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DIRECTORS IN FOCUS
The Films of Sarunas Bartas

Lithuanian director Sarunas Bartas belongs to a group of Eastern European filmmakers who for more than a decade have chronicled the ruined lives and waning spirits of societies in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire. Like the Russian Alexander Sokurov and the Hungarian Béla Tarr, he makes films about inarticulate loss, about people who can neither free themselves from the past nor look forward to the future, who are so far beyond hopelessness and despair that verbal communication seems superfluous. In Bartas’s films, aesthetics fuses with ideology: by eliminating dialogue and reducing his cinematic vocabulary primarily to faces, gestures, and landscapes, the already minimalist narrative situations he portrays—however rooted in present-day reality—become archetypal, universal. The very titles of the films evoke the general rather than the particular: Three Days, Few of Us, The Corridor, The House, Freedom.

Although these are challenging works, viewers who give themselves over to the spare lyricism they offer are rewarded with a unique space for contemplation and affective resonance.

Special thanks to curator Jurate Kajokaite, who organized this series, and to writer Tony Pipolo, who assisted with the program notes.


March 21 (Friday) 7 pm
March 23 (Sunday) 9:15 pm

Freedom (Laisve)

Directed by Sarunas Bartas
France/Portugal/Lithuania 2001, 35mm, color, 96 min.
With Valentinas Masalskis, Fatima Ennafloui, Axel Neumann
French with English subtitles

Unnamed landscapes and characters unable to communicate with one another form the abstract canvas upon which Bartas paints his visually arresting contemplation on freedom. Four ragged characters, three men and a young woman, board a boat in a fishing village. Unfortunately, a coast guard patrol doesn’t differentiate between the refugees, the drug couriers, and the regular passengers aboard. Everyone comes under fire. One of the protagonists is killed as the three survivors drift ashore onto a rocky beach in a North African locale. Without food or money, and with no common language among them, the trio seeks survival amongst the sounds of the wind, the sea, and birds. Viewers, too, must find a way to negotiate within the "freedom" of this starkly undefined world.

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March 21 (Friday) 9:15 pm
March 25 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Three Days (Trys Dienos)

Directed by Jacques Rivette
France 1966, 35mm, color, 140 min.
With Anna Karina, Liselotte Pulver, Micheline Presle
French with English subtitles

In this first feature by Bartas, two young men take a trip from their village to Kaliningrad, the postwar Russian city built on the remains of Prussian Königsberg. In the gray industrial landscapes there, they meet a young woman, stroll through town, stand around, search the harbor front unsuccessfully for a place to make love, then part. The words they exchange reveal hardly anything about them, their body language not much more. While what we see is uneventful, Bartas, like Sokurov, uses indeterminate ambient sound that hints at meaningful social interaction occurring elsewhere, offscreen. In the minimal, poetic world of Bartas, life is always somewhere other than where the camera is.

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March 21 (Friday) 9:15 pm
March 25 (Tuesday) 7 pm

In Memory of a Day Gone By (Praejusius dienos atminimui)

Directed by Sarunas Bartas
Lithuania 1990, 35mm, b/w, 40 min.
Lithuanian with English subtitles

Of this "city symphony," a documentary companion piece to his Three Days, director Bartas wrote: "I have always been attracted to the city. Sometimes it seems that it’s nature’s creation; that some invisible force has gathered lots of people into one huge living creature. . . . Nowhere does man feel so lonely as he does in the city. And nowhere does he dive into such reckless rejoicing."


March 22 (Saturday) 7 pm
March 24 (Monday) 9 pm

The House

Directed by Sarunas Bartas
France/Portugal/Lithuania 1997, 35mm, color, 120 min.
With Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Leos Carax, Micaela Cardoso
French and Lithuanian with English subtitles

A dreamy, silken parable of the fate of late twentieth-century Europe, The House is an almost entirely wordless exploration of a single space: an imposing country manor by a lake that may possibly be the fantasy of one of the many diverse and melancholic inhabitants we encounter there. Punctuated by a pair of narrators who speak to an unseen mother, the film trains its lush, silent gaze on room after room filled with startling tableaux vivants, where the speechless characters—young and old, beautiful and ugly, black and white—carry on with their strange, hermetic habits, each struggling, like a separate country, to communicate with the others. A plea for the preservation of local cultures, this cinematic reverie in pale colors is a contemplation of the modern Lithuanian condition.

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March 22 (Saturday) 9:15 pm
March 24 (Monday) 7 pm

The Corridor (Koridorius)

Directed by Sarunas Bartas
Germany/Lithuania 1994, 35mm, b/w, 85 min.
With Viacheslav Amirhanian, Sarunas Bartas, Katerina Golubeva

Bartas described his starkly poetic second feature as "a film about the extremes of exhaustion caused by loneliness, aggression, and love" in the post-Soviet experience. Set amongst the melancholy inhabitants of a rundown apartment building in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the film unfolds as an associative collage of memory fragments, shards of experience, and chance events amongst a number of the building’s inhabitants—all connected by the metaphor of the corridor, a passage between "yesterday and today, containing many doors." As in the director’s other works, narrative logic is eschewed in favor of the poetry of loss and desire, here made even more abstract by the haunting black-and-white cinematography.

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March 23 (Sunday) 7 pm
March 25 (Tuesday) 9:15 pm

Few of Us

Directed by Sarunas Bartas
Portugal/France/Germany/Lithuania 1996, 35mm, color, 105 min.
With Katerina Golubeva, Piotr Kishteev, Sergei Tulayev

A young woman (Katerina Golubeva, who appears in nearly all of Bartas’s films) arrives by helicopter in a remote village of Siberia inhabited by the Tofalars, a nomadic Asian people who were forced to settle in this wilderness in the early part of the twentieth century. She spends her wordless days amongst the silent villagers, whose nomadic spirit seems frozen in their motionless gazes; has a dangerous encounter; and then, presumably, leaves again by helicopter. We never learn the reason for her visit, nor the nature of her connections to these people, but something of consequence occurs to her and to them, after which life seems to resume its rhythms.

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