After the disintegration of the USSR, we once again found ourselves looking around the corner of the European Union, at the war in Ukraine and at the diverse post-Soviet space, only to realize our ignorance. The Baltic countries were probably the least Sovietized of that territory in terms of cultural influence. Therefore, it is not surprising that Latvia, cinematically, had already begun in the 1960s its stylistic emancipation from socialist realism. The so-called Riga School of Poetic Documentary Cinema was conceived by proposing the search for artistic beauty in reality, leaving behind the stage direction and aesthetics of newsreels.

The first part of this session is dedicated to the Riga School and shows its development from the first successful attempts to break with the norms of socialist realism (Uldis Brauns), through an unusual approach to revisiting historical traumas (Ansis Epners) to brave and audacious experimentations with form (Herz Frank). The second part presents some of the first shorts by Laila Pakalnina, who has inherited and adopted the poetic side of the Riga school, but developing an even more curious eye for everyday miracles. Programmed by Mariana Hristova.

With the presence of Laila Pakalnina.

First session: Thursday 22/2, 18:00, Filmoteca de Catalunya. Presentation by the author. Buy tickets

Second session: Saturday 24/2, 18:00, Filmoteca de Catalunya. Post-screening conversation between the author and Mariana Hristova. Buy tickets

Lentgh of the session: 102′

Strādnieks (The Worker)

Uldis Brauns. Latvian SSR, 1963. Duration: 10′. Language: Latvian, VO Catalan subtitles.

‘The worker’ focuses on the abstract image of the figure of the worker. The voice-over commentary describes the meaning of work in the Soviet context: the role and importance of each individual. The fusion of an old warehouse into the foundry serves as a metaphor for peace that allows all workers to fully dedicate themselves to productive construction. A semi-propagandistic piece, still related to socialist realism, but using a distinctive cinematographic language of precise frame composition, while applying an interaction between sound and image. Brauns is considered the pioneer of what became known as the Riga school poetic style.

Polden (Midday)

Herz Frank. Latvian SSR, 1965. Duration: 15′. No words.

This humorous portrait, shot simultaneously with four cameras, is one of the first independent shorts by Herz Frank, probably the most emblematic figure of the Riga School. Like ‘The Worker’, it is set in a construction site, but the approach is very different: the focus is on the musicians who perform in the factory during the workers’ break, which means greater spontaneity and frivolity in observation of the characters.

Dzīvs (Alive)

Ansis Epners. Latvian SSR, 1970. Duration: 10′. Language: Latvian, VO Catalan subtitles.

The film goes back in history but from the observation tower of the present, experimenting with the emotions and reactions of the participants. It is a provocation, inspired by the chronicles of the Second World War. History teacher Arnolds Cīrulis takes the students of Džukste High School to the forest where 178 residents of the Jelgava neighborhood were shot in 1941. He shows them what it was like and reveals a secret.

Vecāks par 10 minūtēm (Ten minutes older)

Herz Frank. Latvian SSR, 1978. Duration: 10′. No words.

‘Ten Minutes Older’ is Herz Frank’s best-known and most distinctive film, and is also a milestone in the history of documentary cinema. For ten entire minutes, the camera never leaves the face of a little boy watching a puppet show. Just by observing his face, the viewer experiences the struggle between good and evil in this young soul, a conflict that makes him ten minutes older, experienced and emotionally mature.

Vela (The Linen)

Laila Pakalnina. Latvia, 1991. Duration: 10′. No words.

A silent dissertation on the daily life of a truck driver who delivers clean clothes to a children’s hospital. He unloads the sheets and distributes them among the neighborhoods, where small and exciting dramas of life and death unfold. And every day, it’s the same story.

Pasts (The Mail)

Laila Pakalnina. Latvia, 1995. Duration: 21′. No words.

The morning begins with the mail, as usual. Let’s take a look at the usual, the usual movements, everyday life. ‘The Mail’, as well as ‘The Linen’, in a similar way to ‘The Worker’ and ‘Midday’, invites us to observe a day at work but with a view free of ideological lenses. It offers an atmospheric and realistic view of the first, most difficult years of the transition after the Soviet collapse.

Prāmis (The Ferry)

Laila Pakalnina. Latvia, 1996. Duration: 16′. No words.

Until recently, a crowded ferry connected Druya (Belarus) and Piedruja (Latvia), regardless of weather or water conditions. There is now a border between two independent states, but no border crossing is visible here. What happens when the ferry no longer crosses the water? Nothing, nothing happens anymore. There is only one soldier left there and he does not move.

Papa Gena

Laila Pakalnina. Latvia, 2001. Duration: 10′. No words.

The city is a hectic place and you need a reason to ask people to stand in front of the camera for a moment. The pretext is some fragments of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” A diversity of citizens listen. In its impulse to observe another person’s reactions while experiencing a work of art, ‘Papa Gena’ enters into a playful dialogue with Herz Frank’s ‘Ten Minutes Older’.

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