This Sundance award winner brings new meaning to the healing powers of sisterhood, following a group of Estonian women who gather in a traditional log-cabin sauna to share naked truths.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Within the sheltering and intimate confines of a traditional smoke sauna (inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list) deep in an Estonian forest, women cleanse body and soul throughout the seasons. Beautifully shot, often in intense close-up, the camera is at one with bodies, flesh, water, steam. It doesn’t coldly observe, instead inviting us on a lyrical, abstract appreciation of this communal space and to participate in the rituals associated with it. Here women are free to just be, baring all. They expose themselves, and there is no prurience in the way that director Anna Hints documents them.
The women’s conversations—providing the soundtrack—range from the intensely personal to more banal social topics. They veer from the pungently funny (bad dick pics) to the profoundly moving and harrowing; this nurturing environment encourages innermost secrets to be revealed. The setting may be rural Estonia, but the experiences evoked are universal to women the world over. This immersive film is also a celebration of natural beauty in a myriad of forms. — Sandra Reid
“The magic of Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is … simply the way that Hints’ film invites us to be part of this supportive, witty, sweaty collective, which feels like it operates on the most practical yet optimistic of assumptions: that with the application of enough heat and fellowship, everything painful can be soothed and everything dirty can be made clean.” — Jessica Kiang, Variety
“Hypnotic, intimate and blisteringly honest… No topic is off limits to these spiritual sisters as they sweat to cleanse their souls and bodies—filmed gracefully by Hints with a painterly touch of chiaroscuro—while also purifying the essence of their viewers.” — Tomris Laffly, Harper’s Bazaar