Kalev by Olev Musting [7/10]

Kalev” is, for this son of Estonian wartime refugees, a fascinating drama set in Tallinn and Russia just as the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991, mere months before Estonia regained independence after half a century under the yoke of Stalin and his successors. Kalev is the official name of the country’s basketball team and here they wrestle with their political responsibilities as they partake in the last of the Soviet-wide games. Eschewing a single hero, the camera lens documents the games, the practice dramas, and moments in the lives of some players, but mostly the team itself is the protagonist. The backdrop of dreary Soviet-ness amidst news footage of turmoil captures the era well, the action cinematography is sprightly and dramatic, but a certain flatness pervades the story as a whole. Normal story arcs are left stranded or abandoned and the key figure of the coach, a gum-chewing, harsh-talking but ethical mastermind, never becomes fully explored. Overall, Kalev is a wonderfully entertaining and revealing period piece but misses chances to be much more.

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