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‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’ Review: Lyrical, Life-Affirming Tales of Hurt and Healing in a Hotbox

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Jessica Kiang In a log-cabin sauna nestled in pretty woods by a lake, a setting straight off the top of a chocolate box, a group of women gather on and off through the changing seasons to sweat out their secrets and heal each other with heat, talk and arcane sauna-based rituals.

It is a practise so specific to the Voro community of Estonia that it joins Cuba’s rum makers, Turkey’s coffee culture and suchlike on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, a fact revealed at the end of Anna Hint’s lovely feature doc debut “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.” And it feels exactly right, given that the small, smoky, steamy miracle of this film is how it creates something so intangible, so lyrical, from the absolutely elemental: fire, wood, water and lots of naked female flesh.

Part of the film’s transcendent appeal is the result of specific formal choices made by Hints, the deserving winner of the directing award in the World Cinema Documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival.

The soundscape is precise and evocative: Shivery samples of Edvard Egilsson’s otherworldly choral score intermingle with the quiet, almost eerie airiness of the woodland setting, water splashed and hissing on the coals and murmured conversations made conspiratorial by the strange, secretive reverb in this small enclosed space.

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