Director – Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen – 2020 – Latvia, Norway – Cert. N/C 12+ – 77m
Autobiographical documentary employs cut-out animation to describe a childhood in Latvia when it was part of the Soviet Union – Glasgow Film Festival Thursday, February 25th to Sunday, February 28th
In World War Two. Latvia was caught between the Nazis and the Russians. After the Nazis capitulated, the country was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Ilze’s grandfather, a small farmer, was declared an Enemy of the State and sent to Siberia because he owned a small piece of land. Her Communist Party member father became a City Manager but he was killed in a car crash leaving her mother to bring up her and her brother alone.
At age three, Ilze’s parents risk everything by taking her to a forbidden beach a few miles from their home just so their young daughter can see the sea. This is the self-proclaimed “happiest country in the world” where party officials can queue jump and take the last pack of butter, where peace is paramount but shooting lessons are mandatory at school. As Ilze grows, she must keep quiet about all sorts of things or her mother will lose her job.
This is made using 2D cut-out animation in a highly unobtrusive manner. It’s so effective in fact that most of the time you don’t feel as if you’ve watching animation at all, just that the medium here is the best it could possibly be to tell the story. Because it’s an autobiography, there are occasional live action shots or short segments such as interviews along with photographs and even paintings by Ilze’s grandfather, who was refused an exhibition during his lifetime, even though his art is positive and not at all political.
What this remarkable film achieves is to take you inside the mind and memories of a girl growing up in the USSR. Much use is made of voice-over which allows her to suddenly recount stories by civilians or Soviet soldiers from the war. Ilze’s favourite war from the title is World War Two, in which the bad guys always had German voices. This soundtrack is so prominent in her psyche that when the state is later peddling the myth of the threat of invasion by the US, she imagines the American soldiers possessing German voices.
Many things are hidden by this society and Ilze stumbles upon some of them in the course of the film. The local woods house a distinctly shaped building known as the Polygon which her friend Ilga tells her is where they train pilots to drop bombs. One day when playing in the sand pit, Ilze discovers skeletal human remains. Gorbachev, when he appears in the mid-eighties, is seen as a breath of fresh air.
I would have no qualms whatsoever about taking a child (maybe eight or above) to see this film, not least because it’s about a girl going through childhood and growing up, but if I did so I think I’d want to talk about the film with the child afterwards because there’s a lot of quite disturbing subject matter here. Although it’s about childhood, it’s arguably not really a children’s film and to its credit it never talks down to children or adults.
My Favorite War plays in the Glasgow Film Festival 2021 Thursday, February 25th to Sunday, February 28th. It previously played Annecy Animation Festival 2020 special online edition when this review was originally written.
Thursday, February 25th to Sunday, February 28th.
Annecy Animation Festival:
Monday, June 15th to Tuesday, June 30th.