VILNIUS - When darkness really takes over in the thick of the Baltic winter, you start to become a little confused in relation to time. Is it day or night? It's often hard to distinguish between them. And now the Cinema Lietuva wants to add to this confusion, in the nicest possible way of course, with its extensive all-night film program running from Dec. 1 to Dec. 11.
The special screenings combine a Japanese film festival, an Italian program and two nights devoted to French short films. What better way to spend the night, or day, or whatever it is.
This is the fourth time that I've been lucky enough to get tickets to the French short film program, lucky meaning fortunate enough to get tickets to the event. There are crowds of people willing to replace their bed with a stiff chair and spend all night in a movie theater for this. It's not everyday, or night rather, that you can get to see such an impressive and diverse selection of shorts. The short film night kicks off on Dec. 10 at 11 p.m. and goes right through the night.
The Japanese film festival begins Dec. 1 and pays special tribute to director Yasujiro Ozu, who is widely considered both at home and abroad to be the most Japanese of all directors. Ozu made such classics as "I Was Born, But," "Late Spring," "Floating Weeds" and, of course, "Tokyo Story."
From early in his career, Ozu learned to film from an unusually low viewpoint. It has often been noted that this is the same level that one sits at for a tea ceremony in Japanese homes, or while meditating. This technique, which was especially effective for catching the drama of the human face, became a trademark of Ozu's cinematic technique.
Most of Ozu's 54 films were similar stories about family life. But today only 33 films still survive as most of his silent films have been lost. His films were rarely seen in the West until the early 1970s and Lithuanian audiences will only get their first chance to see his work on the big screen at this festival.
The Ozu retrospective begins with "I Was Born, But," which is generally recognized as his first major film, and which was a great success both critically and financially. Ozu liked it so much that he remade it to another movie in 1959. Another must see is the classic "Tokyo Story," which came fifth in a poll of the best-ever films compiled by over 250 critics, writers and directors from around the world. "Tokyo Story" is a sad but simple story about the misunderstandings between generations and is often regarded as the filmmaker's masterpiece.
The Italian film program begins Dec. 3. Though the idea of a six-hour drama is unlikely to appeal to many, those who do manage to sit through the film "The Best of Youth" will find their pains repaid tenfold.
Marco Tullio Giordana's epic traces his country's political and cultural history and is named after a poetry collection by Pier Paolo Pasolini, as well as an old song sung by the Alpine troops. The film takes us through the last 37 years of Italy's rocky history, including the student demonstrations of the late 1960s and the Red Brigade's terrorism in the '70s.
The story focuses on the fate of two brothers, Nicola and Matteo Carati, whose lives take them far away from each other. Nicola becomes a psychiatrist and political activist whose marriage to Giulia ends when she becomes a Red Brigade terrorist. Matteo joins the army, before eventually becoming a policeman.
At various points in the narrative, their lives collide with Giorgia, a mentally disturbed young girl who suffers at the hands of Italy's dilapidated health system. The multi-layered story takes some dramatic twists on its route.
"The Best of Youth" is considered by many as the best Italian film of the last decade and really is an epic masterpiece in the vein of Visconti. But although it's well worth the effort to see it in one sitting, it can't be denied that you probably won't even know what decade you're in when you emerge bleary eyed into the freezing Vilnius morning, much less whether it's day or night.
Cinema Lietuva Pylimo g. 17, Vilnius Tel. + 370 5 262 34 84,
Japanese film festival, Dec. 1-5
Italian program, Dec. 3-5
French short film night, Dec. 10-11
Tickets: 6 litas (1.75 euros) -14 litas
For more information visit: www.cinema.lt