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A bizarre and fascinating slice of Estonian mythology
'Suur Tõll / Toell the Great' is undoubtedly one of the most unusual animated short films I have ever seen. The story was based on an Estonian folk tale about of the gigantic hero, Tõll, who lived on the island of Saaremaa (Oesel) in the Baltic Sea. Though he was king of the island, Tõll often worked as a common farmer, tending to his crops and returning to his loving wife, Piret. He was a good king, often quick to anger but always kind and willing to help his fellow man. Tõll's greatest enemy is a devil by the name of Vanatühi ("Old empty one," "Old vile one"), the god of the underworld who specialises in sly, cowardly mischief. In this film, when War comes to Saaremaa, Tõll arrives to aid his dying army, but the evil Vanatühi takes advantage of his absence to wreak havoc on Tõll's home.
The imagery of 'Suur Tõll' is completely and utterly unique, and I've never seen anything in its style before. There is perhaps nothing technically amazing about the animation itself, but it is presented in such a bizarre form that you must really see to understand. It's difficult to explain, but the images really do give the feeling of epic mythology; a world not quite grounded in reality, and yet strangely entrenched in history. The soundtrack to the film is majestic, compelling and haunting, with the booming chanting of the men often sending a shiver down my spine. If you get nothing else out of the film, there is no doubt whatsoever that the epic use of voices and sounds will remain with you for days afterwards.
The narrative of the film is often rather difficult to follow, and so it helped a lot that, prior to watching it, I had read an English-translated copy of the picture-book adaptation that was released several years later. Additionally, I would certainly not recommend this film to children. Though it reportedly aired widely on television, and quite a few Soviet children presumably saw it, the material really isn't appropriate at all, with violence and streams of blood featuring quite prominently. Aside from this, even the soundtrack would probably be enough to elicit nightmares for the younger crowd. Bizarre, majestic and utterly unforgettable, director Rein Raamat's 'Suur Tõll' is must-see viewing for every animation buff.
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