Tag Archives: Latvian Cinema

First Drama movie made in Latvia in 1913 “Where is the Justice? The Tragedy of the Jewish Student”

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Those who have some elementary  knowledge in the history of the Latvian cinema may tell that first drama movie made in independent Latvia was Es Karā Aiziedams (I am leaving for war) on 1920. The movie that has sadly not survived. But, few may know that before WWI when Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire, first three drama movies on 1913 where made by Jewish filmographers. “Where is the truth?  The Tragedy of the Jewish Student”, “Listen Israel!” and “The Shoemaker Leiba”. Of all three only the first one “Where is the truth?” is conserved and can be viewable on youtube.  There is some doubts that “The Shoomaker Lieba” was actually filmed outside Latvia. But, from the first scenes of the “Where is the truth?” it is clear that this movie was shot in Riga and Ventspils. A movie remarkable for its political context and still obscure information about the its  producer and director S. Mintus.

Cinema was the new trend of the XX century. After it first appeared in 1895 Paris, it soon arrived in Riga. On 1901 the first cinema was built-in Riga. A decade later 1910 first documentary of the Tzar Nicholas II visiting Riga were taken. The 2 min footage by Alexander Drankov study were made and still can be viewable today. As Russian Empire allowed private movie screening business and movie making the doors were open to Latvia to make first dramatic movies. And that is where the Jewish photographer and photo equipment seller S Mintus came in. He owned his own company “S Mintus shopping house”. With enough money and connections he went on venture to film his own movies. He also owned his own cinema “The Coliseum” in Riga.  Since films were valuable and were mostly rented, not copied because of the technical issues, Mintus became wealthy by renting films all across the Baltic province. The cinemas rented film to display it on their screens. Copying was possible, but it could damage the original over time.

The large Jewish community in Ukraine and Belarus were the first to make Jewish themed movies. The script was taken from theater plays and were usually based along the ethnic lines of the Jewish life. Because the Russian Tsarist censorship was more touchy about political baselines than ethnic folk stories.  Odessa soon became the center of the Russian Jewish cinema. Despite the political oppression by the Tsarist government and  uneasy relations with other nationals, especially during the pogroms of 1905 Jews managed to stood out before others. And the trendy film making was one of the kind.

It’s not clear was S Mintus from Latvia, or he came from Ukraine, but he was certainly inspired by the movies made by Ukrainian Jews. The 1910 “L’Haim” that was said to based on Jewish traditional song, despite there was not such was a success.  It was the very first Jewish film in Russia. On 1913 the Odessa based company “Mirograf” made the movie “The Tragedy of the Jewish student” (Трагедия еврейской курсистки), also in Germany a seemingly similar movie was made. It seems that both movies from Ukraine and Germany and the one in Latvia was based on the same theater play whose author is yet to be found. Of all three the film made by S Mintus was the most known and conserved until today.

The outside scenes of Riga the Polytechnical institute nowadays the University of Latvia

The outside scenes of Riga the Polytechnical institute nowadays the University of Latvia

The main role of the Adele Vaitzekind was played by Falkher (name not known), Ādams Ozols as her lover Rafail, Lūcija Lilaste in unconfirmed role and Ivan Hudpoleev as the Doctor. The movie was shot in Riga and Venstpils. The opening scenes features the center of Riga during the winter. The Riga Orthodox Cathedral, the University of Latvia main building is within the scenes. At the middle of the movie despite the main character still in Riga, the actual scene is shot in Ventspils. Also many of the interior scenes were actually filmed outside as decorations. Since the scenes were taken during the cold February winds, some of the room scenes shows flowers and carpets moved by the strong wind. It was because the decorations had no roof and were affected by the strong winter winds. As silent movie it had only live piano feature, but also the preserved version had no subtitles. It was because the lines of the movie characters were spoken by actors during the movie display.

The two main characters Rafail and Adele

The two main characters Rafail and Adele

The movie plot has a very complicated and social character. The main heroine Adele is from Bessarabia (Moldova). Without her parents she arrives at Riga to look for higher knowledge. She suddenly meets her old friend Rafail Edelgertz. A love is born as two enjoy sudden rush of romance. But, then a first wave of storm hits: authorities has sent her a notification to leave Riga as her rights of residence has been removed. This was because of the old Tsarist law since the Third partition of Poland. Russian Empire after acquiring vast territories of Poland-Lithuania was not ready to deal with such a large Jewish minority. Afraid from the migration, the Tsars suppressed Jews to live outside the former borders of Poland-Lithuania. And Riga was outside the so-called “Settlement line”. Getting into Riga was tricky for many Jews, but as Russia became more liberal at the end of 19th century it was possible for more Jews to come. But, in this case her residence permit was declined.

In desperate thoughts about going back to Kishinev, Adele asks Rafail for help. He seeks the advise from an educated doctor who also knows the law. He suggests to register Adele as prostitute so she can stay in Riga. To get registered she and Rafial makes a fake date, where Rafail poses as client. Police officers catches them in the intimate situation at  the table with drinks near bed. After that she moves to another apartment to clear off police suspicion.

Scene shot in Venstpils

Scene shot in Venstpils

But, the storm rashes again; Rafiel must visit his sick father. He leaves Adele all alone in Riga. And then the trouble starts. A two robbers with similar look of Adele and Rafiel attacks man on the street and robs him. In fateful coincidence the event takes place near Adele apartment and as they run off the Adele walks out the door. In similar clothes and hat the robbed victim quickly turns her to police.

