I can guarantee that almost no-one in the Western World has thought to themselves, on commencing whatever the local variant on a ‘Netflix and Chill’ is, “I should settle down and watch something Lithuanian today. To be perfectly honest, I doubt if any regular Lithuanians choose to watch those movies as well. Sometimes you just cannot blame them. While it has evolved since then, I know Lithuanian cinema to be overly melancholic, depressing and very, very calm – in a saddening way – think low budget “Atonement”, but everyone dies, and Briony kills herself. On the other hand, the same is the case with Lithuanian literature. It seems that melancholy and strong ties with nature are embedded in Lithuanian identity, reflected in long, lingering shots, and slow evolving stories in the cinema.
“The redeeming quality of Lithuanian cinema is that it does not lie.”
I grew up watching Hollywood movies with my father. My heroes were Bruce Willis and Silvester Stallone, my favourite film – Rocky. Action flicks were all I cared about. Lithuanian movies did not exist to me at that time. America and Russia ruled my and everyone else’s TV screens. Why? Because Lithuanian movies are simply unsuitable for children – not to say that “Die Hard” is – and are outrageously depressing; here is the evidence to further my case:
- “Faktas”, directed by Almantas Grinkevicius in 1981, is story of the people of one Lithuanian village being burned alive by the Germans during the Second World War. Realistic, and based on a true story, and utterly depressing.
I do not need to further this list because the above illustrates the rest of the Lithuanian cinematography – everybody dies or is unhappy ’til the end of days. Yes, I might have exaggerated the situation a little. The movies are quiet, lyrical, and thought provoking. But they couldn’t be anything else, focusing as they do on the history of the country and all the atrocities it has gone through. Thus, the themes are mostly war related – the pains that everyone had to go through during the occupation, including concentration camps, and exile life, efforts towards freedom and the history of the Jewish Ghetto.
The redeeming quality of Lithuanian cinema is that it does not lie. Life is not, and will never be easy. My country’s movies, therefore, provide respite by reminding you that things can get much worse and you are lucky to be alive, or it satirizes the situation. Life is not beautiful either. A number of contemporary directors, especially Emilis Velyvis, enjoy gore and violence to such an extent that he has been called a Lithuanian Tarantino.
2. The latest Velyvis’ movie “Redirected”, starring the legendary gangster to suit your entire crime film filmography Vinnie Jones, playing a British gangster whose flight gets redirected to Lithuania and all hell proceeds to break loose. The movie received two Silver Cranes, the national annual film award, and was nominated for another two, including the best film. What could such success suggest? Well, it is one of the following – either Redirected was a ‘masterpiece’ worthy of the rewards it received, or the competition was virtually nonexistent. I should like to say the latter, but it is the former. While there were better films, “Redirected” was the best in class.
Thus we find ourselves stuck between two extremes of Lithuanian cinema, one – hopelessly melancholic, the other – joyously riding the acid high. Naturally, if there are ends of the stick, it is going to have a middle too. It is not worth wasting words on any of it. In short, it is banal and worthless entertainment for the masses. I believe cinema to be much more than that. It serves as a powerful reminder of our past, a cautionary tale of the future, and a reminder that things can get much, much worse.
Urte Cibulskaite is a philosophy student in London, originally from Vilnius