SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD – Review by Cate Marquis

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Estonian filmmaker Anna Hints‘ intriguing documentary gives us a glimpse into the ancient South Estonian tradition of the women’s smoke sauna, a kind of blending of a smokehouse to preserve meats and a sauna of preserve the bonds between women, as well as ancient folkways and the women’s own sanity. The purpose of the smoke sauna is the relax the body and the mind. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood shows us this world by immersing us in it, taking us through the seasons – winter, spring, fall and, yes, even summer – as we sit with the women in the smoke sauna, watching in the half-light as they scrub and steam, pour water on the hot stones and pour their hearts out to each other. There is no narration, and none needed, as we feel like participants in the sauna. In the dim light, we see bare bodies and individual body parts, but not the face of the woman speaking, although we do see faces of those listening. The documentary shows us the steps of the rituals of the smoke sauna, where women not only come together to sweat and be massaged, but to dance, chant, play accordion, and relax, as well as to give birth, purify, and prepare the dead for burial. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is filled with images of the gorgeous natural world surrounding the sauna, of the women laughing, dancing, crying and sharing in and around the sauna, in a restful, revealing and contemplative documentary that will make you want to linger in its world.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.