Escaping Riga

Sergei Eisenstein was the Soviet film director whose cinematic ideas and filmic masterpieces revolutionized the course of cinema. Isaiah Berlin was the Russo-British historical philosopher whose collected writings led him to be hailed as the dominant scholar of an entire generation. Apart from sharing Jewish ancestry, Berlin and Eisenstein have yet another thing in common. Like filmmaker Davis Simanis, both men were born in the Latvian capital of Riga. Unable to go forth into the wide world as his subjects did, Simanis imagines the lives of Riga’s two most famous sons with lo-fi reenactments shot amid the brooding Baltic architecture Eisenstein and Berlin left behind. This imaginative quasi-documentary finds clever and unexpected parallels in the paths of its protagonists, along with delightfully odd portrayals of Charlie Chaplin and Sigmund Freud, culminating in the one-and-only Moscow meeting between Berlin and Eisenstein. A thoughtful voiceover in which the director examines his own bittersweet feelings towards his native town, Simanis’s playful black-and-white concoction encapsulates the 20th century in a handmade aesthetic that is equal parts Guy Maddin and Woody Allen’s Zelig. A bittersweet mediation on art, history and exile, Davis Simanis immortalizes the lives of two modern figures who managed to escape Riga while he ponders the circumstances that have kept him there. —Thomas Logoreci
w/English Subtitle
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