Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Nordic & Baltic Contenders: My Favorite War

Her parents were not exactly Romeo & Juliet, but growing up as the daughter of a Party member and an enemy of the state definitely led to a conflicted perspective on life in Iron Curtain-era Latvia. Frankly, Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen’s mother was never really guilty of anything. She just happened to be the daughter of a small land-owning farmer. Nevertheless, she was hounded and discriminated against up until the fall of Communism. For her part, Jacobsen tried to be a model Young Pioneer, taking inspiration from the Party propaganda built around the captive nation’s venerated WWII heroes. Jacobsen (currently based in Norway) revisits her Latvian youth and teen years in her animated-hybrid documentary, My Favorite War, which screens online as part of Scandinavia House’s Nordic & Baltic Contenders film series.

Despite her eventual disillusionment with the Communist Party’s corruption and hypocrisy, Jacobsen still loves and admires her father, a journalist, who was appointed the administrator for a small border village, near the infamous “Polygon” military installation. He did a lot for the town, as she remembers, but when he tragically died in a traffic accident, her mother reverted to being an enemy of the state. After the Soviets solidified control over the Baltics, her maternal grandfather had been exiled to Siberia, along with every other land-owning farmer, regardless of the size of their properties. This definitely was a source of tension between her grandfather and father, while the latter was still alive.

After his demise, Jacobsen savvily embraced the Young Pioneers as a vehicle to prove her loyalty and lay the groundwork for her future employability. Her role models were the WWII veterans who were the constant (almost Big Brother-like) stars of propaganda posters, movies, and TV shows, live-action footage from which Jacobsen cleverly incorporates into the animation. Yet, she was her grandfather’s granddaughter, so she inevitably noticed the falsehoods and double-standards of life around her. Conveniently, she was ready to start rebelling in the late 1980s.

Favorite War
is a wonderfully constructed docu-memoir that is clearly the product Jacobsen’s acutely personal perspective, but still faithfully reflects the wider political and historical forces at play. There are several deeply poignant moments that sneak-up on viewers, even though Jacobsen diligently laid the groundwork for them, earlier in the film.

Likewise, the animation is deceptively simple but strikingly expressive. Jacobsen mixes in a good deal of contemporary footage of herself and her friends and family, but the film maintains a consistent clarity of tone and sequential logic. It is clear why everything is here and it all serves Jacobsen’s purpose quite efficaciously.

More than many traditional docs and narrative dramas,
My Favorite War vividly instills a sense of what was like to grow up under Communism in the Baltics. This is easily one of the best animated films of the year (far better than Wolfwalkers or Lupin III: The First, which are both widely considered to be in awards contention), so Oscar and Annie voters really should check it out (so should smart animation distributors, like GKIDS and Shout Studio). Viewers can learn a lot from it, but first and foremost, it really engages on an emotional level. Very highly recommended, My Favorite War screens online Thursday through Sunday (1/21-1/24), as part of the Nordic & Baltic Contenders.