Dvēseļu putenis: Blizzard of Souls

Dvēseļu putenis: Blizzard of Souls

This is a movie review of sorts.

Thanks to some of my lovely students who gave me a gift certificate to the Akropole Apollo theater, we were able to watch t Dvēseļu putenis in style! This movie, which translates as “Blizzard of Souls” has been the most anticipated movie of the year. It is based on a novel (that apparently every Latvian student has to read at some point in time) of the same name.

The Theater (Spoilers!)

Akropole is the newest and, I think, largest mall in Riga. Rita and I went once before to see a hockey game on the ice rink that is the hub of the entire complex. This time we were able to visit the movie theater.

I have to say that the whole set up did not appeal to me. When you get to the theater, there is just this big open space with some chairs and sofas and behind that are snacks. The whole setup is automated so you walk in and do not really see a person working at the place unless you make some mistake or search for help. You can find popcorn behind glass doors, candy on shelves and in bins (to be purchased by the kilogram) soda, beer, wine and even an ice cream bar. All of it is available without any intervention from staff. Do-it-yourself!

After you pick out what you want (in my case it was popcorn and a delightful dark chocolate Toblerone bar), you go to the automated check-out machine and scan the items and then pay with cash or card. Personally, I really like seeing people working at a place I visit. I don’t prefer automated check-outs at the supermarket, and here, it made the whole place seem that much colder and unwelcoming.

The worst part, however, was the entrance to the movies itself. I hate airports. I hate everything about the process of getting on a plane and flying. And here they had incorporated these automatic gates where you scan your ticket and then walk through… just like a fricking airport. If I sound tense, it is because I think I have emotional scars. These things NEVER open for me the first time. I say a little prayer every time I scan my boarding pass or passport hoping to just get through without having to fight the machine. Trauma, I tell you. Trauma!

So here I was just wanting to go see a movie. I didn’t think I would need to pass a security check. I tried to scan our tickets. Red light. One gate opened up, and I tried to go through, but the little guard grabbed me by the shoulder and yelled at me in Latvian that I was not in the right line. Jesus.

He looked at our tickets and barked at us to go upstairs. You see, I had ordered the “Star seats” which were in the balcony. I guess I should have somehow known to go up the stairs?

Then came the fun and strange part! We went upstairs, and there was no one checking tickets. There was no little gate to go through. We just walked into the theater and sat down in our electronic lounge seats with heated cushions and a full-recline mode. That was nice.

However, Rita and I were sitting next to one another in this sort of love seat arrangement. Between us was a hard, plastic armrest, and in the armrest was a screen for ordering food and stuff. Every time I tried to put my arm on it, the stupid thing would light up like a cellphone, and start scrolling through options. There seemed to be no off button. Sometimes (oftentimes) technology is more of a curse than a blessing. Or maybe I am just getting really old.

The final straw that doomed the theater for me was that when the movie finally started, the subtitles were in Russian. The tickets clearly said “English subtitles.” And yet, here we were. Rita asked a waiter about it, and he apologized and said there was an electronic glitch (what did I say about technology?). He told us that the manager was outside if I wanted to talk to her about it. I was in no mood to leave the movie and go wrangle with some manager about something like this. Instead, I thought I would just listen to the Latvian and try to get what I could. I think I followed the movie pretty well, but I was a bit lost in the nuance of subtle things like time and place.

So how was the movie?

It was very good. I really thought it captured the chaos and nightmarish hellscape that war must be with artful clarity and a sort of indelicate abrasiveness that allowed the viewer to feel that uncomfortable edginess of the constant anxiety-ridden horror show that all war must be.

I was very interested to learn that the main character, Arturs, who is sixteen when the movie starts, was actually played by a young Latvian man who was really the same age as his character. And, not only that, but this Oto Brantevics was a total amateur. He only tried out for the film because his friends were going, and he thought he had done a really bad job because they made him read the script for 30 minutes. It is one of those great stories that you dream about when you are young and want to be an actor.

The movie follows him as he joins the Latvian Riflemen, a branch of the Russian Empire at the beginning of World War I. The movie is just as confusing as the history of Latvia. At one point they are fighting the Germans, then they turn around and have to fight the Bolsheviks and Russians. The whole point of the movie was to show how pointless all of this destruction and violence was. The Death Island scene was especially powerful as was the Christmas battle… life is so fragile.

I would like to see it again with English subtitles so that I can understand everything a bit more and give a more justified review. The music is very good. The locations and filming are powerful. I highly recommend seeing the movie, but if I go again it will be to Forum cinema rather than Apollo.

 

Enjoy the trailer!

 

 

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