As Latvia’s most internationally recognized contemporary filmmaker, Laila Pakalnina (b. 1962) has significantly contributed to the development of a post-Communist Latvian cinema. Her documentaries and fiction films, which have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice International Film Festival, and at the Berlin Film Festival, illuminate the everyday by re-visioning the banal. Her documentary and fiction works investigate the places and people at the periphery, celebrating the sublime within the mundane. In the non-fiction film Dreamland (2004), Pakalnina emphasizes the unseen beauty and vitality of a dumpsite, while her documentary short Papa Gena (2001) draws attention to the typical strangers one meets daily and to the ways music transforms them and their environments. Pakalnina’s fiction features, such as The Shoe (1998) and The Python (2003), also explore the extraordinary within the ordinary. In the former, set in the 1950s in the coastal city of Liepaja, the Soviet border patrol discovers a stray shoe. Pakalnina gives viewers an intimate portrait of the banal existence for Latvians under the Soviet occupation. The latter recounts the events that unfold when a snake disappears in a school, allowing Pakalnina to offer spectators a detailed analysis of an educational environment. By examining a selection of Pakalnina’s works to date, identifying her visual style and common thematic material, this paper considers the bourgeoning career of one of Latvia’s contemporary cinematic auteurs, whose films collectively strive to construct a new space and voice for the Baltic country in the international cinematic arena.
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