In 1995 film, the worst of both worlds

Drosme nogalināt

Ēriks (Armands Reinfelds) listens to his father (Uldis Norenbergs) plead for his life.

No one ever sets out to make a bad film, but somehow they get made anyway. Drosme nogalināt (The Courage to Kill), released in 1995, is a bad film and in so many different ways that it’s not easy to pinpoint where it went wrong or why it was made in the first place.

It could be the script. It isn’t often that you run across an Oedipus complex story set in a strip club. Our oedipal hero, Ēriks (Armands Reinfelds), seems to earn a living by cross-dressing (as, surprise, Ērika) so that he can tag along with the girls when a patron decides to take one of them home. He then ransacks the house while the john has his way with the girl. The only time we see him actually attempt this he gets beaten to a bloody pulp.

I say “seems” because he doesn’t seem to do much other than hang out in the strip club. I’d imagine that couldn’t be cheap. You would think that the owners of the club would eventually wise up. It can’t be good for business. Nor is it clear why exactly someone who has just scored two beautiful women would only pay attention to one of them while the other has free run of his house. I’ve never read Oedipus Rex or seen the play. I understand that it isn’t very subtle either, but I don’t think this is quite what Sophocles had in mind. But Ērika does look stunning in her high heels.

The script has many other flaws. You can’t have an Oedipus without a father, but other than the predictable flashback scene where Ēriks watches his father having sex with the maid, with whom young Ēriks is in love, we’re not sure what motivates either character. The father (Uldis Norenbergs) just shows up and moves into Ēriks’ apartment one day, much to Ēriks’ dismay. Where he was before, why he chose to show up just then, and why Ēriks doesn’t just kick him out or just simply change the locks isn’t made clear. Well, it’s clear enough, but not particularly imaginative: Oedipus needs a father. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of a complex.

It could be the acting. As you can tell by the title and story, this isn’t a very subtle film. Neither are the performances. This is the kind of film where characters laugh too loud. Their feelings are spelled out on the screen in capital letters. There is no middle ground.

It could be the direction (the film was Aigars Grauba’s and Igors Linga’s debut). The film was based on a play by the Swedish playwright Lars Noren. I would assume that the play wasn’t nearly as bad, otherwise, why remake it as a film? Unfortunately, things that work in an intimate theater setting don’t always work on film. You have to ratchet them down just a bit. For example, Ēriks is walking down a hallway and bumps into a stripper. They obviously have a past. She grabs him by the crotch and suggests he stop by later. Get it?

The name of the production company that made Drosme nogalināt is Between Europe and Hong Kong Productions. I hope this was some sort of allusion to the film genres of Europe and Hong Kong. It would be the most creative touch of this film.

Europe is famous for making films of artistry and depth. They are not afraid to tackle taboo subjects and present them in a way that does not pander to the lowest common denominator—when they work. When they don’t they seem pretentious and boring, as exciting as witnessing a third-rate poet’s therapy session in a badly lit room. Hong Kong is known for exciting action films that hide what they lack in nuance and story by keeping the action coming at such a furious pace and with such visual panache that you don’t have much time to dwell on it—when they work. When they don’t there is no amount of atmospheric lighting and fast paced editing that can make you not regret picking movies because of the cool cover art and the blurbs on the back of the video box.

Europe and Hong Kong can be a wonderful combination when it works. In Drosme nogalināt it doesn’t. Instead, we are left with the worst of both worlds.


Drosme nogalināt

Aigars Grauba and Igors Linga

Between Europe and Hong Kong Productions,  1995

Notes: In Latvian. Drama, color, 78 minutes. Screenplay: Hānss Bertilsons, Aigars Grauba and Igors Linga, based on a play by Lars Noren; music: Uģis Prauliņš; costumes: Bruno Birmanis; film editor: Sandra Alksne; principal cast: Maija Jevhuta, Uldis Norenbergs, Armands Reinfelds.

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