The Shoe
Official Selection - Cannes 1998
film by Laila Pakalnina
director of photography
Gints Berzins
Fact: In the late l950's, at the height of the Cold War, the white sandy
beaches of Latvia were part of the Soviet Union's frontier, well guarded and well defended. Every night, Soviet tractors would comb Latvia’s coast and leave fine grooves in the sand. Trespassers of any kind (spies, defectors, invaders) who might cross the beach would leave telltale tracks and lead Soviet patrols to investigate.
The story One morning, three Soviet patrolmen discover a woman’s shoe in the sand and footsteps leading to the local village of "Liepaja". Alarms sound, troops are dispatched: an official inquiry begins. To whom does the shoe belong? What suspicious activities are taking place? Is there a newcomer in town? A three man investigative team along with their well trained dog are determined to find the shoe’s owner and her motives for being on a forbidden beach at night.
But things don’t go well. Despite their military training, the patrolmen can’t solve the mystery. Liepaja has seductive power. The residents, their habits and customs distract the investigators. The troops take too much time, neglect their purpose and begin to enjoy themselves. Official pressure is brought to bear on them. The troops ask, cajole and order woman after woman to try on the shoe, but it never fits... Finally, defeated, and running out of gas, the troops return to their post.
Late that night, the audience learns the solution to the mystery that eludes the Soviets. A young woman runs across the sand om the forbidden stretch of the beach of the beach to take a dip in the Baltic Sea.
In the morning the Soviets find her tracks. The alarm sounds, and the search is on again.
Laila Pakalnina, director of "the Shoe"

Margret Kohler (M.K.): What inspired you to make this film?
Laila Pakalnina (L.P.): I and my cameraman got the original idea quiet spontaneously early one morning on the beach. We were chooting a short there and I suddenly remembered a similar story that my mother once told me, about a girl who accidentally crossed the border, which initiated a police operation. Using that as the basis we gradually developed the plot over the next two years. We were really lucky with the location- we found a little town around 200 kilometres from Riga that was exactly what I had in mind and absolutely perfect for recreating the atmosphere of the Fifties.
M.K.: There seems to be a strong element of ironv in presentation of the villagers and the border station soldiers. Is irony helpful for dealing with the past?
L.P.: I wanted to show the distance separating the occupying forces and the local people but also their everyday life and their interaction with one another. The people adapted, accepted that the situation couldn’t be changed and made the best of it. Life continued. Thev worked out a kind of coexistence that was acceptable for both sides the occupiers and the locals. I also see a reference to the present there, even after independence we need to find a modus vivendi and way to integrate the Russians still living in Latvia.
M.K.: At the beginning of the film there are long passages where we see the three border post soldiers as shadows. What is the meaning of that?
L.P.: I was unable to resist the symbolism of these images. The occupiers cast themselves over my people like a shadow, they were there although one wasn’t continually aware of their presence. But I don’t want to force any interpretations on my audience.
M.K.: You shot the film in black and white. Was that a financial or an artistic decision?
L.P.: Artistic. I could only see the film in black and white, right from the start, perhaps there’s an association with the Russian films from that period. For me black and white has more possibilities than colour, richer nuances of differentiation, leaves more room for the imagination. The ability to use the variations of the play between light and shade is also very valuable.
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Design and sequence © Gilde film studio, 1998