Films exploring first love are of course nothing new within the coming of age genre. With many films over the years having explored the desire, humour and longing that first love inevitably brings. However, Estonian film Cherry Tobacco, dovetails this intensity and desire with a nuanced exploration of community, infatuation and belonging. Creating a gentle coming of age story that equally manages to pack a dramatic punch in its narrative.
Set in small town Estonia during the last throws of summer. Laura (Maris Nõlvak) finds herself bored by both her community and life. Undertaking arranged and excruciatingly managed dates with young admirers. While equally seeking excitement and escape from the mundane trappings of summer. The boys within her social circle struggling to meet her expectations of maturity as she longs for something new.
Therefore, when best friend Merit (Getter Meresmaa) invites Laura on a hiking trip into the Estonian countryside. Laura reluctantly agrees, seeking escape from home and those around her. Her lack of understanding of what the trip may bring, leading her to wear flimsy trainers for an expedition into nature. While the hike leader, middle aged Joosep (Gert Raudsep) cracks poor jokes while trying to encourage the small group to bond.
As the hike starts Joosep is an enigma too Laura, as he smokes his pipe, indulges in nature and try’s to create moments of joy for those under his care. However, as the hike progresses, Laura finds herself becoming more and more infatuated by the maturity and fragility of Joosep. His worldly ideas and love of nature slowly captivating Laura’s imagination and desires. While his youthful energy hides long phone calls to his wife, as he tries to save his gradually disintegrating marriage.
What starts as a hike for Laura soon turns to trip into love and adoration. As her feelings are clouded by both escape from her town and and the maturity Joseep offers. While Joosep’s insecurities and family troubles find a brief moment of respite under the wings of Laura’s increasing infatuation. Creating a quiet and non physical snapshot of love. One that must come to end as the hike returns to town, despite the strong connections made.
Married directing duo Andres and Katrin Maimik tread a challenging path in exploring teenage infatuation with a much older man. One that in the wrong hands could create an uncomfortable viewing experience. However, Andres and Katrin never allow Joosep’s character to become a potential predator of the young girl. Carefully dovetailing Joseep’s mid life crisis with the freedom and vitality of Laura’s curiosity. While in turn exploring Laura’s need for a more mature male love, with her eventual realisation that this does not always come from someone older.
However, despite the realisation of both parties that love can never blossom, both are left changed. Their time together offering a brief but invigorating connection. And it is here that Cherry Tobacco truly shines, providing us with a snapshot of how brief love can be. While wrapping this in the escapism of nature, ultimately creating the dynamic of a non physical holiday romance. Where a conversation, brief encounter or a simple dance eats away your soul and remains in your memory long after the holiday is over.
Cherry Tobacco is both delicate and sincere, wearing its heart on its sleeve from the first scene to the last. And while there are elements mid-way through that feel slightly slow, performances ensure audience attention is maintained. While the screenplay has moments of true beauty in its exploration of coming of age themes. Ranging from Laura’s dates with local boy Egert through to the her realisation that she may be in love with Jossep. Ultimately creating a film that offers a beautiful photograph of a single moment in love and time.