As she demonstrated in her award-winning shorts and her first feature, “The Shoe” (1998), Latvian filmmaker Laila Pakalnina has a distinctive approach. Her new film, “The Python,” which is her first in color, is a minimalist production she describes as “an absurd drama.” Audiences open to fresh approaches and experimental cinema will find the rewards are plentiful. Still, this probably won’t translate into much international commercial interest, outside the festival circuit.
Formidable headmistress (Mara Kimele) discovers someone has defecated in the school attic. Like Captain Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny,” she’s determined to get to the bottom of what she sees as a personal affront. Her solution: She supplies each child with a matchbox and demands they use the receptacles to provide samples of their feces for comparison.
While all this is going on, the school photographer (Juris Grave) arrives accompanied by a small menagerie of a beaver, python and monkey wearing a bright red dress. When the scaly one escapes somewhere on the premises, the fire brigade is called in.
These minimal bits of narrative are really no more than an excuse for Pakalnina and her gifted cinematographer, Gints Berzins, to design a series of intricately composed and framed images. The camera glides smoothly and gracefully through the school corridors, capturing comedy, drama and pathos.
The film could be seen as a parable of a totalitarian society, and doubtless much could be read into it. However, it’s probably best enjoyed as a serene, witty examination of the human condition.
Though unquestionably not a film for everyone, and virtually unclassifiable (it’s not really a comedy, despite some very amusing moments, and it hardly has the substance for a drama), “The Python” is an utterly disarming experience.