I’m circling back to writing up the last of the Lithuania-related cultural events that I experienced last year, with a Lithuanian psychological thriller that I saw in October at the second London Baltic Film Festival, held at Riverside Studios. I could have watched several Baltic movies over the course of a weekend, but in the end only made it to only the one screening, which was followed by a Q&A with writer and director Laurynas Bareiša.
Pilgrims (Pilgrimai) is a gritty 92-minute film, which was screened in Lithuanian with English subtitles. It was shot during lockdown on a low budget, in and around a B&B that is featured in the film, and was selected to represent Lithuania in the Best International Feature Film category at the 2023 Oscars. It won the Orrizonti award for Best Film at the Venice Biennale in 2021.
The movie focuses on Paulius and Indre, who meet up again to re-examine the violent death four years before of Paulius’s brother Matas, who was also Indre’s boyfriend. The loss has inevitably tarnished both of their lives, and Paulius is determined to avenge his brother’s death. However, as he is physically hampered by a broken foot, Indre agrees to drive him out to the small town where Matas died. Gradually, the truth emerges as the pair revisit their past and confront their shared trauma.
I couldn’t work out when the movie was set. There was an overwhelming sense of grey, and the characters had terrible clothes and distressing hair cuts. The palette was murky, and there were a few equally murky moments of humour, prompting some muted laughter from the audience at times. There was no soundtrack, no music to guide the story along, which added to the feeling of gritty realism and general discombobulation. Although the film clearly had a violent theme, thankfully none of that violence is shown on-screen.
The movie is emotionally restrained too. Although the director has spoken of his emotional connection with the concept of buried trauma, and buried crimes that fail to make a visible mark on their physical environment, the actually movie was stripped of feeling, at least until the end. This sense of detachment was an obstacle to my engagement with the story; at times it felt like a long car journey through the wet Lincolnshire fens in late autumn, which probably isn’t a great advert for anything.