Capturing one man's struggle for life and dignity

  • 2005-10-19
Since the end of September, cinemas across the country have been filled with young and old 's all eager to see the new Lithuanian film "Dievu miskas" ("The Forest of Gods"). With only one feature-length movie per year, the Baltic state's film industry has taken a legendary step in only three weeks time.

"Dievu Miskas" is based on a book of the same title by Lithuanian writer Balys Sruoga, who shares his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp Stuthof. Director Algimantas Puipa is not the first one to take up the theme of maintaining humanity in a concentration camp: "Schindler's List" by Steven Spielberg, "Life is Beautiful" by Roberto Benigni, and "The Pianist" by Roman Polanski are just a few of the most famous.

"However, up to now it was not possible to discover more about one of the best novels in Lithuanian literature, which tragicomically unravels the dehumanization of people carried out by totalitarian systems," Puipa said about his decision to make this film.

Puipa, famous for his films "Vilko dantu karoliai" ("A Wolf-tooth Necklace") and "Elze is Gilijos" ("Elze from Gilija"), was inspired by the author's attempt to portray the Nazi's merciless cruelty in concentration camps. Fascinated with the touching novel, he wrote a film-script based on the book more than 20 years ago. Only today has it found life on screen.

During the Soviet era, the government prevented Puipa's script from seeing the silver-screen light. But the director's determination did not diminish; he made his dream come true.

During the premier of "Dievu Miskas" at the Festival International de Films de Montreal in Canada, which showed films from 40 countries, Puipa was the Baltics' sole representation. This month, the film will travel to the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea, but for now it's simply enjoying local fame.

"Dievu Miskas" is breaking Lithuanian film records one after another. The feature proves that the question of human survival is as important today, as it was 60 years ago during the atrocities of WWII.

The film is even deserving of Hollywood envy. According its distributor, Garsu Pasaulis, during the first three weeks of screening "Dievu Miskas" was the box office's fifth-place weekend leader. As far as Lithuanian ticket sales, the movie has only been surpassed by "Shrek 2," "Titanic," "Harry Potter I," and "The Gladiator."

As for competition among other Lithuanian films, "Dievu Miskas" broke the country's record attendance since independence. More than 33,000 people came to see the film, and this is only for Vilnius and Kaunas: "Dievu Miskas" has yet to travel to other towns in Lithuania. With a budget of 3.5 million litas, and 36 days of shooting in the Vilnius and Klaipeda regions, the film is predicted to exceed sales of half-a-million litas.

The "black comedy," as the film is called among crewmembers, has received varying response from critics. As always, there are those looking for the novel's pure translation onscreen and those excited that the film takes its own creative turn.

However, it seems that the Balys Sruoga family is content with "Dievu miskas." One of the on-set assistants was American-born Alina Djebold, the granddaughter of Balys Sruoga. Her mother, Ausrine Byla, translated the film's original script, which was well-received by both actors and audience for its realistic and touching details. If this film says anything about Lithuanian cinema, it's that the industry has a promising future.