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PURVA BRIDĒJS (1966)

Feature film, 85 min. Director: Leonīds Leimanis; script: Jānis Sīlis, Antons Stankēvičs; camera: Mārtiņš Kleins; art: Herberts Līkums; music: Marģeris Zariņš. Cast: Vija Artmane, Uldis Pūcītis, Lūcija Baumane, Elza Radziņa, Kārlis Sebris, Valentīns Skulme, Alfons Kalpaks, Eduards Pāvuls, Juris Lejaskalns, Olga Dreģe et al.

Leimanis’s passionate improvisation on Rūdolfs Blaumanis’s short story and play serves to dissipate the myth of Latvian meekness. An outstanding duet of the two leads. The film served as a local point of departure for the then topical discussion in the film world about what is and isn’t permitted in film versions of literary works.

The film, which is based on short story and play by Rūdolfs Blaumanis, is a striking example of romantic melodrama and one of director Leonīds Leimanis’s most popular works (along with the ironic social drama "Pie bagātās kundzes" ("At the Rich Lady’s") 1969). At the core of the film’s impact as well as its immense popularity among viewers is both the literary material, which Leimanis has treated without stultifying respect, making full use of his rights as an independent and mature artist, and the interaction between the lead actors. Vija Artmane’s Kristīne and Uldis Pūcītis’s Edgars became canonical roles for the actors and their duet, an exemplar of outstanding partnership (the age difference notwithstanding; Artmane was eight years older than Pūcītis).

Leonīds Leimanis remains in the history of Latvian cinema as a true romantic. Romantic, pathetic, intense in their emotional expressiveness and images are his early works as well: Nauris (1956), his first independent work and "Šķēps un roze" (The Sword and the Rose) (1960). In his later work, especially "Pie bagātās kundzes", the romantic pathos is replaced by irony and an accurate social observation. Leimanis is also among the directors who have developed many adaptations of literary works for the screen. (Before "Purva bridējs", Leimanis had already shown interest in Blaumanis’s work by co-directing, with Pāvels Armands, the film "Salna pavasarī" (Frost in Spring) (1955).  

In "Purva bridējs", which initially was conceived as an adaptation of a whole range of Blaumanis’s works, the director’s method is more laconic, more realistic, and also more nuanced, even though it is the insensitivity to the psychology of the protagonists, turning them into actors in a passion play, was one of the main criticisms after the premiere.  

From today’s perspective, the reactions of the public and press after the film’s premiere seem almost ridiculous. There are constant comparisons between the literary original and the director’s interpretation. Leimanis’s greatest sin, according to his critics, was making Kristīne too "earthy", "throwing the protagonists in bed" etc., making Kristīne a sensual, "fallen" woman instead of an ideal romantic heroine who is ready to sacrifice herself. No allowances are made for creative freedom or for the need to make the material more amenable to the perceptions of the 1960s audiences. Nevertheless, the market appeal –the market at the time was the USSR – was tremendous: 26.6 million viewers. The film was also sold to many foreign countries.

From today’s perspective, "Purva bridējs" is a convincing romantic drama depicting powerful, passionate personalities: Pūcītis’s temperamental Edgars driven by passion and human weakness and Artmane’s mature femininity lent to the character of Kristīne. This tangible, pulsating passion offered by Leimanis’s film lends credence to Kristīne’s decision to "sacrifice [her] easy life" for her love of Edgars.  The nuanced supporting characters played by Elza Radziņa, Eduards Pāvuls, Olga Dreģes et al., the purposeful direction, outstanding teamwork, and the convincing portrayal of the milieu are qualities that make "Purva bridējs" a timeless classic.

Dita Rietuma

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