My Favourite War is a portrait of life under Soviet rule, and a coming-of-age story for Soviet society.
In this intimate autobiographical film, Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen recalls her arduous search for a sense of truth and justice within the stark, repressive world of the Eastern Bloc. Interspersed with archival footage, family photos, interviews, and animation, My Favourite War explores Ilze’s formative years on the outskirts of the Iron Curtain (Latvia), in the midst of the Cold War, as she tests the limits of her freedom and reflects upon her relationship with the Soviet state.
From an early age, we see Ilze being guided by her inquisitive nature, seeking to understand the complex mechanisms of state-sponsored nationalism – which had become intrinsically tied to the Soviet Union’s pivotal role in the Allied victory in World War Two. Although she becomes enraptured by propagandist war films as a young child – describing World War Two as her “favourite war” – she gradually comes to reject nationalistic ideology altogether after a number of discoveries and revelations. While the development of Ilze’s moral philosophy forms the film’s central narrative, the film also hints at her part in the growing internal resistance that eventually brought about the Union’s demise. Beautifully and subtly, My Favourite War acts as a coming-of-age story, not only for Ilze, but for the rest of Soviet society as well.
Over the course of the 80-minute runtime, we learn that a failing economy, persistent food shortages, and rabid paranoia over a third world war were ubiquitous elements of Ilze’s childhood and adolescence. Her father, a somewhat reluctant member of the Communist Party, and her grandfather, a farmer who was deemed to be an “enemy of the state” for owning his own land, played major roles in the construction of Ilze’s world view. Born decades after World War Two, Ilze is like somebody who has arrived late for a movie – having to work out what is going on without bothering everybody with too many questions. She tries her best to distinguish fact from fiction in her Soviet-centric history lessons, while desperately trying to digest as many raw tales from WWII as possible by overhearing her older relatives’ confiding conversations. Stories from her mother and grandfather’s past are referred to and help to paint a picture of the long multi-generational struggle for liberation, which Ilze inherits and eventually witnesses the fulfilment of.
Too often the experiences of those who were subjugated and oppressed by the Soviet regime are overlooked — especially those of the smaller nations such as Latvia. My Favourite War challenges a common trend in historical education that studies events and phenomenon from above rather than below. Jacobsen’s film boldly and effectively tells the story of so many who have lived under authoritarian systems through the perspective of a single girl. “Our will was stronger than our fear.” This is how Ilze describes the Baltic Way – the human chain of 2 million people holding hands across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as the Soviet Union’s collapse became imminent. Ultimately, My Favourite War is a moving testament to the fierce resilience and defiance of the Soviet people who refused to let their humanity be ground by fear and suppression. It is accessible to a wide range of ages, old and young, and carries a reassuring, albeit bittersweet, message that oppressive systems are vulnerable and better worlds are possible.
My Favourite War is showing at Glasgow Film Festival from 25 February.