Posts Tagged ‘LATVIAN FILM’

Away (2019) ****

Dir: Gints Zilbalodis | Animation, Latvia, 74′

‘Staying Alive’ is how best to describe this symbolic and gorgeously fluid ‘boys own’ adventure from Latvian animation wizard Gints Zilbalodis.

Away is the culmination of a decade spent honing his craft in a series of  delightful short animations such as Aqua, Priorities and Oasis whose focus is the main character’s lone struggle to overcome a powerful force. In this case a King Kong-like shape shifter that pursues him through a preternatural jungle with the aim of swallowing him alive.

Throughout this dreamlike often hazardous odyssey the boy’s only companion is a small yellow bird who he cares for with the utmost tenderness. The film seems to connect with our own everyday battle to keep going in these uncertain times, and above all, to make the right choices.  In other words, Away is a metaphor for life that echo Miyazaki’s delicately rendered animes which can work on a simplistic or subliminal level offering appeal for kids and adults alike.

More minimalist than Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo or even The Red Turtle but just as beautiful and and driven forward by an evocative soundscape the film shirks narrative conventions to tell a story that is firmly tethered to the natural while also teetering towards the surreal. Zilbalodis controls his entire project from 3D animation and script through to editing, soundscape and production.

The tousled-haired, wide-eyed teenager lands by parachute on a lush and mysterious island and has to find his way across often perilous landscape to reach sanctuary using an old-fashioned motorbike. Amongst the creatures he encounters on his odyssey are a flock of white birds, a large tortoise and his family, and a pack of black cats who guard a powerful geyser that shoots out of a deep circular crevice, a grassy metaphor for Dante’s Inferno.

Although Away lulls us into a hypnotic sense of tranquility there is always the unsettling presence of the shape-shifter to keep us alert to danger as we start connecting with the angst of the struggling boy hero and his little bird, and indeed the tortoise, who at one point slivers down a snowy slope and on to its back, our hero coming to its rescue in one of many random acts of thoughtfulness. A beguiling and magical first feature with echoes of the best of Studio Ghibli. MT
Gints Zilbalodis (b. 1994) is a Latvian filmmaker and animator. He has made seven short films in various mediums including hand-drawn animation, 3D animation and live-action, often mixing their characteristic aesthetics.
https://youtu.be/B-2xxKAPssk
ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD PLATFORMS 18 January 2021

 

 

Away (2019) ****

Dir: Gints Zilbalodis | Animation, Latvia, 74′

‘Staying Alive’ is how best to describe this symbolic and gorgeously fluid ‘boys own’ adventure from Latvian animation wizard Gints Zilbalodis.

Away is the culmination of a decade spent honing his craft in a series of  delightful short animations such as Aqua, Priorities and Oasis whose focus is the main character’s lone struggle to overcome a powerful force. In this case a King Kong-like shape shifter that pursues him through a preternatural jungle with the aim of swallowing him alive.

Throughout this dreamlike often hazardous odyssey the boy’s only companion is a small yellow bird who he cares for with the utmost tenderness. The film seems to connect with our own everyday battle to keep going in these uncertain times, and above all, to make the right choices.  In other words, Away is a metaphor for life that echo Miyazaki’s delicately rendered animes which can work on a simplistic or subliminal level offering appeal for kids and adults alike.

More minimalist than Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo or even The Red Turtle but just as beautiful and and driven forward by an evocative soundscape the film shirks narrative conventions to tell a story that is firmly tethered to the natural while also teetering towards the surreal. Zilbalodis controls his entire project from 3D animation and script through to editing, soundscape and production.

The tousled-haired, wide-eyed teenager lands by parachute on a lush and mysterious island and has to find his way across often perilous landscape to reach sanctuary using an old-fashioned motorbike. Amongst the creatures he encounters are a flock of white birds, a large tortoise and his family and a pack of black cats who guard a powerful geyser that shoots out of a deep circular crevice, a grassy metaphor for Dante’s Inferno.

Although Away lulls us into a hypnotic sense of tranquility there is always the unsettling presence of the shape-shifter to keep us alert to danger and we start to feel for this unknown boy and his little bird, and indeed the tortoise, who at one point slivers down a snowy slope and on to its back, our hero coming to its rescue in one of many random acts of thoughtfulness. A beguiling and magical first feature. MT
https://youtu.be/B-2xxKAPssk
AWAY OPENS IN UK AND IRISH CINEMAS from 28 AUGUST 2020

 

 

The Rifleman | Dveselu Putensis (2019) *** Digital and DVD

Dir.: Dzintars Dreibergs; Cast: Otto Brantevics, Taimonds Celms, Martin Vilsons, Greta Trusina; Latvia 2019, 104 min.

The Rifleman pays stark witness to the horrors and brutality of the First World War, as seen through the eyes of an innocent 17-year-old farm-boy turned soldier and the tragic fate of his family.