The first part of the prison cell dramatic scene

The first part of the prison cell dramatic scene

Second Part of the prison scene

Second Part of the prison scene

 

This is where the movie culminates: in mental breakdown in the prison cell innocent Adele dressed in black recalls her past. In the dramatically emotional moment Adele fades into her childhood home in Kishinev. She sees her parents and the maid. A seemingly happy scene turns into nightmare when the angry mob of men invades their house and kills her parents. It was a clear reference to the Jewish pogrom of 1903 that took place in Kishinev. A more pogroms took place during 1905 revolution. This part is notable for two things. The grandiose gothic like scene of Adele loosing her mind and the  spectacular fading to events in past. A genial dramatic footage for the times of 1913. Also the pogrom scene a – touchy subject sparking the Jewish will of resistance.

The pogrom scene

The pogrom scene

The real criminals are found and Adele is released, but she is sick from her mental suffering. In final scene she dies in the hands of the ruined Rafail. The original footage featured him also dying on her grave, but the 1917 version of the movie had cut that scene out. The movie was a great success, however the Tsarist authorities were not too pleased about the pogrom scene. Many had accused the Russian government on being involved in the Jewish pogroms or doing not enough to halt them. Movie screening was limited. On 1917 after the revolution the movie was re-edited and shown again.

After a year on 1914 the World War I begun. Large numbers of the Latvian Jews were forced to move to Russia. The settlement line was suddenly broken. There is no info of what happened to S Mintus and his photo and movie business. Many details about his biography are yet to be found. The Riga Jewish History Museum and Ventspils History Museum has held events commemorating this historic movie, an academic detailed account is hopefully to follow.

Selected Sources:

http://www.kinoglaz.fr/u_fiche_film.php?num=4597

http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/movie/empire/12698/annot/

http://judaica.kiev.ua/Eg_11/Eg1115.htm

http://www.lechaim.ru/ARHIV/100/kino.htm

http://jewishmuseum.lv/en/item/89-Kinovecher_v_muzee_100-letee_pervogo_khudozhestvennogo_filma_v_Latvii.html

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Lāčplēsis – the First Latvian Major Movie from 1930

Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota in the opening scene

Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota in the opening scene

Lāčplēsis day on November 11 is heading close. The Latvian victory over the German-White Russian army of Bermont-Avalov was one of the major military victories of the Latvian people. No wonder why many still held this date and celebrations as sacred. But, they were even more sacred during the first twenty years of independence. Latvia was full of war veterans and large portions of Latvian society remembered the events of 1918-1920 like they were yesterday. So it was no wonder why the Latvian cinema and theater were dedicated to war events. First Latvian movie made on 1920 was called “Me joining the war”. Latvian cinematographers  had very little experience to make high quality movies like in US or Germany. Even Soviet Union started to make high class works of art despite their propagandist character.

As the 10 anniversary of the victory in the War for Freedom was heading close, a grand movie was needed to mark these events and show them in nationally patriotic way. And that is where actor Aleksandrs Rusteiķis, cameraman Jānis Sīlis and drill sergeant of the Civil Guard Alfrēds Bērziņš came in. On 1928 they made the first movie For Fatherland on 1928 about the Soviet invasion in Latvia on 1919. Movie was known for explicit scenes of violence and rape, but managed to pass the censorship law  that usually rejected such scenes. Mostly because of the Civil Guard support that was very popular paramilitary movement. The movie was poorly received and was technically weak for those times.

Then Rusteiķis started his project for the movie to mark 10 years of independent Latvia. His movie was called “Lāčplēsis” Lāčplēsis translated roughly in English as Bear Slayer was mythical hero who first appeared in Andrejs Pumpurs epic poem of the same name. Lāčplēsis is a strong ancient Latvian hero who fights against the German crusaders and also for his beloved Laimdota. This epic poem was one of the strongest literal works of the New Latvian movement. After Latvian army defeated the mainly German lead army of Bermont the victory seemed almost like the final victory of Lāčplēsis. Since the epic poem ended tragically with both Lāčplēsis and his enemy the Black Knight drowning in the river Daugava. The poem said that they still fight with each other in the deeps of the river and when Lācplēsis finally defeats the Black Knight the Latvian nation shall be free again. It seemed on November 1919 that this day has come and ever since then the November 11 is celebrated as Lāčplēsis day.

The movie was silent, but with musical score that follows the plot and changes according to dramatics. However, for our days it seems rather annoying. Massive battle scenes involving gas and artillery attacks were made. There are many special effects like explosions and falling war planes. However, in same cases like the war plane explosions its clearly seen that a plane is just a model.

So it was logical to name the movie in such way. The main cast for the movie was mostly amateurs. Voldemārs Dimze was a pilot. He played the main hero Lāčplēsis and Jānis Vanags as Lāčplēsis spiritual incarnation. His character is brave, honest and monolith personality not bounded by fear or lust. His character set the traditions for the future Latvian male characters as manly and patriotic. The main female character Laimdota or Marta was played by Lilita Bērziņa. She played beautiful and honest Latvian virgin who is trapped by the evil forces.  She also shows signs of courage and self confidence. She can spend a great time alone and defend herself. It was common for post war Latvian society with lot of single women forced to look after themselves. The main villain the Black Knight or later German officer was played by Osvalds Mednis. His character was shown in the best traditions of horror movies of those times. With one eye, bald head and frozen sinister look he resembled Count Dracula. A minor but colorful role by Jēkabs Upelnieks was Kangars. The vile Latvian traitor who assisted the Black Knight. Sinister expressions and moves were played out well.

