Dersu Uzala” meets “Never Cry Wolf” in the Estonian export “The Heart of the Bear.” In this film, a hunky hunter named Niko goes to Siberia and winds up in all sorts of zany situations. He arrives just in time for the winter and his log cabin is one-quarter finished by the time the snow comes. Some aboriginal Siberians help him to finish the cabin and invite him to participate in a ceremony where he is given a 14-year-old bride. Niko makes a flippant remark about the girl’s youth and she grabs his knife, runs into the woods and stabs herself.
After shlepping around in the frozen wasteland, Niko kills enough animals to make a small profit in the local trading markets and heads home to a village where a hot-to-trot waitress at a local cafe has a standing invitation to come up and see her sometime. Niko gets her directions wrong and winds up in the wrong house. Instead of the foxy waitress, he finds Gitya, a schoolteacher who is immediately enamored with him. It seems that Gitya’s imagination goes into overdrive with the happy hunter. As Niko chops wood. Gitya virtually salivates over his muscular physique and dares (but fails) to caress his triceps. He figures this teacher could use some tutoring in carnal knowledge, but she pulls a knife on him and admits she has a husband somewhere. Niko goes back into the forest and tries to kill a bear.
“The Heart of the Bear” is based on a classic of Estonian literature. As the plot summary may explain, it is easy to see why so few classics of Estonian literature can be found outside of Estonia.
But despite a hopelessly silly plot, the film is blessed with extraordinary cinematography by Rein Kotov. The film frames the vast and challenging Siberian landscape with stunning clarity and artistic brilliance. One can put up with a lot of dramatic hooey as long the film looks great, and this one certainly does. Kotov’s camera is also generous with the long-haired, hard-bodied Rain Simmul as Niko. Simmul may not seem like ideal casting as a hunter – he struts and stalks like a runway model rather than a Siberian bear-stalker and he seems more natural when he is exercising rather than reciting dialogue. But as Siberian eye candy goes, he is more than adequate and the women in the audience can at least enjoy something more intriguing to look at than a bear in the snow.