Written by Boris Frumin and based on the 1933/34 novel by Aleksanders Grins, which was forbidden in the USSR, its author shot down in 1941. This lushly mounted historical drama was, not surprisingly, a huge success at the box-office in Latvia, and an impressive first feature for Latvia’s Dzintars Dreibergs, who made his name as sports documentarian.

The Rifleman is an unashamedly male and patriotic affair, filmed as an eyewitness report from the POV of 17-tear-old Arthurs Vanags (Brantevics), it opens in 1914 giving full emotional throttle to the murder of the young man’s mother by German soldiers, who, for good measure also kill the family’s dog. Arthur’s father (Vilsons) has served in the Russian Imperial Army, and burns down the farmhouse and shoots the cattle, before enlisting with Arthurs and his brother Edgars (Celms) in Latvia’s first National Battalion, part of the Russian forces overrun by the Germans.

Wounded in a skirmish, Arthurs soon falls for Marta (Trusina), a nurse in the field hospital. But more tragedy follows when Arthurs is asked by Red Army commanders to shoot Latvian soldiers who have disobeyed their Russian officers. Returning home, Arthurs catches up with Marta who is now working as a farmhand in Latvia, before setting out to liberate his homeland from “Tsars, Red Army and the Germans who all want to repress Latvian independence.”

DoP Valdis Celmins does a great job with his grizzly images of foggy snowbound battles, the frozen bodies reduced to ghostly spectres. Lolita Ritmanis’ evocative score is in line with this heroic approach to war, providing the emotional underpinnings to this rousing feature (1917 it is not) depicting a grim episode in Latvian history. AS

In the Showcase Cinema circuit nationwide | Sunday 26th July  
On Digital from 10th August | On DVD from 24th August 
 

Oleg (2019) Mubi

Dir.: Juris Kursietis; Cast: Valentin Novopolski, Dawid Ogrodnik, Anna Prochniak, Guna Zarina; Latvia/Lithuania/Belgium/France 2019, 108 min.

Director/co-writer Juris Kursietis (Modris) has created a spare but thrilling feature about a Latvian emigrant in Belgium, who falls under the spell of an evil smalltime gangster from Poland. Long takes and agile handheld camerawork along with some poetic under-water scenes make for an affecting verité drama. A twist of subversive humour lifts Oleg out of the   ‘grim and depressing’ category often associated with realism.

Oleg (Novopolksi) recalls how he was deeply affected as a child by his grandmother’s tale of the sacrificial lamb. Broke and in debt he feels just like that lamb in real life. A vision of him trying to breaking through the ice as he struggles under water occurs frequently throughout the film. Eventually he lands a job in a meat processing plant in Ghent where his training as a butcher comes in handy. Unfortunately, one of his illegal co-workers is maimed in one of the machines, blaming Oleg for the accident. His mates force him to take the rap in order to avoid an investigation. Back home – and jobless Oleg again – he meets the gregarious and charismatic Andrzej (Ogrodnik), who organises a motley crew of East-Europeans, hiring them out to do various jobs.

But Andzejs turns out to be a conman, who hardly ever pays his men. Oleg runs away, even though he fancies Andrzej’ girl friend Margosa (Prochniak), who is in thrall to her sadistic boyfriend. Alone in the streets at Christmas time, Oleg walks into a Latvian restaurant and is mistaken for an actor by rather posh Zita (Zarina), who runs the place. After a night of lovemaking, Oleg confesses he’s not really an actor, and is thrown out. Briefly returning to work for Andrzej things don’t improve and so he goes to the police, and informs on the gangster, having asked his grandmother to do the same in Latvia. Now at a lose end and with his freedom back, Oleg buys a plane ticket to Riga, but the night before his flight, he meets Margosa.

Despite of the underlying harshness of the narrative this is a bracing account of life as an immigrant. Andzejs gives Oleg a ‘forged’ Polish passport, calling him a “Novopolski” and the scenes in the meat factory are extremely brutal – and if you’re still not a vegetarian, you might now change your mind. The bleached-out aesthetic seems to mirror the hollowed out lives of these illegal workers, and the underwater sequences reflect Oleg’s feelings of desperation and powerlessness: struggling to survive in every way.  Kursietis seems to have re-invented social realism, or at least put a new appealing face on the genre. AS

NOW ON MUBI | PREMIERED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2019

 

Mellow Mud | Es Esmu Seit (2016) | European Hidden Gems Collection

Dir.: Renars Vimba; Cast: Elina Vaska, Andžejs Jānis Lilientāls, Edgars Samitis, Ruta Bitgere, Zane Jancevska; Latvia 2016, 106 min.

Renars Vimba makes his filmmaking debut with an intense coming-of-age story, brilliantly acted by Elina Vaska who brings emotional depth to the subtle changes between tomboyishness and womanhood. Vimba too directs with a spare economy that never overstates the pent-up emotions of his heroine.

