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A ‘New Wave’ in Latvian Cinema?

Latvian film scholars are excitedly discussing the possible emergence of a ‘new wave’ in Latvian cinema. Klāra Brūveris reports on the debate.

In recent years a new trend has emerged in Latvian filmmaking. Social realist films, such as Amatieris/The Amateur (Jānis Nords, 2008), Cilvēki Tur/People Out There (Aik Karapetian, 2012), and Modris/Modris (Juris Kursietis, 2014), have dominated the domestic cinematic landscape.

Most of these films are the debut feature films for a new generation of Latvian filmmakers. This, in combination with their aesthetic and thematic similarities, has led Dita Rietuma, the director of the National Film Centre, to argue for the emergence of a ‘new wave’ in Latvian cinema.

A brief examination of these films seems to support Rietuma’s statement. First, all three films represent the coming of age story of young Latvian men, who are depicted as having strained relationships with their mothers. Having grown up in single-parent households in the poorer suburbs, these young men feel they have suffered great injustice.

Viktors resents his position in life, and tries to escape by selling drugs

Viktors – the protagonist of The Amateur (2008) – resents his position in life, and tries to escape by selling drugs

Viktors, the protagonist of The Amateur, for example, often argues with his mother about the fact that he grew up without a father, a situation which is only heightened after his mother begins dating a sports journalist. Likewise Modris, the central character in the film Modris, gambles and steals from his mother, who constantly exclaims that Modris is no better than his jailed father.

Due to their strained relationships with their mothers and their resentment towards their position in life, these male protagonists act up, which often ends in dire consequences for themselves and their families. Viktors begins selling drugs, eventually bashing to death a drug supplier and then fleeing to Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Modris is imprisoned after his mother reports him for stealing a heater, which begins a long and complex relationship with the legal system.

These thematic similarities arguably support Rietuma’s claim that these films do indeed highlight the formation of a ‘new wave’ in Latvian cinema. However, not everyone is convinced. Latvian academics hotly deliberate whether or not this trend can in fact be classified as a ‘new wave’, a discussion which came to the fore during a panel on Latvian films in Europe as part of the first Riga International Film Festival in December last year.

Modris, another protagonist who struggles to relate with his mother in this new cinematic trend

Modris, another protagonist who struggles to relate with his mother in this new cinematic trend

Many agree these films share numerous similarities and represent a broader trend in Latvian filmmaking. However, the primary argument against categorising them as part of a ‘new wave’ is that the filmmakers are not a part of a collective with specific goals which they attempt to meet through their filmmaking practice.

If we compare the Latvian ‘new wave’ with previous cinematic ‘new waves’ then we see Latvia is missing one important aspect: political motivation behind the development of their stylistic and thematic concerns. The French New Wave, for example, was developed by filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut,who rejected the literary period films popular in France during the 1950s. Instead, they aimed to create films which dealt with contemporary issues and experimented with the film form.

The Latvian directors who are part of the emerging social realist trend do not share a common goal and are not making these films in opposition to a more established cinematic practice. It is primarily for this reason that this new trend is argued not to be a ‘new wave’.

However, if this trend is not a ‘new wave’ the question still remains as to why these Latvian directors have all created such similar films. In an interview with director Juris Kursietis in the Independent Morning NewspaperKursietis muses that perhaps one of the reasons why all these films are so similar is that all the directors are the same age and grew up in the same socio-political context. Uncannily, all three directors were born in 1983.

Kursietis further argues that the first feature film of a director is incredibly personal. It is therefore no surprise that he, Nords and Karapetians have all produced such similar debut films both thematically and stylistically, as their childhoods were so similar.

It will be interesting to see if these directors continue to produce similar films, and if this trend will further develop in Latvian cinema. Then perhaps it will be possible to recognise this trend as a ‘new wave’.

Klāra Brūveris is a PhD student and Postgraduate Teaching Fellow at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Her PhD positions Latvian cinema in a transnational framework, with the aim of understanding why specific cinematic tendencies have emerged in the contemporary Latvian cinemascape. Her most recent publication was published in the edited collection European Cinema after the Wall: Screening East-West Mobility.

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