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There are not many films out there quite like 'The Shoe,' which is so unusual that you should see it at least twice to really savour its 'messages'. Are you watching a wildly funny satire of officialdom, a condemnation of mindless autocracy, or a vivid example of the folly of human existence? I submit that you're watching all that and much more, and it's all achieved in a mere 75 minutes of screen time.
Writer/director Laila Pakalnina's film focuses on a simple, absurd premise -- a woman's shoe is found on a makeshift 'borderline' on a Baltic Sea beach in late-1950s Latvia, at the time a Soviet Socialist Republic under the often brutal control of the Russian Army. The shoe is seen by the grim-faced, fanatically over-reacting Soviet occupiers as a clear sign that their command has been 'infiltrated' by enemy agents.
A hapless trio of soldiers is sent to scour the nearby port town to find the owner of the fugitive shoe. In full bumbling flight worthy at times of the Keystone Kops, they ask woman after woman to try the shoe on; if the shoe fits, so to speak, the woman, presumably, would be deemed guilty of espionage. This Cinderella idea seems insane, but for the bored, under-tasked, isolated, excitable and mountains-from-molehills Soviet Army command in Latvia, the missing shoe is nothing less than a major international crisis.
This film take us on an odd journey that is simultaneously subtly hilarious and deeply disturbing. The black-and-white camera work is so vivid, unusual, and imaginative that we are reminded at times of the stark imagery of Citizen Kane. Characters are regularly seen as silhouettes or shadows; they enter the screen from the left and exit, without any movement from the camera, only to re-enter from the right, repeating a pointless process. The symbolism of this technique quietly underlines not only the lunacy of 'faceless' bureaucracy/officialdom, but the futility of being human: we are always looking for something that isn't there; it's something we do throughout our lives. If we find that 'something,' we merely move on to the next 'something'.
There are no 'stars' in this film, no central characters except, perhaps, for the bumbling soldiers. The ludicrous action (non-action?) on screen is sometimes reminiscent of Jacques Tati or the Georgian director Otar Ioselliani (Monday Morning), who wonderfully demonstrates the pointlessness of human movement and purpose.
This is a deliciously off-kilter work.
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