Seventeen-year old Raja (Elina Vaska) and her much younger brother Robis (Andžejs Jānis Lilientāls) are left to fend for themselves after tragedy touches their modest life in rural Latvia, leaving them bereft of their parents and at the mercy of their difficult grandmother (Bitgere), who soon after succumbs to a heart attack. Raja decides to bury the old woman, telling nobody of her demise, not even their social worker (Jancevska). But sudden responsibility for her brother and the family’s orchard, which she takes over at the expense of her education, is a sobering experience. With a bit of resourcefulness and strong English skills Raja decides to enter a nationwide English competition which she wins, to surprise of everyone, apart from herself. The prize is a trip to London and a short-lived affair with her teacher (Edgars Samitis), which is doomed, largely due to their age difference. Baffled and hurt, Raja sets off to London to find her mother, who left her address on an envelope. Meanwhile, Robis is taken into an orphanage after the social worker finds out they are both orphans.

Drawing comparisons with the work of Ian McEwan (Cement Garden), the Dardennes Brothers, and the black-and-white images of 1960s British Realism, DoP Arnar Thor Thorisson uses bleached, muted colours, and shades of grey to underpin this lean affair that tackles thorny issues of childhood abandonment and prescient resignation. The London scenes are extremely powerful, Raja shrinking literally in the harsh and hectic life of the metropolis. This is a melancholic journey about loss, disillusionment and the total absence of adult responsibility.

SCREENING DURING THE EUROPEAN HIDDEN GEMS FILM COLLECTION

 

 

 

 

Dawn (2015) | Tallinn Black Nights Festival | 13 -29 November 2015

Director/Writer: Laila Pakalniņa

Cast: Vilis Daudziņš, Andris Keišs, Wiktor Zborowski

Latvia/Estonia/Poland | Drama/Comedy | 90 min

Folklore meets modernity in DAWN, a gorgeously choreographed glide through an old soviet propaganda tale of life on a collective farm under stalinism. It is the fifth fiction feature by Latvian auteur Laila Pakalniņa, whose work also includes some 20-odd documentaries and shorts. Debuting on the 97th anniversary of Latvia’s independence, with a knowingly cheeky nod to Vladimir Putin among its credited inspirations, this consistently assured and occasionally mesmerising work premiered in the main competition of this year’s Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn.

Known to run 15-20 km every morning, Pakalniņa announced the date of DAWN’s world-premiere while running the Tallinn Marathon in September, and the film itself sustains high levels of energy through a dynamic formal balance and an oddly infectious persistence. At once intimate and epic, this period tragedy, about a young boy named Janis (Antons Georgs Grauds) who informs on his anti-soviet father (Vilis Daudziņš) to the secret police and who incurs the vengeful wrath of his own family because of it, is also at times an idiosyncratic, joltingly complex comedy. Its rapidfire context demands our active participation to keep apace of events — one ostensibly nonsensical reference to someone “living with the polar bears” is an allusion to the mass deportations to Siberian that thousands of Latvians suffered under Stalin. The ways in which it eludes a full commitment to any particular tonal register — in-jokes, throwaway gags, formal experimentation — means that for foreign audiences at least, the film is an invigorating intellectual exercise more than an emotionally moving drama.

Nothing wrong with that especially: though it lists soviet filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein and Alexander Rzheshevsky (as well as ‘Our Childhood’) alongside Putin as its sources of stimulation, this monochrome film prompts valid comparisons to Alexei German’s recent swansong, HARD TO BE A GOD. Like that work, DAWN demonstrates a masterful command of complicated sequence shots from Pakalniņa and her Polish cinematographer Wojciech Staroń. Much of the action unfolds across multiple planes, as the camera pans lushly through cluttered sets designed in such a way as to create a vivid, believable chaos. The usual farmhouse cacophonies — floorboard creaks, flustered animals, crying babies and off-screen conversational arguments — give the work an impressively immersive quality, a kind of warming maximalism, which is deliberately undercut by intermittent moments of chilly absurdity, when our narrator breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly into Staroń’s camera.

DAWN opens with a close-up, of a tree-hugging snail foregrounded against the animated flap of a hen’s wings. In the background, we see children running through the frame, oblivious to the unperceivable drifts of time — and the political ramifications that cut through it. Throughout her film, Pakalniņa returns to this strategy, of juxtaposing between the abstract and the particular, between the plush pastures of the Latvian countryside and the almost microscopic detail of life within it. A bee lands on a human head of hair. We see a dead fly stuck to someone’s glass of water. A beautiful, birds-eye view of a dead boy in a field continues with the camera mechanically moving to earth, concluding with an extreme close-up of his vacant eyes. Like the giant star one villager is painting on the side of a building, it’s difficult to form a fuller picture of things, here — deliberately so. The central tragedy (“If a son betrays his father, kill him as a dog”) rests upon the twisted loyalties that form when an understandably impressionable boy takes a state’s insidious word as gospel. MICHAEL PATTISON

TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL | 13 -29 NOVEMBER 2015 | TALLINN ESTONIA

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