A Brief Look at Latvian Film History

By Inga Pērkone

© Inga Pērkone, 2012

It is a characteristic feature of small countries that cultural processes are closely connected with political and economical processes. This is especially true for such an expensive and time-consuming branch of artistic production as film. The changes in the Latvian political situation in the 20th and the 21st centuries led to two radically opposed systems of film production. During the years of independence of the Republic of Latvia—in the first two decades of independence declared in 1918 and once independence was restored in the 1990s—the Latvian film industry has consisted of many small-scale film production companies, lacking both substantial production equipment and their own financial resources. These small companies usually revolved around particular creative individuals (during the 1920s mostly on the cinematographer, since the 1990s on the filmmaker or, more seldom, on the producer), who strive to bring their personal artistic interests to life. The lack of funding inevitably confronts the artistic ambitions with the interests of financial sponsors (either of the state, of the local government, of a social organization or an individual).

off to warThe country’s interest in national films, followed by targeted support, began in 1934 along with the authoritarian coup d'état. All initiatives of private film production were slowly taken over by the state. For this reason, after the occupation by the Soviet Union, it was not particularly difficult to include Latvian cinema into the united Soviet production system. The Soviet occupation is usually associated with mass-produced films that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Riga Film Studio managed to produce up to ten motion pictures every year. It also produced a significant number of documentaries and newsreels. Along with the Riga Film Studio, which was monitored by the USSR State Committee of Cinematography (Goskino), a comparatively small number of films was also released by Latvian Television.

bear slayerThe commencement of the Republic of Latvia is closely linked to the ideas of Latvian national culture, which was built on a fundamental educational system accessible to everybody. Unfortunately film, except for newsreels that were a statutory part of every screening, was never announced to be a part of “culture;” therefore it was left to private initiative and without state support. Only a few enthusiasts were engaged in filmmaking, working out of a conviction that cinema is a relevant tool of patriotic education and shaping national awareness. Such films had to include information about how the Republic of Latvia was formed, about the freedom fights etc., endeavoring to promulgate “the nation’s aesthetic and ethical values.” This tendency became a significant feature of films during the first period of independence. The first Latvian feature film, Off to War (Es karā aiziedams, 1920, Vilis Segliņš), noted the necessary aspects for the future national cinema: roots in Latvian mythology (reflected in the film title, which is a line from a folk-song) and an awareness of the national mission. It is important to note that this first film already established the important tradition of inviting famous theatre actors to play in cinema. Just like in Scandinavia and other Baltic countries, nature became an essential part of film narratives. “National melodrama” could be an appropriate term for the genre which dominated the interwar period. Circumstances that fatally affected people’s lives and feelings were defined by particular or symbolic events regarding the formation of the Latvian Republic. The highest achievement of this genre in silent cinema was Bear-slayer (Lāčplēsis, 1930, Aleksandrs Rusteķis), and in the sound period the film Fisherman’s Son (Zvejnieka dēls,1940, Vilis Lapenieks).

bear slayerThere are several stages in the industrialization of Latvian cinema closely linked to the political and economical situation in the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that there were plans to produce five to six motion pictures a year as early as 1940, Latvia reached this amount only in the early 1970s; then the number rocketed to nine to ten films a year. From 1940 until 1965 there was a strong tendency of talking about industrialization plans and step-by-step preparation for mass production. The period from the mid-1960s until approximately 1989 had a well-organized industry, which underwent a dramatic collapse after 1990.

