Review: ‘Defenders of Riga’

Latvia gets its own national epic with Aigars Grauba's widescreen paean to independence.

Latvia gets its own national epic with Aigars Grauba’s widescreen paean to independence, “Defenders of Riga.” Similar in spirit to Estonia’s “Names in Marble,” pic is the kind of bland historical rallying cry that every nation needs to make before moving on: stirring for auds raised on tales of liberation, but unimpressive for those outside her borders. Pedestrian helming hasn’t affected intake at home, where B.O. broke previous records; pic is still holding on four months into the run. Elsewhere, “Riga” will find few defenders.

As World War I rages, Martins (Janis Reinis) forgoes marriage to Elza (Elita Klavina) so he can help beat back the German invaders and win Latvian independence after centuries of foreign rule. His return to Riga in 1919 coincides with plans by renegade German and White Russian commanders to reconquer the fledgling nation, and it’s up to Martins to throw up barricades and rouse fellow citizens to the cause. Cliched script reduces women to house-bound helpmates waiting for the big, strong menfolk to explain how to think, and thesps are much too old for their roles. Impressive custom-built sets have become a national tourist attraction.

Defenders of Riga



A Platforma Filma production. (International sales: National Film Center of Latvia, Riga, Latvia.) Produced by Andrejs Ekis, Brigita Rozenbrika, Lisa Eichhorn. Directed by Aigars Grauba. Screenplay, Grauba, Andrejs Ekis, Valentins Jemeljanovs, Lisa Eichhorn, based on the story by Andris Kolbergs.


Camera (color/B&W, widescreen, HD-to-35mm), Gvido Skulte, Vladimir Basta; editor, Liga Pipare; music, Jumprava; production designers, Martins Milbrets, Neils Matiss; costume designer, Sandra Sila. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 13, 2008. Original title: Rigas sargi. Latvian, Russian, German, French dialogue. Running time: 123 MIN.


Janis Reinis, Elita Klavina, Arturs Skrastins, Andris Keiss, Girts Kesteris, Vilis Daudzins, Indra Brike, Girts Krumins, Romualds Ancans, Peteris Krilovs, Inara Slucka, Leonarda Klavina.

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