The Movie Waffler First Look Review - THE PIT | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - THE PIT

the pit review
A young boy befriends an elderly man shunned by his rural community.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Dace Puce

Starring: Damirs Onackis, Agata Buzek, Egons Dombrovskis, Indra Burkovska, Luize Birkenberga, Dace Eversa, Luize Birkenberga

the pit poster

The Pit, a Latvian coming of age drama directed and co-written by Dace Puce with Jana Egle and Monta Gagane, arrives with the prestige of being the country’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the forthcoming 94th Academy Awards. And, accordingly, this review comes with a spoiler warning, because discussing the plot developments of this curious movie, and how it defers narrative information in order to confront prejudice, is vital to its evaluation. If you’re intrigued enough to see it spoiler free, then the headlines are that it's great, with potently natural performances and a canny way of reappraising the cliches of small-town bigotry. Who knows, it may even win that Oscar! Spoilers now follow...

the pit review

Markuss (Damir Onackis) is a 10-year-old boy who has been packed off to live in the sticks with his grandmother. An opening where a heavily populated church choir practices serves to connote the community: they are close knit, but beholden to rules and tradition. Markuss finds himself on the receiving end of this credo when the townsfolk discover that he’s lured a kid his age to fall into the titular pit, causing a minor panic when the girl was discovered missing and mass approbation when she was discovered unharmed. It is bad, you’d have to admit, tricking a small child into such a trap. But the somewhat understandable reasons for Markuss’ behaviour are kept vague, with Puce and her screenwriters not allowing us an easy resolution until much later in the film.

The plot’s non-linear skips are suggestive of the town itself, where secrets and suppressions from the past begin to destabilise the present. We see this with the character of Sailor (Indra Burkovska), an older man whom Markuss subsequently befriends. Ostensibly a town loner whose lachrymose nature is initially suggested by this old sea dog unable to take to the waves, we eventually find out that Sailor is a trans man, who grew up recognised as a girl.

the pit review

Sailor’s gender has gone down like the Titanic in this cold-hearted town. Initially Puce deliberately keeps the true nature of Sailor ambiguous, and we purposefully see him via Markuss’ standpoint: a shadowy adult, usually seen via the forced perspective of a neutral child. As it should be, of course, because what business is it of ours or anyone else’s who Sailor is? However, what could have been a pedestrian ‘all equal in the eyes of a child’ message becomes more than that in Puce’s hands, who takes care to develop the relationship between the ostracised characters, depicting with diligence the time they spend together as they construct a stained-glass mosaic.

The complexity is extended to the townspeople, whose homophobia is depicted with a sad authenticity (and it is homophobia in this instance; these rubes just haven’t got as far as transphobia yet. Sailor is deemed a ‘faggot’, which is an ironic recognition of his gender, I suppose). This is a depiction of a town afraid of itself, fatally suspicious of each other, and turning a blind eye to exactly the wrong sorts of social ills. They are a people confused, and repressed, and the sympathy which The Pit affords these poor imbeciles is far more valuable than a simple, blanket condemnation.

the pit review

Nevertheless, there is a domestic violence subplot where the denouement made me gasp in its jejune candour: but this is a minor misstep in this otherwise gorgeously produced film which you can look forward to curling up in. Like the varied aspects of the stained-glass window which Sailor and Markuss piece together, when The Pit catches the light the integrated pieces of its fragmented narrative shine.

The Pit is on Film Movement Plus from December 17th in the US. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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