The Pagan King
I finally saw it! This is the Big Movie for Latvia’s 100th anniversary! It is named Nameja Gredzens in Latvian and for some reason, they translated it to “The Pagan King” in English.
The Namejs ring is a common symbol for Latvians, and many of my Latvian American acquaintances. It was my first wedding ring. I have had three in my life. My mother had one. My father had one. Many of my relatives wear one. It is a symbol of Latvians everywhere, I think.
The story I was told was that Namejs was a Latvian king who was being hunted by the Swedes or some other invading army. In the movie, this force is represented by Roman Crusaders. At some point in time, Namejs had this ring as a sign of his power and his family, so the Latvians (Zemgalians in the movie) made rings to wear so that the invading army would not know who the real king was. The braided bands represent the united tribes of Latvia who came together to fight the invading armies, or so I was told.
Of course this is all legend, and the movie did what it wanted to with this idea, but for all its aspirations, it could have been so much more.
The movie is in English, which is an interesting choice. The main actor is Swedish, Edvin Endre, and is best known for his role in the popular series, The Vikings. The movie seems to try to take a page from Viking history with a few of the boat and fight scenes.
The main villain is supposed to be the bastard son of the pope who goes to Latvia (Zemgale) to gain some kind of position. The motivations of characters are left to some imagination. The movie lacks exposition and a deeper sense of meaning. But it was enjoyable for the most part.
On a side note, the theater was pretty full. The Stockmann Forum Cinema has three floors and about 20 theaters or so. People were everywhere, and it was lively and exciting. So many people and so much energy. I swear that Latvia feels like the old days sometimes. And everyone looks so stylish.
Back to the movie. In the movie, Namejs is a bit of a badass, but not in line for any sort of rule until the old king dies and chooses him to be the next leader by giving him the ring. One problem with the movie is there were no backstories or sense of exposition. It would have been nice to know more about this Namejs other than his prowess at this old rugby-like game they played.
After thinking about it, my favorite aspect of the movie was that it was stylish and well done without going over the top. The battles were small, as they likely would have been back then—a group of tribal warriors versus a small band of soldiers. If this were an American movie (like Braveheart), there would be thousands of people and CGI effects and all this slow motion stuff. Here, it was just a few people with weapons fighting. Some of it was a bit bloody, but not too terribly bad.
I heard a complaint from a Latvian that some people didn’t like the accents. And sure, they weren’t all Latvian sounding, but I don’t think that is the point. This was, after all, historic Zemgale in the 13th Century. No one knows what those people sounded like!
The Christians were not shown in a very good light. Max, the bastard son of the Pope, wasn’t really religious. He just wanted to rule Zemgale. But he brought with him a priest who only had one scene that, I think, was supposed to be a little bit funny. For a history of some of the groups who have conquered Latvia over the years, you can watch this nice little animation.
The scenery was gorgeous. A part of the movie happens in a swamp where they mock up a pagan Stonehenge-looking set. I would like to know if that was all filmed in Latvia and then go to there. There were some lovely shots of rivers, woods, and the sea as well. I cannot wait for it to warm up to go exploring the natural beauty here!
Admittedly, the movie is a bit thin in terms of the plot, but the audience applauded at the end, and the final message was very nice. Toward the end, they make the rings for all the Zemgalians fighting the invaders, so every time one dies, they think they have killed Namejs and the battle is over. Then the bad guy realizes that he has been fooled. The point was that they were stronger when they all had power rather than just putting power into one person’s hands. I wish I would have written down the final quotation from the movie.
The hope was that by making this look and feel like a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings type movie, and doing it in English with an international star in the leading role, the movie might get some play elsewhere. I do not know if that will happen, but if you get the chance (especially if you have some Latvian blood in you) give it a shot. I think you’ll enjoy it!
Another Side Note: Olympics!
The Latvian Olympic team has 35 representatives. They looked really stylish and good during the parade of nations yesterday. I watched with my students. They were pretty negative despite all of my affirmations. Latvia, being a very small country, seems to breed an inferiority complex. No matter how much I point out positive things about it, my students still seem to try to find faults. I am not sure if there is a cure for this, but I intend to stay positive!