Regarding the united training system and Socialist Realism as the only accepted artistic method in the Soviet Union, classical Latvian cinema followed this fixed aesthetic system both in production methods and political organization of the industry. The filmmaker’s individual choice when thinking about the essence and overall style of the work of art was very limited. Within the Soviet film industry the bravest innovative ideas were axed at an early development stage. The director Rostislav Goryayev has commented that the history of that period of Latvian cinema is actually an unimplemented film history.

fishermanThe aesthetics of classical Soviet cinema that developed from the concept of Socialist Realism formed very slowly, and had both national and chronological features. The development of Latvian cinema was closely related to theatre and the continuous interaction between the two art forms occurred in acting as well as in elements and principles of staging and in dramatic writing. Plays became the fundamental basis for screenplays and vice versa, strengthening and connecting the classical expression on stage and on screen. A hallmark of these narratives was the slow development of the action: during the post-war period, plays and films used to portray several years or even decades, although from the second half of the 1950s onward the timeframe significantly decreased from an epic scanning to just one basic event, from groups of characters to only one main hero or hero and heroine.

The dogmatic, rigorous concept of Socialist Realism is linked with Iosif Stalin’s totalitarian system. In Latvia, during the “cine-anemia” (malokartin’e) of the Stalin era only three films were released: Sons (Dēli, 1946, a co-production with Lenfilm, which was entirely filmed there; the only connection to Latvia was within the plot); Homeward with Victory (Mājup ar uzvaru, 1947) and Rainis (Rainis, 1949). The main source of income for filmmakers during this time was Soviet film dubbing to Latvian, which was considered a very important task from an ideological point of view. Both original and dubbed films had to create a new, Soviet-Latvian mythology. Basically an entire new value system was established, wherein the creation of the world was equaled to the proclamation of Soviet rule in Latvia in 1940.

fishermanThe film Homeward with Victory presented a peculiar passage from independent Latvian to the Soviet republic. It was originally planned for Sergei Eisenstein to make the film, but he turned down the offer and never returned to his native town of Riga. The film was directed by Aleksandr Ivanov, a director from Lenfilm, while Eduard Tisse was charged with the duties of cinematographer, allowing the local professionals only to assist in the process.

Homeward with Victory was the first post-war film originally shot in Latvian. One of the film’s main themes seems to consolidate the conviction of Latvian troops mobilized by the Soviet Army that they really had fought for their Fatherland. The film places a strong emphasis on the fact that the very land saved from chaos was Latvia, Mother Latvia, who blessed her children. In later, Soviet years such imagery was simply impossible. The symbolism in the film is very powerful, but it organically grows from the characters and their actions. The visual expression in the film is mainly rooted in the classical style: the audience is oriented in space, the plot development is gradual, the compatibility of action axis and character viewpoints are taken into account.

rainisHowever, the most important film during the Stalin era (a film awarded the Stalin Prize) was Rainis, which was filmed by a newcomer from “the centre,” the experienced Iulii Raizman. Rainis is a typical film of probably the most important Soviet genre of the time, the biopic. The film’s main task was to portray the famous Latvian poet Jānis Rainis (1865–1929) as a poet of the proletarian revolution. The film had two ideological purposes and generally two kinds of audience: residents of Latvia were to be convinced of the deep roots of Bolshevism within Latvian culture, but refugees and exiles received the message that a human being is only valued in his own land, as to convince people from the West to return to Latvia. Rainis was widely screened abroad at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s, mainly in Displaced Persons Camps; reports about audiences and the reaction of the press were scanned by the relevant Soviet institutions.

frost in springtimeAfter Stalin’s death, in the second half of the 1950s, the rebirth of Latvian national cinema took shape. It had at its heart the characteristics of national subjects and screenplays as well as local staff in film production. During the last years of this decade the first professionally trained Latvian scriptwriters, directors, and cinematographers (all graduates from the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography) entered the industry. The return to Latvian themes and sensibilities in cinema was possible thanks to adaptations of Latvian literary classics. The decade’s most impressive and powerful film was Frost in Springtime (Salna pavasarī, 1955, Leonīds Leimanis, Pāvels Armands), which was based on the novel by Latvian writer Rūdolfs Blaumanis, using an archetypical environment and rooting characters deeply in national culture. Frost in Springtime is established as a “soil” film in the very first scene: the monumental posture of a ploughman against stormy skies. Soil, and the life it provides, becomes the reason for the main character Madara’s tragedy: she gives up her love to marry a rich landowner, but after his death she strives to regain her love. The film involves remarkable episodes which not only visualize the spirit of Blaumanis’ novel, but are of significant value in themselves. Madara’s off-cast servant Andris and his mother’s traveling from one work place to another must be especially singled out: five years are shown in only two minutes, tracing not only the destinies of particular people, but also of all the landless peasants of Latvia.

