During World War II, when Estonia was initially occupied by Nazi Germany, young Endel Nelis (Mart Avandi) was forcibly drafted into the German army. This meant that, in the post-war annexation of Estonia by the USSR, Endel was considered a war criminal.
Having left Leningrad, where he has been living under his mother’s surname in order to evade the secret police, he is hired as a physical education teacher in the rural village of Haapsalu. After an abortive attempt to start a ski club, he starts a fencing club for the students. His former fencing partner in Leningrad, Aleksei (Kirill Karo), sends him some second-hand foils and fencing outfits for the kids. He is becoming romantically involved with a fellow teacher, Kadri (Ursula Ratasepp). Life is comparatively good.
The popularity of his venture puts him offside with the principal (Hendrik Toompere), a party apparatchik who is suspicious of his background. He discovers that Endel was, until recently, a renowned fencer in Leningrad, using his mother’s surname. Most importantly, he learns that Endel had been conscripted into the German army. Meanwhile, Endel’s students have read that there is to be a schools' fencing tournament in Leningrad. Although his students are keen to compete, both Aleksei and Kadri advise against it, fearful that he will be arrested if he returns to Leningrad.
Many of the children have lost a father during the war and Endel has become their father figure as much as their teacher. The children have come to mean a lot to him. Little Marta (Liisa Koppel) cares for her two younger sisters while their widowed mother works overnight. Jaan (Joonas Koff) has also lost his father and now his grandfather (Lembit Ulfsak) has just been arrested.
Endel must decide whether he should risk arrest by taking them to Leningrad to compete in the prestigious competition or whether he should continue running from the authorities and disappoint the youngsters.
Anna Heinamaa’s screenplay is based on the true story of the Estonian fencer and coach, Endel Nellis (1925–1993). Klaus Haro’s seamless direction, flawless production values and totally believable performances, it is little wonder that this poignant but ultimately uplifting film has been so widely acclaimed.