- Vija Artmane and Uldis Pūcītis - Kristīne and Edgars in Wader in the Bog (dir. Leonīds Leimanis, 1966)
- Lilita Bērziņa in Psyche (“Psihe”, dir. Pyotr Chardynin, 1922)
- Gunārs Cilinskis - Žoržs in Nocturne (“Noktirne”, dir. Rostislav Gorjajev, 1966)
- Uldis Dumpis - Briedis in Ceplis (dir. Rolands Kalniņš, 1972)
- Astrīda Kairiša - Zane in Blow, ye Wind! (“Pūt, vējiņi!”, dir. Gunārs Piesis, 1973)
- Ivars Kalniņš and Vija Artmane - Tom Fennel and Julia Lambert in Theatre (“Teātris”, dir. Jānis Streičs, 1978)
- Līga Liepiņa and Eduards Pāvuls - Emma and Olģerts Kurmis in At the Rich Lady’s (dir. Leonīds Leimanis, 1969)
- Jānis Paukštello - Arvīds Lasmanis in My Friend – A Light-Minded Man („Mans draugs – nenopietns cilvēks”, dir. Jānis Streičs, 1975)
- Eduards Pāvuls - Edgars Ceplis in Ceplis (dir. Rolands Kalniņš, 1972)
- Uldis Pūcītis and Līga Liepiņa - Cēzars and Bella in Four White Shirts (Breathe Deeply...) (“Četri balti krekli” (“Elpojiet dziļi...”), dir. Rolands Kalniņš, 1967)
- Dzidra Ritenberga in the title role in the Ukrainian film Malva (dir. Vladimir Braun, 1956)
VIJA ARTMANE (1929–2008)
Some small planet in the Sun’s system is named after Vija Artmane. The era she lived in could also be named after her. As an actress, Artmane achieved almost all that the Soviet Union could offer its idols – both public adoration and the respect of the political elite.
Nature had given the actress beauty and exceptional talent. After spending her first years at the Daile Theatre, Vija Artmane got a film role in After the Storm (“Pēc vētras”, 1956). She comes across as fragile, spiritual and inwardly drawn in both Like Swans White Clouds Go (“Kā gulbji balti padebeši iet”, 1957) and The Storm (“Vētra”, 1960), playing youthfully romantic characters. Artmane’s fateful role was as Sonja in the Russian movie Blood Ties (Родная кровь, 1964), after which she was glorified as a female icon and became extremely popular in the entire Soviet Union. An indelible part of the character was the inner drama. Sonja’s Latvian equivalents were Kristīne in Wader in the Bog (“Purva bridējs”, 1966) and Liena in The Land Surveyors’ Time (“Mērnieka laiki”, 1968).
In the 1970s Artmane let in to self-irony in her roles, demonstrating the duality of human nature in the comedy Gift for a Lonely Woman (“Dāvana vientuļai sievietei”, 1973), and the drama Theatre (“Teātris”, 1978). As Julia Lambert in Theatre, Artmane’s wisdom, exceptional acting and self-awareness was her success. In director Jānis Streičs film Unfamiliar Feelings (“Svešās kaislības”, 1983), Artmane appears infused with deep inner drama. Late in life the actress worked in Russia (in the series Kamenska, 1999-2000), where she continued to be phenomenally popular.
Fame elevated Vija Artmane so high that its inertia required enormous human endurance and a public confession towards the end of her life.
LILITA BĒRZIŅA (1903–1983)
A Latvian silent film star who also gave stellar performances late in life. Bērziņa’s film debut in Psyche (“Psihe”, 1922, the film has been lost) can only be judged by a few photos where she appears as an almost divine being – a muse.
In Aleksandrs Rusteiķis’ Bear-slayer (“Lāčplēsis”, 1930) Lilita Bērziņa plays a double-role as Laimdota and Mirdza Saulīte, new-world pioneer. The actress enthrals with an accomplished manner and expressive mimicry, placing her among the world’s best silent film actresses, confidently next to the likes of Greta Garbo and Asta Nielsen!
