With its rich and eclectic program of 150 films, the bi-annual festival Arsenals is above all an important event for the primarily young Riga audience, and offers them the rare opportunity to see a wide range of international productions, most of which would otherwise never make it into Latvian cinemas.
The two competition sections, the Baltic Film Competition featuring a selection of the best Baltic Films of the past two years, and the bi-annual Forum International Competition, presented this year a total of 33 full-length features, shorts, documentaries and animated films. However, the fact that most of feature competition films had already made their way extensively through the international festival circuit over the last two years narrowed the list of films competing for the Fipresci Prize down to just nine films.
Somnambulance (2003), clearly an arthouse film designed for the international festival-circuit by the well-known Estonian filmaker Sulev Keedus, creates a highly atmospheric world around a gloomy lighthouse keeper and his hysterical daughter, trapped during WWII in a deserted landscape by the sea. Despite breathtaking images by the excellent cinematographer Rein Kotov, this slow-moving claustrophobic psychodrama unfolds within the desolate setting of empty shores pounded by winds and waves- an annoying touch of pretentious artfilms.
Diametrically opposed is Revolution of Pigs (2004, Estonia), a debut feature by Jaak Kilmi and Rene Reinumagi. The light and sparkling coming-of-age comedy shot in Dogma-style, chronicles a revolt in a typical summer camp for “young pioneers” in Soviet Estonia in the mid-eighties, where a group of teenagers experiences a short but hot summer of first love and revolt. A huge success especially among the young audience, Revolution of Pigs with its savory mixture of erotic escapades and political protest scenes against the war in Afghanistan has all the ingredients to become an international hit.
Alexandrs Petukhovs The Last Soviet Movie (Latvia, 2003) , supposedly “questioning the reality of what is happening on the screen as well as beyond it,” has a lovely poster, but I didn’t have a clue as to what the film was about. As the filmmaker describes imaginary episodes in accented English, the dialogue of these scenes is in Russian, subtitled in Latvian that doesn’t correspond to the Russian speech, turning the subtitles into a gag. Let me quote the filmmaker himself about his eclectic opus: “it mixes Sergio Leone Westerns with Tarkovsky and Monty Python. Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Vertov would be horrified. The Last Soviet Movie is both a lament for and the final nail in the coffin of what once was Soviet cinema”
The Fipresci Award went to acclaimed Latvian filmaker Laila Pakalnina’s absurd ironic drama and mordant social satire The Python (2003). A special hightlight of the international section was the latest film of the legendary director Kira Muratova Nastroyschik (The Tuner, Russia, Ukraine,2004), a “criminal melodrama”, loosely based on the memoirs of a turn-of-the-century Russian detective, starring the fascinating icon of Russian cinema, Renata Litvinova. In this wildly inventive film Muratova excells once again with her inimitable,elegant, sophisticated style. Andrei, a brilliant but poor musician and piano tuner, is in love with the stunningly beautiful Lina (Renata Litvinova), struggling hard to earn enough money to satisfy her extravagant desires. He ends up using his expert computer skills to exploit the good intentions of an elderly aristocratic woman.
The Saddest Music in the World (2003) by Canadian cult-director Guy Maddin (Dracula: Tales from a Virgin’s Diary), creates a sarcastic, and surreal studio-ciné-vision of Winnipeg during the Great Depression of the30’s , where Isabella Rossellini is a local brewery owner who has lost both legs in an accident, and arranges a competition to make the saddest music in the world.
In Riga, the Arsenals closing ceremony is known for its inventive “mise en scène” which makes the usual dull prize distribution a lot of fun. This year, all representatives of the films in the competition were lined up on stage, together with a flock of sheep. While one sheep was shaved the competitors for the 10.000 $ prize were invited to empty their glass of magic potion to determine the winner of the festival. In one of the glasses was a “magic button”, which justifiably ended up in Guy Maddin’s producer’s glass, who happily walked away with a huge paperbag full of freshly shaven wool, and the money…