Boston Baltic Film Festival Dispatch #4: Melchior the Apothecary, Melchior the Apothecary: The Ghost

Elmo Nüganen, the director of all three Melchior the Apothecary films (all 2022), is likely the most popular currently working filmmaker from Estonia. His 1944 (2016) is essentially the most internationally recognizable film in the country’s history and made a whopping $22,059,662 worldwide on a budget well under 2 million. His box office receipts are remarkable given that Estonia is a country of just 1.3 million people. (For perspective, Greater Boston tops out at a little under 5 million.) Based on the two films of his I’ve seen, the best comparison that might make sense to a Western cinephile audience might be Ron Howard, the genre-loving “wife guy” movie director. And I mean that as a compliment: Howard understands his audience like few others.

Nüganen’s Melchior historical mysteries, both of which are wildly successful locally, demonstrate the appeal. Poised detective yarns, these old-fashioned populist films are designed to maximize the emotional enjoyment of large audiences while also allowing space for virtue veneration and development. The former has been wrecked with no hope of departure on the shores of our contemporary (Anglophone) cinema landscape for some time now, but the latter has lost its place. Melchior the Apothecary might possess an ingredient of the antidote.

In the first of the trilogy (the third will be arriving later this year), the titular apothecary Melchior (Märten Metsaviir) is summoned by local town officials to investigate the beheading of a visiting knight. Adapted from one of Indrek Hargla’s novels, the first film is remarkably similar to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery that takes place at a monastery and features a similar twist at the end (that I won’t spoil here). The Dominicans, Brotherhood of Blackheads, heretical orders, and pirates all have something to do with this murder, and Melchior is left to bounce from one villager to another in medieval Tallinn as he tries to solve the mystery. 

Continue reading at the Boston Hassle.

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