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Mushrooming

A stuck-up politician with a PR problem, his chatterbox wife and a famous but clueless goth rocker get lost in a Baltic forest in the diverting if not entirely smooth genre mashup "Mushrooming."

Cast:
With: Raivo E. Tamm, Elina Reinold, Juhan Ulfsak, Ullar Saaremae, Hilje Murel, Hendrik Toompere Jr. (Estonian dialogue)

A stuck-up politician with a PR problem, his chatterbox wife and a famous but clueless goth rocker get lost in a Baltic forest in the diverting if not entirely smooth genre mashup “Mushrooming.” Estonian theater and TV helmer Toomas Hussar mixes thriller and horror elements with Baltic humor in his feature debut, broadly satirizing the mindless behavior of politicians and celebrities. Enough of an odd beast to attract attention, especially from genre fests, this laugh-and-thrill combo could also ‘shroom in ancillary.

Aging elected official Aadu (Raivo E. Tamm, convincingly snooty) has claimed expenses for a vacation to Peru, which a dirt-digging journo uncovers while the politician is on a domestic mushroom-picking trip with his gullible but still dominant spouse, Viivi (Elina Reinold). At her insistence, they pick up a man they meet at a gas station, Zak (Juhan Ulfsak), a drunk, black-clad singer whom Aadu understandably mistakes for a shady type.

Several wrong left turns later, the strange trio is stranded in an unknown part of the woods, where Zak promises to watch the car while they pop out to look for edible fungi. On a basic story level, what’s in store next is pretty standard stuff, including the bickering and subsequent (unplanned) separation of Viivi and Aadu; the timorous Zak’s encounter with a scary redneck (Ullar Saaremae); and the characters’ arrival at a secluded chalet in the forest that seems inhabited, but with no owner in sight.

Hussar cleverly uses the technical means at his disposal to give the predictable midsection a distinctly local flavor, such as the roving camerawork that turns the masses of conspicuously straight tree trunks into a hypnotic, almost abstract labyrinth. Arian Levin’s score helps smooth the occasional transition from straightforward drama into thriller/horror territory, even if the frequent tonal shifts aren’t always entirely convincing.

What sets “Mushrooming” apart from its lost-in-the-woods brethren are the events of the unusual third act, in which the pic’s satirical intentions are more clearly visible, and the earlier glimpses of character development really start to pay off.

The small cast is strong, with each actor convincingly inhabiting his or her role, suggesting at least a smidgen of individuality that turns stock characters into believable human beings. The technical crew was likely almost as tiny as the cast, but is equally on the ball.

Mushrooming

Estonia

Production: An Allfilm production. Produced by Piret Tibbo-Hudgins. Directed, written by Toomas Hussar.

Crew: Camera (color), Rein Kotov; editor, Tambet Tasuja; music, Arian Levin; production designer, Kristina Louk; costume designer, Eva-Maria Gramakovski; sound (Dolby Digital), Ivo Felt. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (East of the West), July 1, 2012. Running time: 88 MIN.

With: With: Raivo E. Tamm, Elina Reinold, Juhan Ulfsak, Ullar Saaremae, Hilje Murel, Hendrik Toompere Jr. (Estonian dialogue)

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