Dir:Sharunas Bartas. Lith-Fr-Port. 2005. 119mins.
Add to the seven invisible men of this film's title aninvisible plot and invisible characterisation. Sharunas Bartas, the darling ofcinema purists in the 1990s, here self-destructs, offering us a brilliantparody of an art film. Alas, this appears to have been unintentional. Thiscompletely impenetrable exercise will find little commercial traction anywhere,and even most rigorous film festivals will look the other way.
Aquick survey of some of the few members of the audience left at the end of theDirector's Fortnight screening at Cannes produced no further elucidation ofwhat might be called the film's 'plot'. It appears to be set in the south ofthe ex-USSR, because this is what the press kit says and because one charactermakes a reference to a mixed population of Christians and Muslims.
Thefilm begins when some men and a woman leave an unnamed town and end up on afarm where the principle activity seems to be smoking. Sometimes this isaccompanied by walking wordlessly around a room. A drunken party takes place inwhich people who appear to be peasants sing and get maudlin. Then the houseburns down.
Thenthe chief smoker, a blond man who has been the beneficiary of most of theclose-ups, is shot in the back by another member of his party. The film endssome two excruciating hours after it began.
Thereis some evidence of aesthetic design. Intense close-ups of Bartas' unknowncharacters, often backlit, are juxtaposed with gorgeous long shots of naturalsettings, which often include a variety of animals. These shots recall TerenceMalick's Days Of Heaven, down to the cliche of using a telephoto lens toproduce an enormous setting sun.
Bymeans of this juxtaposition, Bartas appears to be contrasting the desperate,rootless, and senselessly destructive lives of his characters with a mutenature that simply exists, and thus in a pure if unconscious fashion thattranscends the petty lives of men and women.
Someof the landscapes are in fact quite breathtaking, but their highlyaestheticised nature clashes with the otherwise realistic texture of the film.(Another structural opposition that obviously interests the director is silenceversus loud sound.) The very occasional music on the sound track can only barelybe heard, an interesting and suggestive trick he seems to have picked up fromAlexander Sokurov.
Apartfrom the occasional outburst of dialogue or of drunken singing, Bartas seemsfascinated by the sound burning tobacco produces when inhaled. The ubiquitouscigarettes may perhaps have symbolic intent (one ends up in a girl's navel atone point), but it appears not to be of the Freudian variety.
Bartas'clearly intentional inarticulateness and his overt rejection of narrative makeHungarian auteur Bela Tarr, to whom he is sometimes compared, seem positiveSpielbergian by contrast. Even the most obdurate aesthetes will find it toughto make a case for this film, or for Bartas' future as a film-maker if hecontinues in this direction.