The main characters of the movie. From the left: Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota/Marta, Voldemārs Dimze as Lāčplēsis/Jānis Vanags, Osvalds Osis as the Blak Night/German villain, Kangars as Jēkabs Upelnieks

The main characters of the movie. From the left: Lilita Bērziņa as Laimdota/Marta, Voldemārs Dimze as Lāčplēsis/Jānis Vanags, Osvalds Osis as the Blak Night/German villain, Kangars as Jēkabs Upelnieks

As we already noticed all three main epic characters – the Lāčplēsis, Laimdota and the Black Knight appear later as people within the historical setting of 1905-1919. That’s because the movie starts in Mythical age within the setting of Andrejs Pumpurs and then all three main characters spiritually reborn within Jānis Vanags, Marta and unnamed German officer. Also Kangars appears by his side as unnamed Latvian traitor. This seems rather mystical for our days, but in those days it was understood perfectly. Also special part in the movie is given to Laimdota brooch, decorated with Latvian  folk symbols including swastikas this decorative peace had rather mystical role on the main characters. It was nothing unusual to add such esoteric things as  spiritual rebirth or magic brooches since these things were very popular among European society.

The magical brooch of Laimdota

The magical brooch of Laimdota

The movie starts with Laimdota trapped in crusader castle with her brooch on her chest. Then the vile Black Knight appears and attempts to take her by force. In the event of struggle she looses her brooch and its been taken by Kangars. The brooch seems to defend Laimdota. A bunch of witches and wizards with grotesque expressionist style faces tries to place spell on the brooch to make Laimdota love the Black Knight. After failed attempts the evil spirit appears from nowhere and commands to use the blood of dove. As they prepare to spill the blood of dove on the brooch the Lāčplēsis appears. Lurking in darkness within the castle walls he hears the cry from Laimdota about her lost brooch. He throws the spear at the room where wizards are and stops the dove from being killed.

Wizards and witches

Wizards and witches

As Lāčplēsis then rushes to free Laimdota he defeats the German soldiers, who curiously wears more WWI style helmets rather than Medieval helmets. Some even have horns on them showing the way people understood ancient days in those times. Lāčplēsis meets the Black Knight in duel. Kangars tries to stab the Lāčplēsis in the back, but gets killed by the Black Knight’s sword who falls out of the knights hands. By loosing his sword Black Knight retreats and Lāčplēsis considers it as a victory. But, the vile knight grabs the sword and apparently kills Lāčplēsis.

Tzarist executioners on 1905. The vile German/Black Knight on the left

Tzarist executioners on 1905. The vile German/Black Knight on the left

Movie then departs to the revolution of 1905. Lāčplēsis is spiritually reborn in the young Jānis Vanags. Vanags means hawk and hawk was a very popular Latvian patriotic symbol. He has the Laimdota brooch with him proving his connection with Lāčplēsis. He then encounters the Tsarist punishment expedition   driving to Saulīšu house. He immediately recognizes the peculiar looking stiff faced Baltic German  Tsarist officer with one eye as reincarnation of the Black Knight. Violent Russian officer demands to show the way to Saulīšu house. Jānis ruins the carriage wheel and makes to Saulīšu house before the officers do. There he meets Saulītis and his young daughter Mirdza. Saulītis manages to escape, but the vile German Tsarist officer slain Jānis with a whip and leaves a scar on his left cheek.

Mirdza and Jānis meets again

Mirdza and Jānis meets again

Movie then moves to 1914. Germany invades the territory of Latvia. Latvian rifleman comes to defend their homeland. With them the officer Jānis a grownup mature man. He is summoned by Captain Briedis a real life person to send a message to Colonel Francis another real life personality. Colonel Jānis Francis is stationed on the Island of Death a bridgehead encircled by Germans. The Island of Death was one of the most bloodiest war points for the Latvian riflemen. In his way he encounters Mirdza and his father who are trapped in forest after their refugee carriage crashed in the forest. Another – Latvian social trauma the massive Latvian exodus during the first months of WWI. To make things more dramatic the refugee caravans are bombed by German war planes. Luckily Mirdza who lost her conciseness is found and rescued by Jānis. Mirdza recognizes the boy who saved her father and instant love erupts between them. She and her father moves further to Riga, while Jānis continues his military duty. He survives many battles because of Laimdota brooch that stood in the way the bullets as he was always carrying underneath his uniform. After last such event in 1917 Christmas Battles he sends the brooch to Mirdza as sign of his love to her.

German WWI gas attack

German WWI gas attack

A major war scenes are shown: artillery fire and German gas attacks. The Eastern front within Latvia was no stranger to chemical warfare another message for the social memory. Meanwhile in Riga, the Baltic Germans and the ex-Tsarist officer are plotting against the Latvians. Baltic Germans who were on the other side of the front were not united against the Tzarist regime, as there was many German nationals fighting within Russian lines. However, there were certain Baltic German groups who wanted to create the German state in the outcome of the war. Movie shows real footage of Germans entering Riga on 1917 and Kaiser Wilhelm II who made a visit there.

The proclamation of independence on November 18 1918

The proclamation of independence on November 18 1918

However, then movie departs to November 18, 1918. Around the present day National theater where the proclamation of independence took place, a man in a German spike helmet is hanging around showing that independence was proclaimed during the German military presence. A unique scenes were made as the directors choose to replay the whole proclamation scene with people who took direct part there. Kārlis Ulmanis and Gustavs Zemgals as well other real life people were present at the proclamation scene. Its known that there is only one picture made from this event. On 2008 it was done for the second time in the movie The Only Photograph.

While the rule of the Soviet government in Riga from 1918 to spring of 1919 its not directly mentioned, the next part begins in winter time Riga where Mirdza is struggling to survive by selling her valuables. A reference to poverty made by Bolshevik terror. She is then approached by the vile German alias Black Knight who she does not recognize. He seduces her by buying some valuables and asks if  there is more. She says “Yes in apartment”. German follows her to her apartment and notices the brooch. He wants to buy it as well, when Mirdza rejects he tries to take it by force. He is only interrupted by Mirdza father who recognizes him. After the German leaves the father angrily asks: “You did not know what is person did in 1905?”. German returns again to steal the brooch and assaults Mirdza. In the event of struggle she runs away, but the German assistant the reborn Kangars finds the brooch and gives it to vile German. After, Germans demands to give herself in return for brooch she leaves Riga and sends letter to her imprisoned father to tell Jānis to find the villain.

