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My Freedom (Mana Brīvība)

A historical drama concerning a Polish-born journalist, politician and prominent voice in the Latvian independence movement of the late 1980s is in the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

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Alicija (Erika Eglija-Gravele) is a journalist involved in the political movement of late 1980s Latvia who comes across several crossroads in this stately paced, but effective, drama. Her problems lie in two camps. At home there is her husband Ilgvars (Darius Meskaus-kas), a professor who does not like that Alicija is moving into politics. Away from her strained home life, Alicija falls further into the burgeoning Latvian Popular Front where Normunds (Gints Gravelis), a failed poet and activist, is not only after Alicija’s political commitment but a romantic entanglement too. This drama begins to work when it moves away from the national perspective and deeper into the domestic sphere. But that doesn’t mean that the wider political concerns don’t have surprises of their own.

The film is a slow burn. But a third of the way in Alicija receives a letter declaring that her husband is a KGB spy. The letter is anonymous and by its introduction there is a suspicion we are beginning to feel that despite the film being set during Perestroika, we are firmly in a land of deception and fear of your neighbour. Who sent the letter, and does it hold any truth, are binds which firmly lock us into the story. The director, Ilze Kunga in her feature film debut, does a wonderful job at building this suspense. When Alicija is about to be interviewed on television, regarding her political involvements, a blurry bust of Lenin is in the foreground, off to one side, with Alicija presented as a tiny background figure seemingly watched and categorised by forces she may know too well.

A popular song sung through-out the film has the sinister line: “When your joy is your enemy”. Does this refer to her husband or to the party she is in? And as Ilgvars spends his evenings at work, and Normunds drinks more and encourages Alicija to join him, who will come out as a foe? Another thing which distinguishes this film is its moral ambiguity, hardly anyone falls neatly into defined categories. Ultimately, it is a question of freedom: for a wife, for a husband, for a country.

While the film has a conventional style and there are no big movements from played out suspense, there is a lot to like about My Freedom. The story which owes a lot to the life of Ita Kozakevica. The performances are noteworthy, with no false notes amongst the principal three actors. Erika Eglija-Gravele carries a lot of the weight of this film and is exceptional doing so. The film’s costumes, locations and exacting historical details make this film stand out.

The movie also works well with its minimalist style score which is used sparingly, a true antidote to so many films which force an emotion with constant interrup-tive music. While audiences outside of Latvia may not fully grasp at first the importance of the Latvian Popular Front, the story of a wife who cannot trust her husband, of a journalist seeking truth, of a politician who is doubtful of her colleagues, is something they can hold on to and will be rewarded for doing so.

My Freedom just premiered in the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.


By Chris Simpson - 10-11-2023

Chris grew up in Bracknell and Slough, which explains 90% of his choices. To pay the bills he has worked as a waiter, a cinema projectionist, a shoe salesman, an attendant in an amusement arcade, hiri...

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