Set in Latvia on the eve of the Second World War and amidst the then Latvian dictatorship, a local, Christian sign painter finds himself in love with a Jewish girl, beset on art and caused to repaint the streets and all else when the Soviets and subsequently the Nazis take over the town.
Described as a tragicomedy yet more accurately a drama with comedic elements, there’s a welcome novelty to watching a figure who is usually a throwaway gag at the centre of a film. Recognisably or at least outwardly nonplussed by all this, it is very funny to see our lead have to top and tail each and every sign and bust whenever change (frequently) occurs, as it is to see his sought after’s father brazenly throw a pot plant at the head of another suitor.
Doing well to recreate early 20th Century Latvian life, the production design is the finest aspect of The Sign Painter seen best of all in a fond recreation of a memory herein; recalling a scene of celebration as the local Jewish congregation dance their way through the streets. Too remarkable are the placements of the residential interiors askew, only for the paintings to be cleverly set upright.
Moving from comedy in an attempt to sustain a darker tone for its remainder, The Sign Painter, intent on being a genre mix, throws in blaring music cues to signal at various instances that we should laugh, or be happier. This works when reflective of the more general tone of the film and indeed the first few times, but not when so numerous and bookended by that far from comic.
The Wes Anderson-esque stylings are commonplace throughout cinema though never equalled; here serving as distracting and to more than else take you out of this film which otherwise does well to rely on atmosphere to impart tone.
The Sign Painter screens as part of the Jewish International Film Festival
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