Pavel Bermont Avalov

Pavel Bermont Avalov

Jānis meanwhile is in Estonia and takes part in the organization of the Northern Latvia brigade that together with Estonians defeated Germans at Cēsis at June 22. A scenes show the Latvian army marching in the streets of Riga Jānis returns to Riga and finds that Mirdza had left for country side. Vile German and his traitor is leaving his office, but forgets the brooches. Jānis finds it takes it back. However, the German is far from giving up. He plots with Bermont-Avalov who stereotypically chews his cigar and shows eccentric dull behavior.  The Bermont army is showed in German and Tzarist uniforms and are marching to Riga. The German finds out where Mirdza is. As she tries to hide he asks: “Why you are so inhospitable to the victors?”, she replays: “I am not won yet!”, “Then soon you shall be!” German smears.

The Symbolism in the movie

The Symbolism in the movie

The Battle of Riga is shown in grandiose way. The allied help from British and French navy was not forgotten, instead their ships play exact role as they really did. A scene of Bermont war plane being shot down and exploding on ground was rather unsuccessful since its clearly seen its just a prop. Then there is a interesting special effect: on the left side of River Daugava that was taken by Bermont a vile German face appears and changes to Black Knight, and on the right side of Riga the opposite happens – Jānis face changes to Lāčplēsis. It was a symbol of eternal struggle between Latvians and Germans. The Germans were clearly shown as enemies and many people who lived those times really saw Germans as the main enemies of the Latvian nation. And the Black Knight was the symbol of the German reactionary forces.

The battle scenes with the spirit of Lāčplēsis taking action

The battle scenes with the spirit of Lāčplēsis taking action

In grand battle scenes Latvians chase away Bermnot, another special effect the spirit of Lāčplēsis clears the front line with  his sword. As the battle ends a map shows up showing Latvian forces marked as Swastikas chasing away the Germans shown up as crosses. On 1930 swastika was still mainly seen as Latvian national folk symbol and as we see this movie had very anti-German character. The Bolsheviks were never directly mentioned in this movie.

Defeated Bermont is enjoying himself in Jelgava

Defeated Bermont is enjoying himself in Jelgava

Vivid scenes are shown after Germans are forced to retreat to Jelgava. The officers of the Bermont army is enjoying wild party with dancers and alcohol. Such travesty actually took place not to mention the damage the Bermnont made to Jelgava before finally leaving it.

The movie ends with Jānis confronting the German. He unhands his pistol and orders to defend himself with his sword. Kangars again sneaks to shoot Jānis from behind and gets killed by the German sword. Again the vile German tries to grab his pistol, but the father of Mirdza shows up and fires from behind. German is shot twice and falls down the stairs. As the father is looking if her daughter is fine, he sees her kissing with Jānis. He silently closes the door and in relief lights up his smoking pipe.

The ending scene

The ending scene

The movie was praised by viewers and the press. Few criticized for being oriented slightly towards the Kārlis Ulmanis party the Green Farmers Union, since it was funded by Civil Guards who were openly supportive of Ulmanis. Jānis Čakste and Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics was not present at the movie. Some technical flaws made this movie not as good as Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. In Hollywood first full audio movies were already present. But, what it makes this movie so special it was first major Latvian movie, with special effects, major historical background and artistic quality. On 1939 the Fishermans Son was first full audio Latvian movie a classic a adaptation of Vilis Lācis novel. But, without Lāčpēsis the Latvian cinema would be different.

Latvian post stamp showing the score from the movie

Latvian post stamp showing the score from the movie

On 2007 similar Latvian movie The Guards of Riga was produced. Also resolved around the Battle of Riga on 1919 sadly it was more historically biased then 193o Lāčplēsis. While Lāčplēsis showed that Latvians had enough forces at the beginning of the battle, the Guards of Riga was showing that Latvians had to build army from the scratch. The role of the Northern Latvia brigade and the allied warships were completely diminished by the Guards of Riga, while Lāčplēsis took large detail on this. The whole historical context of the battle events were completely misinterpreted in the Guards of Riga while they mostly close to history in Lāčplēsis. This shows, how the national memory about the War for Freedom gets deformed by the years. On 1930 the movie producers who witnessed the war themselves despite lack of technical advances made a movie that by all right is included in the Latvian national canon.

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Banned Soviet Movie about Latvian Waffen SS Legion

Movie poster for the "Rocks and Splinters""I Remember Everything Richard"

Movie poster for the “Rocks and Splinters”
“I Remember Everything Richard”

Again the 16th March approaches heating up the discussions between historians, politicians and other members of the society. The Latvian Waffen SS Legion day will be commemorated again. The story about this celebration and the Legion itself has been already told here. This article is about interesting attempt to make a full feature film about the Latvian Legion during the Soviet times in Latvia. A film that was made for 10 years, had changed its title many times and finally made on the cinema screens for only 24 days, after it was banned by local Latvian communist authorities. Ironically outside Latvia, in Russia the movie was praised and no opposition from authorities in Moscow against the movie ever followed. It was a cowardice of the local Latvian censorship and officials that canceled this interesting war drama about the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. The movie was called “Rocks and Splinters” or “I Remember Everything Richard”.

