Written and Directed by: Janis Kalejs (segment "childhood"), Janis Putnins (segment "Adulthood"), Gatis Smits (segment "Youth"), Anna Viduleja (segment "Old").
Starring: Igors Suhoverhovs, Karlis Spravniks, Ints Teterovskis, Liubomiras Lauciavicius, Emilija Leiskalne, Irena Tjunina, Tatjana Jansone-Nazarova, Armands Reinfelds, Girts Krumins.
As a rule I am not a big fan of omnibus or anthology films (a single film where different segments are directed by different directors). Usually they are based on a single premise and you either buy the premise or you don't. They tend to be gimmicky. Often they're basically exercises in style not really concerned that much with narrative or storytelling as they are with style and technique. The director's primary goal is to set the overall tenor, mood and pacing of a film. No matter how in sync the directors you always end up with uneven segments. Some fit and some don't. Some are better and some are worse. And that's by design. Otherwise why make an omnibus film. They might be fun to make for those making them, but often not quite as much fun to watch. You either want to skip some segments or wish other segments were longer and you could see more.
The premise of Vogelfrei is fairly simple and promising, four directors tell the story of a single man as he goes through life's stages. As the man goes through life each director, in theory, would bring a slightly different view of his life. As the man changes, so will the film.
The first segment, Childhood directed by Janis Kalejs, introduces us to Teodors. Teodors is a child who seems to, as most children that age, still be finding his way around the world. He seems to be a natural leader who attracts others, but is never quite comfortable with the attention and the demands of social interaction. He doesn't shy away from contact, but it has to be on his own terms. He seems most comfortable and free when he is on his own.
The second segment, Youth directed by Gatis Smits, shows us Teodor as a young man who seems to posses all of the qualities of a young man at his prime. He is good looking and seems to attract others. He is an exceptional hockey player who seems to be flawless on the ice. But despite all of that he seems lost and alienated from everything around him. He seems unsure of himself in any social settings. Not sure of what to say or do. He longs for companionship but isn't sure of how to go about it. The only place where he seems to find himself and solace is on the ice while skating circles around his competition. As confident and skilled as he seems on the slippery ice, its the seemingly solid footing of the world outside of the skating rink that gives him the most problems.
The third segment, Adulthood directed by Janis Putnins, shows us Teodors as a successful business man. He has a fabulous apartment, a housekeeper, a successfull and beautiful girlfriend. He seems to enjoy all of the trappings of a man who has made it and lacks for nothing material, but again seems lost and unsure of his path in life. The existential void in his life is a gaping hole which no matter what he does he can't fill. No matter how many hours he spends at the gym, or at the piano, or in bars trying to pick up attractive women he hungers for something which he just can't seem to sate no matter what he tries to do. This is a man who on the surface has everything he could possible desire, but who is haunted by some unexplained demons just below the surface which drive and torment him. He is a man who should be at peace with his surroundings, but is anything but.
The last segment, Old directed by Anna Viduleja, shows us Teodor as a man finally at peace with himself. Teodors has left the trappings of the big city for the country side where he is now an organist in a small rural church and also acts as a bird guide and hunter for some well heeled big city folk. Teodors is a man of few words who doesn't seem to care what other people think of him or whether or not they need him. He seems to have finally found both himself and the path which he wants to pursue.
Overall, Vogelfrei almost works as a film. Unfortunately, the weakest segment, and the one which needed to be the strongest, is Adulthood. While the transition from Child to Youth seems seamless, the transition from Youth to Adult seems forced and not exactly clear. While you can see the Child in the Youth you can't really see the Youth in the Man. We aren't really sure of how the Youth became the Man he is. The choices seem arbitrary and forced. Yes, this is still the same alienated child/man we saw in the previous segments, but why? We know its in the script and the character has the same name, but he seems to have nothing in common with what came before. The film's saving grace, however, is the last segment. In Old we can again see the Child and Youth in the eyes of the aging Teodors. It makes sense that they would become the man we now see on the screen. Its this last segment which redeems the film and makes it worthwhile watching.