‘Lithuanian auteur Sharunas Bartas is the kind of filmmaker one would immediately be tempted to label “pretentious” and “self-indulgent” because there is absolutely no concession whatsoever that he gives to the viewers in terms of the narrative, artistic, political and personal ambitions of his films, burying them deeply within their part-hyper real and part-surreal constructs. All his films have hinged themselves onto a particular moment in Lithuanian history – the nation’s independence from the USSR, just prior to the latter’s complete collapse – and they all deal with the loss of communication, the seeming impossibility of true love to flourish and the sense of pointlessness that the political separation has imparted to its people.
‘The characters in Bartas’ films are ones that attempt in vain to put the dreadful past behind them, traverse through the difficult present and get onto a future that may or may not exist. With communication having been deemed useless, they hardly speak anything and, even if they do, the talk is restricted to banal everyday expressions. Consequently, Bartas’ films have little or no dialog and rely almost entirely on Bressonian sound design consisting mostly of natural sounds. Also Bresson-like is the acting in the films. There are no expressions conveyed by the actors, no giveaway gestures and no easy outlet for emotions.
‘The outdoor spaces are deep and vast in Bartas’ films while the indoors are dark, decrepit and decaying. The landscapes, desolate, usually glacial, nearly boundless and seemingly inhospitable, are almost always used as metaphors for a larger scheme. His compositions are often diagonal, dimly lit and simultaneously embody static and dynamic components within a single frame. Interestingly, his editing is large Eisensteinian and he keeps juxtaposing people, their faces and landscapes throughout his filmography. But since the individual images themselves possess much ambiguity of meaning, the sequences retains their own, thereby overcoming the limitations of associative montage.
‘In many ways, the cinema of Bartas stands in between that of Andrei Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr – both filmmakers concerned with chronicling life in a communist state. While the childhood memories, existential crisis and spiritual yearning in Bartas films directly has its roots in Tarkovsky’s films (all the films starting from The Mirror (1975)), the visual (dancing in entrapping circles, meaningless glances and chatter over banquets and eventual self-destruction of the drifting characters) and aural (the Mihály Vig-like loopy and creepy score consisting of accordions, accentuated ambient noise) motifs, stark cinematography and political exploration are reminiscent of Bartas’ Hungarian contemporary. But, more importantly, it is the attitude towards his characters that puts him right in midpoint between Tarr and Tarkovsky.
‘Bartas’ work has so far been characterized by two impulses – a warm nostalgia and sympathy for his characters that betrays the director’s hope and love for them, as in Tarkovsky’s cinema, and an overpowering cynicism, clearly derived from the (post-neo-realist) films of Tarr, that keeps remarking how the characters are all doomed and done for. This (unbalanced) dialectic is evident in Bartas aesthetic itself, which employs copious amounts of extremely long shots and suffocating close-ups. In the former, characters are seen walking from near the camera and into the screen, gradually becoming point objects eaten up by the landscape while, in the latter, Bartas films every line and texture of their faces with utmost intensity in a way that obviously shows that he cares for them and the pain that they might be experiencing.’ — The Seventh Art
Šarūnas Bartas @ IMDb
Šarūnas Bartas Resource Page
Video: ‘Šarūnas Bartas: Army of One’ (extract)
Šarūnas Bartas on DVD
Šarūnas Bartas films @ Mubi
‘Dancing on the edge of a volcano’
‘Sharunas Bartas – Planète Bartas’
‘La ligne zone de Sharunas Bartas’
Šarūnas Bartas @ Eurêka!
Šarūnas Bartas’ ‘Three Days’ @ Playtime Magazine
Interview (in French)
Interview (in Lithuanian)
Kino Pavasaris 2011: Šarūno Barto retrospektyva
The Elusive Present: An Interview with Šarūnas Bartas
Xenia Drugoveyko: You are always making films on the border of narrative and documentary cinema: one dissolves in the other. To what degree is this effect intentional and to what degree is it accidental?
Šarūnas Bartas: The real life events are closer to me. That’s why this documentary effect is not accidental – it is achieved by combining a number of interconnected technical and dramatic methods. By the way, I am trying to avoid the word “narrative” – I think it has become outdated in relation to cinema. This term is not a genre and not a category – it’s from an area of philosophical categories. I do prefer to juxtapose the narrative and documentary cinema. You were quite correct in noting the dissolving effect. This is what the concept consists of: the relativity of the divide between life and its artistic comprehension.
X. D.: In your works everyday situations and relationships are often transformed into surreal ones…
S. B.: We don’t actually live in a real world, but in one we quietly agreed to call “real”. It’s limited by what we saw and heard. Or, more like, what we allow ourselves to see and hear. So, it turns out each of us constructs his own internal reality. There are similarities, perhaps, in the picture of the reality that you and I have, but we can hardly imagine how the world is seen by, say, an Indian or a native of Cote-d’Ivoire. There is another , unfortunate circumstance common to all of us – the elusiveness of time. Every new minute is not like the one that passed. There is no concept of “present”; well, there is but it’s too conditional. And more so than even the past and the future about which at least we are sure to possess a set of memories or notions. In this lies the essence of surrealism in my films: a gradual understanding of the everyday life through the prism of the inner subjective perception.
X. D.: This surrealism is built on metaphors. When are they born, during the script writing or in the process of shooting the film?
S. B.: I never invent metaphors. It’s awesome if a thought takes on some unusual form, but I wouldn’t attach the actual term “metaphor” to my films. If a metaphor is some intentional expression taking on some esthetically distorted form on film, then what I have happening is the complete opposite of that. A visual image – the reflection of the reality (mine every minute one of the imagined reality of the character) – a priori contains an expression. Although, one person will see it as parable, and the other as a very direct statement, read without italics and quotation marks. Because for this person it will intersect with his picture of reality.
X. D.: Your films are so unhurried; it is as if they move with the pace of a real human life. What does it have to do with?
S. B.: I am trying to make films about very simple things. And, admittedly, when it comes to simple things, we are quite unskilled in contemplating them, and in vain are rejecting them as an obvious granted. We don’t have such a habit – so it takes a lot of moral strength, effort and time. That’s what I give myself and my viewers; time. To set the pace for a film, the editing tools are not enough; you need a basis for choosing this or other tempo. Same, actually, goes for the other technical details: for example, the currently popular in documentary and pseudo-documentary films shaking camera, shooting with some insane-to-the-viewer angle. Sometimes it’s justifiable, but more often, unfortunately, it looks like silly excess.
X. D.: Your films have few words in them, and at times are pretty much silent, but all the everyday sound seems to be the real music. How do you compose it?
S. B.: It’s a very interesting process: there’s, as they say, enough algebra, as well as harmony. When we technically build the soundtrack, we bump up or turn down this or that element. As a result, unwittingly, the audience’s attention is focused on the sound of steps, clanking of the dishes, sounds of voices, singing of birds. It creates an illusion that the viewer picked it all up himself out of the usual everyday din.
X. D.: And this unfailingly makes you feel not like a member of the audience but a part of the action.
S. B.: It’s wonderful, if so, but, to be honest, I never specifically aim for it. On the other hand, I do have to watch the footage, judging it from a point of view of the audience. At this point I often feel myself as a part of the life on the screen. Though, I think, the secret is not in the sound and not even in the pace: it’s just when a person understands and accepts (and it hardly ever coincides with each other – at least not with my films), he always becomes a participant.
10 of Šarūnas Bartas’ 13 films
‘The film tell the story of Rokas, a young man from Lithuania, who has never experienced war but has grown up in its shadow. Transporting a truck of humanitarian aid from Vilnius to Ukraine, he enters a journey of discovery and sacrifice, crossing borders between countries, between people. A rare film. An absolute masterpiece. Bartas is the greatest filmmaker alive.’ — MUBI
Peace to Us in Our Dreams (2016)
‘“Humans always doubt,” says a father to his daughter. “Just imagine if suddenly everything (were) clear. What would you do?” What indeed? Such questions serve as a substitute for drama in Sharunas Bartas’ “Peace to Us in Our Dreams,” an old-school broodfest in which a man, his daughter and his violinist companion openly ponder Big Themes during a country getaway. Ideal for viewers who find Ingmar Bergman too loose-limbed (or resent the relative humor of Bela Tarr), the movie at least casts a spell with its bleak woodland scenery. The unabashedly private musings may prompt nostalgia for a period of art cinema when self-seriousness signaled seriousness, though one wishes the insights here were less banal. Although this isn’t one of the acclaimed Lithuanian director’s dialogue-free efforts, there’s little about it that will alter his reputation for forbidding fare.’ — Variety
Peace to Us in Our Dreams – Interview – Sharunas Bartas
Eastern Drift (2009)
‘Abandoning his previous trademark ultra art-house austerity (“before there was a world of silence — now my characters are speaking,” he has commented) in films like 2005’s “Seven Invisible Men,” Bartas now ventures into gangland terrain more closely associated with the likes of Robert Guedigian (“La ville est tranquille”). He pays homage to his genre forebears in a steely, resolutely unflashy style — subtly and ably scored by Alexander Zekke and shot in a cobalt-heavy palette by Bartas himself — that skirts ponderousness but ultimately yields low-key rewards.’ — Hollywood Reporter
Septyni Nematomi Zmones (Seven Invisible Men) 2005
‘The most unusual of all Bartas films, the pre-apocalyptic Seven Invisible Men (2005) starts off like a genre movie – a bunch of robbers trying to evade the police after stealing and selling off a car. It is only after about half an hour, when one of them arrives at a farm that is near completely severed from the rest of the world, that the film moves into the world of Bartas. In the final few minutes that recall Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986), we see the house, in which the characters have been living in, burn down to dust. But, unlike Tarkovsky, it is Bartas’ cynicism that overwhelms and he sees his characters as ultimately self-destructive beings that have lost all control of their lives and hope for a better future.’
‘The most rigorous of all Bartas films, Freedom is the kind of film Tarkovsky might have made had he lived to see the new century. Like the Russian’s characters, the people in this film are all marginal characters (and are often aptly pushed from the centre of the frame towards its margins) who want to escape the oppressive, unfair politics of this world and become one with nature and the unassailable peace it seems to possess. Bartas expands the scope of his usual investigation and deals with a plethora of themes including the artificiality and fickleness of national boundaries, the barriers that lingual and geographical differences create between people and the ultimate impermanence of these barriers and the people affected by it in this visually breathtaking masterwork.’
the entire film
A Casa (The House) 1997
‘Shot almost entirely indoors, The House follows a young man carrying a pile of books as me moves from one room of the Marienbad-like mansion to the other, meeting various men and women, none of whom speak to each other and who might be real people of flesh and blood, shards of memory or figments of fantasy. The house itself might be an abstract space, as in The Corridor, representing the protagonist’s mind with its spatial configuration disoriented like the chessboard in the film. Furthermore, one also gets the feeling that Bartas is attempting to resolve the question of theory versus practice – cold cynicism versus warm optimism – with regards to his politics as we witness the protagonist finally burn the books, page by page, he had so far held tightly to his chest.’
Few Of Us (1996)
‘Few of Us (1996) is perhaps the least political of the already highly noncommittal works of Sharunas Bartas. With an eye for small and intricate changes in seasons, terrains and time of the day comparable to that of James Benning, Bartas pushes his own envelope as he lingers on eyes, faces and landscapes for seemingly interminable stretches of time. Each image of the film carries with itself an air of a still paining, vaguely familiar. All this sure does bring to surface the experimental and, I daresay, self-conscious nature of Bartas’ work, but what it also does is familiarize us with the hitherto alien and draw connection between this abstract representation of protagonist’s cultural disconnection in Tolofaria and the typical Bartas territory of desolate, directionless lives lead by the people of post-Soviet Lithuania.’
Koridorius (The Corridor) 1994
‘Bartas’ most opaque and affecting film to date, The Corridor is a moody, meditative essay set at a time just after the independence of Lithuania from the USSR and in a claustrophobic apartment somewhere in Vilnius in which the titular corridor forms the zone through which the residents of the building must pass in order to meet each other. Extremely well shot in harsh monochrome, the interiors of the apartment resemble some sort of a void, a limbo for lost souls if you will, from which there seems to be no way out. Conventional chronology is ruptured and reality and memory merge as Bartas cuts back and forth between the adolescent chronicles of the protagonist, marked by rebellion and sexual awakening, and his present entrapped self, unable to comprehend what this new found ‘freedom’ means. Essentially an elegy about the loss of a sense of ‘being’ and ‘purpose’, The Corridor remains an important film that earns a spot alongside seminal and thematically kindred works such as Paradjanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1968) and Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975).’
Trys Dienos (Three Days) 1991
‘Three Days plays out as a post-apocalyptic tale set in an industrial wasteland, complete with decrepit structures and murky waters, where both positive communication (Even the meager amount of dialogue in the film turns out to be purely functional) and meaningful relationships (Almost everyone in the film seems to be a vagrant) have been rendered irrelevant. Every person in this desolate land seems to be an individual island, stuck at a particular time in history forever. The visual palette (akin to the bleached out scheme of the director’s previous work) is dominated by earthy colours, especially brown, and the production design is highly redolent of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). The actors are all Bressonian here and do no more than move about in seemingly random directions and perform mundane, everyday actions. Like in Bresson’s films, there is no psychological inquiry into the characters’ behaviour and yet there is much pathos and poignancy that is developed thanks to the austerity of Bartas’ direction and the intensity of Vladas Naudzius’ cinematography.’
Praejusios Dienos Atminimui (In Memory Of The Day Passed By) 1990
‘In Memory of the Day Passed By (1990) is a somber, evocative mood piece set in post-independence Lithuania and opens with the image of large flakes of snow moving slowly along a river. This is followed by a shot of a woman and her kid walking on a vast, snowy plain and moving away from the viewer until they become nonentities assimilated by their landscape. This pair of shots provides a very good synopsis of what Bartas’ cinema is all about. Bartas suffuses the film with diagonal compositions indicative of a fallen world – a world that can go nowhere but the abyss. Appropriately, the film closes with a variation of its opening image: flakes of snow flowing downriver – an apt metaphor for the many nations that would drift without a base after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.’
p.s. RIP Susan Hiller. ** Hey. Early tomorrow morning I fly off to the West Coast of the USA where there are some screenings of PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT. Here is how I think the blog will function beginning tomorrow. There won’t be a p.s. in the morning for the obvious reason. I then plan to do the p.s. from the West Coast on Friday and Saturday, meaning the posts/p.s.es will be launching roughly nine hours later than they usually do. Beginning on Monday, the 4th, the p.s. portion will be taking a vacation for a while as I’ll be busy with the screenings and traveling. My guess is that will be the case for roughly a week or so. Then I’ll be back in my p.s. persona as usual, posting from the West Coast until I fly back to Paris in the 17th. I will give a heads up as to exactly when I’ll be back to interact in one of the severely truncated p.s.es/hellos that’ll be appearing daily beginning on the 4th. If that makes sense. And, as usual, all the posts, barring your regular escorts outlay, will be restored ones until I’m back in Paris. And, as always, feel very free to leave comments while I’m away because I will respond to them when I return. Cool, thank you. ** JM, Hi. Oh, Nik saw your comment and he responded just below it, if you haven’t yet noticed that. Happy the book yesterday had a hook. ** David Ehrenstein, Foucault isn’t a character in Christophe’s play, but his last days in the hospital are described at length by the Guibert character. ** Steve Erickson, Ack, well, I just hope that the issue is identified clearly and treated as royally as possible ASAP. I’ll go see what you think of the Sneaks, as will … Everyone, Steve weighs in on the new Sneaks album ‘Highway Hypnosis’ right here. ** _Black_Acrylic, Yes, so sad about Susan Hiller. A fantastic artist. I was friendly with her personally in the past, but I hadn’t communicated with her in a long time for no good reason. But, yes, really a loss. ** Misanthrope, Hey, G. I’m oblivious too, and I’m the one going there. Well, that LPS is one very, very lucky fella, and I hope his luck is lifelong and that he doesn’t keep pressing it. Okay, I don’t know if that’s good news about the cough diagnosis, but it sounds like it could have been worse? Guzzle those meds. I loved The Little Rascals. I think sometimes it must have been a huge influence on me as a kid, how they were always being so hyper creative and putting on plays and weird shit. ** Nik, Hey. Yeah, I remember how school’s reading assignments curtail the solo adventuring, but it sounds like that school will lead you to useful places. Hopefully. Great, great that Ann’s class is exciting you. I can only imagine. Cool, man. I look forward to hearing how it goes along the way. In LA, some PGL related stuff we need to do for the DVD Extras, seeing friends I haven’t seen in ages, probably traveling out of LA a bit, art, soak up the vibes, … Well, today Zac and I have to talk to our French distributor about some stuff, like when they actually need the new trailer and poster because they aren’t quite finished yet. And packing and the usual pre-trip stressing out. Enough to fill up this last day in Paris for sure. Thanks about the jet lag. I’ll definitely need that. Lag murders me, and yet I have to jump right into hosting screenings and stuff, so, yeah, thanks, buddy. I hope your day is kind of wondrous. ** James, It is, and I’m obviously happy you agree. No, I haven’t started the Kathryn Davis book. I’m taking it on my trip, so hopefully I’ll start it while away. Time’s the weirdest thing ever, that’s for sure. Fantastic about the editing, my favorite part, as you know. Yeah, looking forward to seeng you in the flickering light. Oh, right, digital doesn’t flicker. In the wash. ** Tyler, Hi. I saw the email. I’ll hope to respond today, but, if preparing to fly away in the morning eats my day, I’ll get back to you once I’m settled overseas. Thanks! ** Keatonn, So are mine. Those rhythms, the fuckers. I’m super anti-suicide. If you’re old and dying, that’s different. But suicide is a too charged subject for me. Not in my work, obviously, but in the real. I’ve always thought living is just the most awesome thing. I get greedy about it. I’m a weird cat, apparently. Very interesting thoughts there on that stuff for sure, pal. ** Okay. Today’s post focuses on an interesting filmmaker whom you might or might not know, as posts here so frequently seem to do. As stated above, the blog will see you tomorrow, and I will see you via the p.s. at a radically different time again on Friday. ‘Til then.