Film "The Swamp Treader", 1966, by Director Leonīds Leimanis (1910–1974)
“The Swamp Treader” is a romantic drama included in the canon for its popularity at the time, its leading stars, and its irreverent approach to literary adaptation, signalling in a new era of filmmaking in Soviet Latvia.
The film is an adaptation of Rūdolfs Blaumanis (1862−1908) novel of the same name. It is set in 19th century Latvia where German barons owned the land and Latvians primarily were their serfs. The plot revolves around Kristīne and Edgars. Two star-crossed lovers that cannot live without one another. Edgars often causes scandals in the local town and frequently disrespects his superiors. Kristīne knows she should forget Edgars and that their life together would be full of conflict and unhappiness, but she cannot love another, even though a number of men in the baron’s staff and from the nearby town wish to have her hand in marriage. After a particularly dramatic episode in their relationship Kristīne agrees to marry a well-off land owner Akmentiņš, but in the films closing moments leaves him at the altar for Edgars.
The film was a hit in Latvia and further in other parts of the Soviet Union. In Latvia one hundred thousand came to watch the film (which is a large number for the small nation), and 26 million watched it elsewhere in the Soviet Union. A big draw card for Soviet filmgoers were the two leading actors Vija Artmane (1929−2008) and Uldis Pūcītis (1937−2000). Artmane was already a big star in the Soviet Union, while Uldis was a well-known theatre actor for whom this was his third role on film and would remain a defining role in his further career.
Another reason for the film’s popularity was the fact that it was an adaptation of Blaumanis’ already well-known work “The Swamp Treader” (1898). As film historian Kristīne Matīsa highlights, people came to see their favourite characters from the novel brought to life onscreen. However, not everyone who loved the book also loved the film. This is because the director Leonīds Leimanis took a number of liberties with the narrative − one of the first filmmakers in Latvia to push the boundaries of how far a work could be rewritten or changed from the original in the process of adapting it for the screen.
It is also a film that marks the reinvigoration of native filmmaking in Latvia. Through the 1940s and 1950s, during first the Russian, German and then second Russian occupation, filmmaking in Latvia by Latvian nationals was stifled and foreign filmmakers were brought in to make films, particularly in Stalin’s era. Latvian’s were not trusted to make films from an ideological and technical perspective. Therefore, filmmakers from Russia were brought in to lead film production. However, once Stalin died and Krushchev’s Thaw came into effect Latvian filmmakers were again able to take charge of filmmaking in Latvia. This film is considered to be the starting point of Latvian fiction filmmaking during the Soviet era, marking a moment when Latvians showed that they are just as capable in making films of a high quality global standard.
The film was restored in 2011.
You can watch the film online for free within Latvia on the portal www.filmas.lv.
Dita Rietuma on the film "The Swamp Treader" in the Latvian Culture Canon, 2008. (in Latvian)
Brochure for the film “The Swamp Treader”. (1966). Rīga: Latvijas Republikāniskais filmu iznomāšanas kantoris. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints. (in Latvian and Russian)
Dita Rietuma on the film "The Swamp Treader" in the Latvian Culture Canon, 2008.
Leonīds Leimanis: rakstu krājums. (1980). Rīga: Liesma.
Matīsa, Kristīne. (2005). Purva bridējs (1966). No: Kristīne Matīsa. Vecās labās… Latviešu kinoklasikas 50 spožākās pērles (59.-68. lpp.). Rīga: Atēna.