TEN FILMS AND NO FUNERAL. Best Latvian movies premiered around the Centenary.

On 17 August, 2017, CAPITAL R gave a promise to watch every Latvian feature film released, before the Centenary of Latvia comes on 18 November, 2018. This date last year was particularly chosen due to launching a nationally curated programme of 16 patriotic, historical, locally moved motion pictures under a name "Latvian films for the Latvian Centenary". On 17 August a very first movie was being put on screen.
During these 15 months CAPITAL R spent quite a money, time and brain cells to watch and discuss 34 works (thus including other full-lenght movies). Some were disastrous, some were genius, so here is our half-painfully chosen TOP 10 of the best you all ought to see.

Latvian films for the Latvian Centenary

Before going down to the list, one must admit the 100th year of Latvian Independence could have been the most productive ever in the local movie making history. The same could have been said about visitors - the total number of ticket purchases this year is to be expected to double in comparison to the viewers in 2017 in total1! Important to mention that most of tickets also have been purchased to local films.

The TOP 10 by CAPITAL R follows both personal interest in the development of movie industry in Latvia, and also looks at feature films being released the way they fit into several other categories. Some of them are - how good would they look when compared to other contemporary continental or global production, how much they represent and illuminate Latvian history, present, mentality, culture etc., how original and how fresh they are and look, how much there are debates following their premiere, and other aspects.

Finally, the most important - how much the film is represented as a united, unfragmented work containing equal elements invested by director, screenwriter, operator, casting director, set designer, editor etc. In short - so the movie has both - elements of great directing and not only an element of great photography.

SO here is the list of the latest Latvian motion pictures everybody should see at least once in a lifetime:

Homo Novus
Although suffering from the loss of many alternative story lines that could be explored thus adding some real extra value to its director Anna Viduleja's work, Homo Novus is still a good piece of a historical comedy we all missed for a long time. Re-telling a cinematized story by the most successful Latvian littérateur and screenwriter Anšlavs Eglītis, Homo Novus paints a picture about the world of art and creativity in the 1930's in Rīga, as well as mirroring what art might stand for even today. Although some would complain of not being able to catch the tragicomic vibe from the book, Homo Novus as a film, is a fresh start to common Latvian comedy returning to the screen.

To Be Continued..
Ivars Seleckis pulled it once already. 30 years ago he directed a documentary "Šķērsiela" capturing everyday lives of several families and individuals from Rīga's suburbs on the edge of times a-changing. Then the movie was awarded with European Film Award as the best documentary. Now he follows five first-grade pupils in Latvia in order to return to them in every seven years and see - what has changed.

Although this method is similar to "Šķērsiela's", yet "Turpinājums" gives an amazingly honest impression to how does it feel to be a child these days and what is expected from you. One rhetorical question never leaves a critical viewer, though - is the movie good enough because of the movie's sake or only because of the charismatic children, who save it?

The Fairytale Of Empty Space
A documentary for aesthetes about an aesthete. Andris Freibergs, a legendary scenographer, is fallowed by Krista Burāne, a documentalist famous with her looking from alternative aspects - how to tell stories about the main characters of her movies. This motion picture is beautifully animated, beautifully refined and poetic, eventually this piece again follows the ideals of Baltic poetic documentary style once developed in the 1960's. One of the first to enter this TOP, Krista Burāne's work has maintained a solid favourable position despite hectic competition.

A "nothing-to-nag-about" traditionally captured movie portraying a famous Latvian writer Vizma Belševica and her childhood in Riga's suburbs. The movie is packed with artifacts of common people's life in the 30's before WWII -  all the prejudice, grudges, adventures, dialogues and dreams, truly representing a time of deep naivety and dullness an intelligent mind was running away from. Sadly in the arms of war and mental oppression, yet, happily, into several nominations for Nobel prize of Literature when growing up.

D is of Division
Although this documentary would be more praised if released some 3-4 years ago, even now it illustrates the never-ending segregation of society and ideals in our tiny country. This is personal journey by Dāvis Sīmanis through a Russian speaking community celebrating and practicing remains of Soviet culture, and along an arguable Latvian patriot living on exile on the other side of Latvia's border.

This exact personal search is what makes "Mūris" more successful than the other Dāvis' large-scale project about a Jewish savior Žanis Lipke released this year - Tēvs Nakts. Although - both works still have a tendency for inextinguishably honeyed pathos of suffering, travesty, or compassion, that might repel many looking for some bare truth. Yet this is a movie one from a foreign country should see more than Latvians.

