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"ELPOJIET DZIĻI" OR "ČETRI BALTI KREKLI" (TAKE A DEEP BREATH/FOUR WHITE SHIRTS) (1967)

Feature film, 80 min. Director: Rolands Kalniņš; script: Gunārs Priede; camera: Miks Zvirbulis; art: Uldis Pauzers; music: Imants Kalniņš. Cast: Uldis Pūcītis, Dina Kuple, Līga Liepiņa, Arnolds Liniņš, Pauls Butkēvičs. 

A quintessentially 1960s depiction of the passionate longing for freedom, youthful idealism, and the need to remain true to one’s conscience, which places the protagonists of Rolands Kalniņš’s film side by side with those featured in the "New Wave" films.

The fact that this film exists with two titles, both "Elpojiet dziļi" and "Četri balti krekli" (the authors prefer the latter) is, in a way, a reflection of its complicated fate. Made in 1967, the film had its first public screening only in 1986. Its director, Rolands Kalniņš (1922), is one of the most talented Latvian cinematographers who has had the misfortune of experiencing the mind-numbing ideological rigor and machinations of Soviet censorship. 

The plot revolves around the conflict between a young telephone installer, who is also a talented song writer, Cēzars Kalniņš (Uldis Pūcītis), and the repressive Soviet ideology. The lyrics of Kalniņš’s songs seem defiant and amoral to the middle-aged cultural apparatchik, Anita Sondore (Dina Kuple) who creates various obstacles for a public performance of the songs. The repressive system for keeping culture in check that is set into motion by Sondore turns out to be out of even her own control when she gradually changes her mind, beginning to see charm behind the supposedly subversive lyrics. From today’s perspective, this portrait of the absurd watchdog system of Soviet Latvia seems bitingly ironic.  The meeting of the so-called "artistic council", which has been called to analyze Kalniņš’s songs, serves as an eloquent satire of the derisible censorship mechanism; this episode was one of the reasons for banning the film.  Kalniņš’s film "Akmens un šķembas" (Stone and Splinters, 1966), which for the very first time tried to address Latvia’s tragedy in World War II, was also banned, but his "Piejūras klimats" (Maritime Climate, 1974) was actually destroyed.

"Elpojiet dziļi" was the first Latvian film where music was considered an essential element. The action of the film parallels the drama unfolding in the music; music determined how the film was edited. The music by Imants Kalniņš continued to live even after the film was banned. So did the play "Trīspadsmitā" (The Thirteenth) by Gunārs Priede on which the film was based.

For Uldis Pūcītis and Dina Kuple, their roles in "Elpojiet dziļi" were very important for their acting careers. The role of Bella was a perfect debut for the talented Līga Liepiņa. Moreover, more than any other Latvian film of that decade, "Elpojiet dziļi" mirrors the stylistic experiments and the spirit of freedom that was a mainstay of the French "nouvelle vague" and Czech and Russian avant-garde of the time.

Dita Rietuma

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