The Temptation of St. Tony depicts a hallucinatory descent into a modern-day nightmare. A man finds that trying to do good deeds causes worse problems. Estonian director Veiko Õunpuu has a keen visual sense. His sharp black and white images grab the attention. Temptation will need strong critical reviews to draw audiences to its unusual and ultimately despairing subject.
A clue to the ultimate direction of this Temptation is a quote from Dante's Inferno. In the film's beginning, Tony (Taavi Eelmaa) leads the funeral procession for his father over a stark landscape. Throughout, Õunpuu, in his second feature film, fills the screen with striking and often disorienting scenes of a world spiraling out of control. During the funeral, a car turns over at the water's edge. The bleeding man escapes the car; Tony gives him a ride and tells him, "You're a good man." His car hits a dog. Dragging the animal carcass through the forest he sees the frightening sight of severed arms along his way.
Coming home from the funeral, his wife (Tiina Tauraite) complains that he's arrived after the guests for what turns out to be a disastrous dinner party with insults, joyless dancing and evidence of his wife's infidelity. The strangest behavior is from a derelict outside to which Tony offers liquid refreshment.
Tony's positive qualities don't bring him happiness. As Tony, Eelmaa is convincingly fearful and bewildered by what he encounters.
Tony is a factory manager. His life starts to fall apart when his boss uses the strange logic of ordering Tony to close the factory because the return on investment is only 19.3% instead of the goal of 20%. One of the fired men is the father of Nadezhda (Ravshana Kurkova), a young woman to whom he had earlier given sanctuary. Tony remains helpless to larger forces. He's described as "so sweet, but such a fool".
Õunpuu's background is TV commercials, which accounts for his emphasis on strong visuals. The set designs are imaginative and impressive. Religious and mystical imagery abound, including a decapitated crucifix. The film's despairing priest could fit into an Ingmar Bergman film.
Tony is attracted to Nadezhda and after she has been kidnapped, he tries to protect her. A clue leads to a bizarre club called The Golden Age where Nadezhda and other young woman are put on display for a sinister auction. A fire emphasizes the hellish circumstances. The seven deadly sins are in full evidence. Mournful music like "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" emphasizes the despair of Tony and the hapless people he encounters. Tony's attempt to help Nadezhda puts both in increasing danger, leading to a disturbing final image of a unique directorial vision.
Distributor: Olive Films
Cast: Taavi Eelmaa, Ravshana Kurkova, Tiina Tauraite and Sten Ljunggren
Director/Screenwriter: Veiko Õunpuu
Producer: Katrin Kissa
Genre: Drama; Estonian-, Russian-, English-, French-language, subtitled
Running Time: 115 min
Release Date: September 17, 2010