The book banned in the USSR became the first Latvian blockbuster

The book banned in the USSR became the first Latvian blockbuster

Dzintars Dreybergs:; I hate movies that romanticize war

Epic war movie drama «Souls in a whirlwind of snow» (Blizzard of Souls) director Dzintars Dreibergs nominated for the award by Latvia «Oscar» in category «best international film». As previously reported, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual American Academy of Motion Picture Arts Awards has been postponed from February to April 25..

Ours and others

Too young to fight, but old enough to die. This is how the press release of the film describes the young Latvian shooter Arturs Vanags, whose fate is traced by the picture based on the novel of the same name by the Latvian writer Aleksandrs Grins.

Thrown by fate into the heat of the First World War, 16-year-old Arthurs loses his home, mother and other people close to him. He fights in the same unit with his father and brother not for fear, but for conscience, miraculously fleeing from enemy bullets and shells, although sometimes he does not really understand which side he is fighting on, where his own and where are strangers..

; Souls in a snow whirlwind

During World War I, Latvia was part of the Russian Empire. Latvian units fought on the side of Russia, but then the formation of national rifle battalions began, which at a new stage in history contributed to the establishment of Latvian statehood in the early 1920s..

Alexander Greens’s book is based on real events. The author himself, a former Latvian shooter, captain of the Latvian army, war correspondent and journalist, directly participated in the hostilities. «Souls in a whirlwind of snow», his main novel, published in 1932-33, was banned in the Soviet Union. The writer’s life ended tragically. After the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union, 46-year-old Aleksandrs Greens was arrested in 1941 by the NKVD and shot.

; Souls in a snow whirlwind

The director and scriptwriter Dzintars Dreibergs has a Master’s degree in Economics. But after several years in business, he opted for a career in filmmaking. According to him, his studies at the Baltic Film School, where Boris Frumin became his mentor, had a strong influence on him. Both of them worked together on the script for the film adaptation of the book. «Souls in a whirlwind of snow».

Director and screenwriter Boris Frumin, a native of Riga, emigrated to the United States in 1978 after his film was banned «Errors of youth». In the USA and Russia, he directed films «Black and white», «Viva, Castro!», «Illegal» and others, participated in several projects as a producer. He is also known as a teacher, professor at the New York University Film School (NYU).

The film’s operator Valdis Celmins has won Latvian national awards five times. He studied film at Ohio University with a Fulbright Fellowship.

The film’s soundtrack was written by the Latvian-American composer Lolita Ritmanis, multiple award nominee «Emmy», famous for the soundtrack to the animated series about Batman.

Film «Souls in a whirlwind of snow» received all the main national awards in Latvia, including awards for best film and best director. The picture became the record holder of the Latvian box office.

; Souls in a snow whirlwind

Honest vision

Correspondent of the Russian Service «Voices of America» interviewed the director Dzintars Dreibergs on the Zoom service.

Oleg Sulkin: It’s nice to see in the credits the familiar name of Boris Frumin, a wonderful playwright and director, professor of film studies, who has been teaching at the New York University Film School for many years. He was born in Latvia, worked at the Riga Film Studio, so his participation in this project is understandable. How did you work with him?

Dzintars Dreybergs: These have been extremely interesting for several years. Communication with Boris, his visit to Latvia and his master class became a decisive impetus for my decision to leave business and start creative. I realized that there is something more important in life than entrepreneurial activity.

O.S.: It was difficult to adapt Greens’s book?

D.D .: The novel is very voluminous, about 800 pages. The author describes in great detail what he himself experienced, including everyday life. – trenches, attacks, horror, blood and death all around. I hate movies that glorify and romanticize war, all those slow motion tricks of explosions and gunfights, embellished footage of death and fictional heroism. War – the most terrible, cruel, disgusting and unfair experience that a person can have. As I read Greens’s book, an honest vision of the war flashed before my eyes. Our hero, a simple soldier, is trying to understand: why is he fighting? What is he protecting? What he sees around gives rise to understandable doubts in his soul.

OS: Why did you choose this book for your game debut??

D.D .: Many films have been shot about how big countries are at war. But here the angle is completely different. We are talking about the war of a small people who found themselves in the zone of interests of major powers. Some foreigners who read the script asked: why won’t the main character come home? They do not understand that his home turned out to be a battlefield and he has nowhere to return..

OS: Tell us about your hero. How true is his story?

D.D .: We tell the story of a simple soldier who, by the will of fate, was dragged into a terrible bloodshed. He does not fully understand what he is fighting for, sometimes he is fighting in a daze. He grows up many times faster than in normal, peaceful times. Like any young man in any country and in any era, Arthurs wants love, understanding, self-realization. But the war destroys his plans. Evolution of the hero’s consciousness – that was the main thing for me and Boris (Frumin) when we selected plot moves and episodes from the novel.

Survival story

OS: You were worried that many viewers in other countries do not know anything about Latvia, about its history?

D.D .: For many directors, the main thing is – intelligibility, clarity of the story being told. For me, this is not a priority at all. The audience is much smarter than we think. I am glad when viewers tell me after watching that they associate themselves with our hero. After all, the survival story of a maturing hero carries a universal message.

OS: The First World War is experiencing a surge of interest from filmmakers today. Suffice it to mention the names of such masters as Peter Jackson and Sam Mendes. Why do you think this is happening? And how did you recreate a long-forgotten picture of that era??

D.D .: After working for about four years on this film, one day I find out that a Peter Jackson film on this topic is coming out (film-reconstruction «They will never get older»). What to do?! Do not abandon the project, in which so much work and time has been invested! We leafed through many documents in the archives, looked through hundreds of photographs and film clips, read the soldiers’ letters of that era. Everything was important here, even all sorts of little things. I remember Boris was trying to find out: did the soldiers then brush their teeth, did they have toothbrushes? We traveled a lot around Latvia, found specific places where real battles took place, and there we filmed the battle episodes. Local volunteers helped us a lot. If not for them, I do not know how we would have met our modest budget, which did not exceed 2 million euros. It was difficult to shoot – camping life, a long shooting day, frosts, reaching 20 degrees Celsius. The actors were placed in a real military training camp for several days, where their ration consisted of water and bread. But when someone started to complain, we remembered the soldiers of that distant war, and immediately the understanding came: it was much more difficult for them. Our priority – true, and I certify that everything you see on the screen is taken from real life.

OS: What is the reason for the record high interest shown by the public in Latvia to your film??

D.D .: Yes, we were shocked. Imagine, in the era of Netflix and HBO, people went to theaters in droves. In Latvia, the film became the absolute box office champion, surpassed in box office «Avatar» and «Titanic». Why? Maybe people wanted to see a genuine Latvian shooter on the screen?

OS: Concept «Latvian shooter» in the mass consciousness it is associated with the elite Bolshevik guard, with fanatical and cruel fighters who terrified the enemy. In your film, you personify these people. These are not dummies, not robots, but living people. Oto Brantevits, who plays the role of Arturs, is especially convincing. Tell us how the casting went?

D.D .: There are no professional actors aged 15-16 in Latvia. I had to look at about 1300 guys across the country. And so we saw Oto Brantewitz, a lanky, awkward guy, a little strange. But he felt inner strength, stubbornness, energy potential. It was a risky choice, but I never regretted it for a second. Oto did not spare himself on the set. There were days when he fell asleep from fatigue during supper. He managed to show the metamorphosis of the hero, whom we see at the beginning of the film as a naive teenager, and by the end he becomes completely adult, with deep emotional and physical scars.

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