“The Loneliness of a Taxi Driver”. Sanita Grīna’s review of Reinis Kalvins’ feature film “Change”

Shot from Reinis Kalviņš’s feature film “Change”.

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Sanita Grīna, “Kultūrzīmes”, JSC “Latvijas Mediji”

The return of cinematic life in cinemas in Latvia is marked by the premiere of director Reinis Kalviņš’s feature film debut feature film – drama “Change” on September 17.

Balancing on the fine line between realism and entertainment, “Change” tells about one eventful night in the life of a taxi driver Marek. The film was made in the studio “Mistrus Media” in cooperation with “Picture House”.

It seems that Reinis Kalviņš attracted the attention of Latvian film industry professionals for the first time more than three years ago by boldly participating in the National Film Centre’s film production funding competition with the same, “Change” film project – alone, a new director without producer support.

At that time, the film was announced as a modern “film noir” or “neo-noir” – a visually and aesthetically specific genre, the interest of which has been periodically igniting among both directors and viewers since at least the 80’s; its stories are usually related to the criminal world and the characters operate in an environment where the boundaries between right and wrong are often difficult to draw.

It is no wonder that “Change”, inspired by Reinis Kalvins – one of the authors of the film’s script (together with Aldis Buks) – has found a home in real Riga taxi drivers’ stories and documentary events during these years in the studio “Mistrus Media” (producer Gints Grūbe ) – in one of the Latvian studios, which works with directors with a bright handwriting of the author (among the latest feature films produced by the studio are Dāvis Sīmanis’ “Father’s Night” and Viesturs Kairiss’s “Chronicle of Melania”), as well as documentaries on socially relevant and engaging topics ( for example, Grūbe’s own “Lustrum” and “Spy, who is my father” (together with Jāk Kilmi)).

Visually and in terms of mood, “Changes” Riga, where we are brought in by Kalvins taxi driver Mareks, is related to the gray, November residential town from the films “People There” (dir. Aiks Karapetjans, 2012) and “Modris” (dir. Juris Kursietis, 2014).

Mareks, a convincing portrayal of Liepāja theater actor Edgars Ozoliņš – talkative, gloomy, behind his lips and frown, seems to hide emotionality rather than cynicism – reminiscent of a bit more life-loving, no longer naive Mom, I love you ”(2013) main characters.

On the one hand, “Exchange” thus enters the tradition of the growth stories of “young, angry men” of Latvian cinema of the last decade, unfortunately also demonstrating the lack of characteristic female characters – in the world of “Exchange”, female characters also have rather limited functions. (In a reduction, one could say either a mother or a slut – Olga, the taxi driver’s chef, plays the mother’s role in Marek’s life, while others, even his son’s mother, are “only the spa is important” – even when she is not ready for Marek. the first call runs after her son, it is interesting that businessman Stabiņš’s “girlfriend” seems to combine both of these stereotypes – a light-hearted woman who cares for a drunk middle-aged man.)

On the other hand, the most interesting thing in “Changes” is Marek’s relationship with his taxi. From the first shots of the film – Marek’s eyes in the rearview mirror, followed by the arrival of the camera, where we see a taxi – it becomes clear that Marek and the taxi are one.

A dachshund is an “extension” of Marek’s body, his little world, the shell that protects him and that he must protect. But this security is illusory – because of Marek’s debt, his world is threatened from the beginning, its borders are easily violated (passengers whom Marek trusts steal from him), until the end of the film, the security is physically destroyed together with a taxi.

This unusual vulnerability makes Marek an unusually attractive hero with growth potential. Only by losing his secure world can Marek discover that his relationship with his son is most important after all, and begin to understand what it means to take responsibility.

Kalviņš’s approach has been fundamentally conceptual, both showing events only from the point of view of the main character of the film, and limiting the events during one change of taxi driver. This choice sometimes creates a bit of a disorienting feeling, because we are thrown into a world whose heroes know more about it than the spectators.

We are Marek’s companions, at the same time trying to learn what the “unwritten rules” of this world he is going to break; there are things we have to believe in the word, and things that are not explained that way. For example, what are the reasons and goals of the taxi war, which, perhaps, are not decisive in Marek’s story, but which would unequivocally make the world of film fuller.

The film mostly takes place in the dark part of the day – a challenge that the film’s cinematographer George Chippers-Lilemarks copes with wonderfully, putting apt accents of visual metaphors, for example, Marek and his son have dinner at the Lion’s House by the misty glass; Marek’s face behind the aquarium in a nightclub; Mareks himself as a fish in an aquarium in a glass bowl at a taxi base.

“Change” tries to balance the line between a realistic and an entertaining film, but it cannot be said that it would have succeeded completely. Although it is mentioned that the film is based on the experience of Riga taxi drivers and shows recognizable and in some ways legendary places in Riga, such as Riga Airport or the “Lion’s House”, the taxi wars on which Marek’s story unfolds remain nonspecific, leaving the feeling that they could to take place in almost any European city – perhaps because of the conceptual choice already mentioned to stick to the main character.

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It is also unfortunate that some of the film’s background images, situations and dialogues seem to be stifled from a box of criminal clichés rather than growing organically from an environment in which, as is known from media publications and stories about real taxi wars, there are no exciting developments. . However, no acrobat has learned dazzling tricks without swearing, and Reinis Kalvins is only at the beginning of his career.

“Change”, low-budget feature film, 81 ′, Latvia, 2020

Screenwriters – Reinis Kalviņš, Aldis Bukšs, director Reinis Kalviņš, cameraman George Chipers-Lilemarks, artist Jānis Bijubens, costume designer Liene Dobrāja, make-up artist Maija Gundare, sound director Mistress, sound director Artis Dukaļskis Ilze Krūmiņliepa, producer Gints Grūbe, studio “Mistrus Media”.

The main role is Edgars Ozoliņš.

From September 17 – in cinemas in Riga and throughout Latvia.

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