Will Morning In The Pine Forest be a Sensation?

Normunds Naumanis, Film Critic

Diena (ARS) September 21, 1998.



Directors: Jānis Kalējs, Māra Rāviņš

Canada/Latvia, 1998 110’

Wednesday, 23.IX. 21:00

Congress Hall


            The cinematographer with fixed images refreshes reality, reminding us, that in spite of it all, we must live! This is according to the classic Jen Luc Godard.  Similar feelings inspired two young Latvian filmmakers, who are trying to investigate, why it IS worth living.  Catching moments by the tail, their contemporaries’ improvisations in front of the camera, the game, encompassed in documentary forms almost poetry and momentary flashes reflecting today, black and white, tinted, an image in minimal colour, conversations, revealations, confessions, acting – all do and do not form the ‘flesh’of Morning In The Pine Forest.  At times slow, at time aggressive, in some places pretentiously stating: “I am talking about meaning… You, about beer!”


            Laila Pakalninas cinematographer Gints Bērziņš filmed this work before Kurpe’ (The Shoe) (and the roots of this film’s (The Shoe) visual approach is clearly evident!!! ) This accidentally raises the dangerous question: how much of a film’s resulting visuals are determined by the director, and to what extent is camera operator a film’s author?


            The film’s Morning In The Pine Forest Latvian premiere at Arsenāls could be a sensational micro-revelation to those, who follow Latvian cultural processes. The film that was made in the summer of 1997 ‘about Latvia from Canada’ is a little bit odd, a little bit delayed in its arrival, a little too unpretentious to, like The Shoe, without shyness, call is a Latvian cinematographic 90’s new wave expression.  This is auteur cinema, reportage form, an artistic document about a generation which the directors see as their own.


            The film’s authors followed the lives of six Latvian young people for eight months – Helēna, Eva, Anna, Janka, Galc and Guntis, creating a density of cinematographical sensations. The word ‘sensation’ seems to me the most correct for Morning In The Pine Forest.  Of course, it is a film – to add, at least for one of its authors, Jānis Kalējs, a graduate of the Russian Dramatic Theatre Faculty at the Latvian State Conservatory – the first.


            This crossover between cinema verite and performance with an unmistakable hue of social critique can, most certainly, be added to the list of this year’s new stream of Latvian cinema successes.


Will Morning In The Pine Forest be a Sensation? (2)


            In the 90’s, a whole group of young people are working, who, seemingly playing the outsider role, look for money for their projects, not the traditional way – asking the Latvian State, but going down alternative roads, ‘pulling together funds’ from various sources.  These people and their work are worth a separate study – Una Celma’s Swedish financed ‘girl’s film’, Juris Poškus play documentaries, Signe Birkov’s portrait of a generation Unbelievable Latvia, Jānis Putniņš American projects, not yet seen in Latvia, Swedish Kalle Bjorsmark’s enviable activities, Robert Vinovski’s cinematographical ‘devouring’ and the surprising film work of Vitaliy Druka and Uldis Tirons in Hong Kong and Tibet.


            Morning In the Pine Forest balances, with risk, on the boundary of art, documentary, kitsch, journalism and exaggerated theatricality.  The film viewers, together with the film creators have to invent the rules of the game in order to immediately reject them.  That is this life’s nerve: relentless deception at the expense of the personal and the suffering of one’s contemporaries.  In this respect, the film is merciless enough – toward the viewer and toward the film’s heroes.  It proves many times, that illusions don’t exist, there exists a selfish principle: the way in which I shall live today, I shall never live like that again.  Skepticism weaves throughout the authors’ stated themes – however –  also the feeling that life is being threatened.


            The film’s beginning episode will scramble the mind of every viewer: the Soviet Era comes to life – a girl and a soldier, A. Hermanis, a the tense soldier, hand a candy to a child who has aimlessly wandered into an anti humanistic industrial landscape, then looks toward the sky for some deep meaning. This episode makes you shudder: ah, the usual pretentious post-Soviet coquettishness. This maneuver is quickly followed by shockingly open documentary interviews with the film’s heroes. We are offered a type of game – puzzle: to guess in which moment in a scene within the director’s constructed subject structure, one of the six young people, the film’s ordinary heroes, fulfill the function of actors and at which moment there is offered  ‘authentic text in the first person’. Here is a whole string of episodes which can be deemed as ‘brilliant’ (a woman’s confession and words addressed to the child in her womb weeks away from birth, texts about love, a singer weaves through the city until she arrives at a burned out car in the countryside, a theatrical confession by the beer truck…).  The most fabricated film episodes are associated with reflecting the ‘creative process’ – in the radio studio, and the artists’ superficially acted, but actually empty bohemian landscape.  One can only guess, whether the irony that charges from the screen, has been intended by the authors, or whether it has simply escaped unintentionally.  The film’s poetic, evocative text is dense, perhaps childishly on purpose, however, it creates the atmosphere within a particular time period and a young person’s own feelings and sensations within this time period, which is enough to take this film very seriously.  The work of Gints Bērziņš can be summed up in one cold word – professional.  Without associations.  Super-professionalism, however does not guarantee the presence of art.  Filmmakers in their own right are untamed film critics of life, from which one can await the signs of God.