Madara’s inner rejection of her own child is presented suggestively when she thinks that the child is an obstacle to her relationship with Andris. Despite the additions of Socialist Realism and softer turns of the tide, Madara is one of the few tragic characters of this period. Film professionals held the film in high esteem: in December 1955 at a public discussion in Moscow House of Cinema Madara was compared to Lady Macbeth because of the dramatic cast and the remarkable acting performance by Zigrīda Stungure. The tragic aspect of Madara’s character is especially surprising in the Soviet cinematic context, because it is based on a woman’s unfulfilled sexuality. Regarding its sexual tension, Frost in Springtime actually has no competitors in Soviet cinema, with maybe the sole exception of Malva (1957, Vladimir Brauns), which was filmed in Ukraine and the main role was played by Latvian actress Dzidra Ritenberga.

white bellsAt the turn of the 1950s, during the Thaw, which opened doors for a new wave of Soviet cinema, the political situation in Latvia became complicated. As a result of the Party’s internal fights, an active campaign against Latvian bourgeois nationalists began, and all things Latvian were considered potentially dangerous. Latvia became the most submissive Soviet republic in terms of colonization politics. At the end of the 1950s the Riga Film Studio had to give up almost all of its already approved ideas—films that were supposed to be made mostly by young directors. The production was struck and the lowest point reached in 1962, when only one feature film and one short film were released. This meant a return to the level of film production of 1956. Once again, Russian directors were invited to work in Latvia on scripts sent from the centre. At the time when other Soviet republics were re-evaluating history or analyzing contemporary events, the Riga Film Studio was mainly focusing on classical Russian opera adaptations. However, in a few films the Riga Film Studio eventually reached a style close to the aesthetics of the Western New Wave; one of the turning points was the short film White Bells (Baltie zvaniņi, 1961), Ivars Kraulītis graduation work from the Moscow Institute of Cinematography (VGIK). The film about a little girl in a big city is slightly on the border between a staged film and a documentary, giving a sense of freedom and reality unprecedented in Latvian cinema. Passers-by who accidentally look into the camera or stare at the film crew, the camera viewpoint associated with the little girl, a dynamic urban environment (the new Riga train station and market are shown, the two places which were included in almost every city film of the 1960s) and its colorful characters—everything in this film gives evidence of new ways of artistic expression in Latvian cinema, of the young filmmakers’ ability to sense the cinematic taste of the world even behind the iron curtain.

Formally a fiction film, White Bells became the actual beginning of the so-called Riga School of Poetic Documentary Cinema. A quantitative and qualitative new wave rolled in a direction where resistance was weakest: towards documentary cinema. Only feature-length documentaries had to be confirmed by Moscow, the rest was an internal issue of the republic. The audiences of these films were noticeably smaller, therefore the admissible freedom much greater.

