Sunday, November 12, 2023

NY Baltic ’23: Melchior the Apothecary: The Executioner’s Daughter

Melchior Wakenstede was not expecting the Inquisition, but nobody ever expects the Inquisition. Unfortunately, their presence will make it harder for him to solve crimes as Tallinn’s deputy sheriff. It also makes it harder to live as a halfway enlightened Medieval man, just in general. Consequently, Wakenstede faces his costliest case yet in Elmo Nuganen’s Melchior the Apothecary: The Executioner’s Daughter, which screens virtually as part of the 2023 New York Baltic Film Festival.

Wakenstede has finally married his beloved Keterlyn Kordt, his former apprentice, back when she was trying to pass for a man (unconvincingly). Technically, their marriage defies local customs, for reasons that were revealed at the end of
The Ghost, but they are finally happy together. Alas, it will not last, when Madame Wakenstede partially witnesses an attempted murder.

Unfortunately, the abbey cannot tend to the victim, because they are unexpectedly hosting one of the Pope’s Inquisitors. As usual, nobody was expecting the Inquisition. Inconveniently, that means the Wakenstedes must care for him in the apothecary. It does not take much of a detective to figure out the witch-hunting Inquisition has Wakenstede in its sights. Of course, it hardly helps when he subsequently proves a traveling performer’s presumed suicide is in fact a murder, in open defiance of the Inquisition’s enforcer-monk.

Executioner’s Daughter seems like a relatively minor mystery, but it takes a surprisingly dark turn. Fans who connected with these characters will be probably be shocked by what happens. Hollywood would never go here, especially in the third film of a trilogy, produced back-to-back (like Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings). However, Wakenstede’s climactic confrontation with the secret murderer is probably the best scene in the entire 3-film cycle.

Marten Metsaviir handles Wakenstede’s big dramatic scenes with the grace and gravity they deserve. He and Maarja Johanna Magi still have nice chemistry as the newlywed Wakenstedes. Plus, Jaan Rekkor is gruff but heartbreakingly poignant as Keterlyn’s father. This time around, Alo Korve gets a chance to humanize the incompetent Sheriff Dorn, finally making him a flawed but decent chap. Again, the supporting cast is fully stocked with interesting and era-appropriate-looking characters, played by Jan Uuspold and Jaan Pehk, among others.

Again, the old city locations add a lot of visual texture. The trilogy finale might be divisive among fans who were won over by the first two films. Yet, when the faithful (so to speak) finish watching
Executioner’s Daughter, they will really feel like they go way back with old Melchior. Seeing all three consecutively at the Baltic Film Fest should be a rewarding viewing experience, much like the initial American release of the Department Q trilogy. Highly recommended individually or together, all three Melchior the Apothecary films screen virtually at the New York Baltic Film Festival, through Sunday 11/19.