Review: «Chronicles of Melanie» - not looking back in anger

Tuesday saw the Latvian premiere of Viesturs Kairišs' film Melānijas hronikas ('The Chronicles of Melanie'). Here's a short review of the film.

Context

The Chronicles of Melanie is based on Veļupes krastā (English title: Suddenly, a Criminal), a book by Melānija Vanaga (1905-1997). First published only in 1991 after Latvia reinstated its independence, the book describes the author's experiences during 16 years of involuntary exile in Siberia after being deported in 1941. The Soviet Union carried out two mass deportations - one in 1941, another in 1949 - from Latvia. Vanaga was one of the ~17,000 people deported from Latvia in June 1941.

The Chronicles of Melanie is enjoyable from start to finish, with Sabine Timoteo's (Melanie) stoic lead giving an exceptional performance throughout.

The film amounts to an intricate tapestry bringing together the historical and the personal in a powerful, moving way. 

Important themes are introduced early on: Melanie's mother goes out of her way just to give her and her son Andrejs some milk, moments before they're taken from Melanie's husband and shipped off in cattle cars to faraway Siberia. Motherly love is a strong motif and makes for part of the film's backbone, with Melanie's love for her son and her lost motherland complementing one another and always in the background.

The film's most deeply felt moments are often transformative in nature and show a sort of surrendering to fate while doing what one must to serve loved ones.

After sending off her son to Latvia - when children are allowed to return - Melanie's cries turn into song just as she realizes, for the first time, that she's truly alone.

Not that it can really affect her: "I am alone here, but never lonely," she says, with the desolate, beautifully filmed Siberian landscape (in reality Finnish Karelia) seeming to echo her every feeling.

As Melanie returns to Rīga after a long exile, a chance encounter at the Opera house puts her tete-a-tete with one of the officers who deported her family.

"How is it in Siberia?" he asks.

Anyone could come up with a number of answers, all different from hers - but Melanie's surprising, softly-spoken and beautiful reply affirms the transformation of grief and injustice into conviction and will as sure as the Siberian ice. 

The Chronicles of Melanie will premiere internationally in Tallinn on November 21 and is on nationwide release in Latvia.

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