richardThe most important subject for the new Soviet cinema was national history, connecting political events with the personal freedom of the individual. The clearest example of this tendency in Latvia was the film Richard, I Remember Everything! (Es visu atceros, Ričard!, 1967, Rolands Kalniņš) that took almost a decade to reach its audience, while Soviet censorship watched over the production very carefully. The scriptwriter Viktors Lorencs started to put his idea into action in 1955. Forgive Me, Homeland!... (Dzimtene piedod!...) was originally planned as a story of one of the most complicated events in Latvian history: the Latvian Legion formed within the Nazi Army during WWII. Starting with the Thaw, many stories told of troops who were mobilized by force, and many young people died because of a lack of understanding of what was really happening. Taking into account that one or another link between the Legion and the German army existed in most Latvian families, it seemed self-evident to find a place for legionnaires in the mythology of Soviet History. It was important to those who were themselves mobilized and even to those who were born after the war to eliminate the mark of guilt of Nazi crimes, to present the legionnaires as victims of particular historical circumstances. But those who had fought within the 43rd Latvian Riflemen Division in the Soviet Army interpreted these endeavors to justify legionnaires as an attempt to compare both sides: the Riflemen were the right fighters, therefore this was an enormous insult. Filming was put off again and again until in the mid-1960s, when Lorencs reshaped the screenplay, especially influenced by Andrzej Wajda’s film Ashes and Diamods (Popiół i diament 1958). Accordingly, Forgive Me, Homeland!... was changed to Stone and Flinders (Akmens un šķembas). The most memorable episode in the film—the burning of a piano at the legionnaires ball—was a reference to Wajda’s motion picture. Soon after post-production the title (deemed uncertain and misleading) was changed once again, and in April 1967 the film was released in Latvia under the title Richard, I Remember Everything!.

Exactly a year after the release of Richard, I Remember Everything!, in April 1968, cinemas started showing Aloizs Brenčs’s film When Wind and Rain Hit Against Your Window (Kad lietus un vēji sitas logā), which was an adaptation of Arvīds Grigulis’ documentary novel of the same title. The events in Brenčs’s film—the year 1947, the underground resistance movement against Soviet power—is a historic continuation of the war events shown in Richard. National resistance during the post-war years was not a taboo subject; on the contrary, it was even expanded, of course, remaining within an ideologically correct aspect of Soviet power. Throughout all art of the Latvian Soviet period, the so-called class war in the Latvian countryside—partisan or, from the Soviet perspective, “bandit” attacks on local Soviet power structures—were shown with wide amplitude and, surprisingly, created the deep impression of a serious and long-drawn nation war.

Harijs Liepiņš extensively and precisely portrays his character Ansis Leinasars, who has secretly arrived from Sweden as a signal man. Leinasars, a fighter certain of the idea of Latvian independence at the beginning of the film, slowly realizes the utopianism of his idea after facing his countrymen’s selfish interests, ignorance and betrayal; eventually he feels relieved when the KGB arrests him. In contrast to the Soviet tradition, the national enemy Leinasars is portrayed as a very handsome, smart, active and determined person, who at least at the beginning is ready to make a sacrifice for what he believes in. These very features differentiate Leinasars in the film and Leinasars in Grigulis’ novel, where he is depicted as primitive, unsympathetic and lacking ideas. Leinasars in the film, according to the spirit of the 1960s, is a thoughtful and reflective hero.

The changes in Leinasars’ emotional state are largely represented by the film’s environment which was created according to the factual detail of the period, although in a number of episodes environmental realism has nearly surreal and symbolic quality. The clearest example can be seen in the episode where Leinasars visits one of the possible signalmen, but finds him dead in a coffin. The surroundings help the actor show the shift in his consciousness without words or dashy external methods, as he understands the fatalism of his mission.

During the 1970s the Soviet film industry openly turned to commerce and entertainment, and the prevalence of particular genres became clearer, with some Soviet film studios related to specific genres. Crime films have a special place in the 1970s and 1980s. It seems that the crime genre became most gratifying for real Soviet life and this genre could offer the widest diversity of character and psychological type. Although crime films in the 1970s and 1980s were efficiently produced by nearly all Soviet film studios, it was the Riga Film Studio that during the industry’s zenith was mostly closely connected with detective films.

