Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2021 8:32 pm 
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DAMIR ONAKIS IN THE PIT

TRAILER

About a boy

This quiet, sensitive first film by Latvian woman director Dace Pūce with a screenplay penned by her with Monta Gagane and Pēteris Rozītis interweaving three stories by Jana Egle, "Into the Light," "The Quarry," and "Ad sea," is a coming-of-age tale about a ten-year-old boy, Markuss (Damir Onakis, sharp-featured as a fox), who is sent to a rural village into the care of his grandmother Solveiga (Dace Everss) after his artistic father Maris (Nairus Krisftofers Gailitis) has died, apparently of a drug overdose. The boy's mother Sveta (Jana Lisova) is going away and can't or won't take him. So begins the adventure that makes up the quietly intense story line.

It's summertime. Gatis Grinbergs's camera follows the boy as he walks, runs, and rides a bike back and forth all around the countryside. He is already in trouble as the action begins for "punishing" a little girl playmate, Emilija (Luize Birkenberga) by letting her fall into a "pit" and leaving her there. It is his reaction, we learn, for something disrespectful she has said about his father. We learn a lot of other things, including closely guarded secrets. There is a lot going on in this meandering, brief coming-of-age film about a typically narrow-minded village and a freewheeling, independent boy, talented in art, misunderstood, eventually welcomed by his initially mean and demanding grandma. The delicately featured Onakis, quietly holding the lead, is preternaturally calm and self-possessed, occasionally venturing a sly, wide smile, comfortably the center of all our attentions and ingeniously holding together this portmanteau of narratives.

There is something of the folktale and children's adventure here, also an account of the testing, learning, determining of life's focus, for Markuss' artistic talent, taken as a sign of madness or sociopathy by women who wish him ill, is encouraged by a sympathetic diabetic misfit called "Sailor." This is a loner, once a childhood friend of his grandmother it turns out, who teaches Markuss how to make stained glass windows and to accept those who are different from us.

At one point his grandmother sends Markuss overnight to the house of his uncle Alberts whose adult son Roberts (Egons Dombrovskis) is a brutish drunk who abuses his wife and everyone around and causes a world of trouble. In his Cineuropa review Davide Abbatescianni lists among topics touched on here "sexuality, bullying, love, the prejudice typical of small, closed-minded communities, violence against women and, above all, people's inability to communicate feelings and emotions among each other and our constant need to be heard." He leaves out one thing here that's most significant: the ability to recognize and nurture one's own burgeoning artistic talent when others may be negative or indifferent. Early on Markuss mentions to Emilija that he has won prizes and even been mentioned on TV for his work, and the climactic shot is of the "Sailor's" completed stained glass window to which Markuss has, single-handed, added the final key piece of red glass: amid scoffers, he's still branching out into a new medium. That is his triumph.

This is Latvia's entry into the best foreign Oscar competition for 2021. Based on three stories by Jana Egle, the film interweaves its talented, watchable young lead with multiple other actors and subplots, escapes, recognitions and grim revelations to cast its own special spell, in a tradition of other Eastern European films about childhood. The classic orchestral score by Valters Pūce may seem conventional at times, but provides an essential transition to different emotional beats. DP Grinbergs' cinematography has an intimate feel and makes a pleasing use of soft summer light.

The director has degrees in directing, production, and acting from home and from England and New York, has her own production company and has previously directed and produced music videos, TV commercials, concerts and events.

The Pit/Bedre, 107 mins., in Latvian, debuted at Lübeck, Germany Nordic Film Days Nov. 4, 2020 (grand prix), and showed in Dec. at Tailin, Santa Barbara, Jeonju and Tehran (Fajr) in Apr. and May 2021. Previewed for the global virtual press day invite Thurs., Dec. 2, 2021. Latvia's entry for the Best International Feature Oscar competition but not a finalist. Metacritic (no ave. score as of 1/16/22).

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