“Humans always doubt,” says a father to his daughter. “Just imagine if suddenly everything (were) clear. What would you do?” What indeed? Such questions serve as a substitute for drama in Sharunas Bartas’ “Peace to Us in Our Dreams,” an old-school broodfest in which a man, his daughter and his violinist companion openly ponder Big Themes during a country getaway. Ideal for viewers who find Ingmar Bergman too loose-limbed (or resent the relative humor of Bela Tarr), the movie at least casts a spell with its bleak woodland scenery. The unabashedly private musings may prompt nostalgia for a period of art cinema when self-seriousness signaled seriousness, though one wishes the insights here were less banal. Although this isn’t one of the acclaimed Lithuanian director’s dialogue-free efforts, there’s little about it that will alter his reputation for forbidding fare — or his prospects for distribution.
Describing what happens is something of a fool’s errand, as the movie is parsimonious with connective tissue; even in the closing credits, the characters go unnamed. But a taste for the flavor of the proceedings can be found at the beginning, when, at a recital, the violinist (musician Lora Kmieliauskaite — like in most in the cast, not a professional actor) suddenly stops playing, laughs and spins, garnering no reaction to speak of from the audience. Returning home, she is asked how the event went. “S–tty,” she says, adding for good measure that it doesn’t really matter. (What does, in the course of human existence?)
Bartas casts himself in the lead, a father who is distant from his daughter. He shows her an old homemovie in which she can be glimpsed with her mother on a merry-go-round. The girl is played by Ina Marija Bartaite, Bartas’ actual daughter, and the mother by Katia Golubeva (“Pola X,” “Twentynine Palms”), Bartaite’s actual mother, who died in 2011 — all of which suffuses the film with a sense of loss that persists as the three living characters retreat to the country. The season is summer, but the natural lighting often suggests a wintry, twilight gray, at least to a viewer unfamiliar with the landscape outside Vilnius.
The events that follow include the violinist, in her precarious mental state, going for a skinny-dip, seemingly oblivious to being seen. Later, she discusses Beethoven’s use of melody with a less worldly neighbor, who prefers Lithuanian folk songs. A local boy steals a gun during a hunt, and at one point ominously aims it, Zodiac-style, at persons relaxing at the lake. In one of the film’s least natural-sounding interludes, the father and the daughter have a heart-to-heart to about grief, the limitations of individual perception, and the nature of what is real and what is not.
Much of the dialogue, which Bartas says was largely created through improvisations, has a similar ring of undigested philosophy and symbolism, and the film as a whole is best at conjuring a mood when the characters aren’t comparing happiness to butterflies. Lenser Eitvydas Doshkus captures some stunning silhouettes, and there are times in “Peace to Us in Our Dreams” when it’s possible to be transfixed simply by fog, blowing trees or raindrops on lapping water.