BFI London Film Festival: The Man in the Orange Jacket / М. О. Ж. (2014)

The Man in The Orange Jacket (М. О. Ж., 2014)  is a privately financed Latvian horror film directed by Aik Karapetian. It premiered in The Montreal World Film Festival in 2013 and since then does not cease to attract attention of international film critics that consistently compare Karapetian to David Lynch and Lars von Trier.

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The film begins with a mass dismissal of the sea port workers by the decision of the head of the board. Among the fired is a young man who gets pissed off enough to begin stalking the former boss and his wife. A social commentary quickly turns into a slasher. After taking revenge on his exploiter, the young man steals his identity and starts leading a luxurious life he always dreamed of: he moves in his boss’s lavish mansion, starts wearing his fine Egyptian cotton shirts and sipping vintage wine from his wine cellar. However, soon the events of the recent past begin to haunt the murderer and he slowly descends into the paranoidal madness.

BFI London Film Festival promoted The Man in The Orange Jacket as the first horror film from Latvia. Due to the Soviet socialist realist heritage, this part of the world is indeed not particularly prolific in the horror genre, however let us not forget brilliant erotic horror film The Spider (Zirneklis, 1992). Directed by Vasili Mass and released the next year after Latvia had regained its independence, it truly deserves the laurels of being the first Latvian horror film (however, comparisons with Mass’s The Spider apparently do not make Karapetian happy, as he dismisses it as “simple mystical melodrama”, Interview for Arterritory, 2014).

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It appears that, while worrying about being the first Latvian to explore horror genre in film, the director at times does not realise what a great and multifaceted film he has made. Despite the fact that Karapetian is convinced that he directed a horror flick, The Man in the Orange Jacket is one of those films that are marketed as horror for commercial purposes, but at a closer look turn out to be something else, deeper and more complex. This kind of films usually uses horror genre elements and narrative structures to offer the viewer much more than just a thrilling experience, engaging him in a philosophical reflection (films like Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) or Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) fall under this category).

Besides, the film also works as a powerful social commentary along the lines of both class and national struggle. Consciously or not, Karapetian makes the rich family in his film native Latvian, whereas the distressed working class man in the orange jacket is of Russian origin. Those who are familiar with the situation of the enduring national conflict between Latvian and Russian population in Latvia will definitely find this little detail more than curious.

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Aik Karapetian is already known both in Latvia and internationally for his debut film Cilveki Tur (People There, 2012) and as a stage director of ‘The Barber of Seville’ for Latvian National Opera. The Man in the Orange Jacket has become another successful step in the career of this promising film and theater director. Funded privately, the film potentially is going to be a big boost for the film industry in Latvia that, since regaining of independence from the Soviet Union, has not been particularly fertile.

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