After the death of the Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the relative liberalization in culture allowed to talk about questions that were suppressed before. During the so-called thaw times, the Soviet film directors dared to make a new kind of war films. In movies such as “The Cranes are flying” (1957) by M Kalatozov, “A Soldiers Ballad” (1959) by G Cuhray, “A Mans Fate” (1959) by S Bondarchuck, and “Ivan’s Childhood” (1962) by S Tarkovsky the emotional side of the war was shown for the first time. The Stalinist movie characters were shown as manful, brave and mature fighters, while the new kind of war heroes were allowed to have fallbacks, weakness and fear.

The movie “Rocks and Splinters” or “I Remember Everything Richard!” featured this kind a characters. The movie tells a story about three friends – Jānis, Zigis and Ričards who were conscripted in to the Latvian Legion. Their fate turns differently – Ričards to save his friend executes the Soviet war prisoner and gains respect from the commanding officers. Zigis tries to defect to the Soviet side, but gets killed during the attempt. At the end of the war the disillusioned Janis deserts. Twenty years later in Riga the Jānis and Ričards meets again. Jānis lives in Soviet Latvia and works as a stonecutter and keeps friendly relations with Ričards youth time bride Antra. Ričards and Jānis both remember their war days and find out that their point of views differ. In the finale Ričards turns out as the spy from the West and in his deadlock stabs Jānis to death.

Two main movie characters-Jānis (Harijs Liepiņš) and Ričards (Eduards Pāvuls)

Two main movie characters-Jānis (Harijs Liepiņš) and Ričards (Eduards Pāvuls)

The movie is about whole generation, its worries, the feel of guilt and need to be understood by the society. The active participants of the World War II were born from 1920 to 1928. This was the movie about them.

The idea of this movie was first brought up by the Viktors Lorencs who wrote the script called “Fatherland forgive me!” (Dzimtene Piedod!) Viktors Lorecs was the son of the prominent Latvian Socialdemocat politician Klāvs Lorencs before the war, who was supportive of the Soviet occupation, but later in 1951 was arrested. Viktors Lorencs himself in the age of 17 in 1944 was mobilized by the German army and sent to Air Force Assistant Squad. It was his goal to defend the mobilized men in Latvian Legion against the accusations from the regime. He later remarked: “We were aware that we are no fascists. Furthermore, none of us believed in the German victory. The tragedy lays in there. After that, together with older man, myself seventeen we had to go trough filtration camp”. He wrote the script in 1957 and published in the students almanac „Творчество молодых” (The Youth Art). In same year the in the Riga Movie Studio the works for the movie begun and Varis Krūmiņš was chosen as a director. Lorencs submitted all needed materials for the script, but in 23 December 1957 he suddenly received note from the chief of the Riga Movie Script department O Kublanov that the work for the movie “Fatherland forgive me!” has been canceled. Lorencs received no explanation for this, however the archive documents show that script was declined for its ideologically artistic qualities. More notable was the note made by unknown author on the script that said: “Was there before Soviet power in Latvia? If it was then the movie is useless!”

Things changed only in 1964 when the members of the Riga Movie Studio script editorial staff were invited to visit the Latvian Communist Party Central Committee. The first secretary of the Central Committee Arvīds Pelše, the first man in the Soviet Latvia wanted to make a good historical movie to celebrate the 25 years of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Lorencs again submitted upgraded version of the script that was criticized, but was encouraged to be continued and edited. In 10 November 1964 the Council of the Arts discussed the edited script and approved it. It was then sent to Moscow for approval. Rolands Kalniņš was chosen as the director. Rolands Kalniņš was mobilized in the Legion, but did not believe that it could restore the Latvian independence and managed avoid the war. However, he also felt the strong need to make this movie to show the tragedy of his generation.

In 6 March 1965 after many months of discussing the script the movie was allowed to be filmed. In 26 May the first day of shooting begun and first scenes were taken. But, then they were suddenly interrupted by deputy of the film director Gunārs Sops who announced that movie shooting must be canceled. Not Sops or anybody else knew what was going on. It turned out that the script was discussed in the party Central Committee and some members pointed out that this movie could cause scandal for its politically wrong.

However, the Movie Studio decided to continue to make the film. 13 November 1965 the movie title was changed to “Rocks and Splinters” and allowed to be put on screens. In 19 November the LSSR Cinematography committee decided not to put the movie on-screen. In 23 November the making of the movie was finished. In 3 November the main USSR Cinematography committee praised the movie and allowed it to be shown everywhere in the Union.

In 24 December 1965 the social discussion about the movie was made. The participants were LSSR War Commissar I Chasha, Rector of the Latvian State University V Šteinbergs, the LSSR Minister of Education A Elvih, former partisans V Samsons,  H Bendiks,  the Minister of Culture V Kaupužs, the Secretary of the Youth Communist League J Barkāns, the circus director A Mlokit. The war commissar I Chasha who was apparently little drunk shouted: “What are they doing? Drinking in the army is bad, but in the movie the soldiers are drinking in the party!” Understanding his failure he then continued: “Anti-Soviet movie, for it forgives the legion! The Brothers war cemetery is shown in pre-war style.” The red partisan leader and historian V Samsons noted that people must speak about this tragedy and defended the movie. Minister of Culture V Kaupužs was against the movie and accused of attempts of dividing the society. The Minister of Education declared that this movie suits the interests of the Latvian emigrants and stated that the Legion is no longer important for Latvians. The rector of the University said this movie is politically detrimental. Other party officials called the movie as a danger to youth. It was decided not to show the movie on screens.

In 10 January 1966 the LSSR Cinematography committee orders to rename the movie to “I Remember Everything Richard”. The main script redactor J Lūsis was fired and replaced with A Grigulis.

In 6 May after many script and scene reconsiderations the movie production was canceled. 245 300 rubles spent on production were called as losses. The original copy of the movie was however, ordered to be preserved in the cinematic archive.

