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Helmer sees censorship in court decision

"Magnus" banned worldwide as filmmaker decries "Soviet" style ruling

The debut director of a film banned by an Estonian court worldwide until 2025 has hit back at a decision that she says smacks of Soviet-style censorship.

Kadri Kousaar, whose film “Magnus” is based on a true story of a teenager who commits suicide after his father tries to talk him out of it, says banning the film was “a symptom of the after-effects of the totalitarian regime,” from when Estonia had been part of the Soviet Union.

The film — which screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2007 — was the first Estonian film to be officially selected for the festival, and stirred controversy in its home country for its subject matter and the legal objections the boy’s mother lodged against it.

The boy’s father did not object to the film and even played the lead role as the morally decadent father. The plaintiff is his ex-wife who carries a different surname.

After a series of legal clashes, a Tallinn district court earlier this year ordered the film banned from being screened or distributed in any format worldwide until 2025, after hearing arguments for the prosecution that argued that the film grossly violated the privacy of their client.

The decision was appealed but upheld by a superior court last week.

Kousaar, whose new project, “European Psycho,” will be at the Rome fest’s co-production forum in October, learned of the court decision recently.

“I am disappointed and saddened by the court’s decision, because it was a precedent-setting case, yet the key issues were not commented at all by the court,” Kousaar tells Variety.

The court’s decision had failed to specify precisely what kind of “personal infringement” directors should avoid in film and “Magnus” had not mentioned any real names or facts and had carried a disclaimer at the end, she says.

“Another legal absurdity is that I don’t own the rights and the ban is on me personally, not on the actual rights owner — British company Sirin Films. And how can an Estonian court ban something worldwide? Even the Soviet, Chinese or Iranian authorities have never had this power,” Kousaar says. “It is not about me or ‘Magnus.’ The real issue is that Estonia is still plagued by its Soviet past, and we should know better than censorship.

“The banning of ‘Magnus’ is merely a symptom of the after-effects of the totalitarian regime. Valuable lessons that Estonians have learned are at risk of being lost to society to the fear and real effects of censorship.”