Hiding out in a Lithuanian barn during WWII, two nameless Jewish teenagers meet, warily circle one another and finally fall in love in “The Pin,” Naomi Jaye’s excruciatingly slow Yiddish-language two-hander. With a framing device that lends a continual tragic cast to the proceedings, the pic employs a series of flashbacks to trace the couple’s brief courtship, though the glacial pacing makes the 85-minute running time feel like a small eternity. In her attempt to depict love as a magical time-out from death and horror, Jaye strains for the universal to artificial effect. Few non-Jewish auds will ever hear this “Pin” drop.
The couple is first introduced as an old shomer (David Fox), a man whose job it is to sit with the dead, and a female corpse whom he recognizes as his long-lost love. The man then replays his memories of their past meeting as juves-on-the-run (Milda Gecaite as the girl, Grisha Pasternak as the boy), arriving separately at the fateful barn.
Adopting a minimalist approach, scripter-helmer Jaye has pared down the film’s action, dialogue and color palette in her quest to create a timeless, private refuge amid the grim realities closing in on her beleaguered characters. Their dilapidated haven is extremely fragile: German patrols roam the forest, the occasional soldier searching the barn. The girl’s body seizes up with fear when she hears them approaching.
Flashbacks-within-flashbacks are psychologically well timed. The girl tersely recalls watching from the roof as her mother is led away, while the wounded boy is glimpsed crawling out of the grave that still holds the rest of his family — traumatic events that, understandably, can only be contemplated in brief snatches. Also interspersed between flashbacks are quick returns to the present-day shomer; Jaye plays with time so that, instead of the old woman’s corpse, the vibrant living body of the young girl lies on the morgue table, or stretches out beside the octogenarian on the floor.
The performances are moving, particularly from Gecaite as the skittish girl, but also compromised by Jaye’s decision to have her actors speak Yiddish, which neither she nor they understand. Far from the colorful, down-to-earth tongue of Yiddish literature and lore, the language is cast here as a primal, transparent expression of an Adam-and-Eve state of grace, to precious and somewhat incongruous effect.
Closeups intensify the young lovers’ vulnerability, fear and responsiveness, and the film is not without moments of realism; the two make love awkwardly and painfully in a scene devoid of all romance. But Jaye relies too heavily on the magical notion of innocence and the situation’s inherent pathos to push along the story, never nudging the action forward with anything resembling dramatic momentum. Even the dialogue advances by inches, as if somehow distilling fragile, delicate Eternal Truths within everyday speech.
Michael Leblanc’s twilit lensing adds to the film’s sense of timelessness, and Adam Stein’s clear-cut sound design, with its pointed absence of music, intensifies the possible sources of danger.