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Stairway to Heaven (Taevatrepp)

Time travel is possible! This peculiar Estonian film demonstrates that we can communicate with ourselves in two disparate timelines - from the the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


It is indeed possible to travel through time. Not through a portal, but through memory instead. Something as trivial as a bicycle can take us back to a happy and carefree time of the past. Such it is for Uu (Mait Malmsten), who is reminded of happier times in his life when he visits an ailing Georg, a childhood mentor of his , who tells him to try cycling again.

Suddenly, he is transported back to his youth, a time when he gawped at the naked models Georg painted (which for a teenager is better than a chocolate bar), and enjoyed the merits of football. He dances to the rock music of the era (the soundtrack is almost a character unto itself), and enjoys the friendships that he wishes could last an eternity. But the older Uu is undergoing personal duress: his work and romantic relationships are causing him harm, in a way his youthful endeavours never could. But by staying true to his younger ideals, he hopes to emerge a stronger and more fulfilled person, even though it’s hard to make it through time. There is, he is told, too much of it.

Surprisingly, the film recalls the wistfulness of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II (1974), but the dialogue this time isn’t between a father and his son, but an older man and his younger self. In that sense, it’s less tantalising than Coppola’s treatise, but it’s arguably the more universal work. Stairway To Heaven is soaked in regret; ghosts can be found everywhere. Uu sees much in himself in the ailing Georg, knowing only too well that he too will have to face the Almighty. But until that happens, he can enjoy the merits of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ and Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Livin’ Thing’, both for the joys they brought him in his past, and the happiness it gives him in the present.

In one of the film’s more humorous moments, the younger Uu (played with rapier sharp wit by Timotheus Sammul) is told that The Beatles must have reunited; the voices on ELO sound very “Lennon”. By the time he has hit adulthood, this level of innocence has been replaced by a work ethic that slowly eats away at his soul. He’s a much lonelier figure in his older age, but that doesn’t stop him from working on himself. Indeed, the film makes a very good point that we never stop growing as individuals, even if we do feel like we’ve hit a fork. Work impacts Uu’s home life, work life and social life, but he always has that rock music to bring him back to a younger, more virile place in time. If time is an illusion, then memory is the key to safety, switching gears from one point of place to another point entirely. But as it stands, time keeps us marching on and on.

Stairway to Heaven is not without imperfeactions. Some of the supporting cast – particularly Harriet Toompere – feel like they’ve been drafted based on their looks and not their skills. And then there’s the matter of the slow motion shots, which do little to enhance the story, and actually do a lot to distract from it. he story is solid, the locations are stellar, and the songcraft (which also features Slade) is rocking.

Stairway to Heaven just premiered in the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Eoghan Lyng - 18-11-2023

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