The Same Old Story: The Filmic Compulsion Toward Renewal

The Same Old Story: The Filmic Compulsion Toward Renewal

By Rebeka Milius

Illustration by Célia Mortureux 

When Pääru Oja, a renowned and loved Estonian actor, is asked why he felt inclined to partake in Suvitajad (Ergo Kuld, 2023) which is a remake of Siin Me Oleme (Sulev Nõmmik, 1979), he stated that remaking the classic Estonian comedy film would bring the generations that did not grow up with the original film, closer to it.1 When Ergo Kuld, the director of Suvitajad, is asked about the original, he answers along the same lines and adds that the new version pays homage to the original by treasuring it and adding value to it.2 107,000 went to watch it in theatres (which is a big number for Estonia) and yet, the discourse around it after its opening was one of disappointment at the apparent tribute. All that made it a national favourite was replaced with new actors, new dialogue and a new setting. Why are we experiencing a trend of remaking films? What films are being remade? What relationship forms between the two interlinked media objects and what happens to the original once the new version comes out?

Due to our lodge in late capitalism, we are in a constant and cyclical search for the next new thing to consume so as to satisfy the small and little but incredibly loud voice inside our heads. So much so, that it seems as though the new is on the brink of running out and we have only the old to go back to and renew. This phenomenon is omnipresent throughout Western society and breathes loudly in every industry. Take the sports car industry where, in 2021, The Lamborghini Countach LPI 800-4 came out as tribute to the original 1971 Countach,3 and while it had its set of updated features, it never amounted to being any more than a mere tribute act to its predecessor.

In parallel, Estonia’s film industry much like other national cinemas is experiencing what one could call the New Old Wave where old film classics are taken up by a new generation of filmmakers that wish to recycle an original and beloved story with their own personal twist to it. In 2023 alone, Ergo Kuld came out with two remakes: Vigased Pruudid (The Blemished Brides) based on the 1989 cult classic by the same name by Toomas Kirss and Suvitajad (The Vacationers). A great contradiction presents itself with these remakes: filmmakers are appropriating an older film dating back to the previous century and claiming to want to honour it, yet they are packing it full of new elements, almost as if corrupting it with this newness and ridding it of all its charm that made it a cult classic. The once charming characters suddenly feel forced and unnatural. A strange tension forms itself between the new and the old, and you feel it through the screen, gnawing at you. The verisimilitude and believability of the film has now been lost.

In the case of Siin Me Oleme and Suvitajad, which follow the story of a family from Tallinn holidaying in the countryside of an island alongside a local family, most of the cinematic elements that made the original memorable and dear to the viewers were stripped from the remake. Evidently, Suvitajad modernised Siin Me Oleme by explicitly setting it in 2023 in this way emptying it of its timelessness, the iconic theme song failed to make an appearance, the characters lacked any chemistry or humanity and instead felt distant and far, and the attempts at the most significant jokes of the original aimed high and yet completely fell through, not to mention Kuld’s nonsensical editing.4 Where is the line between homage and plain ruin? How does Kuld bring a generation unfamiliar with the original closer to it through the new version if the remake lacks the essence pivotal to the cult classic? Do all remakes face the same fate?

Many film enthusiasts express frustration at the thought of a remake for it seems to threaten the original’s livelihood by attempting to replace it, as if claiming that this new version is superior: an upgrade. Film enthusiasts are too not blind to the fact that filmmakers may be recycling the original partly because the predecessor was profitable and a great success all around. By remaking the film, they are essential attempting to recreate its success. Thereby, giving off the impression that they do not care to pay homage, but to engender money from a previous source. In most cases, however, the new version is nothing to write home about. And that is largely due to the fact that a remake is to some extent self-sabotage. As soon as it receives the label of a ‘remake’ whether from the filmmakers or from public discourse, it will never be seen as anything more than a mere replicate to the previous work. In this way, it ends up limiting its potential and meaning to forever being compared to its original source and never being seen as an independent work of art. It will forever be tied to its predecessor and this tie cannot be undone.

More Western and contemporary examples would include films like Mean Girls (Arturo Perez Jr., 2024) or live action remakes such as Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh, 2015), both of which attempt to recreate the revenue of the original film. On the other hand, one can see films like Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019) as the director’s endeavour to materialise her interpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s all-time classic piece of American literature. No matter the intention nor the positive or negative reception, the new version is seen as a remake and will always be seen as that from the moment news come out of its production.

What lies between a satisfactory and acceptable remake and a demoralising and bleak remake comes down to what is and what is not renewed and most notably, how it is renewed. It is a matter of knowing where to put the element of novelty and where not to put it. The audience policies this matter entirely, thus further proving how important film reception is in regard to the meaning and legacy of a film and how author intentions lose relevance. Indeed, once the film remake comes out, it either replaces and thus erases the original, or it plummets at its desperate attempt of substitution or preferably, it lives in a somewhat peaceful coexistence with the original while still being inevitably compared to it. Audiences too find it significant to understand why the original is being remade: is it homage or another attempt at financial gain? If it becomes clear that the latter is the objective, the film remake feels inauthentic and insincere. This is not the only risk remakes face as attaching the trivial label of a remake to a film is in and of itself potentially putting it in peril. Yet, these facts do not seem to stop filmmakers as Greta Gerwig is in pre-production for a remake of Narnia, Dune II is being released at the end of February 2024, and audiences leap at the opportunity to compare them, whether positively or negatively, to the classic.







Rebeka Milius is a third-year bachelor’s student of Media and Culture at UvA. Within the study of film, her interests and writing gravitate toward theories of diaspora, realism and pre-independence Estonian cinema. Outside of university, she enjoys working as a waitress in a hotel, biking, and cooking for friends.

Célia Mortureux is a second-year Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam. She loves painting, coffee and traveling.

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