie was pretty impressive. Not everyone who saw it
    going to suggest it for you, but it is worth a try.


  • losindiscretoscineOctober 20, 2016Reply

    Historical and poetical drama from Finland

    Historical and poetical drama nominated for the Golden Globes, The
    Fencer tells the true story of Endel Neils, played by the charismatic
    Märt Avandi. Endel comes back to his hometown in Estonia and try to
    open a fencer club in the school he works for, even though the Soviet
    Domination and the censorship cast a shadow over the country. The
    historical point of view and the period costumes give a certain charm
    to the love story that remains in the background. But, contrary to what
    we may think, the true love story is the one that joins together Endel
    and his students. Thank to fencing, both the children and the teacher
    will find a shelter where they can forget about the difficult
    historical context. Ant it was not in vain since the club is still open
    ! Full review on our blog :

  • KHamblin-1October 22, 2016Reply

    Slow paced, poignant, captivating, well-acted gem

    I came across this gem by accident. A friend gave me several movies and
    I only just found this one 8 months later. I found this movie extremely
    touching. The pace was slow but I found that this accentuated the
    underlying emotions and I was captivated from start to finish. I have
    certainly seen other movies with this basic plot but this movie stood
    out because the performances were deep and poignant. I like many
    Hollywood movies but this was noticeably different: At once simpler —
    with less ”action” and less dialogue and less ”spelling everything out”
    and maybe at the same time more complex because of what was portrayed
    in a look or a silence. Glad I watched this.

  • CineMuseFilmsDecember 3, 2016Reply

    A well-crafted and touching tale of heroism without fanfare under Stalinist rule.

    The ‘inspiring teacher’ film has many variations but its core narrative
    is always the same: a teacher helping children realise their dreams.
    The Fencer (2015) is an uplifting story told with sensitivity towards
    the harsh landscapes of Estonia and a nation that has experienced more
    terror than Hitchcock could imagine. At its heart is a morality play of
    historical proportions and a lone teacher’s commitment to do what is
    best for children.

    Elite fencer and coach Endel Nelis (Mårt Avandi) escapes Leningrad in
    the early 1950s to avoid Stalin’s secret police. At 18 he was drafted
    by the Nazis and after the Soviet invasion all men who ever wore the
    Nazi uniform were sent to Siberia. He hopes for obscurity as a sports
    teacher in a small Estonian village but the secret police have eyes
    everywhere. Endel lives in fear and so does the village where most of
    the menfolk have been taken away in darkness never to be seen again.
    Amidst this paranoia, he starts a class in the traditional discipline
    of fencing but his initiative is resented by authorities who
    investigate his past. Meanwhile he finds romance and the children
    progress so quickly they are soon pleading to compete in Leningrad.
    Endel knows if he takes them he may never return.

    The filming of this story is its major strength. The camera is in the
    middle of the fencing classes watching the children develop in an
    artform based on balletic grace, speed, and knowing precisely when and
    where to strike. The children’s growing sense of control contrasts with
    the lack of control they have over their lives under Stalinist rule. As
    Endel becomes a father figure he also becomes another person to lose.
    Although urged by his former coach to flee again he becomes emotionally
    invested in the children and his blossoming romance. Several close-up
    scenes of Endel relating to the children and his girlfriend are poetic
    portraits of hope struggling against the tyranny of the times.

    The story has a dual climax and both are heart-warming and
    inspirational. The village children bravely compete against big city
    schools, and the fencing matches themselves are exciting spectacles of
    cut and thrust. Endel’s own survival plays out with all the hallmarks
    of an espionage thriller and he must live with the consequences of his
    moral choice. Understated acting performances, minimalist dialogue
    translations and a balance of political tension and youthful hope help
    steer the film away from the most obvious clichés of the inspiring
    teacher genre. This is a well-crafted and touching tale about heroism
    without fanfare that lives on through Endel’s fencing school still
    operating today.

  • jimk-97543April 20, 2017Reply

    Boring & Slow

    The movie, the acting is so slow, so poor, and the movie is filled with
    random clips to add time the movie. The story line is weak, and weak
    directing, you feel all the time that you are watching something acted
    in front of you, even though I have seen more believable theatre! They
    should have used more international experience and had the story &
    script reviewed by professionals.

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