Smoke Sauna Sisterhood
Sundance Festival Winner, Best Director; European Film Awards Winner, Best Documentary
14A, mature theme, nudity.
Dir: Anna Hints.
Estonia/France/Iceland, 2023, 89 min.
Kadi Kivilo, Maria Meresaar, Elsa Saks.
In Estonian with English Subtitles.
“There’s a comforting, velvety quality to the light inside the smoke sauna, a wooden shed in a forest in the southeast of Estonia that’s the location for this beguiling documentary. It’s as though the hard edges of the outside world are softened by the woodsmoke, steam and the sweat of the women who gather here throughout the seasons… The smoke sauna tradition of Estonia’s Võro community, a practice so arcane and specific to this region that it has been granted a Unesco listing, is not just about sweating out impurities, it’s also about purging the soul. The smoke sauna tradition was a part of Estonian filmmaker Anna Hints’s childhood. Now she shares her knowledge of the rituals: the sawing of the lake ice to make a winter plunge pool, the chopping of wood, the smoke-curing of neat parcels of meat when the sauna is unoccupied. But mostly, she captures the stories. The women… bare their souls, exploring sex, motherhood, sickness, grief, trauma and, in one uproarious segment, unsolicited dick pics. It’s an intense watch; at times infectiously hilarious, at others wrenchingly sad. For the film’s brief running time, there’s an emotional osmosis at play, in both sauna and cinema alike.” —Wendy Ide, the Guardian (UK)