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The Courtyard

Given how few films come out of Lithuania, it's a shame that a rarity like "The Courtyard" is so dull and off-putting. A wan study of a depressed milieu, rarefied pic turns out, unsurprisingly, to be little more than depressing. Applying a careful but unremarkable style to a tale that's essentially a collection of downbeat observations, first-time helmer Valdas Navasaitas shoots for an arty, portentous effect, but comes away with a film so tedious that its prospects seem limited to occasional fest or latenight Eurotube slots.

Given how few films come out of Lithuania, it’s a shame that a rarity like “The Courtyard” is so dull and off-putting. A wan study of a depressed milieu, rarefied pic turns out, unsurprisingly, to be little more than depressing. Applying a careful but unremarkable style to a tale that’s essentially a collection of downbeat observations, first-time helmer Valdas Navasaitas shoots for an arty, portentous effect, but comes away with a film so tedious that its prospects seem limited to occasional fest or latenight Eurotube slots.

Navasaitas’ fragmentary, deliberately undramatic tale transpires in an unspecified town. Pic’s press notes indicate it’s set “between the two wars,” presumably the century’s big ones, but it could be virtually any time in recent decades.

Story is almost nonexistent: Pic simply skips from one small group of dour characters to another, all doing mundane things and appearing bored and ennui-laden. Men guzzle dark beer and exchange bitter small talk in a tavern. A man over an outdoor fire waxes philosophical, opining that “objective reality doesn’t exist.” A group of young boys smoke and taunt one of their playmates.

Roughly two-thirds through, an old man tells a younger one of his plans to leave the town and move to the country; the young man then lends some money to the old man, who invites him to make the move himself at a later time. A bit later, the young man’s body is seen hanging in an abandoned building, apparently a suicide. This is tale’s one fleck of actual drama.

Like many French films, pic aims for a naturalism that comes off as painstakingly fastidious but also self-conscious and conventional. Rimvydas Leipus’ handsomely muted lensing and cast’s low-key perfs contribute appropriately to helmer’s minimalist aims, which are obviously the source of pic’s nugatory impact.

The Courtyard

(DRAMA -- LITHUANIAN-FRENCH)

  • Production: A Studio Uljana Kim (Vilniaus) production in cooperation with Les Films de L'Observatoire and Arte France Cinema. (International sales: Media Luna, Cologne.) Produced by Uljana Kim. Co-producer, Philippe Avril. Directed, written by Valdas Navasaitas. Camera (color), Rimvydas Leipus; editor, Mingaile Murmulaitiene; production designer, Jurij Grigorovic; costume designer, Agne Rimkute; sound, Sergej Siniavskij. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 20, 1999. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • Crew:
  • With: With: Donatas Banionis, Richardas Vitkaitas, Albinas Keleris, Tatjana Liutajeva, Rasa Samuolyte, Pranas Dapshauskas.
  • Music By: