SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD – Documentary Review

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Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is an intimate, enlightening feminist documentary from Estonian filmmaker Anna Hints. We are invited to observe a group of women who’ve come together to cleanse their bodies, minds and spirits by celebrating the ritual of a traditional Estonian sauna.

Traditionally, the sauna’s dimly lit interior is actually considered to be sacred. It is a place where women come to cleanse themselves, to give birth, to prepare the dead for burial and to relieve themselves from stressful situations in their lives.

Their sisterhood includes women of all ages and sizes. It is evident from the start of the film that the women are there to talk about and share their experiences and to support each other on the journey they are taking — that we’ve been invited to witness. The style of the film is purely observational. There is only natural sound.  As the women sweat in the sauna’s steamy heat, they take turns revealing to each other in an almost confessional tone the secrets of the most meaningful moments in their lives.

Some of the women release memories of deeply disturbing incidents — of abusive parents, of sexual assault, of love lost. Their stories are presented as voiceover narration. The faces of the woman who is talking is hidden or off camera, and the camera is steadied on a closeup of hands or feet or breasts or the face of another woman who is listening. This affords each woman s measure of respectful privacy and adds to the film’s intimacy. When each woman is finished talking, there is a period of silence during with the feelings of relief and liberation are palpable.

The individual stories are punctuated by sequences of the women rubbing exfoliating salt over their bodies, massaging each other and beating each others’ shoulders and back with pine branches. Sometimes they sing or chant.

The documentary is comfortably paced and calmingly meditative. You witness the healing qualities of sauna and may actually vicariously feel some of them yourself.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Smoke Sauna Sisterhood

Directors: Anna Hints

Release Date: November 24, 2023

Running Time: 89 minutes

Language: Estonian with English subtitles

Screenwriters: Anna Hints (documentary)

Distribution Company: Greenwich Entertainment

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