Gena is under no illusions about his situation. In the prologue of the film, he briefly sketches out his life in a monotone voiceover: growing up without parents, receiving an “education” from his criminal uncle, initial protection money rackets in the wake of privatizations in the crumbling Soviet Union, later international drug dealing. His enemies are numerous but not easy to recognize; “life is short, the greater part of it already over”. Although there is only a small chance that Gena will be able to trade in his nomadic existence between Asia and Europe for a “normal life”, he takes the plunge anyway. A frantic chase across Europe thus ensues. Heading west, presumably towards the sun. Read More »
A mild-mannered father, his restless daughter and his supine companion spend some time in a country cottage at the tail end of summer in Peace to Us in Our Dreams, from Lithuanian auteur Sharunas Bartas (A Casa, Seven Invisible Men). Though no one would mistake the latest effort from this Cannes regular for a Michael Bay movie, Dreams isn’t only composed of the director’s signature long takes and thus seems to move at a speed at least a cut above a snail’s pace. Add to that the fact the last 30 or so minutes are almost chatty — if still sotto voce —and it becomes clear we’re miles away from the Bartas of a film such as Few of Us, the 1996 Un Certain Regard entry that earned him comparisons to Tarkovsky and featured no dialogue at all. Still, a film in which characters don’t say much for the first hour will forever remain on the arthouse fringe, more likely to pop up at cinematheques and festivals than in any type of offshore commercial release. Read More »
Rokas and Inga, a couple of young Lithuanians, volunteer to drive a cargo van of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. When plans change and they find themselves left to their own devices, they cross the vast snowy lands of the Donbass region in search of allies and shelter, drifting into the lives of those affected by the war. They approach the frontline in spite of the danger, all the while growing closer to each other as they begin to understand life during wartime. Read More »
A handful of strangers hoping to find freedom discover it is no easy quarry in this metaphoric drama. Four people stand near the shore of a seaside community and board a small boat hoping to sail away; they are soon attacked by border guards, and one of them does not survive. The three remaining sailors — two men (Axel Neuman and Valentinas Masalskis) and a woman (Fatima Ennafloui) — wash up on the beach of an island strewn with rocks. None of them speak the same language, and they struggle to make their way on the unforgiving coastline, often at odds with each other. They find they are not alone on the island — an Arab settlement and a cadre of soldiers are already living there; the military men attack them, and the Arabs refuse to come to their aid. Freedom was shown in competition at the 2000 Venice Film Festival. (by Mark Deming,) Read More »
The House was reviewed a little less favorably than Bartas’ earlier films (regular cinemagoers having given up long ago), but personally I found it his most beautiful film yet.
Bartas does tend to repeat himself, it’s true. Reviewers love his grim shadowscapes, shot in B/W, of anonymous, more or less lonely, drunk or disheveled men and women stumbling through a haze of cold forests, smoky houses and city wastelands in seemingly arbitrarily fashion – but even they get, I assume, weary of it.
(Contrary to what you might think based on the above, there is nothing gothic about Bartas’ depressed realities; and he himself insists, whenever somebody dares suggest a socio-political interpretation, there’s nothing Soviet about it either. It’s existential. No matter, to me his ‘The Corridor’ still serves as a brilliant visual summary of the comfortless, hopeless human condition of the former Soviet Union).
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