The 19th Chicago European Union Film Festival 2016 – MODRIS
written by: Juris Kursietis
produced by: Vicky Miha and Ingmar Trost
directed by: Juris Kursietis
runtime: 98 min.
release date: September 9, 2015 (TIFF) and March 8 & 15, 2016 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)
This 2014 character study from Latvia was the country’s submission last year the 88th Academy Awards consideration, but it did not receive a nomination. Nevertheless, this feature-length debut from writer/director Juris Kursietis is an atmospheric and desperate tale of a directionless teenager who has been making bad decisions for too long and now finally must feel the repercussions of his unfortunate choices. But, one can’t help but to think whether the young man that we follow in “Modris” if he was capable of excepting help or if he ever had a chance.
Disrespectful to his exhausted single mother (veteran actress Rēzija Kalniņa) and authorities, apathetic seventeen year-old Modris (newcomer Kristers Piksa) spends all his time and whatever money he lands at a slot machine in the local tavern. With no ambition or aim in life, the lanky dour teen winds up pushing away any friends he has with his catatonic demeanor and gambling addiction, while his mother continuously reminds him he’s going to wind up in prison just like his father. Without a care, he pawns off his mother’s space heater, which lands him in the hands of police and is sentenced to two years probation with a three-strike rule. Unfazed, Modris continues to his downward spiral, using and disregarding people who offer him help or support as he begins to search for his absent father, until he winds up at the mercy of the Latvian courts. “Modris” ends with the resolution the titular characters was longing for, but perhaps sadly not in the way he had hoped.
Once you get used to the solemn documentary-like approach to the story, there can be much to appreciate in “Modris”. The character of Modris can be both infuriating, but there’s something sympathetic about his isolated meandering. The lead actor was chosen with no experience, but his behavior is indicative of many teens, regardless of location. Kursietis doesn’t offer any real solutions for either Modris or his mother, because they’re rarely are – at least not ones that can be found in a film under two hours.