Locarno 2023 Review: THE INVISIBLE FIGHT Packs the Funniest Genre Mashup Rebellion
Estonian director Rainer Sarnet crafts a wild genre mashup that delves into themes of individuality, rebellion, and spiritual transcendence in a Soviet-era monastery.
Estonian filmmaker Rainer Sarnet, known for his intriguing debut November, returns with his latest offering, The Invisible Fight. (orig. Nähtamatu võitlus).
This new work continues his genre-blending tendencies and distinctive focus on local narratives with universal resonance. Adding to his oeuvre, which includes the hybrid documentary The Diary Of Vaino Vahing, about Estonian writer and psychiatrist Vaino Vahing, The Invisible Fight injects a renewed sense of what could be described as 'midnight madness.'
On paper, The Invisible Fight seems like an improbable venture, blending a 1970s USSR nostalgia trip with elements of kung fu and Black Sabbath, primarily set within a monastery. The film kicks off with an audacious opening scene at the China-USSR border, where a trio of Chinese kung fu masters dispatch an entire army, sparing only Rafael, an unassuming and naive individual.
Rafael observes the martial arts display and receives an unexpected gesture from a kung fu master, who dances atop his held weapon. Sarnet fully embraces nostalgia, retro stylization, and elements of the absurd, as Rafael's army colleague suggests that a different god's plan may be in store for him.
In Estonia, Rafael lives with his mother, earns a living as an auto mechanic, and develops an affection for a local woman who is involved with a neighborhood tough. A vehicular breakdown near a monastery leads him, not to mechanical assistance, but rather a circuitous route to enlightenment. The idiosyncratic monastery head perceives Rafael as a "chosen one," while Rafael himself, still influenced by his previous encounter with the wuxia masters set to a Black Sabbath soundtrack, aspires to master kung fu within the Orthodox religious setting.
At its core, the film delves into themes of rebellion, authenticity, and the search for individual identity. Rafael joins an Orthodox monastery renowned for monks skilled in Chinese martial arts, and unconventional devotion to Madonna. Yet his motivations for joining are superficial, leading him on an off-kilter journey toward spiritual enlightenment that involves airborne church battles, car chases involving the KGB, bell-bottom duels, altercations with secret agents, telepathy, heavy vodka drinking, and maternal guilt trips.
Employing a no-holds-barred tactic, Sarnet infuses the narrative with a blend of folk piety and automotive-themed religious allegory. The end result is a dense tapestry unpacked through vivacious, sardonic, and subversive humor that challenges both sacred and secular norms.
The Invisible Fight, despite its increasingly eccentric genre fusion, is not simply an indulgent exercise. Beneath the kung fu antics and high-octane escapades lies a substantive commentary. It addresses the youthful spirit of rebellion and individual revolt that totalistic regimes seek to suppress, allowing the director to simultaneously critique both spiritual dogmas and political constraints.
In The Invisible Fight, Sarnet crafts a genre mashup that serves as its own example of transcendence and transgression, much like its unorthodox monk protagonist. The narrative is as much about individual development as it is about coming of age, as the lead character sheds youthful naivety through encounters with both earthly and ethereal challenges. The film ultimately argues for the sanctity of individuality and uniqueness, suggesting that no approach is too unconventional for exploring this theme.
The film screened recently at the Locarno Film Festival. Visit the official site for more information.