In most cases, crime film action takes place in cities, and in Latvian films in Riga. Neglected suburbs with oblique wooden houses, badly lit streets, scary stairways, communal apartments, markets, overcrowded shops and either very posh or very poor cafes were often shown in criminal Riga. Just like in Hollywood, a lot of events took place at nighttime and in the rain. The environment’s harshness made crime films distinctively different from other Latvian films, the where surroundings were often sterile and overly beautified.

unwantedAloizs Brenčs’s films place great significance in not only on visual roughness but also on exact detail and concrete scenes. The contradictions of the crime genre and Socialist Realism were to be overcome by stressing that any crime in Soviet life was an exceptional and uncharacteristic phenomenon. A good example of the Soviet system’s demand for such positivism is Brenčs’s psychological crime story To Be Unwanted (Liekam būt, 1976). It was based on Andris Kolbergs’ novel of the same title where the main character Voldis Viters has actually become a superfluous, forsaken man, who—at the moment of this tragic revelation—commits suicide. In the film we are introduced to a policeman, a contemporary of Voldis, who believes that even a recidivist can change for the better. The policeman’s strand enriches the general message while at the same time trivializing it, imposing humanism from the Socialist Realist point of view where an individual is only a part of society and has no rights to decide and respond on his own.

Unlike the classical Western crime film where the investigator is mostly a loner, co-operation between colleagues was emphasized in Soviet films. It was rather popular to show police and prosecution working in pairs. A pair could be used as a successful dramatic construction, unobtrusively explaining the crime process as well as adding to the narrative. It was either friendship between two men or romantic feelings between two investigators of opposite sexes, or a relationship between a mentor and an employee.

The increasing significance of private life in cinema directly manifested itself in the melodrama during the 1970s and 1980s. Soviet cinema used a particular type of melodrama—the collision between characters and circumstances—to present stories of the past. The most memorable example is Brenčs’s seven-episode TV film The Long Way Through Dunes (Ilgais ceļš kāpās, 1981), widely popular in the USSR: it was one of the rare Soviet melodramas that paid more attention to fatal circumstances, in other words, the historical events in Latvia from 1939 to 1960, than to romantic relationships, therefore taking after such world-renowned epics as David Wark Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), Victor Fleming’s Gone With the Wind (1939) and Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky’s Sibiriada (1979).

The biggest contribution to the subject of Latvian history by The Long Way Through Dunes was an indirect one, using visual signs while still emotional in mentioning the holocaust and the story of Marta’s and her little son’s exile to Siberia. Appropriately for a melodrama, Marta is sent to Siberia as a victim of fatal circumstances, while other Latvian exiles are shown as fascists whose deportation was well reasoned.

The other type of melodrama that was mostly used for modern subjects was the exploration of people’s emotions and relationships, avoiding direct descriptions of particular social situations. Nevertheless, melodrama as a slightly derided genre considered to be rather primitive, was a useful veil to carry out more serious research on human existence, which rarely agreed with the optimistic standards of Socialist Realism, and served filmmakers to make some stylistic departures from the standard of realism.

The genre could depict action as a character’s subjective emotional experience rather than an objective reality, refraining from a strict narrative logic by adding various parallel storylines excessive to the plot. Boris Frumin’s Family Melodrama (Ģimenes melodrāma, 1976) is a good example of such a departure. A rare occasion when genre is mentioned in the title, this merely serves as a delusion. The story was not about a sensational passion, but about a lonely woman’s (a remarkable performance by Liudmila Gurchenko) life with no hope, and about her teenage son (Valerii Kargin), whose teacher is worried about him and in a scolding manner says to his mother: “The boy is not ordinary, he stands out of the whole setting.” Both mother and son stand outside the system and are almost antisocial elements. At the end of the film the mother tries to commit suicide, which is shown indirectly because suicide was a taboo subject in Soviet cinema.