18 August the movie was officially finished and allowed to be shown in movie theaters.

From April 3 to 26 1967 the movie was shown in theaters, banning it from being mentioned in the press. After that the Soviet bureaucratic carousel ended. The movie disappeared completely for decades. In 10 January 1992 the movie was restored and shown again. In 1999 it was distributed in VHS format, but in 2009 included in DVD collection of Rolands Kalniņš banned films.

Why was the movie banned in Soviet Latvia while it was praised by the critics and officials in Moscow? Apparent reason was the fear of the local communist officials from the “big” masters in Moscow. The leadership of the Latvian Socialist Republic was mostly Latvian communists from Russia, who survived the Stalin’s purges and was franticly afraid to do anything that could be seen as hostile to Moscow. The movie “I Remember Everything Richard” in no way praised the legionaries as heroes. Instead they were shown as tragic victims of the Nazi policy, forced to fight useless war bound to fail. The main character Jānis shows no sympathy to the Legion, while Ričards who is nationalistic minded turns out to be Western spy. Also the commanding officers were shown as hypocrites and involved in Holocaust. Therefore now such movie may not be liked by people who admire the Legionnaires and calls them heroes. However, the communist elite still saw this movie as politically incorrect and danger to them. The reason, why despite numerous orders to not to show the movie, it did appear for the short time on screens, was because Moscow had accepted it.

With that the local Soviet leaders showed the usual weakness against the high power, a weakness that persisted until late eighties. We can see that this weakness in issues about the Latvian Legion has not gone until this day. Latvian political elite constantly juggles with the Latvian Legion. First it allows to officially celebrating it, even makes a parliamentary declaration defending the Legion. After protests from Russia and its supporters in Latvia and the West the government removes the 16th March from the official calendar. But still as many celebrates it, and its supporters are now coalition the Latvia continues to ridicule itself more and more. The Russia and West enjoys this Latvian inability to take a concrete stance on this important matter and continue the diplomatic harassment of our country.

 

Music video shows scenes from the movie

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Latvian Cinema

The site of the Riga Movie Studio

The site of the Riga Movie Studio

Few days ago two Latvian movies won prizes in the International Berlin Film festival. Mammu, es tevi mīlu! (Mother I love you!) and Eži un lielpilsēta (Hedgehogs and the City) are latest internationally acknowledged works of the Latvian cinema. Latvian cinema has deeps roots right from the end of 19th century. It has changed over the years, adapted to different regimes and trends. During the years of the Soviet occupation, the movie making was a priority for the state and so the Latvian cinematographers received generous funding. Despite often tricky Soviet censorship regulations, many great films were made that are favorited  by many until this day. After the regain of the independence, state support for cinema significantly dropped and full swing entry of the Hollywood films made it difficult for movie makers to start or even finish their works. However, movie industry although now private and smaller than in past continues to make films and animations that often score international recognition. This article will mention few best Latvian films, their directors and artists in 20th century.

After the end of the war of independence in 1920, cinema was becoming popular everywhere. Movie theaters opened everywhere and became fancy way to spend time and money. As the main movie makers in Europe were Germany and UK Latvian movie theaters mostly showed their works. As Latvia has just faced World War I and War of Freedom no wonder that first movie made in the State of Latvia was called I Went to war (Es karā aiziedams) in 1920. The director was famous Latvian theater director Alfrēds Artmanis Briedītis. Movie was about Latvian farmer who became soldier and the officer of the Latvian army. Including aspects of love and betrayal this movie  introduced national melodrama genre that was popular until the occupation.  In 1921, Artmanis Briedītis came with the second film In the whirlwind of times (Laiku Viesulī)  that was again based on the war of independence and featured difficult relations with Latvians and Baltic Germans. However, war was not the only theme in Latvian movies. In 1921, a comedy Fritz in the seaside (Fricītis jūrmalāscored great popularity. More comedies by Roberts Vizbulis in later years.

Scene from Lāčplēsis. The actress Lillita Bērziņa

Scene from Lāčplēsis.
The actress Lillita Bērziņa

Two first Latvian movie studios Latvju Filma and Dzintarfilma went bankrupt one by on the 1924. New attempts followed and great effort was made by director Aleksandrs Rusteiķis. His first work was again war drama For Fatherland in 1928. Film featured a great amount of violence unusual for those times. He then focused on the movie that should become first epic blockbuster the Bear Slayer (Lāčplēsis) that was finished in 1930. Lāčplēsis was the name of the epos written by Andrejs Pumpurs, that was Latvian national symbol. The movie started in the mythological ages were Lāčplēsis   the hero faces the Black Knight to free his beloved Laimdota. As the Black Knight wins in treachery, movie shifts to year 1905, where Lāčplēsis is reborn in young Latvian boy Jānis Vanags. There he meets Laimdota reborn as Mirdza and the Black Knight as the vile German officer. The plot follows them throughout the World War I, war for independence until the final fight were Jānis or Lāčplēsis finally defeats the German officer and frees Latvia from the enemy. Movie features many novel scenes, like the proclamation of the Latvian independence, the Battle for Riga in 11 November 1919 and the orgies of the Bermontd army men. The main hero was played by Voldemārs Dimze, his partner Laimdota was played by legendary Lilita Bērziņa. The main nemesis- one-eyed German officer was played by Osvalds Mednis. Movie was a certainly a breakthrough in Latvian film industry – it had special effects, full-time battle scenes and action. It was still a silent movie with rather annoying soundtrack for our time. Despite the critics and some flaws this movie is certainly a golden archive piece and has been preserved and available on the internet.

