Lost and found: urban and rural spaces in contemporary Estonian cinema
Siu, See Mei
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This dissertation is concerned with the cinematic representations of urban and rural spaces in contemporary Estonian cinema in relation to national identity discourse. It identifies a distinctive ‘motif of the road’ in a corpus of Estonian films - The Highway Crossing, Made in Estonia, Mindless, 186 Kilometers and The Temptation of St. Tony - of the late 1990s and 2000s characterised by the portrayal of the journey undertaken by city-dweller protagonist(s) between urban and rural spaces, and investigates the ways these personal spatial traverses are interwoven with the national trajectory of post- Soviet transition through which contemporary Estonian filmmakers articulate their critique on Estonia’s search for new identity and the process of Westernisation, in particular the paradoxical effects of pursuing a modern free-market economy. Through an analysis of the spatial modelling within the films in light of Yuri Lotman’s cultural semiotics, particularly his ‘notion of boundary’ and the aspect of its crossing, it is argued that these films capture the ‘border-spaces’, the peripheral areas of tension and dialogue between internal space (urban) and external space (rural), and that the filmmakers’ manipulation of space coupled with the use of the road motif engages in the wider reassessment and reinterpretation of the contested relationship between landscape and Estonian national identity that has emerged in the Estonian society after regaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. This dissertation is also an attempt to explore the potential of Lotmanian semiotics of culture as a method for film analysis, more specifically the usefulness of his conceptualisation of boundary in our reading of cinematic landscape. By contextualising contemporary representations of cinematic urban and rural spaces under discussion within Soviet-/ Estonian film history, it seeks to investigate the relationship between aesthetic continuity and innovation.