D is for Division
"A contemplative journey through Latvia and its chequered past relationship with its big bully of a neighbour, Russia." – Cineuropa
"Illustrates the never-ending segregation of society and ideals in our tiny country." – Capital R [Latvia]
- Visions Du Reel
- Reyjkavik International Film Festival
- Latvian National Film Festival
This reflective exploration of Latvia’s social and political milieu, and the simmering tensions with its Russian minority, reads the pressure along one of the world’s major geo-political fault lines -- the EU-Russia border.
Similar to the cultural phenomenon of “Östalgie” that developed in Eastern Germany in the decades after German reunification, a feeling of nostalgia for the order, common purpose, and identity of its Soviet past has swelled within Latvia in recent years. Furthermore, Latvia’s large ethnically Russian minority (25% of the population) has a history of asserting itself, to the point where some observers are comparing the situation in Eastern Latvia to that of the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine prior to its becoming a major front in the Russo-Ukrainian War. The stagnation of the West since the Great Financial Crisis, the wavering commitment to NATO by the United States, and the revanchist sentiment and policy emanating out of Putin’s Russia have fed into these trends.
D is for Division approaches these subjects at ground level. It navigates from one side of the Latvia-Russia border to the other, a border that also today demarcates a geographic and cultural boundary between the European Union and Russia. But it focuses in particular on people living on this physical and mental frontier, between these two worlds, who exude its colliding visions. It follows Ansis Bērziņš, a folklorist and pro-Latvian political refugee, ironically exiled into hiding across the border in Russia. It also follows Beness Aijo, a political activist of Ugandan-Russian descent known as “Black Lenin”, who envisions the possible “liberation of Latvia” as a logical next step after the war in Ukraine, and who volunteers to go and fight on the separatist side in Donbass. The film explores the milieu more generally as well, as in capturing a celebration of Latvian independence, and then covering the starkly larger and more fervent commemoration of the Soviet Union a few days later in the same East Latvian location. A visit to a Russian Orthodox monastery on the Russian side of the border reminds us the division has a religious dimension as well.
D is for Division paints an uncomfortable portrait of an ethnically-mixed nation, a portrait with psychological and identitarian aspects that also connect it to the wave of reactionary nationalism sweeping the globe. Yet the surrounding context of this portrait is charged with major geo-political significance. Ultimately, the film shows how Latvia, and thereby the West, is vulnerable to destabilization by Russia, and begs the question of when this vulnerability will be tested.
87 Minutes | Latvian, Russian, and English with English subtitles.
Directed by Davis Simanis Jr.
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