❉ Nick Clement reviews Mart Sander’s latest ahead of its world premiere at the Santa Fe Film Festival.
The Kennedy Incident, from writer/director Mart Sander (The Whores [Litsid], Eerie Faerie Tales), takes its cue from history, and has some fun with a local Estonian legend concerning a young and randy John “Jack” F. Kennedy, Jr. and his romantic exploits in the photogenic city during the years that were leading up to World War II. This peppy and entertaining film boasts strong production values and confident storytelling techniques from Sander, who knows exactly how to get the most out of his original screenplay, to say nothing of eliciting uniformed ensemble work from his game cast. An independent production in the truest sense of the phrase, The Kennedy Incident will be making the festival rounds in 2021, looking for a distributor, and should easily find a home on an international streaming platform, as the material feels tailor made to a wide audience.
The plot hinges on a very-buff Jack Kennedy (British model-turned-actor Ben Walton-Jones) who takes a holiday to Estonia in 1939, looking to cement ties between America and the foreign country, with the forthcoming events of World War II looming in the not-to-distant horizon. He’s of course impossibly gorgeous (Walton-Jones clearly has tremendous sex-appeal), and when he crosses paths with two very different, very beautiful, high-end call-girls, his life gets more complicated than he could ever anticipate. Especially when one of the ladies, Claudette (the alluring Britt Korsmaa, making her big-screen debut), turns out to be a spy, and whose intentions may not be as pure as she lets on. The supporting cast includes quality turns from Merle Palmiste, Lisette Pomerants, Gerda Johnson, Maarja Mitt, Liisu Krass, and Liisa Linhein. And because Sander clearly has an innate understanding of this world and these characters, there’s an effortless sense of playful comedic timing to match the more dramatic moments.
Visually, the film is quite accomplished, especially considering the likely low-budget. Because the country of Estonia is seemingly a time machine back to the 1940’s in terms of available production design and overall atmosphere, Sander was wise to select choice locations, which maximize the sense of scale to the otherwise intimate story. The costumes are vibrant, and much can similarly be said for the art direction, which perfectly melds with the overall aesthetic plan to the piece. I love being taken to another place and another time, especially when the era feels distinct and alive; this is one of Sander’s best strengths as a filmmaker, and as he continues to grow as a storyteller, it will be interesting to see if he steps outside of his now-customary wheelhouse, or if he’ll continue to tell stories within this same dramatic crux. Only time will tell, but it will be exciting to see what path he chooses.
Sander is quite the multihyphenate in Europe, with a successful career as television host and entertainer under his belt. He’s an accomplished writer (The Goddess of the Devil) and not only did he write and direct The Kennedy incident, he handled the well-timed editing and energetic musical scoring departments, so this is truly an auteur piece if there ever was one. And what makes the entire endeavor even more ambitious and clever, is that the events of The Kennedy Incident serve as a prequel, of sorts, to Sander’s charming and sexy television series, The Whores, with numerous characters getting established in this film, before getting further explored in the series. It’s a nifty idea – and it works as both a continuation of The Whores, and as a standalone item. My thinking is that there’s even more stories to be told about these women, and all of the various entanglements that come with their sordid but playful world. The Kennedy Incident is a little gem waiting to be discovered.
❉ ‘The Kennedy Incident’ (2021) receives its world premiere as part of the Closing Night Selection at The Santa Fe Film Festival. Click here for more information. Director: Mart Sander. Language: Estonian/English/German. Runtime: 105 min. Sound Mix: Dolby Digital. Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.
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