A bright young boy and his confused mother process a family loss in the finely drawn drama “Leaving by the Way.” One of a trio of domestic efforts released in 2001 (Peeter Simm’s more comedic Estonian-Latvian co-production “Good Hands” was unveiled internationally in Berlin), pic reps another engaging and accessible Latvian production that deserves attention on the fest circuit and modest theatrical exposure.
In the wild Latgale province in upper Latvia (“here at the edge of the world,” someone explains), 9-year-old Dauka Ziedlapa (Davis Bergs) waits for his seafaring father Ivars to return. Unknown to the boy, dad is missing and presumed drowned, and though grief-stricken, his mother Ilga (Elita Klavina) has taken up with local forester Viktors (Eriks Vilsons).
This so enrages the outdoorsman’s intense, pagan-ish ex-wife Ruta (Guna Zarina) that she brings all her expertise in bizarre folk nostrums to bear on the problem — but isn’t above such plain nasty stunts as sending Ilga telegrams supposedly from the widow’s missing husband.
Soon, Douka is acting out his loneliness, skipping school and imagining his father by his side. When the boy runs away, it focuses everyone on their priorities.
Though he’s made but a handful of shorts since 1995, helmer Viesturs Kairiss is prominent on the Riga theater scene, and brings to his feature debut an attention to narrative complexity and character detail that reflects those legit roots. There’s a lot going on here intertwined around the main story arc: Ilga’s brother Vilnis (Andris Keiss) woos Dauka’s teacher, and is later enmeshed in a backwoods comic odyssey that finds him being roughed up by a men’s choir that promptly celebrates the melee by skinny-dipping. Viktors and Ruta have the inevitable messy public showdown, but not before the forester clashes with Vilnis over the fate of Ilga’s farm.
Cast of pros mixed among local amateurs is uniformly good, with young Bergs a standout as a boy who creates the father he needs and Zarina diving into Ruta’s emotional maelstrom with the ferocious abandon of Tilda Swinton.
Tech credits are fine, displaying the region’s verdant wilderness with tangible earthiness. Pic won main prize and best score kudos at annual Latvian National Film Festival.