EUROPA! EUROPA! is a brand new European Film Festival screening a selection of exciting titles across Australia for 3 weeks. The festival incorporates the work of over 50 countries and a diverse range of films from a diverse continent of film makers. It has been my pleasure to review some of the upcoming films prior to their hitting Australian Screens in February.
The Pit is a 2020 Latvian/Finnish film by Latvian film maker Dace Puce [not to be mistaken for the abysmally rated 2021 USA title, the 2009 USA film about the stock market or the 1981 Canadian Horror] based on three stories from the book ‘Into the Light’ by Jana Egle. The Pit has been selected as the Latvian entry for ‘Best International Feature Film’ at the 94th Academy Awards (March 27, 2022).
The film follows Markuss (Damir Onackis), a troubled boy who loves to draw and has been forced to live with his grandmother, Solveiga (Dace Eversa) after the family’s abstraction from and the death of his parents. Markuss is passed off from family member to family member, and especially after events which provoke him to trap a local girl down a pit in the forest, he feels unwanted and alone, and for the most part he is. That is until he becomes friends with a childhood friend of Solveiga and now outcast in the community Jurnieks or ‘Sailor’ (Indra Burkovska). The lonely outcast pair find joy in each other's company as ‘Sailor’ teaches Markuss to be a glazier and gives him an outlet for his artistic abilities in the form of making stained glass artwork. As the film unravels we learn about the personal histories of ‘Sailor’ and Markuss as well as the workings of the community and their views on Markuss and his family, all the while family dramas unfold between Markuss’s grandfather, uncle and aunt.
I have tried to be very sparing in the details in my description of the film because ultimately the film is driven by the discovery of story elements and how they relate to Markuss and the world and people around him. If I was to recount the film and it’s defining circumstances to you it would spoil it. Weirdly enough the feel and tone of this film reminded me heavily of the 2009 Tim Roth film Skellig: The Owl Man except of course without Tim Roth, the English language or an ‘Owl Man’. The Pit has rather a strange tone to it overall, while engaging and interest provoking, it doesn’t seem to be able to nail down a set feeling or tone or format. This certainly does not feel intentional and rather leaves you as an audience member a little confused as to what kind of film it is you are watching. It starts with the deep unsettledness of a psychological horror, becomes an ‘unlikely friend’ film, a ‘troubled youngster’ film, a ‘family secrets’ film and then wraps it up with a ‘redemption movie’ style ending.
The film is certainly enjoyable there is no doubt there, but ultimately it suffers from too many ideas and no clear purpose. Delivery of ideas and their follow through is a little on the nose and clumsy all around, especially concerning the plot around the titular ‘Pit’, which while it is the first plot element we are introduced to, as the film goes on seems bafflingly out of character for Markuss and seems to just be a clumsy foil to Markuss’s happiness.
It’s a mixed bag this film. It has it’s satisfying moments especially in the build to the climax which sees the tangled web of overlapping plot elements and threads of emotion which had been subtly interwoven in the film unspool in a way that results in binding the audience up in the world of the film with devastating results. But at the same time it is constantly stepping on its own toes.
I must however concede that Damir Onackis as Markuss could not be faulted for his performance, especially remarkable and consistent for such a young actor. Likewise Indra Burkovska as ‘Sailor’ provided a delightful and mysterious companion, not just mysterious in so much as the nature of the character, but mystery carried through in her performance as she commanded the screen with her presence.
The Pit didn’t know what it wanted to do or say, or if it did it certainly wasn’t clear – however the resulting film is certainly enjoyable, but it won’t be the greatest movie you have ever seen. I feel The Pit will certainly divide audiences at this year’s EUROPA! EUROPA! film festival.
Tickets to The Pit and further information about EUROPA! EUROPA! can be found here >> https://www.europafilmfestival.com.au/films/the-pit