The filming of the Fishermans Son 1939

The filming of the Fishermans Son 1939

In 1934, the first full Latvian musical film The Son of the nation (Tautas Dēls) came out. Again featuring war and national theme the movie was widely praised. More patriotic movies were made until in 1939 the legendary Son of the Fisherman (Zvejnieka Dēls) came out. It was a dramatization of the novel of the same name written by popular writer Vilis Lācis. The movie was not about war, but about life of the fishermen in the coast of the Baltic sea, as they fight injustice, bigotry and search for true love. The main protagonist Oskars was played by Pēteris Lūcis who became legend along with his partner Nina Melbārde. Movie had live dialogue and music and it was truly a best Latvian movie at those times.

The occupation of Latvia changed everything. Another movie based on the novel of Vilis Lācis The Water Dam (Aizsprosts) was finished in 1940, but not shown and lost. Vilis Lācis himself became member of the Latvian Communist government responsible for repressions and deportations. During the first year of occupation one  movie was made called Kaugurieši that depicted the peasant revolt in 1802.

After the end of the war Latvia was caught in two realities- one was lack of funds and special equipment the other was the Soviet desire to make great propaganda masterpieces since the great cinema lover Stalin loved such movies. Two Soviet movie studios Mosfilm and Leninfilm were suited for this job. Such epics as the Fall of Berlin in 1949 was example of the Stalinist cinema. In Latvia the job of movie making were entrusted to Riga Movie Studio that became the main maker of movies until the fall of the USSR.

First movies after the war were off coarse propagandic Rainis in 1949, told an inaccurate story of the famous Latvian leftist writer and poet Jānis Rainis (Pleikšāns) making him convinced communist although he was more a socialdemocrat.  Returning home with victory (Mājup ar uzvaru) in 1947, was another story by Vilis Lācis, this time praising Red Army. First Latvian color movie was also based on work of Vilis Lācis To the New Shore (Uz jauno krastu) in 1955 not receiving positive reviews from the critics. In 1960, the Storm (tra) was the culmination of the Soviet propaganda showing the events in 1940, in positive way.

After the denunciation of the Stalin’s personality cult in 1955, the Latvian cinema became more free and opened space for drama and Latvian classics. A symbol of these times was the Frost in the Sprigtime (Salna Pavasarī), based on the novel by classic Rūdolfs Blaumanis. No communists, no war, a return to country life before World War I. Despite the presence of  the Soviet realism the movie was brilliant psychological work of art, placing itself as example for other movies.

The scene from the In The Shadow of Death

The scene from the In The Shadow of Death

The works of Rūdolfs Blaumanis became good material for the movie makers. In The Shadow of Death (Nāves Ēnā), The Swamp Slusher (Purva Bridējs) is considered as classics of the Latvian Soviet Cinema. In 1957, Fishermans Son was shot again making the actor Eduards Pāvuls new star and legend later on. More and more movies were made by every year not all of them notable, many of them relayed on the traditions of the Soviet realism.

All works of art in the Soviet Latvia were first checked by the Soviet censorship, the movie scripts were analyzed by the Soviet bureaucrats and state loyal artists. Mostly after some corrections all movies went trough the censorship.  However the director Rolands Kalniņš was unlucky enough to have his three movies banned. I remember everything Richard (Es visu atceros Ričard) dared to depict the men of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. In no way the movie praised them, instead showing them as a victims of the Nazi regime. Despite that the question of the Latvian legion was so touchy that Latvian local censors banned it at the end, despite the overall good reception of it in Russia. Movie was restored after the regain of independence and was truly a work of art. Kalniņš did not give up and went further to provoke the authorities. His movie Breathe Deeply (Elpojiet Dziļi), was about the life of the young musicians struggling against the censorship commission that dislikes their music. Movie featured many great songs by composer Imants Kalniņš that later became pretty popular. Likely the depiction of the work the censorship commission was the cause for its removal. The third attempt by Kalniņš called The Seaside Climate (Piejūras Klimats) was not even finished, for it also was too modern.

The Sixties and the Seventies brought some great movie hits. 1967 movie When rain and winds bang at the windows (Kad Lietus un Vēji Sitas Logā), was about the Latvian National resistance and the Western Secret Agents. The movie was based on real events when agents from US and UK went to support the Latvian national partisans only to be captured by KGB. The movie tells a story from the KGB side of view. The Times of the Surveyors (Mērnieku Laiki) in 1968 was great adaption of the first Latvian novel of the same name by Kaudzīte brothers. With beautiful music and actor work it was a masterpiece for years to come.  In 1969 director Leonīds Leimanis made first attempt of showing the pre- war independent Latvia. At the Rich Ladys house (Pie bagātās kundzes) was ironical and colorful depiction of the Latvian politics, elections and the society, that was not filled with too much Soviet slandering.

Artūrs Ēķis and Olga Dreģe in the Devils Servants

Artūrs Ēķis and Olga Dreģe in the Devils Servants

In 1970, inspired by the French costume films notably the Three Musketeers, director Andrejs Leimanis made a legendary historic adventure movie The Devils Servants (Vella Kalpi). The plot took place in Riga during the Swedish-Polish War in 17th century. The three central heroes Andris, Pēteris and Ērmanis rises up to defend Riga against the Swedish conquerors and traitorous Riga municipality and the Lutheran church. The movie had great comedy elements, music and the best actors around. The reception was so positive all around the Soviet Union that a sequel The Devils Servants in the Devils Mill (Vella Kalpi Vella Dzirnavās) in 1972 was made and a similar film In the Claws of the Black Lobster (Melnā Vēža Spīlēs) moving from 17th century Riga to Duchy of Courland and Semigallia.

   Rolands Kalniņš did not gave up movie making and in 1972 made an impressive comeback with Ceplis. The movie took place in pre war independent Latvia, showing a story of a business tycoon  Ceplis and his great business scams. With great actor work and rather accurate depiction of the life of the pre war Latvian elite the movie was an instant success.

