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VENICE 2021 Orizzonti

Laurynas Bareisa • Director of Pilgrims

“I pick out the crimes from the news stories, then I imagine what happens outside of the violent parts”

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- VENICE 2021: The Lithuanian helmer discusses the relationship between his debut feature and his previous shorts, as well as visiting some strangely sacred places

Laurynas Bareisa  • Director of Pilgrims
(© La Biennale di Venezia - Foto ASAC/Andrea Avezzù)

Things are happening in Lithuanian cinema these days, with an increasing number of shorts playing at the big festivals, and more and more first features. One such movie is Laurynas Bareisa’s Pilgrims [+see also:
film review
interview: Laurynas Bareisa
film profile
]
, entered in the Orrizonti section of the 78th Venice International Film Festival and visiting some strangely sacred places.

Cineuropa: Some of your short films share themes with the ones you explore in Pilgrims. How closely are they related?
Laurynas Bareisas:
They are like circles around the same story, getting wider each time, with Pilgrims being the widest, covering a period of four years. My first short, Dembava, deals with a girl who’s kidnapped and put in the boot of a car, and we see the kidnappers talking, eating, doing things, all while she’s in the car. Then I made Caucasus in the same location as Pilgrims, about a little girl who gets lost while walking a dog, where a similar crime has happened. In both cases, and in Pilgrims, I pick out the crimes from the news stories, then I imagine what happens outside of the violent parts, which we never see. In a third short, Dummy, a perpetrator re-enacts his crime to the police, using a doll. I use some of the dialogue from this in Pilgrims.

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What made you choose the title Pilgrims?
When I was writing, I wrote down these different places, like A, B, C, D and so forth, and it felt a little like a religious journey, but it’s not specific to one religion. A “pilgrim” means someone who visits sacred places, no more and no less. Strangely, it felt appropriate for my characters, possibly in an ironic way, as these places are hardly sacred, but nevertheless they are important to them.

How did you cast the actors?
Both Giedrius Kiela and Gabija Bargailaite have been extras in my films. I knew Gabija a little through my wife, who is also a filmmaker and organises film classes for teenagers. This was a few years ago, but now, she just felt right. I really struggled with Paulius’ part, and in the script, he was much younger, but the people I tested were far too aggressively macho and lacked the sadness I needed. I called Giedrius, who’s a friend, and whined a little about my problem. “I’ll do it,” he said. He came into the room and created the right chemistry with Gabija right away, and even made her look more interesting. The age difference between them is quite big – they are 40 and 21 – but they look closer in terms of age. I rewrote it a little, and it fell into place.

How do you feel about the state of Lithuanian cinema these days?
Things are happening. Five years ago, my short By the Pool was the first Lithuanian film in competition at Venice in 15 years. Since then, we’ve had a number of shorts and, lately, first features at big festivals. We did have a good generation around 2000, but then came a gap – we call it a “lost generation” at film school because we kind of couldn’t disconnect from the Soviet-era film tradition, and then came the financial collapse on top of that. But now, I think everything is picking up, and we’ll have more and more directors. Like Marija Kavtaradze, whom I’ve photographed for, and Vytautas Katkus, who also worked with me on Pilgrims. I’m really into this collective thing, and I think we’ll have many different voices, points of view, discussions and arguments. I think it’s a good thing.

You’ve worked as a cinematographer outside of your own films. Is this a career you’ll continue with?
Yes. I shot a film this summer when I had a month off from Pilgrims. It feels nice to switch from the directing and to get out of the writing. I like to see other people in charge and just focus on the lighting.

How many ideas are you carrying around at the moment?
I’m trying to sell one script, a period piece about the 1990s. I don’t want to direct it myself, as I started on a new story that drew me in more. It’s about two sisters and a thing that happened that affects one of them a lot and the other one less, and how they cope. It’s all about enduring in this messy world.

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