Laila Pakalnina Retrospective

33 animals of Santa Claus

Laila Pakalniņa: scenes from life

After graduating from the Moscow Film Institute (VGIK) in the early 1990s, Laila Pakalniņa started making films. By then, the Soviet Union had fallen and the Baltic Republics had just gained their independence. Faced with this new scenario, however, the Latvian-born filmmaker chose to leave behind the urban centers where big decisions get made as to the country's future, to instead head for areas in Latvia that do not appear in the media.

This is how one of the guiding principles in her later work would manifest itself in her charmingly simple early short films: attentively capturing daily life as it unfolds in specific places. Whether it's deals with people preparing the clothes in a children's hospital (The Linen, 1991), mail delivery in a small town (The Mail, 1995), the comings and goings of a boat taking passengers across a river between Latvia and Belarus (The Ferry, 1994) or the simple life in a village near an old oak tree (The Oak, 1997), Pakalniņa's films show that it is upon the iron structure of the quotidian where life and cinema get based.

At the core of her work method is first and foremost careful observation, which allows her to highlight the importance of expression and, at times, even discover a new world, as is the case in Dream Land (2004), where she records surprisingly frantic animal activity at a landfill.

There is a tendency in Pakalniņa's filmmaking, however, that makes it so her films are not thought of merely as recordings of reality as it passes before us: the use of montage showing characters moving within the frame, which at times is also present in the soundtrack. Her stories are usually open narrations with no beginning nor end; instead they are pieces that come together like in a mosaic, a multi-faceted and rhythmic look at the dynamics of a certain place generated by its inhabitants. At times, this montage achieves a comic effect by revealing odd human behavior; such is the case, for example, in Three Men and a Fish Pond (2008), where the human species is compared to the animal kingdom; in Snow Crazy (2012), as well, in which strange scenarios, artificial ski slopes in a country with no mountains, lead to fun scenes of people enjoying themselves; and Waterfall (2016), in which behavior that gets repeated by tourists looking at a national wonder to Latvians, i.e., the largest waterfall in Europe, shows how tourist behavior toward nature is usually rather unimaginative.

Attentive observation, recording the dynamics of a particular place and the predominance of montages made through movement within the frame or through sound: these are expressed in a more refined and even poetic way in her later films, Dream (2017 ) and Hello, Horse! (2017). In both, the director manages to paint an almost abstract landscape, in which the laws of space-time are changed and where humans are an intermittent figure coming in and out of the shot. In the former, the scene depicting a shop in the middle of the snow is a still shot that becomes unreal through use of a montage that breaks with narrative conventions; in the second, space is the setting through which time passes, and beings, just like things, get transiently inserted into it.

Laila Pakalniņa's films are invitations to look at the ordinary from a unique and, at times, playful perspective. They are spaces in which life expresses itself in the form of change and movement.

Laura Gómez Vaquero


Session 1 - Everyday events

Veļa / The Linen / 10' / Latvia / 1991

Prāmis / The Ferry / 16’ / Latvia / 1994

Pasts / The Mail/ 21’ / Latvia / 1995

Ozols / The Oak / 28’ / Latvia / 1997


Session 2 - Cycles of Life

Leiputrija / Dream land / 35’ / Latvia / 2004

Par Dzimtenīti / Three Men and a Fish Pond / 52’ / Letonia / 2008


Session 3 - The World on the Move

Autobuss / The Bus / 58’ / Latvia / 2004


Session 4 - (Extra)ordinary People

Teodors / Theodore / 29’ / Latvia / 2006

33 zvēri Ziemassvētku vecītim / 33 Animals of Santa Claus / 50’ / Latvia / 2011


Sesssion 5 - Images for extreme sport

Sniegs / Snow Crazy / 34’ / Latvia / 2012

Četrdesmit divi / Forty Two / 57’ / Latvia / 2013


Session 6 - Places of Transit

Pa Rubika ceļu / On Rubiks' Road / 30’ / Latvia / 2010

Rumba / Waterfall / 20’ / Latvia / 2016

Sapnis / Dream / 7’ / Latvia / 2016

Zirdziņ, hallo! / Hello Horse! / 25’ / Latvia / 2017