Absolute precision in 'Bartas style'

  • 2000-10-05
  • Elina Cerpa

During the Arsenals Film Forum this month I suppose I personally saw about 25 films. Among these, a significant number impact for scarcely a moment - one has forgotten them the next day. Others linger in the mind. I asked myself who it was who fascinated me during this festival. The answer is not less than four and not more than five directors.

Sharunas Bartas is one of the rare new talents in Lithuanian and European cinema. At the Film Forum Arsenals he presented his new film "Freedom."

Bartas tackles a subject no less profound than the meaning of freedom. Bartas observes human freedom from a subjective, realistic point of view. His film is definitely not mainstream or what in Hollywood would be considered entertainment. Bartas is living his own life and not trying to ingratiate himself to anyone. He is the epitome of the independent film director. "Freedom" and his other films are very simple, but one should know before going that it won't be a gunhappy fantasy story.

"Freedom" begins at the small port on the Moroccan coast.

"Why Morocco, why not Lithuania?" I asked him.

"I can't imagine the same story in Lithuania, because it can't happen physically in Lithuania. There are no such spaces, and the structure is different. It would be another story. There would be crazy characters." Bartas said.

Two foreign men and a local girl are standing and waiting for a ship. They hope to bring some drugs aboard to sell abroad. Seagulls hover above them, making a sort of room around them. The rustle of the wind, snatches of music and fragments of speech are all we hear.

His style of direction - no dialogue, long takes and an infinite slowness - gives Bartas' films a dimension which is both enigmatic and poetic.

"Why no dialogues?" I ask.

"If it's possible then it is better to do it without dialogues. Sometimes the images in the film start to conflict. You have to choose between image and the actor's feeling in facial expressions. I am not against dialogues. In my first film I did a script on 50 pages only with dialogues. When I started to film I had to cut them away. I started to see that they were not necessary," said Bartas.

The film continues with the police nearly catching the smugglers on the boat. They later flee, delving deeper into an abandoned landscape. They are looking for food, water and shelter.

Bartas' films are known for their beginnings. "The Corridor" and "Few of Us", both rather minimalist films, received unanimous critical acclaim.

But his career in cinema began in 1985 from a television serial, where Bartas played one of the main roles. He graduated from the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow and made his directoral debut with the documentary film "Tofolaria." Later he made the mid-length film "For the Remembrance of Last Day" in 1989, where he first flexed his directoral muscles in a film approaching feature length.

Bartas leaned further toward feature films in the full-length film "Three days" in 1991, which was awarded a committee prize at the 1992 Berlin Film Festival and FIPRESCI Prize for the originality of the style, the significance of the theme and the beauty of pictures. This is a story about three young Lithuanians visiting Kaliningrad - a moribund, outraged town.

Before Bartas met Paulo Branco, the Portuguese production maestro with some 85 previous credits, Bartas made five films. Branco's first-ever meeting with Bartas, in 1994 at the Berlin Film Festival, was succinct affair. Having seen Bartas' "Corridor," Branco was ready to produce anything Bartas was working on.

"He showed me a script but he had only done seven pages," remembers Branco. "It was enough."

With $1.2 million, Branco helped fund Bartas next film, "Few of Us" through production companies in Lisbon and Paris.

After talking about the scenes behind his films, I wanted to know more about Bartas' style.

"Have you ever been compared with some film director?" I asked.

Bartas seems not to be interested in this subject and slowly says: "With Andrey Tarkovsky and some others that I haven't even seen. I don't know, it's their problem. I think they want to place things in order like to find some kind of name for book, film and painting."

"What kinds of films do you prefer?" I ask.

"This question I usually do not answer. It's a process. I am trying to be private," he said.

Bartas seems to be superstitious and absolutely refuses to talk about his future plans. Still, it is quite clear he will make more films, but we can only guess on which subjects.