Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pa Celam Aizejot (Leaving by the Way)

Drama. 2001.
Directed by Viesturs Kairiss.
Written by Kaspars Odins. Based on a story by Sudrabu Edzus.
Starring: Davis Bergs, Andris Keiss, Guna Zarina, Elita Klavina, Liga Cizevska, Eriks Vilsons.

“Pa Celam Aizejot” (Leaving by the Way) is a lyrical and mystical film that is hampered at times by uneven performances, but bolstered by excellent direction from Viesturs Kairiss. The winner of the 2002 Lielais Kristaps (Latvia’s equivalent of the Oscar), and based on the classic Latvian story Dullais Dauka (Crazy Dauka) by Sudraba Edzus, Leaving transports the viewer into a world filled with beauty and heartbreaking tragedy. It transforms a fanciful fairy tale filled with symbolism to the present without losing a single beat or softening its mystical approach. The setting and characters might be “modern”, but the forces that drive them are as old as love and jealousy, curiosity and faith.
Set in a Latgalian village “Leaving” follows the lives of the village’s inhabitants in the wake of a tragic event: the loss at sea and presumed drowning of Ivars (Andris Keiss), husband of Ilga (Elita Klavina) and father of Dauka (Davis Bergs) and Liga (Liga Cizevska). Ilga is so overcome with grief that she can’t bring herself to tell her children of the death of their father. This is her way of not only protecting them, but also of shielding herself. Despite her best efforts, however, all of them have to deal with the same thing, their longing for someone (or something) whom they love but who is out of reach. Maybe forever. Each copes in their own way. Ilga has an affair with Viktor (Eriks Vilsons), a local married man, Dauka skips school and Liga often runs away from home.
In many ways it’s a tried and true dramatic formula no different from countless other films which have traversed similar tragic terrain and some audiences might be turned off by a story that starts out unhappy and ends unhappier. What separates this film from the pack is it’s poignant lyricism and mystical approach to the subject matter, and, in a manner of speaking, it’s very “Latvianess”. Ilga might be having a run of the mill tawdry affair, but the wife (Ruta played by Guna Zarina) of Ilga’s lover happens to be not only the local postmistress, but also a practicing witch and healer to whom quite a few of the villagers turn for aid and comfort. Or to deny others aid and comfort as the need arises. There’s magic, but it’s neither black nor white. When Dauka skips school it’s not to watch TV, but to hike through the forest while having imaginary (or are they?) conversations with his father. When Liga runs away she melts into the countryside like a woodland nymph. All of this is handled with such everyday matter of factness that it seems as real and natural as using a phone or riding in a car. When Ruta dances naked at midnight in the middle of a field to ensure that a potion she has prepared will accomplish what’s needed, it seems as normal and familiar as when earlier in the day she delivers a telegram.
“Leaving” is not a perfect film, but it’s not trying to be. It’s not really interested in telling a story or following a linear narrative so much as desiring to capture a mood or a feeling. It’s a film that, supplemented by rich and lush cinematography from Janis Eglitis and almost seamless editing by Juta Brante, shows great promise for Kairiss. This was his feature-length debut, and hopefully another step in what will be a long and prolific career.

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