It’s possible that the almost 50 year pause in Bērziņa’s film career is similar to the drama experienced by many esteemed silent movie actresses who unsuccessfully try to find a way to transition to sound cinema. Over those many years Lilita Bērziņa only played a few episodic film roles, while still maintaining prima-donna status on stage. In 1975, when director Jānis Streičs offered the actress a small, but stature-worthy role in the film My Friend – A Light-Minded Man (“Mans draugs – nenopietns cilvēks”), Bērziņa’s theatrically mannered accent added colourful dimension to the Mrs. Andersons character.
In Vija Beinerte’s short film It’s All Pauline’s Fault (“Tās dullās Paulīnes dēļ”, 1979), two theatre prima-donnas, Lilita Bērziņa and Lidija Freimane, playing two wanton old ladies, had their “hooks” superbly into each other, and were so natural in the atypical comic roles. Bērziņa’s crazy Paulīne forges plans for a berry and coal business, all the while moving towards her goal – a brocade funeral dress. However, Lilita Bērziņa’s acting culmination was late in life in Limousine in the Colour of a Midsummer Night (“Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā”, 1981), as the warm-hearted, toothless Mirta, who doesn’t give into the greedy plans of her city relatives. Bērziņa was the star of this film, with a supreme feel for the ensemble.
GUNĀRS CILINSKIS (1931–1992)
Born for the screen. Gunārs Cilinskis’ powerful, athletic build, his open, manly facial expressions, his manner exuding calm and strength, made him tantamount to the world’s classic screen heroes. Although he played several of the positive hero-militarist roles appropriate to the existent system (Strong in Spirit (“Garā stiprie”, 1967) and Touch (“Pieskāriens”, 1973), he is one of the few whose higher mission in almost every role was through uplifting, powerful love. He was the first Latvian actor to play alongside world-class stars: with Polish actress Pola Raksa (in Nocturne (“Noktirne”, a 1966 Riga Film Studio production) and Italian actress Sofia Loren (Sunflowers (I girasoli, 1970). Even if Cilinskis’ heroes made mistakes and wrong decisions, he never lost any charisma.
One of the first dramas in Latvian cinema to be free of social subtext and morality was The Lake Sonata (“Ezera sonāte”, 1976), with Cilinskis’ Rūdolfs showing a reserved love for Laura, played by Astrīda Kairiša. He had enough manly strength to respect the woman’s decision to exit the relationship. In the film Theatre (“Teātris”, 1978), Cilinskis played “London’s most handsome man” with a coquettish elegance and self-irony, and showed his talent for fine comedy in the unexpected role of Nagainis in Ceplis (1972). In the mid-1970s, Cilinskis ended his theatre acting career and turned to film directing, making the dramas: The Corroded Youth (“Agrā rūsa”, 1979), Fear (“Bailes”, 1986), The Heiress of Vilkači (“Vilkaču mantiniece”, 1990), and Indrāni (1991). Cilinskis also played title roles in several of his own films.
ULDIS DUMPIS (1943)
Uldis Dumpis has never played lovers and “pasty boys”, though he’s played both “good guys” and “bad guys” with backbones and stance – seamen, military men, and unordinary fathers to children of various ages. The actor fills the room with his personality and feels his partners; his well-rounded heroes posses a humour-filled naïveté and always have the right answer. He also knows how to say a lot in very few words. Dumpis was first noticed when he appeared as Briedis in Ceplis (1972), and while as Didzis in Blow, ye Wind! (“Pūt, vējiņi!”, 1973) he was in the shadow of Uldis (Ģirts Jakoļevs), it’s clear that the young man embraced all that life had to offer. Dumpis is at his absolute best as Tūteru Ēriks in Limousine in the Colour of a Midsummer Night (“Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā”, 1981) – his over-the-top clowning while still retaining a sense of reality lends a tone to the entire film. Bad harvester, bad driver, bad skirt chaser and bad husband. But what an attractive man! Everyone deserves such a playfully cross, tight-fisted and yet kind-hearted father as Dumpis playing the father of Emīls in the family film The Naughty Emil (“Emīla nedarbi”, 1985). He was notably outstanding in the role of Vilhelms Munters, Latvian Foreign Minister, in Dangerous Summer (“Baiga vasara”, 2000), where treason, fear and ambition were mixed together in a mighty cocktail. Dumpis as Munters shows a range of emotion on his face within a single scene, which is exceptional acting. And Dumpis playing the Baron who loses to the farmer with dignity in Rudolf’s Gold (“Rūdolfa mantojums”, 2010), is also a noteworthy performance. Uldis Dumpis is an on screen asset, one that directors happily respect.
