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Documentary tells the strange tale of Valmiera morgue's nine-year resident

A new documentary film from Latvian Television, commissioned as part of its 'Latvian Code' series, tells the remarkable tale of a corpse that has lain in the city morgue in Valmiera for more than nine years.

Acclaimed director Ivars Zviedris short film "Bureaucracy's Corpse" (Birokrātijas līķis) is based on a years-long paradox. The corpse of a man has been in the Valmiera morgue for nine years, and it has not been possible to get it out, because of complex and contradictory communications between the relatives and various responsible institutions. 

This tragicomic and somewhat Kafkaean situation makes it possible to talk about the more general problem of bureaucracy in Latvia via cinematographic means.

This is already the fifth "Latvian Code" short film made by Zviedris during the strand's ten-year history. The story of "Bureaucracy's Corpse" can be viewed in different ways. 

"Does such a corpse characterize Latvia in 2022? To a certain extent. Bureaucracy is a part of modern society. What is the best way to discuss it? It is difficult to say," says the director.  

"The trump card of this film is a story that could be made into a film or a play, a book or a poem could be written. How can it be that a corpse lies in a morgue for nearly ten years? Clearly, it seems unbelievable. And so it was - at first I didn't believe it myself.

I went to Ireland three years ago, a lady called me and said that her brother has been sleeping in the morgue for ten years, I didn't believe it.

I called the morgue and it turns out to be true. The film itself is not an easy task, because there is no real cinematography - there is a corpse in a morgue, bureaucrats and relatives, and they all talk. No action and no events. Then you have to create metaphors for the beginning and end of the film." 

"Of course, at first we tried to stage something, for example, the poetic push of a corpse trolley. When the staging becomes contrived, the documentary suffers. We decided that the trump card was the story and the documentation. There are "talking heads" in the film, but they are also worth a look. Those thoughtful pauses and glances to the right, to the left, I think, say a lot," says Zviedris.

At present, the documentary is only available in Latvian (and with Latvian subtitles that can be turned on and off), but in due course it is hoped that an English-subtitled version may also be available. If you do watch it in the player above, be aware that it starts with a warning that some viewers may find some scenes uncomfortable to watch.

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