Sharunas Bartas, whose silent village tale "Few of Us" launched him as the cult director of Lithuania, returns with another wordless visual feast purporting to be an ode to the home. This time, however, the abstract theme fails to ignite much curiosity. At two hours, this plotless pic screams for the mercy of a good editor on the ruthless side.

Sharunas Bartas, whose silent village tale “Few of Us” launched him as the cult director of Lithuania, returns with another wordless visual feast purporting to be an ode to the home. This time, however, the abstract theme fails to ignite much curiosity. At two hours, this plotless pic screams for the mercy of a good editor on the ruthless side. If film circulates at all, it will be thanks to the strong international co-production partners backing it and to Bartas’ reputation as a refined experimental director.

While not a single word is spoken by any of the characters, pic is framed by two narrating voiceovers speaking English with a strong Lithuanian accent. Both are addressed to the narrator’s mother, setting the scene for autobiography. Instead, the camera frames an imposing country manor by a lake, the film’s main character. In its airy, high-ceilinged rooms, dozens of people live — perhaps in the memory or fantasy of a young man who emerges at pic’s center.

One by one, Bartas shows these people — old and young, black and white, male and female, beautiful and ugly — moping around the house, doing nothing, a tired, melancholy look on their faces as though they had just stopped crying. Who they are and what their relationship is to the house is never explained. (Among the faces, but not highlighted, are French thesp Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and director Leos Carax, who one imagines are there as friends of the director.)

No acting is required of anyone, though most of the attractive young women remove their clothes from time to time and walk around rather self-consciously naked. They come together, silently and without looking at one another, in several scenes around a long dining table. Slow, pointless tracking shots linger on their sad faces while they drink wine.

The influence of St. Petersburg helmer Alexander Sokurov, another cult director interested in mood pieces, hangs heavy over “The House.” Bartas and co-d.p. Rimvydas Leipus score most of their points through evocative cinematography, which filters natural light on pale faces and on the washed-out colors of Juryi Grigorovic’s decrepitly beautiful sets. The lensing fills the images with pregnant meaning — but what that might be remains in the director’s mind, not in the audience’s.

Preferred camerawork is either fixed-frame on an immobile person or slow tracking shots around the dining room. After two hours of this, viewers long for any crumb of action, which dribbles in during the last 15 minutes. There is a kind of celebration in mask with fireworks, followed by a deadly bullet in the next scene. Then a convoy of army trucks sinisterly encircle the house.

Final voiceover bravely hopes that the local culture won’t disappear — presumably a backward glance at the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. It is a welcome change of pace, but not enough to redeem two hours of self-indulgence.

The House

French-Portuguese-Lithuanian

Production

A Les Grands Films Classiques release (in France) of a Gemini Films (Paris)/Madragoa Filmes (Lisbon)/Studio Kinema (Vilnius)/La Sept Cinema (France) co-production. Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed by Sharunas Bartas. Screenplay, Bartas, Katerina Golubeva.

Crew

Camera (color), Bartas, Rimvydas Leipus; editor, Mingaile Murmulaitiene; art direction, Juryi Grigorovic. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 13, 1997. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Francisco Nascimento, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Alex Descas, Leos Carax, Oksana Chernych, Viktorija Nareiko. (English dialogue)
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