Mushrooming (Seenelkäik): Toronto Review

Toomas Hussar's uneven debut throws a dash of stalker cinema into an oddly staged political satire

The Estonian political satire from director Toomas Hussar stars Raivo E. Tamm as a doughy politician attempting to survive the new media environment.

TORONTO — Political scandal meets survivalism in Toomas Hussar's Mushrooming, a satire that isn't quite as funny or pointed as it seems to intend. Odd tonal shifts will have viewers unsure what to make of it, though the pic presents an angle on post-Soviet politics that may attract some small amount of interest.

Raivo E. Tamm's Aadu, a doughy politician attempting to survive in a strange new media environment, is the film's most convincing ingredient. Wearing a look of perpetual consternation, he gruntingly obeys his handlers' instructions, going so far as to appear on a degrading TV game show wearing tights and bouncing on a giant rubber ball.

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Aadu is more at home on a day trip in the woods, hunting for mushrooms with his wife Viivi (Elina Reinold). On the way there, though, Viivi convinces him to give a lift to stranded musician Zak (Juhan Ulfsak), whose scraggly hair and eyeliner fit perfectly with Ulfsak's cartoonish too-cool-for-this affectation. Perhaps this is what an Estonian rock star really looks like.

Zak's bad-sport decision to wait in the car while the couple goes hunting pays off when they get lost, or at least it should: Though they can reach him on Aadu's cell phone, Zak is unable to help them find their way back. Soon, the film is slipping in and out of horror-flick mode, identifying too strongly with the panic Aadu feels whenever Viivi wanders out of sight.

The couple's problem is compounded by a phone call Aadu got shortly before entering the woods: A journalist is inquiring about his government-funded pleasure trip to Machu Picchu, threatening to expose him as a corrupt pol. With that bad press on its way, Aadu thinks he can't afford the embarrassment of calling local rescue services; once he uses up his battery, even that disgraceful escape hatch vanishes.

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Hussar's scenario is most involving when in the woods, where the situation is threatening despite being a little ridiculous. But the scene back in the city, where Aadu's crew is doing damage control for the endangered legislator, will look hokey to American viewers who've had decades to fine-tune their jaded view of political image-management. Though Hussar ends the film with a nice example of on-the-spot crowd seduction, it's preceded by such exaggerated manipulation we Western viewers can kid ourselves that we'd never fall for such a thing.

Production Company: Allfilm

Cast: Raivo E. Tamm, Elina Reinold, Juhan Ulfsak, Üllar Saaremäe, Hendrik Toompere jr

Director-Screenwriter: Toomas Hussar

Producer: Piret Tibbo-Hudgins

Executive producers:

Director of photography: Rein Kotov

Production designer: Kristina Lõuk

Music: Arian Levin

Costume designer:

Editor: Tambet Tasuja

Sales: Botnia Film

No rating, 92 minutes