Estonia’s foreign-language Oscar submission looks at a single father’s struggles and is the fiction debut from documentary filmmaker Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo.
A 30-year-old Estonian working in construction in Finland is unexpectedly faced with a dilemma in the appropriately titled Take It or Leave It (Vota voi jata). This first fiction feature from distaff documentary editor and occasional director Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo (In the Footsteps of Middendorff) looks at a man who unexpectedly becomes a father and then has to choose between caring for the baby alone or giving it up for adoption. Though not quite a story of social realism streaked with unexpected moments of grace a la the work of the Dardenne brothers – whose background, of course, was also in documentaries – this is nonetheless a realistically told drama about one blue-collar man’s struggle with keeping his head above water as he has to try and juggle life’s curveballs.
Sagor brings Erik to life in a strong and compelling performance. Erik is someone you would want as a father or a friend, a guy who thinks about what’s right before considering what getting things right might actually entail and who is also not afraid to do whatever it takes to provide for his family. It is mainly thanks to Sagor’s charismatic turn that audiences will stick with Erik throughout this drama, which more often than not feels stuck between an exercise in Estonian socio-realism and the necessity to reassuringly prove that even for working-class characters, the glass might be half-empty but all it takes is another look at the glass to realize that it’s also still half-full.
Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter