Beijing Lithuanian Cinema Week Leads With Tragicomedy and Puppetry, Jun 2-6

While cinema in Beijing rarely gives us an opportunity to indulge in indie or international films, once in a while an esoteric film festival pops up to fill the needs of motion picture lovers in the capital. This week, that satisfaction comes from a slightly more obscure part of the cinema world: Lithuania.

The seven films that make up the festival promise a dose of documentary, earnest pinings on life, and plenty of quiet frames sprinkled with languid shots of nature. Anyone wanting to take a break from the over-emotional and dramatized to the point of comedy cinema world of the Chinese mainland may indeed find solace in the colder faces and dry humor of these Eastern European gems.

One of the grander pieces in the run is Egle Vertelyte’s Miracle, which follows Irena, the head of a pig farm collective after the fall of Soviet Union, documenting her struggle to keep the business afloat. We spoke to the director Egle Vertelyte, producer Lukas Trimonis, and the lead actress Egle Mikulionyte about making light of what would otherwise have been a dire situation and their take on what the film means when positioned against today’s modern society.

TBJ: The aesthetics in the movie are executed in a very precise manner; there is no mockery or stylization present, but rather, it takes the viewer back a few decades quite naturally. Where did the details come from? Research, memories, or stories told by others and was it difficult to acquire the material elements?
Egle Vertelyte: The majority came from my memories. However, we did a lot of research with the production designer and the team to find authentic items from that time. It was not easy because the Soviet past in our country and in people’s memories are not linked to something positive. Therefore, people didn’t tend to keep the clothes or furniture from that time and they are not something considered valuable and so people simply got rid of them. For example, in order to find costumes or shoes, we had to visit families around Lithuania in order to try and find authentic artifacts. However, I have to say that realism was never the main goal for us; we wanted the past to be a little bit enhanced, stylized, and exaggerated.

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What are the topics that you enjoy tackling in your work?
I am interested in disillusionment: how we believe in something and how it changes over the time, taking the mask off things and revealing how we really are. Also, I always touch upon religion as a phenomenon in our society. I am interested in why we believe and how these beliefs help us to survive in our daily life.

What do you think would the message for the Chinese audience be? 
Lukas TrimonisThe story is about a woman who loses everything in her life over a very short period of time, but finds the strength to get up and start a new life.

On what level or via what perspective do you think they’ll be able to relate to the film?
I believe people will find sympathy with our lead character, Irena, who’s the head of a pig farm as well as find some resemblance with the American [who arrives unexpectedly at the farm] who looks and acts a bit like Donald Trump and how awkward, funny, and sad their encounter is at times. Also, the film takes place in the time of transition from communism to the free market and shows how this affected people who had to adapt to a new way of life. Even until today, we still feel the consequences of this transition and everybody who has lived in both systems will be able to relate to the film. 

Out of all the countries and festivals the film has been screened at, where would you say it was best received?
So far, we have screened the film at over 30 festivals, among which six were A-class festivals. From encounters with the public, it seems that audience in the East associate themselves more with the female lead Irena, the boss of the pig farm, and audiences in the West look at the film from the point of view of Bernardas, the American character, who brings the worst qualities of capitalism into view. It seems that people in China are very welcoming. Shanghai International Film Festival will be our third festival in China, which also happens to be the first country to acquire distribution rights of the film! I am really curious to meet Chinese audiences and see how they react to the film.

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What inspired you in the development of your lead role? Was it examples of daily life or perhaps other works of art? 
Egle Mikulionyte:
It as borne from working closely with the director, reading and rereading the script and analyzing it deeply. On the surface level, it was the work of make-up artists as well as a coincidental aligning of our shared interests, which is how her bangs came to be. I think everyone helped; from the shooting environment to the artifacts from that time that we were using, and even to the camera operator. 

Other movies screened during the cinema week (All films will be shown with English and Chinese subtitles):

  • Conversations on Serious Topics by Giedre Beinoriute is a film without any props and where the main characters are teenagers and children. Shot in a minimalistic fashion, the narrative reveals the melancholic, comic, and often dramatic outlook that these boys and girls share.
  • Together Forever by Lina Luzyte explores the ups and downs of a single estranged family, particularly the relationship between the daughter, a compulsive liar, and the husband, who escapes reality by working as a stuntman, often endangering his life in the process. 
  • Kings’ Shift by Ignas Miskinis begins with a scene in a remote private clinic where a policeman is guarding a patient, a suspected war criminal from World War II. Set during Christmas Eve, a quarrel between the alleged killer and a nurse at the clinic grows into an exploration of infamy and the recollection of past sins.
  • The Bug Trainer by Linas Augutis, Donatas Ulvydas, Marek Skrobecki, Rasa Miskinyte is a documentary about the pioneering European puppeteer Ladislas Starewitch, who was dubbed a “true wizard” and an “alchemist of animation.” The movie looks to decode Starewitch’s unusual and unique methods of bringing figures to life.
  • Dreaming the Path by Jokubas Vilius Turas is a journey to self-discovery, where the author undertakes a journey on foot from capital Vilnius to the famous El Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. 
  • The Collectress by Kristina Buozyte is a story of a woman who suddenly loses the ability to feel any emotion. By happenstance, she then discovers that the only way for her to feel again is to watch recorded videos of situations that trigger the desired emotion.
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See the full schedule for the Lithuanian Film Festival below or purchase tickets here (in Chinese). Tickets can also be bought at the cinema prior to each screening.

More by this author here.

Images courtesy of “Miracle” creative group


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