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PRODUCTION Latvia / Belgium / Lithuania / France

Juris Kursietis takes Oleg to the Directors' Fortnight


- The Latvian filmmaker and his producers tell Cineuropa about the themes in Kursietis’ sophomore feature, set to world-premiere imminently in the Directors' Fortnight

Juris Kursietis takes Oleg to the Directors' Fortnight
Oleg by Juris Kursietis

Latvian director Juris Kursietis, best known for Modris, which had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and was Latvia’s 2014 Oscar submission, is heading to CannesDirectors' Fortnight with his second film, Oleg.

Like Modris, Oleg is based on real-life events. It features Lithuanian actor Valentin Novopolskij (Sasha Was Here) in the title role, playing a Russian man in Latvia. Having no Latvian citizenship, he emigrates to Brussels in order to earn a decent salary in a meat factory. His hopeful future is threatened when he loses his job and falls under the control of Polish criminal Andrzej, portrayed by Dawid Ogrodnik (Silent Night, Ida). Psychological terror and blackmail push Oleg to his lowest point.

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The film raises questions about identity and belonging. Oleg cannot fully integrate among Latvians, and in Brussels, he is even more of an immigrant. Kursietis sees Belgium as a modern-day Babel and a multinational crossroads. “In the movie, you can hear about six languages – sometimes even three at a time,” Kursietis tells Cineuropa. Producer Alise Ģelze, of Tasse Film, adds that this ethnic and linguistic diversity is claustrophobic for Oleg. “He cannot understand whether he is being understood. This is the source of a vast sense of loneliness.”

The filmmaker also directs viewers' attention to the modern-day slavery resulting from economic migration. Kursietis notes that slavery should not be limited to its historical context. He shares his views on migrant workers: “Nowadays, they are just desperate people who are fleeing their home countries in search of a better life. Sometimes they wind up being scammed.”

Producer Aija Bērziņa adds that, even though “slavery” is an uncomfortable-sounding term, they did not want to tiptoe around the issue. “We actually want to use this strong and sharp word in order to elicit a reaction, rather than looking the other way,” she explains. “At any point, one can easily end up feeling like a slave. In the movie, this is shown point-blank,” Kursietis concludes.

The film also stars Anna Próchniak (Breaking the Limits), Adam Szyszkowski (Cold War, Ida), Guna Zariņa (Still River, The Chronicles of Melanie) and Edgars Sāmītis (Mellow Mud). Polish cinematographer Bogumił Godfrejów, who also worked on Modris, lensed the picture, and experienced Belgian editor Matyas Veress put it together.

Oleg is a co-production by Latvia’s Tasse Film, Lithuania’s In Script, Belgium’s Iota Production and France’s Arizona Film Productions. The newly established Brussels-based subsidiary of Indie Sales, Best Friend Forever, is handling the international rights (see the news). The picture was supported by the National Film Centre of Latvia, Belgium’s Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel, the Lithuanian Film Centre and France’s CNC.

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