- Aloizs Brenčs during the making of Light at the End of the Tunnel („Gaisma tuneļa galā”, 1974)
- Rolands Kalniņš during the making of Ceplis (1972)
- Aleksandrs Leimanis on the set
- Leonīds Leimanis during the shooting of At the Rich Lady’s („Pie bagātās kundzes”, 1964)
- Gunārs Piesis and cinematographer Mārtiņš Oskars Kleins during the making of Maija and Paija (1990)
- During the making of Limousine in the Colour of a Midsummer Night („Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā”, 1981) with actress Lilita Bērziņa
ALOIZS BRENČS (1929–1998)
The director who started the detective and thriller genre in Latvian cinema made his finest movies in the 1970s. In his work Brenčs accentuated the psychological motivation of the criminals and the causality of events. In a time when doubts were unacceptable, he allowed his characters to doubt, raising questions about personal choice and responsibility. His films: Light at the End of the Tunnel („Gaisma tuneļa galā”, 1974), Keys to Paradise („Paradīzes atslēgas”, 1975), Gifts over the Phone („Dāvanas pa telefonu”, 1977), and Rally („Rallijs”, 1978) are defined by their dynamics and the social accents of the time. One of his most outstanding films in this style is To Be Unwanted („Liekam būt”, 1976). Brenčs formed a successful working relationship with screenwriter Andris Kolbergs. Continuing the “crime theme”, he made the excellent TV film Mirage („Mirāža”, 1983) – a variation of the “large-scale robberies destined to failure” subject prevalent in films from the West.
Aloizs Brenčs was the first Latvian director to begin making series of TV films – his stories of fate in The Long Way Through Dunes (“Ilgais ceļš kāpās”, 1981, 7 series) un The Zitars („Zītaru dzimta”, 1989, 6 series), made after a commission from Moscow TV, told of the dramatic junctures in Latvian history in a popular way and were watched by millions of viewers.
ROLANDS KALNIŅŠ (1922)
The last and only Latvian cinema aristocrat. Rolands Kalniņš possesses an intelligence of the soul. His films are smart, and the passage of time becomes them; forming new contexts reveals previously unread levels of content and subtext. Kalniņš’ interest in human actions during dramatic junctures began in the film The Storm („Vētra”, 1960, made together with Varis Krūmiņš), and continued even after 25 years in If We Live Through All This („Ja mēs visu to pārcietīsim...”, 1987).
In exploring this theme together with screenwriter Viktors Lorencs, Kalniņš touched upon the tragedy of the Latvian legionnaires in Stone and Flinders (“Akmens un šķembas”) (also known as Richard, I Remember Everything! (“Es visu atceros, Ričard!”) – the title was changed several times due censorship issues). After the film was finished it was banned and “shelved”. Kalniņš’ next film Four White Shirts (Četri balti krekli”, 1967, the film was released as Breathe Deeply... (“Elpojiet dziļi...”) was also banned until 1986. With a script written by Gunārs Priede and music by Imants Kalniņš, the energy of 1960s rebellion youthfully sprang out from the absurdity of the Soviet system. Kalniņš proved himself to be a master of fine irony, precisely utilizing the signs of the time.
The artistic culmination of Kalniņš’ work is the stylistically refined film Ceplis (1972), a story about Latvia pre WWII and the charming predator and business machinator Edgars Ceplis. His film Maritime Climate („Piejūras klimats”, 1974), banned while still in production, was cut off at a level of aesthetic intrigue and design. Kalniņš ably stylized the environments of his films (together with cinematographers Gvido Skulte and Miks Zvirbulis, and production designers Gunārs Balodis and Uldis Pauzers), modifying them from a documentary imitation to an alienated aestheticization.
ALEKSANDRS LEIMANIS (1913–1990)
Aleksandrs Leimanis directed his first film at the age of 50, having previously worked in various Latvian theatres and in film dubbing. He had a rash and unpredictable nature, talented ideas and energy, but the work process was always complicated. In his debut film The Wagtail’s Army (“Cielaviņas armija”, 1964) the main characters were boys during the Russian civil war – the time of the director’s youth. This large-scale historical production with mass scenes became the first adventure film in the history of the Riga Film Studio.
Leimanis longed to work with serious material, hoping to film Blow, ye Wind! (“Pūt, vējiņi!) and Tailor Days in Silmači (“Skroderdienas Silmačos”), but instead he achieved artistic culmination and immense popularity with the historical costume-drama, the two-part: Devil’s Servants („Vella kalpi”, 1970) and Devil’s Servants in the Devil’s Mill („Vella kalpi Vella dzirnavās”, 1972), starting this genre in Latvia. Both films were a testament to cinematographer Mārtiņš Oskars Kleins’ ability to find clever shooting solutions, as well as the director’s talent in shaping a great cast of actors. The film Captured by the Black Crab („Melnā vēža spīlēs”, 1975) was the third and last film of this type in the director’s biography and in Latvian cinema.
