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BLACK NIGHTS 2015 Competition

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Dawn: The past is the present


- Latvian filmmaker Laila Pakalnina’s latest film is a rich and symbolic affair that deals with the Soviet past and the oppression of the present

Dawn: The past is the present
Wiktor Zborowski in Dawn

Perhaps more famous for her documentaries, Laila Pakalnina is back with Dawn [+see also:
film profile
– her fifth fiction film – which explores the myths of the past and also the grim reality that many still face in the present.

The film is ostensibly based on the story of Pavel Morozov, a Young Pioneer (roughly the Soviet equivalent of the Boy Scouts) who informed on his parents to the authorities and was promptly murdered. While the story was probably not true, Morozov became a martyr in Soviet society and was used as an example of loyalty to the state. In the film, Morozov becomes little Janis, a boy who views his father as an enemy of the collective farm entitled Dawn. After Janis informs on his father’s crimes, the latter feels the urge to take revenge on his offspring.

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This is a highly stylised and almost absurdist affair that reclaims and re-interprets the imagery and tenets of Soviet ideology, to turn it into a biting satire on conformity and indolent power. Scenes such as an attack on a church combine the formal classicism of traditional Russian filmmaking (with part of Pakalnina’s inspiration coming from a lost Eisenstein script) with a slightly Brechtian air of unrestrained chaos. The movie has some striking black-and-white cinematography, courtesy of renowned Polish documentarian Wojciech Staroń, as well as some brilliantly staged set pieces.

The film recently had its world premiere as part of the Main Competition of the 19th Black Nights Film Festival. Those not conversant with Soviet history may find it hard going at certain points, as it is densely packed with references to the era. But with its undeniable sense of both satire and metaphor for the current situation that many people face in the world, it should attract a healthy festival audience. 

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