ASTRĪDA KAIRIŠA (1941)
From the puzzled, round-cheeked nun in The Deceived (“Pieviltie”, 1961), Astrīda Kairiša became one of the most-filmed Latvian actresses of the 1970s. Her photogenic looks, her modesty and depth of emotions allowed Latvian audiences to identify with the women she played. Zane in director Gunārs Piesis’ Blow, ye Wind! (“Pūt, vējiņi!”, 1973) was self-aware, proud and majestic – a real mother’s daughter as known in folklore, but at the same time a woman torn by emotions and grievances. In The Lake Sonata (“Ezera sonāte”, 1976) Kairiša’s Laura has to deny herself love in the name of duty to her family and incarcerated husband. Together with Gunārs Cilinskis the actress formed one of the most beautifully romantic couples in Latvian film history.
Though Kairiša’s characters were most often plain, rural or small-town dwelling women, the actress was able to lift them out of the everyday, accentuating their nobleness. Together with director Dzidra Ritenberga, Kairiša created a gallery of convincing characters, in a way becoming Ritenberga’s alter ego in the films: Three Minute Flight (“Trīs minūšu lidojums”, 1979), The Evening Version (“Vakara variants”, 1980) and A Lifelong Waltz (“Valsis mūža garumā”, 1990).
IVARS KALNIŅŠ (1948)
Ivars Kalniņš created the macho Latvian which he has polished from film to film throughout the years, since he first appeared on screen in director Aivars Freimanis’ Apple in the River (“Ābols upē”, 1974) together with his fellow debutante, actress Akvelīna Līvmane. The director made the young actors enter into the spirit of the documentary mode to become the provocateurs and navigators of events. In the film Theatre (“Teātris”, 1978), Kalniņš’ Tom is a calculated, impoverished official who makes his way in society by using his affair with a famous actress. As Italo, the elegant, well-kept heart-breaker, he becomes the forbidden love of the confused, unhappily married Elza in The Corroded Youth (“Agrā rūsa”, 1979).
“Ivars has that masculine aura rooted in active sexuality, but which sublimates in crucial, principled spiritual ways. Ivars isn’t an actor in metamorphosis, but rather one suited to the status of a film star, who, instead of constantly changing should develop his qualities and personality.”, so said film historian Valentīna Freimane about Ivars Kalniņš. The actor has had a more than 20 year-long, successful working relationship with director Jānis Streičs (Theatre, The Mill of Fate (“Likteņdzirnas”, 1997) and others). Kalniņš was striking and ironic as the deceived and jealous husband in Photo of a Woman and Wild Boar (“Fotogrāfija ar sievieti un mežakuili”, dir. Arvīds Krievs, 1987). Ivars Kalniņš has gained cult status in Russia where he has worked intensively since the 1980s.