LEONĪDS LEIMANIS (1910–1974)
Leonīds Leimanis started his creative career as a theatre actor, and played the main role in the first Latvian sound film Daugava (1934, dir. Aleksandrs Rusteiķis). After spending several years on the film sets of other directors, Leimanis debuted in directing as a co-director to Pāvels Armands on Frost in Springtime (1955). The film’s black and white interpretation is suggestive with its light and shadow nuances, compositional clarity, and the exploding emotions in Zigrīda Stungure’s acting. In the films Nauris (1957) and The Lance and the Rose („Šķēps un roze”, 1959), the director metaphorically and poetically contrasts the old and new. Leimanis could be accused of political naïveté in portraying the newly formed nation of Soviet Latvia, but not for a lack of a feel for life. The sreen adaptation of Blaumanis’ Wader in the Bog („Purva bridējs”, 1966), with Vija Artmane and Uldis Pūcītis, provoked discussions about the rather open sensitivity of Blaumanis’ hero. Leimanis won! His film was watched by millions across the USSR. The director’s ironic period drama At the Rich Lady’s („Pie bagātās kundzes”, 1964) works for any period and for any tastes. It was wonderfully full of irony about Latvia’s pettiness and self-pride in the 1930s, convincing emotionally expansive city-scapes and the fragility of human relationships. Leonīds Leimanis films contain many wonderful acting turns.
GUNĀRS PIESIS (1931–1996)
Gunārs Piesis represents the first generation of professionally schooled Latvian directors. After graduating from the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) he debuted with the film Grey Willows Bloom (“Kārkli pelēkie zied”, 1961), which he made together with cinematographer Miks Zvirbulis and screenwriter Gunārs Priede. A film about backstage at the theatre seemed too monstrous to culture officials, and Piesis was punished by being banned from making feature films. For the next 10 years he worked on cinema news, founding the film magazine “Māksla” (Art) and making several powerful documentary films.
In 1970 Piesis returned to making features, and his screen adaptation of the Rūdolf Blaumanis novel In the Shadow of Death (“Nāves ēnā”), about heightened drama in a restricted environment (fishermen on a sheet of ice in the open sea), with the vivid psychological temperaments, laconic visuals and metaphoric style, became one of the all-time best Latvian films.
Piesis was also the first one to dare to adapt Rainis for the screen – the making of Blow, ye Wind! (“Pūt, vējiņi!”, 1973) became a national event, with an open casting call for Baiba and Uldis, and the discussions surrounding the devaluation of the emotions of youths. The film has a certain ethnographically decorative quality, but is also truly dramatic - a daring weave of Rainis’ poetry, pagan rituals, and details from daily life in the previous century.
Gunārs Piesis was also the first to turn to Latvian fairy-tales: in Tom Thumb (“Sprīdītis”, 1985) and Maija and Paija (1990) he used the special effects available at that time.
JĀNIS STREIČS (1936)
Jānis Streičs is the master of the Latvian cinematic stories, an expert on the national mentality, and no stranger to good-hearted irony and humour. His first film, the family comedy Captain Enriko’s Watch („Kapteiņa Enriko pulkstenis”, 1967), which he co-directed with Ēriks Lācis, already showed Streičs’ ability to shape expressive characters. His film My Friend – A Light-Minded Man („Mans draugs – nenopietns cilvēks”, 1975) was provocative, ironic and contained the obligatory Soviet-time “workers theme” interpretation. Streičs’ “light-minded friend” in the form of Jānis Paukštello was a hero for the new age – an idealist who allows himself to poke fun at the existing system. The film was shot in realistic interiors that were a great reflection on the characters and the lifestyle of the time. With his screen adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel Theatre (“Teātris”, 1978), Streičs created a cinematographically restrictive, wonderfully theatrical atmosphere – the film was excellent for the acting career of Vija Artmane as Julie Lambert. His film Child of Man („Cilvēka bērns”, 1991) contained autobiographical themes, and is full of the culture of Latgale and dream-like imagery. Streičs has also looked at the theme of dramatic fates at historical crossroads on several occasions: Unfamiliar Feelings („Svešās kaislības”, 1983), Meeting on the Milky Way („Tikšanās uz Piena ceļa”, 1985) and Carmen Horrendum (1989), and has traced time period inconsistencies in It’s Easy to Fall into an Overgrown Ditch („Aizaugušā grāvī viegli krist”, 1986) and The Mill of Fate („Likteņdzirnas”, 1997). His national comedies have earned him an unwavering popularity, especially Limousine in the Colour of a Midsummer Night („Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā”, 1981) and his latest film, Rudolf’s Gold („Rūdolfa mantojums”, 2010).