ĀBOLS UPĒ (APPLE IN THE RIVER) (1974)
Feature, 81 min. Script writer and director: Aivars Freimanis; camera: Dāvis Sīmanis; music: Pēteris Plakidis. Cast: Akvelīna Līvmane, Ivars Kalniņš et al.
An unusual event in Latvian film history: a feature shot as a documentary, with minimal interference in the surrounding action. The resulting film is a truthful and innocent portrayal of the era with no imitations or conscious borrowings but with its own avant-garde experiments.
A unique film in the context of Latvian cinema directed Aivars Freimanis (1936), who first made his name in documentaries. The film was an improvised experiment that derived from the director’s wish to make a documentary on one of the islands in the Daugava River and the people who live there. In 1971, Freimanis got official approval for a documentary by the name of "Upe" (River), which was the impetus for "Ābols upē". Although the director and the cameraman began their work by collecting material on the everyday life on Zaķusala, gradually they realized that they would like to place fictional characters in that setting. For this purpose they selected newcomers, Akvelīna Līvmane and Ivars Kalniņš, who were at the start of their professional acting careers. The contrast between the two young people – the serious, reticent Līvmane as Anita and the vital, mischievous Kalniņš as Janka, provided a potential for a dramatic interplay between the two. Also, because they were not yet well known, they could be used to set up situations to provoke reactions from the actual inhabitants of Zaķusala.
The roles played by Līvmane and Kalniņš were not written on paper beforehand, which meant constant improvisation. The director called for natural behaviour, encouraging the actors to model the actions of their characters after their "average" peers. The creative team of the film had set themselves a task to create a synthesis of a documentary and a feature – what is now called a mockumentary.
Although "Ābols upē" should have been completed in 1971, work was interrupted, one of the reasons being that in shooting the film the authors had already far departed from the documentary project accepted by the official institutions. Freimanis’s film entered public awareness because of the tragedy associated with another director’s work: in 1974, the material for Rolands Kalniņš’s film "Piejūras klimats" was banned and destroyed; the Riga film studio lacked the necessary "planned units" for its feature quota and Freimanis’s team could resume work on the half-finished film, shooting episodes where Anita and Janka meet again after separating for a while. These theatrical and melodramatic episodes along with the off-screen voice that comments the emotions experienced by the young couple and the developments on the screen are the weakest part of the film.
Nevertheless, Ābols upē, works as an attempt at a synthesis between a documentary and a feature film; it is memorable because of the use of the hand-held camera, the painterly quality of the frame, and the poetic image of the early 1970s Zaķusala and Riga.