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The Fencer (2015)

Miekkailija (original title)
1:44 | Trailer
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.


Klaus Härö


Anna Heinämaa
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 6 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Märt Avandi ... Endel Nelis
Ursula Ratasepp Ursula Ratasepp ... Kadri
Hendrik Toompere Sr. Hendrik Toompere Sr. ... Principal (as Hendrik Toompere)
Liisa Koppel ... Marta
Joonas Koff Joonas Koff ... Jaan
Egert Kadastu Egert Kadastu ... Toomas
Ann-Lisett Rebane Ann-Lisett Rebane ... Lea
Elbe Reiter Elbe Reiter ... Tiiu
Jaak Prints Jaak Prints ... Principal's assistant
Kirill Käro ... Aleksei
Lembit Ulfsak ... Jaan's grandfather
Leida Rammo Leida Rammo ... Boarding house's hostess
Raimo Pass Raimo Pass ... Officer
Erkki Tikkan Erkki Tikkan ... Officer
Maria Avdjushko Maria Avdjushko ... Clerk in Leningrad


Fleeing from the Russian secret police because of his controversial past, a young Estonian fencer named Endel is forced to return to his homeland, where he begins to train a group of young children in the art of fencing. The past however catches up with him and Endel has to choose between letting his students down or putting his life in danger. The movie is partially based on the real life story of an Estonian fencer Endel Nelis (1925-1993). Written by Mattias Aabmets

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Inspiring True Story of Endel Nelis, Estonia's Legendary Fencing Master See more »


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Did You Know?


Finnish candidate for the best foreign language film in 2016 Academy Awards. See more »


Endel Nelis was already married when he arrived in Haapsalu. See more »


Referenced in La noche de...: La noche de... La clase de esgrima (2019) See more »

User Reviews

A well-crafted and touching tale of heroism without fanfare under Stalinist rule.
3 December 2016 | by CineMuseFilmsSee all my reviews

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.

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Official Sites:

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Finland | Estonia | Germany


Estonian | Russian | Armenian

Release Date:

21 July 2017 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Fencer See more »

Filming Locations:

Haapsalu, Estonia See more »


Box Office


EUR1,605,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$5,572, 23 July 2017

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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