LĪGA LIEPIŅA (1946)
Latvian actresses referred to as “milk and blood” were loved by the public. Icy beauties were admired, but most seemed a bit alienating. With the prickly girls Līga Liepiņa played in the late 1960s, Latvian cinema was infused with more lively and realistic characters. Liepiņa was like the girl next door, a girl with personality and secrets – like the Latvian version of a Barbara Streisand. Liepiņa made her debut in director Rolands Kalniņš’ Four White Shirts (“Četri balti krekli”, 1967), a film that was “shelved” for 30 years due to censorship. The 1960s feeling of freedom in the film was enticing and at same time mystifying, just like the modern-seeming Bella’s directness and still-unexplored, budding femininity. Liepiņa’s public debut was her next role in Leonīds Leimanis’ period drama At the Rich Lady’s (“Pie bagātās kundzes”, 1969). Liepiņa’s character, the charming, thievish Emma, not only conquered the heart of the gallant Mr. Kurmis (Eduards Pāvuls), but also that of the audiences. Her character was like a stray kitten expecting to be caressed, but who could also show her nails at any given moment. Liepiņa’s Bille, the country girl from a large family, hopes to get ahead while still retaining dignity, in Klavs, Son of Martin (“Klāvs Mārtiņa dēls”, 1970). Actress Līga Liepiņa’s spark of humour infused the joviality of the country teacher / wife of tractor-driver in director Jānis Streičs’ national comedy Limousine in the Colour of a Midsummer’s Night (“Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā”, 1981). Līga Liepiņa’s strong suit is her disarming naturalness, though her potential has not been fully made use of in Latvian cinema.
JĀNIS PAUKŠTELLO (1951)
Jānis Paukštello is an asset, and his on screen heroes are difficult to separate from the man himself – zestful in everything he does. Young, naive, passionate – he arrived in Latvian cinema in Jānis Streičs’ My Friend – A Light-Minded Man (“Mans draugs – nenopietns cilvēks”, 1975). His episodic debut role in Key to the City (“Pilsētas atslēgas”, 1973) was largely unnoticed, but the humorous, stubborn idealist – the “light-minded” Arvīds who was ready to knock down the slipshod Soviet system, became a Latvian cinema classic. As brave and honest as the conscience that is sometimes bothersome – that’s how Paukštello played Arvīds, and his subsequent roles were inescapably associated with his work in this film. Jānis Streičs cast him again as a similar system-spiting idealist in It’s Easy to Fall Into an Overgrown Ditch (“Aizaugušā grāvī viegli krist”, 1986).
But Paukštello cannot be called a one-role actor. He was a father in the film The Christmas Hullabaloo (“Ziemassvētku jampadracis”, 1993) and a grand-father in Waterbomb for the Fat Tomcat (“Ūdensbumba resnajam runcim”, 2004), playing characters who exude reliability, making us want to grasp their hand like little children. Like some large, existentially wise child, Paukštello radiates both calmness and turmoil, even in the role of a grand-father. In Jānis Streičs’ film Rudolf’s Gold (“Rūdolfa mantojums”, 2010), Paukštello’s character is the leader of the congregation, a pastor guaranteeing the order of things. But in Paukštello’s interpretation, he too knows doubt.
EDUARDS PĀVULS (1929–2006)
An actor against his own will (according to theatre historian Lilija Dzene), but with a spark from God. He became an audience favourite after playing his first role in the Daile Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet (1953). The public later identified Pāvuls as the embodiment of the absolute Latvian no matter who he played – the manly Oskars in Fisherman’s Son (“Zvejnieka dēls”, 1975), the kind-hearted Ērmanītis in Devil’s Servants (“Vella kalpi”, 1970), or farmer Ozols, confused by the changing times in The Long Way Through Dunes (“Ilgais ceļš kāpās”, 1981). Throughout the years Pāvuls began to resemble the renowned French actor Jean Gabin, whom he was often compared to. Just like the world’s greatest film stars, Pāvuls left his mark on every role he played. Though he was slightly robust, he was graced with a masculine charisma – very animated, with laconic but expressive body language. The positive core of his characters left no doubt, and the audience always accepted them, even if the morality was two-faced (Ceplis, 1972). The actor had a refined, slightly flirtatious sense of humour, which made his characters understandable (Gift for a Lonely Woman (“Dāvana vientuļai sievietei”, 1973) and Theatre (“Teātris”, 1978)). Pāvuls’ characters were masculine, intelligent romantics who seemed to be constantly solving some existential task (Grey Willows Bloom (“Kārkli pelēkie zied”, 1961) and At the Rich Lady’s (“Pie bagātās kundzes”, 1969)). In life as on screen, the actor knew how to expound on lofty and patriotic themes without making them seem banal (The Latvian Rifleman’s Story (“Latviešu strēlnieka stāsts”, 1958), Stone and Flinders (“Akmens un šķembas”, 1966), The Zitars (“Zītaru dzimta”, 1989)). He played more than 60 film roles; in life he was a family man, and in his heart – a singleton.
