Friday, July 09, 2010

Sharunas Bartas

Sharunas Bartas
Šarūnas BARTAS (1964-) – Lithuanian film director, one of the most outstanding representatives of cinematographers. His contacts with cinema began in 1985 with the TV serial “Sixteen-years-olds” (dir. Raimondas Banionis), where Bartas played one of the main roles. He is a graduate of the Moscow Film School (VGIK). He made his directorial debut with his diploma film, the short documentary “Tofolaria” and mediocre-length film (which called spectators’ attention) “For the Remembrance of Last Day” (1989), where the real personages are “acting themselves” according to the principles of feature film. The author further “purified” the specific cinema language in the full-length film “Three Days” (1991), which was awarded the prize of oicumene committee at Berlin Film Festival (for the problems, the importance of the theme, the profundity) in 1992, and FIPRESCI Prize for the originality of the style, the significance of the theme, the beauty of pictures. This is a story (almost without plot) about three young Lithuanians visiting Kaliningrad-Karaliautchus-Kionigsberg – a moribund, outraged town. The traditional dramaturgy is ignored in later Bartas’ films, as well: “The Corridor” (1994, it was shown at Berlin Film Festival), “Few of Us " (1995, shown in Cannes, in the program "Other Point”), “Home” (1997, shown in the same program in Cannes). All of them are works of free structure, minimalistic form, philosophical associations. The works of Bartas are not well-known and analysed in Lithuania, but they have a small, faithful round of admirers in the West.

1. Tofolaria (1986)
2. In memory of the day passed by
3. Three days
4. The corridoor
5. Few of us
6. The House
7. Freedom
8. Visions of europe seg:Childrens loose nothing
9. Seven invisible men
Seven Invisible Men (2005)

Description: The story is set in the south of the ex-USSR, in Crimea. The characters are outcasts. Their hostility to society makes them want to flee both the law and themselves.
Their flight becomes a journey that leads to an inevitable clash with the world, which they can neither change nor rebuild as they see fit.

Visions of Europe (2004)

The idea was simple:
Twenty-five countries, twenty-five visions from respected film directors from each of the respective countries that form the enlarged European Community. Each director would be asked to give a personal vision of current or future life in this coming cultural melting pot.The length of each film was set to five minutes.The initial idea came from commissioning editor Meinolf Zurhorst from ZDF- Germany/ARTE - France and the project was then conceived together with producer Mikael Olsen from the film production company Zentropa from Denmark.

Freedom (2000)

A drug trafficking operation fails and two men and a local girl are left ashore on the Moroccan Coast. They wander wordlessly into the inland desert in search of food, water and shelter. When the two men go their separate ways, the girl is left to follow one of them deeper into the abandoned landscapes. Although they share no common language, a tranquil bond grows between the girl and the man she chooses.

A Casa (1997) aka The House

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).

But The House, the way I experienced it in any case, showed a whole new step. Not just because there was some color. But because abstract, surrealist scenes of indulgence - eating, caressing - and a suggested presence of tales about the house were added to the mere stumbling in the dark, making the film sensual, almost, without ever lessening the impact of how lost (these) people seem.

More than that. Having suspended, first, your urge to recognize or follow any story line, then, even, your urge to formulate any analysis or interpretation of the images he's providing you with - by the time you're just looking at what you see and *feeling* - suddenly you find yourself watching at a fire outside, on the ice in the lake, and there is a glow, and even the sound of unexplained fireworks, and although it's still lonely, it's *pretty*, and you - well, I was, in any case - are moved, sincerely moved.

Few of Us (1996)

Description: A young woman (Katerina Golubeva, who appears in nearly all of Bartas’s films) arrives by helicopter in a remote village of Siberia inhabited by the Tofalars, a nomadic Asian people who were forced to settle in this wilderness in the early part of the twentieth century. She spends her wordless days amongst the silent villagers, whose nomadic spirit seems frozen in their motionless gazes; has a dangerous encounter; and then, presumably, leaves again by helicopter. We never learn the reason for her visit, nor the nature of her connections to these people, but something of consequence occurs to her and to them, after which life seems to resume its rhythms.

In an intriguing long take static shot of the oppressively barren Siberian frontier, a converted tank (turned off-road passenger utility vehicle) traverses a rugged terrain that seemingly bisects a rural, indigenous village, disappears in a spray of displaced mud as it sinks partially out of frame into a trench, then momentarily re-emerges to continue on its plodding journey, only to become imperceptible from the horizon once again as it descends into a series of depressions on the gravel road. Watching this sequence (and film) again within the added context of having also seen Twentynine Palms, I couldn't help but think that Bruno Dumont must somehow have been influenced by this unstructured and glacially paced, yet lucidly pure, challenging, and entrancingly reductive film by Lithuanian filmmaker Sharunas Bartas, a feature that he developed from his earlier diploma film, Tolofaria on the nomadic, indigenous tribe.

On the surface is the casting of perennial Bartas actress, Yekaterina Golubeva, whose handsome, angular features and enigmatic opacity articulate ennui, despair, and longing in their most elemental form through her abstract, disconnected gaze. Navigating through the barren, alien terrain of the Sayan mountains where Tolofar nomads still lead a primitive, threadbare existence (after she seemingly falls from the sky, having been deposited by a helicopter onto the top of a rock quarry), the adrift young woman takes up shelter at a way station, isolated by language and culture from the daily rituals of the Tolofarians, until an act of violence causes her to leave the village and continue her wandering - figuratively disappearing into the landscape in an exquisite long take that matches the earlier shot of the converted tank laboriously making its way through the trenches of the inhospitable pass. It is this sense of interminable journey through a vast, unknown landscape, coupled by a reinforcing image of (apparent) visual dissolution from that landscape, that seems to particularly coincide with Dumont's expressed intent to create a kind of road movie that "erases" the characters in order to convey tone and sensation solely by the abstract filming of landscape (as he explained in the Q&A for Twentynine Palms). Moreover, Bartas incorporates an unanticipated (and even more shocking) secondary act of unprovoked violence in the film's final sequences, a deflection of narrative trajectory that is similarly incorporated (though with mixed results) in Dumont's film. However, what inevitably makes the maddeningly paced Few of Us, nevertheless, a strangely transfixing and indelible experience is the ethnographic realism that pervades its stark, rigorous imagery - its ability to trace an austere and moribund cultural history through impassive, weather-worn faces, perpetual transience, and silent ritual - to capture the image of lost souls that lay beneath the vacant, anonymous gaze, trapped in a vast wasteland of human desolation.

Koridorius (1995) aka The Corridor

Description: Lithuanian director Sharunas Bartas belongs to a group of Eastern European filmmakers who for more than a decade have chronicled the ruined lives and waning spirits of societies in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire. Like the Russian Alexander Sokurov and the Hungarian Béla Tarr [and the German Fred Kelemen, ed.], he makes films about inarticulate loss, about people who can neither free themselves from the past nor look forward to the future, who are so far beyond hopelessness and despair that verbal communication seems superfluous. In Bartas’s films, aesthetics fuses with ideology: by eliminating dialogue and reducing his cinematic vocabulary primarily to faces, gestures, and landscapes, the already minimalist narrative situations he portrays — however rooted in present-day reality — become archetypal, universal. The very titles of the films evoke the general rather than the particular: Three Days, Few of Us, The Corridor, The House, Freedom.
Although these are challenging works, viewers who give themselves over to the spare lyricism they offer are rewarded with a unique space for contemplation and affective resonance.

Bartas described his starkly poetic second feature as "a film about the extremes of exhaustion caused by loneliness, aggression, and love" in the post-Soviet experience. Set amongst the melancholy inhabitants of a rundown apartment building in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the film unfolds as an associative collage of memory fragments, shards of experience, and chance events amongst a number of the building’s inhabitants — all connected by the metaphor of the corridor, a passage between "yesterday and today, containing many doors." As in the director’s other works, narrative logic is eschewed in favor of the poetry of loss and desire, here made even more abstract by the haunting black-and-white cinematography.

Trys dienos (1991) aka Three Days

In this first feature by Bartas, two young men take a trip from their village to Kaliningrad, the postwar Russian city built on the remains of Prussian Königsberg. In the gray industrial landscapes there, they meet a young woman, stroll through town, stand around, search the harbor front unsuccessfully for a place to make love, then part. The words they exchange reveal hardly anything about them, their body language not much more. While what we see is uneventful, Bartas, like Sokurov, uses indeterminate ambient sound that hints at meaningful social interaction occurring elsewhere, offscreen. In the minimal, poetic world of Bartas, life is always somewhere other than where the camera is.

Praejusios dienos atminimui (1990) aka In Memory of the Day Passed By

"Sharunas Bartas is the kind of producer that makes movies not many might understand, and I am not sure he belongs to the very restricted set of the happy fews himself. I for myself do neither. But you cannot blame him, his movies are exceptional when you consider that the average number of actors performing in his productions is 2.1, including the crew. The recurrent theme - a man carrying a dead dog in the boat, beyond any doubt one of the deepest conceptions of Freudian frustration of solitude - and Bartas is the first one to say that we, especially the movie viewer that watches his movies, all feel very lonely."

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