Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spridits Amerika vai Does it Look Like Happiness?

Documentary. 2003.
Written and directed by Ieva Salmane.
Produced by Salmane and Maris Locmelis.

Spriditis Amerika vai Does it Look Like Happiness? tries to answer an important question: Why have so many Latvians in recent years decided to leave Latvia to seek their happiness in the United States, and have they found it?
It's a much-debated question both in Latvia and wherever else more than two Latvians can be found. Spriditis (as well as another film on the same topic, Atrasts Amerika) has certainly stimulated the debate. But, other than showing that, in general, happiness is hard to find and even harder to define, the film doesn’t really answer its own question.
The fault is perhaps with the premise itself. Looking at Latvia or the United States through the eyes of those who decided to choose one over the other doesn’t really address the merits or faults of either. By definition those who left Latvia found Latvia lacking and chose the United States as a place where whatever it is that Latvia lacks can be found. Those kinds of judgments are best left to those with an objective eye with nothing at stake.
Spriditis really isn't a film about Latvia or the United States, so much as a film about individuals who seek the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and they can be found in any immigrant community regardless of county of origin or ultimate destination.
The short answer to whether they found their happiness in America is, well, really neither short nor simple. The film certainly demonstrates that for the most part they have not. But whether this was due to something intrinsic to the respective nations or the individuals in question remains unanswered. One gets the sense that they could have been just as happy or just as unhappy in either place. Their reasons might change, but the degree of either remains the same.
Spriditis is not a bad film. Other than at times comical English translation, it is technically well executed. One gets the sense of place and lives. The film flows with a natural rhythm that captures the spirit of the moment it sets out to capture. It fleshes out its background much better than Atrasts Amerika. Where Atrasts Amerika was mostly talking heads broken up by cutaways, which didn’t always add to what the heads had to say, Spriditis adds background footage that accentuates the interviews.
Overall, Spriditis offers a glimpse into the motives and introduces us to people who most of us might never otherwise meet. It's a film that captures the immigrant experience, the hardships and sacrifices, even if it doesn't really tell us anything particularly new about the place those immigrants left or the place where they now live.

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