Family Melodrama could have been an unfulfilled dream about a family. An essential feature of such films was “a lonely woman,” a common character in Soviet cinema in the 1970s and the 1980s. In Latvian cinema, a woman’s loneliness during the so-called period of developed socialism, in other words, the time of prosperity, was portrayed in Dzidra Ritenberga’s film Three Minute Flight (Trīs minūšu lidojums, 1979). This piece of art steps over the well-known chamber-style, typical of such stories about loneliness, because Justīne, just like Brenčs’s Marta, is also a symbolic character whose fate highlights the political events in Latvia. Ritenberga’s next film, Evening Version (Vakara variants, 1980), already was a typical story of a woman’s unfulfilled feelings, as in Varis Brasla’s film Wish me Bad Weather for the Flight (Novēli man lidojumam nelabvēlīgu laiku, 1980), Rainy Blues (Lietus blūzs, 1982) and a few other films where the issue of loneliness appears not so directly but is hidden within stories about relationships.

lake sonataOne of the very few directors who were not afraid to use the word “melodrama” and who plainly stated their wish to work in this genre was Gunārs Cilinskis. He, together with director Varis Brasla, who admitted to be a follower of chamber-style and spiritual crochet, created the most distinguished piece of Latvian melodrama: the film The Lake Sonata (Ezera sonāte, 1976). Its special significance and durability in Latvian culture is achieved by a balanced combination of character systems and nationally tinted archetypes with global melodrama structure and concisely used language of classical cinema. The film clearly showed that within the artistic character system in Latvian culture, many universal gender constructions prevail, and this was little influenced by the particular socio-political situation.

blow the windAs a repulse to the current colonization politics and, at some point as a counteraction to cultural commercialization, an intensified interest in Latvian identity arises during the 1970s, and the clearest examples of this phenomenon can be seen in Latvian folklore and ethnography. Folklore in both the republics of the USSR as well as in socialist countries of Eastern Europe became the indirect form of resistance against the general Russification and the forced globalization of culture. A clear example of this tendency is the so-called folksong play Blow the Wind! (Pūt vējiņi!, 1973, Gunārs Piesis) that adapted Jānis Rainis’ play of the same title. Rainis’ play as well Piesis’ film where the action takes place in undefined historic times turned out to be unexpectedly topical in the 1970s, not only regarding the ethnography but also as an impetus to talk about development possibilities of national culture, about changing ethical values, gender issues, alcoholism etc. Gunārs Piesis managed to achieve the impossible: he made the national ornament melt into a realistic, created story, presenting the symbolic characters as psychologically created images, heightening relationships between different classes. Therefore nobody could rebuke him for sliding into modernism.

boyIn the film The Boy (Puika, Aivars Freimanis, 1977) which was based on Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš’ childhood memory sketches, the filmmakers strived to show the event duration which would then allow the rhythm of the film smoothly blend with the rhythm of a 19th century homestead.

Although the strict production cycle typical of a study system along with the available budget and overall presumptions of dynamics necessary for films did not allow to fully bring their ideas to life, the flow of natural lifestyle is almost physically perceptible in the film. The social background to the events was relevant to the film’s stylistically natural part that was partly required by Moscow and partly the director’s own choice, pursuing descriptions of a servant boy’s situation in the country as presented in the book. Unlike other Latvian films about children, for example Naughty Emil (Emīla nedarbi), Child of Man (Cilvēka bērns), also the fantasy film Tom Thumb (Sprīdītis) where the perception of childhood is largely made up by grown-up’s nostalgia, in The Boy the childhood is tougher and not only because of the boy’s poverty, but mainly because of his ultimate loneliness. Jancis’ only friend is the lame Jurks, while the rest of the adult world is grasped in an out-of-touch manner, often observing its manifestations with astonishment or even horror.

The ornamental part of The Boy gives the homestead a certain general quality and deepening, turning it into a myth about Home, in an even broader sense—a myth about Death and Rebirth. The mythological layer in the film is achieved by cyclic circulation of time, picturesque landscapes which now and then allow us to perceive the homestead and the boy living in it as part of a greater Universe. A number of close-ups stand high above factuality, especially in the beginning, when in open-fire lighting we are introduced to the entire household. The sequence of portraits is closed by Jurks who winks to the audience...

