Review: Houses – Cineuropa


– Laila Pakalniņa’s latest film is an experimental documentary hybrid that poetically celebrates the family environment

For most people, there is no more private place in the world than their own home. People feel exposed when they let someone, let alone a film crew, come into their homes to discover the “truth” lurking in plain sight. The Latvian people and their homes are the subject of new film produced, written and directed by veteran Latvian director Laila Pakalniņa, which has worked in both the short and feature film format, and in different categories of documentary, experimental and fictional films. The experimental doc simply called Houses premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, as part of the Baltic Film Competition.

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The rules of the “game” are simple: Pakalniņa and his director of photography, Gints Bērziņš, position their selected subjects and order them to stand still for a minute outside their home while they film them from inside, through windows (usually closed), but sometimes also through open windows or from outside. through glass doors. The aim of each of the tours is to achieve the appearance of a beautifully composed artistic photograph of times past, with an emphasis on aesthetic qualities like symmetry (or the lack thereof) and the play between contrasts, like the light and shadow, rather than a quest for information or a deeper truth.

Yes, most of the shots seem staged because they are, in fact, staged. However, they do not exist in a vacuum, but rather in specific contexts that Pakalniņa casually shows. Individual and group portraits cannot be still lifes, as we see and most importantly hear things happening in the background, from street noise to COVID-19 related news on the radio. In addition, some of the elements of these ‘film photographs’ cannot be controlled, such as small children and pets, but it is also surprising how difficult some adults have to stand or sit. for a minute.

Finally, the subjects come from different backgrounds in terms of ethnicity (we hear different languages ​​being spoken, Latvian, Russian and English), class (judging by the details found in the interior decoration, some places are more modest, while others are more sumptuous), the setting of their residence (urban, suburban or rural) and their way of life (we generally have nuclear families, but this is far from the rule). Pakalniņa and Bērziņš are not oblivious to these differences, but neither are they intended to show us an accurate representation of Latvian society. They create art, so, for example, an image of a nuclear family outside their apartment in a building while their black cat patiently waits for them on the windowsill is more meaningful than anything. what an attempt at social analysis, while the fact that all subjects let them film them from home says a lot about their trust in them.

All in Houses is subordinate to art, which is clear from the instructions Bērziņš gives to the subjects, the graduated black and white cinematography, in which light and shadow seem even more poetic and lyrical, and the precise and crisp editing of Ieva Veiveryte. The only problem with, as is also the case with other films of this type, is that it seems a bit arbitrary, since it would serve as well in a short as well as a medium format, as well as a work. extended video suitable for a gallery or museum. However, one thing is clear: with Houses, Pakalniņa celebrates the family environment and does it totally justice.

Houses is a Latvian production of Hargla Company.

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