Saturday, October 25, 2008

Zvejnieka Dels (The Fisherman's Son)

Drama. 1939.
Directed by Vilis Lapenieks.
Written by Vilis Lacis.
Starring: Peteris Lucis, Nina Melbarde, Haralds Vazdiks, Evalds Valters and Roberts Berzins.

"Zvejnieka Dels" (The Fisherman's Son) is a remarkable film when considered in the
context of the historical period in which it was made and the two people who were primarily responsible for its making. It was made in the shadow of the emerging Soviet Union and a newly resurgent and bellicose Germany, both previous colonial powers that had at various times ruled over Latvia. It was independent Latvia's first full-length feature film and, at the time, it's largest budgeted production. It's actors and filmmakers were some of the best the nation had to offer. It was released in 1939. The following year Latvia would be swallowed up in the turmoil of World War II, alternately occupied by both Germany and the Soviet Union. It wouldn't regain its independence until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The director, Vilis Lapinieks, would eventually have to flee Latvia for the West, where he and his son would go on to respectable Hollywood careers, to escape Soviet persecution. The writer, Vilis Lacis, would become occupied Latvia's Minister of the Interior under the Soviets. Neither lived to see Latvia independent again.
Even without the historical background the film stands on its own merits. To the modern eye it might seem dated and a bit overblown, but taken in the context of the times, it is really a marvel to watch. Full of realistic characters, eye-catching cinematography, and an earnest look at the issues of the time.
The story uses the universal themes of an individual triumphing over insurmountable odds by being steadfast and uncompromising in his principles, but it also manages to capture Latvian life at the time. The emergence of Latvia from the shadow of feudalism and foreign rule and brims with the hope of a future where Latvians are the masters of their own fate. Oskars (Peteris Lucis), the fisherman’s son of the title, is set up and betrayed by his brother. After being cast out by his father he sets out to creating an independent fishing operation, one that would not be dependent on usurious middlemen.
While the story seems simple, the performance of the actors and the beautiful cinematography helps flesh it out and transforms the film into something bigger than the sum of its parts. In parts doe eyed melodrama and in parts an eye catching glimpse into a time long past.

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