January is the latest International Feature submission from Latvia. Following up to The Chronicles of Melanie, Viesturs Kairiss’ latest film is set in Riga in January 1991. OMON special units of the USSR Ministry of the Interior have raided the press house in Latvia to stop the publishing of any media supporting Latvian independence. The film takes place during that whole month.
The film begins with 19 year old teenager Jazis who films the taking of the press house by OMON. He’s an aspiring filmmaker and wants to document everything that’s happening in the country. He ends up meeting a group of like-minded individuals, including Anna, at the Academy of Culture, a new school that has opened up for anyone wanting to pursue filmmaking.
He’s instantly drawn to Anna and the two of them begin their adventures filming their lives and adventures in the midst of great tension between the Baltic states and the USSR.
The story is slow, focused, and heart wrenching. The mixture of surrealism, realism, and the inclusion of home videos makes this film visually captivating. It clearly portrays the greyness and coldness both literally and figuratively amongst the citizens during this time of history. The film is also even more distressing to watch knowing what’s happening with Ukraine right now and the fear that Latvia must have after their brutal history for independence. January brilliantly showcases the youth of the country and their confusion and uncertainty on the events that were happening during that time. Jazis and Anna are just two examples. Their naivete, their high energy, their desire for exploration, their passion to film everything that they see, not truly knowing the dangerous situation of Latvia, or the risky situations that they're putting themselves in. January is dedicated to all the filmmakers who died documenting the history of Latvia.