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.