Saturday, October 25, 2008

Abols Upe (An Apple in the River)

Drama. 1974.
Directed and written by Aivars Freimanis.
Starring: Ivars Kalnins and Akvelina Livmane.

"Abols Upe" is the story of an island in the Daugava river that is the home of a small fishing village. An ageless place that seems untouched by time, but whose days are numbered, as most of the inhabitants will soon be relocated to make way for a bridge to Riga.
Director Aivars Freimanis uses real life events, the building of Vanshu Tilts across Daugava, into which he weaves a story between two star-crossed lovers, played by Ivars Kalnins and Akvelina Livmane, who while deeply attracted to each other just can't seem to make it work.
It's a film about the inevitability of change and progress and, at the same time, about the nature of people who remain the same even when their circumstances change. The small village, which is separated from Riga by only a short stretch of water, seems to be far removed from the hustle and bustle of the modern city.
"Abols" doesn't so much tell a story as it tries to capture glimpses of real life. Freimanis, who got his start in documentary films, uses the same techniques he did as a documentary filmmaker. There is very little dialogue and most of what there is delivered by a narrator. It's an approach that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. The love story seems to be nothing more than an afterthought. The reason that drives the action. Both Kalnins and Livmane are very good in their roles, but they don't really have much to work with.
The star of this film, as in most documentaries, is the camera and whatever it manages to capture. And there lies the strength of the film. Watching it you do get a feel of life in Latvia in the early 1970's. Perhaps this film would have worked much better as a straight documentary because the subject matter is fascinating and at times seems to jump off the screen.
Unfortunately, the fictional part of the story doesn't always work and by trying to be both Freimanis doesn't really succeed at either.

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