they come pretty tall and well coordinated in the Baltics, considering their
success in the European Basketball Championship (now known as EuroBasket).
Lithuania won twice in the 1930’s and took gold again in 2003, but the very
first champion was Latvia. Profoundly unheralded, the scrappy long-shots
shocked the continent in 1935. It was a great Latvian triumph on the eve of
great tragedy for many nations, Latvia included. With Russia once again
menacing its neighbors, it is a fitting time to revisit one of the greatest
moments of Latvian sporting history in Aigars Grauba’s Dream Team 1935 (trailer here), which screens during Panorama Europe at
the Museum of the Moving Image.
was a different game in 1930’s Europe. A jump ball followed every successful bucket
and free throws were shot granny-style, but it was still handy to have an
enforcer on the team. Vlademars Baumanis understands this only too well. Initially,
the player-coach loses the Latvian championship because of some thuggish play.
However, the victorious coach declines to take his team to the European
championship, because the corrupt national sports committee has already squandered
the ear-marked funds. While protesting to anyone who will listen, Baumanis accepts
an instantly regretted dare to cobble together his own national team, trading
in his uniform for a suit and tie.
rivals from both the Army and University Clubs will come together to represent
Latvia, but it will take time to congeal as a true team. At least they will be
in the best shape of the careers, thanks to relentless conditioning coach
Rihards Deksenieks. Baumanis is a master strategist (at least by 1930’s
standards) and the Latvia team has considerable skills, but just getting to
Geneva will be an adventure thanks to the obstructionist sports committee.
Dream Team is a reliably
entertaining underdogs-triumphant sport story, with some nicely rendered period
details and a peppy big band soundtrack. Many basketball fanatics will probably
be amused by the decidedly less glamorous style of play. Yet, Dream Team features one of the most devastating
series of what-happened-to post-scripts of nearly any film. It turns out nearly
every coach and player met a tragic end either as Soviet or National Socialist
conscripts (sometimes both) during the war or in Soviet gulags afterward. (Nearly
eighty years later, history threatens to repeat itself, as Russia once again
casts a covetous eye on the Baltic Republics.)
Amanis is a bit stiff as Baumanis, but he certainly looks earnest. In contrast,
Vilis Daudzins plays Deksenieks with hardnosed charisma, while Marcis Manjakovs
convincingly portrays the maturation of Latvia’s star player, Rudolfs Jurcins.
Unfortunately, there is not much for Inga Alsina to do as Baumanis’s wife
Elvira, except sitting around, having faith in him.
As a sports film, Dream Team is more successful than most. Despite the end never
being in doubt, it moves along briskly and captures the tenor of the game as it
was then played. It also suddenly feels uncomfortably topical given the
ultimate fate of most of the team. It would make a good narrative companion to
Marius Markevicius’s uplifting documentary, The Other Dream Team, chronicling the 1992 Olympic run of newly independent
Lithuania’s men’s basketball team. Recommended for basketball fans and those
who closely follow political and cultural developments in post-Soviet Eastern
Europe, Dream Team 1935 screens this
Sunday (4/6) at MoMI as part of Panorama Europe.
Labels: Latvian Cinema, Panorama Europe '14, Sports films