European Union Film Festival 2011: Return of Sergeant Lapins throws troubled Latvian vet into civilians' messy lives
Return of Sergeant Lapins
Starring Andris Keišs and Gatis Gāga. In Latvian with English subtitles. Unrated. Plays Thursday, December 8, at the European Union Film Festival, Pacific Cinémathèque, 6:30 p.m.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1984 feature debut, Blood Simple, made people sit up and take note, and it wasn’t just the novel camera tricks and great character acting of M. Emmet Walsh that caused a minor stir. It was the simultaneously complex yet straightforward screenplay, a story of actions and reactions engineered by people who all thought they were in perfect control of events but none of whom had the slightest idea of what was really going on.
Director Gatis Smits has put together a similar comedy-of-dramas scenario (minus the darkest plot points) with Return of Sergeant Lapins, an adaptation of his 2007 play That Happened to Them, about the return of a Latvian soldier from an international mission, probably in Iraq.
As the film opens, Krists Lapiņš (Andris Keišs) is at loose ends after being drummed out of a recuperative facility where he had been undergoing therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder after his return from military service. The doctors are unhappy that he has been disposing of his medications and drinking his urine, all on the advice of a comely new-age therapist at the facility who seems to be angling to become his girlfriend.
She also seems to have set him up with a small apartment in an old neighbourhood in Riga, where she is to join him soon. Seems is the operative word, of course, and the plot—after a perplexing start that requires a rather lengthy Tarantinoesque flashback—quickly starts assembling the disparate but connected characters who will find themselves bewilderingly flung together by film’s end like mismatched socks off a backyard laundry line.
There’s the troubled sergeant (trying to work through the death of a comrade by a bullet meant for him), his new girlfriend, a Riga cop and his girlfriend, another cop’s wife’s cab-driver cousin, and the therapist’s newly ditched “dark” boyfriend: misunderstandings mount like a classic bedroom farce without the sexual tension but with plenty of mordant emotion and a violent but fairly unsatisfying resolution.
It’s slight comfort to finally realize that Sgt. Lapiņš's hapless character, as the uncomprehending repository of everyone else’s crappy consequences, is a device to show how crazy real life is when compared to the supposed random insanity of war.
Eventually, everyone's personal crises are resolved, after a fashion, and they settle back into their everyday routine. And so, in his way, does the poor sergeant.
Except you know that now he won’t be palming those tranquilizers.