2Annas 2024. Review of “Wishes from the Well” by Alesja Suzdaltseva

The favorite food of an Estonian is always and again their neighbor. So, it is in common with the local folklore, where several spiritual entities want to make the lives of others as difficult as possible – much like in Alesja Suzdaltseva’s graduation film, Wishes from the Well, shown at the 2Annas Film Festival, before screening at KINOFF.

Indeed, in Wishes from the Well, Estonian folklore meets contemporary characters from every local small town. The film takes the viewer on a journey through a pharmacy, a well, and a depressive Estonian small town, where local drunkards, hermits and youngsters wander around aimlessly. Where Suzdaltseva’s previous film, The Rise (Tõus), focused on a small girl and an android’s friendship, Wishes from the Well is about Vetevana and a small boy.

When Vetevana is short of 30 cents in the pharmacy, his only solution is to… fib a little! To create his own legend and myth. Is it not that he needs the medicine for his Labrador dog or money for the bus tickets. So, when he runs out of little white lies, he resorts to his best weapon – bribing someone to help him and promising to return the favor. Vetevana is willing to sacrifice his entire herd and village, even if it means ending up like an eaten wolf.

It’s not entirely clear to the audience whether Vetevana is truly good or bad, or why he wants to appear more magnificent in front of the villagers. He behaves almost like a human, but perhaps this is part of his plan. It’s also unclear why he cares about the opinions of ordinary citizens regarding his illness. And if he possesses magical powers over people, why doesn’t he use them to get what he wants?

The film’s visual and auditory language immerses the viewer in the story, allowing them to choose whether they want to identify with Harry or Vetevana. It presents clear-cut characters as the embodiments of good and evil, and offers formulas on how to defeat or win them over, much like any great myth. The director has done an excellent job of working with a child actor, making it seem effortless. The end credits, the coloring of the film, and the work of the DOP all come together to bring the story to life with mystical rhythms.

“When there’s nothing to be done about it, there’s no reason to be ashamed,” little Harry says to Vetevana as they both sit at the bottom of the well. Just like in a depressive small town, the characters in the film are connected – of course, the tired-looking son of the lady from the pharmacy falls into the well. And these two characters reflect each other. A dreamer would like to think that what he is in front of him is reality, indeed: young or old, magical or made of blood and bones – we all are the same.

In the end, lies always catch up to us, and Vetevana finally reveals his true concern while at the bottom of a well. The elderly mythological being is met with understanding and compassion. Without the need for coins, the man grants the boy’s third wish, almost as if by magic. Good deeds never go unrewarded, and although the pharmacy may be closed, fate has brought the well-dweller the solution he needed from the frog pond. It is only left to hope that Harry will not carelessly climb by the edge of the well again in the future, or Vetevana will have to watch his back again.

Wishes from the Well is a film that focuses on the Estonian cultural background and its magical mythological traditions. As a matter of fact, Estonia is known to have a flourishing nature and folklore, and this film brings attention to that. Young female filmmaker Alesja Suzdaltseva is a unique storyteller and that is much needed in the Estonian film industry. The country needs good fairytales and someone who can tell stories that will also resonate with younger audiences.

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