ULDIS PŪCĪTIS (1937–2000)
Massive and strong in everything he did, Uldis Pūcītis was an actor who enticed while invoking fear. He made no compromises in life or in art. But excesses always have repercussions – star status, alcohol and a broken family life.
Acting teacher Vera Baļuna saw him as playing heroic roles: “Imagine Uldis Pūcītis…slightly taller than 1.90 metres, with an off-putting gaze and a controlled passion in his voice…”. Pūcītis’ role of a lifetime was Edgars in Wader in the Bog (“Purva bridējs”, 1966) – suffering heartbreak he drove his horse into a precipice and seemed to be crying internally, as he isn’t the “right” suitor for his Kristīne. But through the times women have always loved the wrong men…Pūcītis was an actor whose masculine fluidity worked. The screen loved his emotionally steeped close-ups; he could scream while remaining silent. In The Rush Forest (“Meldru mežs”, 1971), Pūcītis as Steps is the only survivor of a shipwreck in an ice-filled sea, but the scope of the tragedy is not as much accented by the memory episodes as in the coma-like mental state of Pūcītis’ character. Pūcītis achieved a catharsis of suffering in his episodic role as a Latvian rifleman in Stone and Flinders (“Akmens un šķembas”, 1966), making the desperate decision to destroy himself on the battlefield.
Uldis Pūcītis as the telephone serviceman / struggling musician Cēzars became the on screen manifestation of a suppressed creative soul for an entire era (Four White Shirts (“Četri balti krekli”, 1967). Pūcītis also tried to fulfil the dream of creative freedom by turning to directing (TV film Shattered Nest (“Izpostītā ligzda”, 1998).
DZIDRA RITENBERGA (1928–2003)
Dzidra Ritenberga came into cinema triumphantly – in 1956, alongside two Riga Film Studio films After the Storm (“Pēc vētras”) and Cause and Effect (“Cēloņi un sekas”), in which the young actress had small parts, she played the title role in the Ukrainian film Malva, and was awarded the Volpi Cup for best actress at the Venice International Film Festival. No Latvian actress prior or since has received that level of honour. Before Ritenberga the Volpi Cup was awarded to the likes of Vivien Leigh and Lilli Palmer, and after her – to Sofia Loren, Helen Mirren, etc.
Ritenberga was a vital being blessed with feminine beauty and energy. She was unlike other stage and film divas of her time – she had vitality, she was engaging and radiant, and her on screen characters lived full-bloodedly and sinned. Her passion could also be ruinous Echo (“Atbalss”, 1959). Over the years the actress developed a sense of humour and played a genial mother-in-law still hoping for her own happiness (My Friend – A Light-Minded Man (“Mans draugs – nenopietns cilvēks”, 1975), a demoralized doctor (Reflection in the Water (“Atspulgs ūdenī”), 1977), and an ambitious and lonely head of a collective farm (The Open Door (“Durvis, kas tev atvērtas”, 1984). Ritenberga turned to directing with The Dangerous Balcony Door (“Šīs bīstamās balkona durvis”, 1977), and was able to elevate the actresses in her films – Astrīda Kairiša, Ināra Slucka, Baiba Broka.