The journey of Mērija
A story about two Mērijas - the daughter and the mother remembering their journey through WWI, the independent Latvian times, and the culmination of changes in their family - the evacuation of our beloved and well-kept art archives to the West by Nazis during WWII. While Mērija the Youngest travels along with the heritage keeping the it together, Mērija the Oldest instead keeps together herself by experiencing rapid changes of reigns, neighbours and values back in Latvia.

This is a super sad documentary story about selflessness in the name of the national legacy and identity. A story very much unfairly depleted during the "Lielais Kristaps", the Latvian Oscars, awarding ceremony this year.

Foam at the mouth
If there was a motion picture that seemed, looked and felt like a production out of this country e.g. somewhere in Scandinavia, "Ar putām uz lūpām" was a bulls-eye. This is a feeling of finally having a movie with organic acting about seemingly Latvian lives that do not differ much from the rest of the Northern hemisphere anymore. Suddenly it feels like us being a part of developed, over-satisfied countries with their late capitalist problems, too. This also might be the very first movie in Latvian history representing the cold-like aesthetics of the Scandinavian-influenced contemporary cinema many now follow.

Northern Light. A composer's diary
A road movie and an actual diary by a composer Ēriks Ešenvalds and his production super team to hunt down both Northern Lights and their legends, myths and stories as remains of intangible culture. The movie illustrates the creation process of his multimedia symphony premiered in 2015 and balances between the stellar beauty of Nordic wilderness, the ups and downs of Ēriks' emotional state, as well as the ugliness of people's nature. And his broken leg. "A composer's diary" reflects not as much as a beautiful, National Geographic-like work, but as a sad reminder of our forgetfulness and lack of wandering.

Lidija Lasmane - Doroņina is a Latvian dissident and a deportee suffering prison terms several times during the Soviet occupation. Despite that she has kept herself being positive and ironic when recalling the past, and her story has been captured in a mesmerizing single-shot documentary hard to ignore. Sadly only in Latvian for now, still the movie by Andrejs Verhoustinskis captivates with its bareness, brightness and candidness, again representing the ultimate best of Baltic poetic documentary style still being alive and kicking.

The Foundation of Criminal Excellence
Is there life after Oskars Rupenheits? He, who represents a mixture of Wes Anderson, early works by Guy Richie, and his own Latvian-Post-Soviet-influenced icing of dark humour, has been dictating a distinctive style of screenwriting, directing and editing adds in the last 5 years. And then came the Foundation of Criminal Excellence (or KEF, in short) to break both hearts and records. For example, the stylized movie about the nineties in Latvia looking like the seventies in all over Germany is still the highest rated Latvian piece of cinema in IMDB.

Another ground-breaking fact - when celebrating their 15th birthday, Forum Cinemas, the largest movie theatre in the country, announced their TOP 10 list of most-viewed Latvian films this year. Needless to say that KEF, when only being released this February, was the most visited Latvian movie in their history with 35+ thousand viewers2!

Despite being a CAPITAL R's personal favourite, KEF perfectly balanced between dynamic acting, original theme, editing, direction of photography as well as a fantastic Latvian music, local urban myths and amusing side-events when campaigning. To say nothing about brilliant screen-writing, for which Oskars Rupenheits even received a Latvian "Oscar" - Lielais Kristaps. If you are ready for some true comedy and true piece of original movie making, proving we, Latvians, bullshit around a lot - KEF is a perfect answer.


Honourable mentions:
  • Apgāztā mēness zīmē. A superb documentary on Latvia's Muslims and their radicalization. Mos def a film and crew worth being in TOP 10, yet it would rather look better as a Neflix-type of TV mini series.
  • Zāģeri. A tough and honest documentary on Latvian workers dealing with a specific profession - forest sawers, who manually fell trees and live a very blunt way of life. While, of course they could live better.
  • Lustrum. Another documentary, now following the uncovering of top secret documents that could reveal recruits by the Soviet security forces now being celebrities and top politicians. The movie though covers the other side - it asks for potential informants to uncover the truth about the canvassing process and why they might not actually be real informants after all.
  • Baltu Ciltis. If this Hollywood-scale documentary on us, the Last European pagans was shorter and with less poetically-dramatic narrative, it would definitely be a tough competition to TOP 10.
  • Riga (Take 1). If this art house movie would be less French-chaotic and a pinch shorter, the reflection of everyday Riga would also definitely hit the TOP 10.
Where: some films can still be seen in cinemas or on special occasions. Check out Kino Bize, Splendid Palace, Forum Cinemas, K Suns, or google for more information. All should be subtitled in English.

1 Kinoskatītāju interese par Latvijas filmām dubultojusies. Tvnet.lv
2“Kino Citadele” sastādījis visvairāk skatīto latviešu filmu TOP10. La.lv