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Troubled Minds (Nemierīgie prāti)

Two brothers bristle against in each other in both life and work in this searching yet surprisingly touching art-world satire.


Troubled Minds is several things: a story about brotherhood, a serious exploration of the limits of performance art, a satire of that same art-world and a road trip movie. Being able to find the humour within the bustling, over-the-top art world of Latvia while never losing heart of its central conflict, it represents a fine balancing act from the Abele brothers.

Robert (Toms Auniņš) seems to have no idea what his art actually represents, making references to the unconscious and ego death with little explanation regarding its underlying philosophy. His brother Martin (Marcis Lacis) has been living in a black cube — a 2001: A Space Odyssey-like (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) obelisk that could stand for both everything and nothing at the same time — and is the more raucous of the two. Directors Raitis and Lauris Abele, working with their brother other Mārcis behind the camera, make this distinction clear during one boating expedition: while Martin is standing on the top, stretching his arms out to the sky, Robert is sat at the bottom, staring at his phone.

The film raises interesting questions about the types of characters that thrive within artistic spaces. Crossing the line between art and madness, especially if you are a white male, is often more accepted than in other industries. After all, if the ends find a way to justify the means, critics might find it part and parcel of the final result. In one particularly cutting line, someone says that a madness like Vincent Van Gogh’s is OK, but only if people find out after you are already gone.

The Abele brothers are smart not to make the differences between Robert and Martin too pronounced, which would quickly make it cartoonish. While Martin is the more visibly unwell, Robert’s ideas and actions also skirt the bounds of acceptability. Robert is simply smarter at getting the necessary funding for their work, sweet-talking investor Gunnar (Juris Žagars) to part with his cash in exchange for an immersive exhibition that invites the spectator to become an active participant.

Nonetheless, bar a psychedelic finale, the film itself keeps things rather simple in this depiction of brotherly creation and collision, taking no sides as the two of them get into bar fights, smoke and drink copiously, hang out with older Russian sailors and alienate the world around them. This is what initially makes the film intriguing, especially as it departs Latvia to travel beyond the arctic circle, expanding its previous themes into something far richer than initially suggested.

While unable to tie up all its loose ends— a literal Chekhov gun introduced and forgotten about; an impending court date that dissolves into thin air — Troubled Minds never loses sight of its characters, sensitively and intuitively played by Auniņš and Lacis. They’re able to convey artistic slackery, brotherly compassion and self-infatuation with ease, carrying the film’s detours, digressions and detailed depiction of an art scene constantly collapsing on itself.

At a awards ceremony, one winner declares the end of the white straight male in art. When the two brothers are then given the final award, it’s hard to know exactly who is being satirised. It’s in this ambiguous space between satire and sensitivity that Troubled Minds thrives.

Troubled Minds plays in the First Feature section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 12-28th November.

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