Features, Film, Film Review

BBFF DISPATCH #2: Neon Spring (2022) dir. Matīss Kaža / Tree of Eternal Love (2021) dir. Meel Paliale

Part of the Boston Baltic Film Festival 2023

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The Boston Baltic Film Festival runs from Friday, 3/3 through Sunday, 3/5 at the Emerson Paramount Center, and through 3/19 virtually. Click here for the schedule and ticket info, and watch the site for Joshua Polanski’s continuing coverage!

Neon Spring is the perfect title for Matīss Kaža’s latest young adult apocalypse. Keenly skeptical of all things ephemeral, Laine (Marija Luīze Meļķe) is a bystander in her own changing and unstable life. Her life slowly unravels as she flirts with the dubstep and neon-lit Riga rave scene, and although no one forces her into the scene, she very clearly doesn’t want to be there. Romances come and go; parents fail in their responsibilities; and her brother, Budzis (Timotejs Pelle Kalnins), whom she cares deeply for, has some growing pains of his own. Laine and her perpetually slumped shoulders stand out in a rave scene typically defined by hedonistic stimuli. Fortunately for Laine, and undermining the meteorological skills of Punxsutawney Phil, winter doesn’t last forever.

Laine’s world is littered with literal and metaphorical noise. She can’t unplug from the world around her, nor can she manage to remove her earbuds. It’s in this context that, in the film’s best but most tragic scene, noise portends as an omen for pending ignominy. At a shitty excuse for a party, as Laine is drugged out and socializing while illegally in a stranger’s home, a non-diegetic digital hum (or noise) lays over the verisimilar sound. Something sounds wrong. The unwelcome cricket-like backdrop makes the viewer uneasy without really knowing why. Avoiding spoilers, it’s enough to say the sonic world stops making sense long before the film’s images reveal the horrible reason why. It’s my favorite use of sound design in a 2022 film. 

The Latvian director Kaža as well as the smart 20 year old protagonist Laine are interested (to the degree any generally disinterested person can be) in questions about epistemology and ontology. Can this all be a simulation? Can we hurt if we are mere simulacrum? How do we know even the most basic things? More importantly, how can these questions even matter in such a cruel world?

They don’t—and Laine knows this from the get-go. 

As the film’s coda would suggest and following the philosophy of the Austrian logician Ludwig Wittgenstein, “the world is anything that happens,” as it is quoted here, or, as it is more commonly translated, “the world is everything that is the case.” Philosopher José Zalabardo summarizes, “For many contemporary interpreters of the Tractatus, its ultimate goal is not to answer philosophical questions or solve philosophical problems. Rather, Wittgenstein’s aim is therapeutic—to make his readers see that philosophy is not a legitimate pursuit: the problems are fictitious, the questions are meaningless, and engaging in the enterprise can produce nothing but nonsense.” 

I didn’t expect to find such a mature and beautiful exploration of Wittgenstein in a movie titled Neon Spring, but I’m happy I did.

Hitting a completely different set of emotions is Meel Paliale’s Tree of Eternal Love, a dry-humor Estonian road comedy. Martin Kiik (Urmet Piiling), an aspiring painter making his living as a car mechanic, decides to cut down the self-titled “tree of eternal love” in his hometown that represents his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend. Dragging his filmmaker best friend Eerik Pihlak (Herman Pihlak) along with him, Kiik makes no concessions in his self-appointed mythical journey.

And the jokes come precisely from Kiik’s unwillingness to make concessions. The road trip he’s imagined, with its perfectly romantic destruction of an ending, is precisely the way in which it must happen—any other options spell disappointment. But…he doesn’t exactly think of everything one should for such a trip, including the bare minimum of bringing gas money. 

If you prefer your comedies dry, this is for you. The jokes land (most often) not from one actor or another, one delivery or another, but from the abrupt edits, awkward silences, and a general embarrassment factor. Kiik’s quest, which is precisely what is happening here, is a bit ridiculous in itself—and the seriousness with which he assumes the task is the film’s best recurring beat. It almost hurts it’s played so seriously.

At its very best moments, Tree of Eternal Love gives a comedic twist to the Campbellian tale. Played without a bone of irony, a knight even appears virtually from thin air to withhold and protect his hereditary land right, where the fabled tree stands. Other characters come and go, all directly heightening or hindering the significance of the quest. The seriousness is precisely where the film pulls its comedy. 

Neon Spring
2022
dir. Matīss Kaža
102 min.

 

Tree of Eternal Love
2021
dir. Meel Paliale
82 min.

Both films screening virtually via the Boston Baltic Film Festival’s website 3/6-3/19



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