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VAI VIEGLI BŪT JAUNAM? (1986)

Documentary, 82 min. Director: Juris Podnieks; script: Ābrams Kleckins, Jevgeņijs Margoļins, and Juris Podnieks; camera: Kalvis Zalcmanis, music: Mārtiņš Brauns.

A documentary that, through the talent of the authors and the scope of their vision, received much attention abroad.

A brilliant symbiosis between journalism and Latvian poetic documentary tradition. The director of the film, Juris Podnieks (1950—1992), was the cameraman for many other documentaries and gained international recognition with his work.

The phenomenon that was "Vai viegli būt jaunam?" ("Is It Easy to Be Young?")  — its huge popularity with the audiences (then Soviet), unique commercial success (28 million viewers) – was not simply the result of Podnieks’s keen eye and talent but also of the liberal social trends of the 1980s.  That was a time that was drawing the USSR closer to collapse and, under perestroika, the documentary filmmaking was the sphere where there was an opportunity to work on new, hitherto forbidden subjects in the name of the truth. The film that analyzes the world view and values of young people could only have appeared in the mid-1980s. The degree of its veracity was a kind of a shock to people living in the world of ideological dogma.

A concert by the "alternative" rock group "Pērkons" in Ogre serves as a point of departure. The youthful energy whipped up during the concert turns into aggression: some youngsters wreck a railway car. Repressions, including criminal proceedings, in essence a show trial, follow. The film begins with scenes from the concert, the court proceedings, and later conversations with the young people whose lives have been affected by this event. Podnieks creates a gallery of portraits, shooting his protagonists in settings and circumstances that help to reveal their characters. In his thirties himself, Podnieks tries to find out what values are important to the teenagers. Among his subjects is a cunning double-faced individual (now the executive of a large enterprise) who puts on his best Soviet face and marches as part of the honor guard by the monument to the Latvian Red Riflemen at the same time pursuing wholly mercantile goals; there is a young amateur film director who tries to express the feelings of his generation in a film; there is a Krishna follower, an Afghanistan veteran, and many others.

The amateur movie directed by Igors Linga form an additional layer of imagery, which is a little naïve and self-conscious just like some of the monologues of the young people. Podnieks himself acts like an interested listener, later weaving the stories and portraits into a purposeful fabric of images and emotions.

At the time when the film was still a novelty, there was much discussion about the presence of staged episodes relating to the amateur movie or the punk scene. These discussions have long since been forgotten; yet it is still easy to see why there was such an overwhelming response to the film: it poses precise questions, there is a truthfulness and compassion in the treatment of the protagonists who are all very different but all are attending Soviet schools with their iron-clad approaches to the truth. It is Podnieks’s talent and intelligence that lets him relate the existential intensity characteristic of youth with the new social political climate in the Soviet Union. The film has managed to capture the great charge of energy that could no longer be forced into the frame of Soviet clichés. "Strēlnieku zvaigznājs" (1982), "Mēs?" (1989), "Krustceļš" (1990), and "Impērijas gals" (1991) are some of the other outstanding films by Juris Podnieks.

Dita Rietuma

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