GFF2021 Review: My Favorite War

Year: 2021
Duration: 1h 22m
Writer/Director: Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen

By Caz Armstrong

This animated documentary memoir by Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen tells the story of her own childhood growing up in Soviet-era Latvia in the 1970s to 1990s. She explores the relationship between choice and happiness in the context of growing up under an authoritarian regime.

Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen’s early childhood seemed idyllic even though it was tinged by threat and hushed discussions of politics and the realities of WWII. Playing at soldiers with sticks as guns was just part of a carefree sunny afternoon. The only thing out of reach was the beach which was guarded by armed soldiers and they were absolutely forbidden to go.

Soon, Jacobsen’s family were ordered to move into the city where they swapped the countryside for a bleak grey tower block. After the death of her father, life became even harder and food was scarce. There were no woods to play in and little joy to be had. But, being children, Jacobsen and her younger brother soon started to fit in. They quickly learned what they could and couldn’t say within earshot of the authorities.

The indoctrination of the authoritarian Soviet regime continued to take hold and Jacobsen became more and more enthusiastic about the Soviet Union Communist Party youth and being “red” through and through. But she realises that under the veneer “the equal society was not equal for everyone” and the world she lived in was not right or just.

This memoir is brought to life mainly by cutout-style animation. Its highly evocative depictions of reality blended with imagination recreate a child’s world impacted by horrors and hardships. Stories of atrocities committed by the Nazis haunt her in some very scary ways that only animation can fully bring to life.

But “My Favorite War” isn’t entirely animated. Archive footage punctuates the animation to illustrate the reality of what’s being described. It brings the viewer crashing back down to earth lest they get too caught up in the animated story. Modern day footage of Jacobsen, key people and places remind us that this is all about a real person and an incredibly recent history.

The film deals with some shocking and unsettling subject matter. The effect of war and propaganda on children is devastating, as aptly demonstrated when a group of young girls discover the skeletal remains of a Nazi solder while playing in their sandpit.

But as the children begin to see and understand the world around them, they see through the propaganda they’ve grown up with. They see injustice, poverty and hypocrisy.

Someone who knows a decent amount about this aspect of political history will have a better understanding of the context but the film is still accessible to all. By showing us this world through a child’s eyes, we can better understand the hardships and the indoctrination that went on during this time. The animation is gorgeous but it doesn’t let the viewer get lost in it for too long without reminding us of reality.

In “My Favorite War,” Jacobsen has created a visually beautiful yet haunting memoir through which we can learn a great deal. It is shocking in places but leaves us with hope that things can be different and children don’t have to suffer in the same way she did. By giving people choice they can really be free. It inspires us to embrace political awareness and activism in order to affect change.

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