The 1975 was rise to fame for director Jānis Streičs, he was known before of his children films, but the comedy My friend- a light- weight person (Mans Draugs nenopietns cilvēks) was story of a light hearten man name Arvīds who tries to make a good life despite his foolishness and harsh reality. Film was a satire view on the everyday normal Soviet life. In 1976 The Lake Sonata (Ezera Sonāte) by Gunārs Cilinskis and Varis Bralsa became another classic. The great actor work by Gunārs Cilinskis and Astrīda Kairiša made the Lake Sonata possibly the best love drama ever to be made in Latvia. Jānis Streičs went further in 1978 with his adaption of novel by Somerset Moem the Theater with exceptional main role play by legendary actress Vija Artmane. 

The eighties begun with epic TV-series The Long way in to the capes (Ilgais Ceļš Kāpās). It was a historical drama showing pre war, World War II and postwar times. It was rise to fame for Lilita Ozoliņa. Together with music by Raimonds Pauls it was the first successful Latvian TV series.  In the same year Jānis Streičs made another satire look on realities of the Soviet life with movie The Car in the Color of the Night of the Summer Solstice (Limuzīns Jāņu Nakts Krāsā). The plot was about old lady who wins a VAZ car in the lottery, but cannot drive it. Pretty soon she discovers that she has many friendly relatives who desires her car. In those times cars were not for everyone and people had to made great efforts to get their own private car. Film had plenty of comedy elements, the feature of the Jāņi celebrations or the Summer solstice was also a successes. As such this movie has become golden hit of the Latvian cinema.

After the start of the reforms of peresetroika, in Soviet Unions, the history shown in movies became more freer. The Zītars Family (Zītaru Dzimtain 1989 was based for the last time on the work of the Vilis Lācis novel. But, contrary to other such movies based on his work, the movie showed more realistic depiction of the history than ever before. In 1991 Jānis Streičs made his most remarkably film The Son of Man (Cilvēka Bērns). It was based on the works by Jānis Klīdzējs, and centered around young Bonifācijs who lives in religious Latgallian family. The entire movie dialogues were  in Latgalian national dialect that also played great role in Latgalian national awakening.

After the fall of the Soviet Union and the regaining of independence the Latvian movie industry faced great changes. The funding from Moscow vanished, and the Riga Movie Studio was privatized and slowly fell apart in next two decades. Cinema was now made by private companies. First notable films after 1991 was The Spider (Zirneklis) a psychological thriller and similar Cage (Būris). Also in 1993 the movie The Christmas Brawl (Ziemassvēktu Jampadracis) started popular children movie genre that is very successful in modern day Latvia.

The movie poster of The Horrible Summer

The movie poster of The Horrible Summer

Jānis Streicš continued to make movies like The Mills of Fate (Likteņdzirnas), The Mystery of The Old Parish House (Vecā Pagastmājas Mistērija) and The Will of Rudolf (Rūdolfa Mantojums). An ex musician member of the rock band Jumprava Aigards Grauba has made attempts on making epic films on Latvian history. The Horrible Summer (Baiga Vasara), was about the events in 1940, The Guards of Riga (Rīgas Sargi) about Battle for Riga in 1919 and The Dream Team 1935 (Sapņu Komanda 1935) about Latvian basketball team that became first European Champions. The historical accuracy in these movies are questionable to say at least.

While some Latvian directors made movies that only critics could understand like Laila Pakalniņa with her Shoe (Kurpe),  others made great movies for children like Waterbomb for the fat cat (Ūdensbumba resnajam runcim) and The Dog man and Tille (Šuņuvīrs un Tille)Children movies and animation has become trademark of the Latvian cinema. While adult drama is certainly lacking, as it’s too depressive like Kolka Kool or too pornographic like The Hunt (Medības). Some drama movies like The Dark Deers (Tumšie Brieži), The Monotony (Monotonija) and Vogelfrei has received good reception. A great achievement was film Amaya that was made in collaboration with Japan and featured the famous Kaori Momoi in the main role. Interesting piece of work is a In the Golf Stream under the Iceberg (Golfa Straumē zem Leduskalna) by director Yevgeny Paskevich who made this film for twenty years.

The movie poster for Latvian - Japanese film Amaya

The movie poster for Latvian – Japanese film Amaya

Latvian movies have their own national prize the Great Kristaps Prize that takes place every too years. In 2012 the Yevgeny Paskvich long desired work won the prize. Latvian cinema had many prizes in the foreign festivals, the Oscar prize is a certainly a cherish dream, but Latvian cinematographers must keep on making works of art that will lighten up the viewers and critics. Since last year because  of the rise of the nationalist party in the Ministry of Culture, a movement has started to make more positive and patriotic movies. In so the promises to make film about 12th century Ancient Latvian leader Namejs has been given, others rush to adapt epic work by Aleksandrs Grīns The Blizzard of Souls and more talks about semi historic films about the Crusades has started. However it was again the children themed movie Mother I Love You that reached the international sympathy. The cinema is not only an art its a major collective intellectual effort that needs a lot of money and support. Latvian movie makers lack enough funding to fulfill all their dreams, therefore not all their works are worthwhile. However, it’s not worth to force state to give more money as the prime importance is not how much money you receive, but how you use it to make a great product. And not always the state funding brings the greatest results, not in Soviet times and not before. The State funding should be viewed as a generosity that must be used properly. And it’s not right for politicians to affect the movie production, for cinema is a a free art and every most ignorant intrusion in the cinema industry can hurt the most badly.

The recent success has shown the Latvian cinema industry still has potential and despite the difficulties and bickering we hope to see more great Latvian films.

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