Jānis Streičs is considered the most important film director in Latvia during the 1970s and 1980s. Streičs’s constant directions (the first one, Shoot Instead of Me/Šauj manā vietā, 1970) coincided with the golden age of the Latvian film industry. After the release of his film My Friend – A Light-Minded Man (Mans draugs – nenopietns cilvēks, 1975), Streičs became a well-acknowledged master by professionals and vast audiences. He efficiently used the means of expression canonized in classical cinema and nearly fulfilled the requests of the socialist art system to produce pleasant, life-witnessing, realistic stories with a certain dose of didacticism. However, after becoming a system genius, Streičs managed to learn how to subjugate this system, slowly but tenaciously, growing far beyond it and becoming an auteur. Jānis Streičs is the only director who accomplished to build a relatively stable bridge from the centralized film system to the splintered filmmaking style of the renewed Latvian Republic, consistently keeping up with developing his own style and refining his subjects.

Compared to Hollywood classical cinema, Streičs can be likened to Frank Capra whose name has an enormous echo in American culture and has become a unique mark of national consciousness and personal insight. In 1981 Streičs said: “It seems that I have constantly moved in the same direction. Since My Friend – A Light-Minded Man my mind is occupied with one issue—our Latvian self-manifestation on the big screen” (Streičs 1981: 50)

Streičs’s Limousine in the Colour of a Midsummer Night (Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā, 1981) became the key national film. The film itself has now grown into a national myth, the situations and texts have become a part of national folklore. In fact, the film offers a valuable metaphysical research on a nation’s mentality, a kind of ethnography where many ethnically dominating archetypes are used. In Limousine, just like in Noah’s Ark, many codes intrinsic to Latvian culture are assembled, but—as in a myth—they are manifest not as a creative narration by the author, but as a real world where every object labels itself and is easily recognizable. Limousine’s mythology has universal roots but local characteristics: specific signs of space and time, as well as movement into profundity—historically and geographically created communities deep within one’s consciousness. The film captures and at the same time communicates with nation’s mental structure at the crossroads of eras, at a time when the Soviet system has established itself and accepted relatively soft (no more violent) manifestations in communication with an individual, thereby unnoticeably changing the fundament of their soul. Nonetheless, outer changes still leave deep traces in every man’s soul as well as nation’s common soul.

child of manStreičs’s film Child of Man (1991) became a peculiar phenomenon in the classical period: the production was started when Soviet rule still existed, and it was finished already in independent Latvia. The film is a story of coming-of-age and an unconditional first love during the beginning of the 1930s in Eastern Latvia, Latgale. The structure of the film is complicated and multilayered. Objective reality that is so common in classical cinema can rarely be found in the film—mostly the events are shown from the main character’s point of view, in his interpretation. Life as shown in the film is a chain of comic gags—each of the episodes has its own drama, at times it is closed, then again it is wide open. The realistic world in the film mixes with the main character’s imaginary scenes, though they do not stop the flow of the film because of their psychological causation. The religious motives are simple yet colorful, as they usually are in children’s illustrated Bible stories or splint pictures. The images of saints get faces of Boņuks’ closest people, even their manifestations are based on Boņuks’ daily life experiences.

On the 21 August 1991 Latvia regained the status of an independent country. The Latvian film industry had already been given considerable independence since the second half of the 1980s, but, along with the collapse of the USSR, the financial resources were depleted. The 1990s saw a depressive situation for film production, especially affecting fiction films. During the first decade of the 21st century a slow increase and stabilization of film production can be observed, yet still the budget for filmmaking from public funding equals that of a single low-budget film.

The Latvian film industry is overseen by the National Film Centre, established on 4 December 1991. In 2010 a Law on Film was passed, controlling the structure of the field and defining the principles of film funding from public treasury, yet guaranteeing no funding for national cinema.


Works Cited

Streičs, Jānis (1981), Bezgala vienkāršs- bezgala grūts. Krāj.: Runā kinematogrāfisti. Rīga: Liesma.



Updated: 14 Jun 12