Set in Lithuania at the tail end of Communist rule, Bojena Horackova’s “Walden” offers a bittersweet look at a group of youths on two sides of a generational change.

Selected as a part of Cannes’ ACID sidebar and making its world premiere at the  Locarno Film Festival, the film follows its withdrawn protagonist Jana across two timelines – both as a 17-year-old who falls in with a roguish crowd as she prepares to go west on a student visa, and then as middle-aged woman who has returned to her native city after spending 30 years in France.

Both narrative strands move forward with the limpid focus of a short story, and both culminate at a secluded lakefront retreat Jana’s rakish teenage boyfriend calls Walden.

“It’s classic structure, showing one character at two different points,” Horackova tells Variety. “But I liked that both took place around the lake… I was inspired by the films of Eric Rohmer, and I wanted the film to have another dimension, something tied to the lake, to nature and to the melancholic spirit of life.”

The filmmaker sought to emphasize those elements of nature and emotion – with the lake’s name a very knowing wink to the book by Henry David Thoreau and the film by Jonas Mekas – in order to circumvent an all too easy narrative trap.

“I didn’t want to make something one-note and political,” Horackova explains. “I wanted to depict Eastern Europe at this specific period, and to do so with characters that weren’t expressly activists, that weren’t dissidents. They had other preoccupations.”

“When you see these young characters moving toward an uncertain future – and we know how it turns out – that gives an air of melancholy. And so I wanted the film to hew more toward that direction – about that landscape, that lake, those memories that betray us – than toward something political about Eastern Europe.”

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Walden Credit: Sedna Films

Indeed, the Czech-born, France-based filmmaker picked the Vilnius setting precisely because the Lithuanian experience echoed her own formative years, without quite mirroring them.

“I didn’t want to go back to my home country, to make an autobiographical film,” she continues. “The two countries had the same position toward the USSR – they were both small satellites – but there’s no direct connection. The story takes place in Lithuania, I myself am Czech, and the film closes on a Polish poem. I wanted these different voices from the East to mix it up a bit.”

The filmmaker chose Lithuania in part thanks to the support of local filmmaker Šarūnas Bartas, who offered to house the modest production, who appears in a small cameo in the film, and whose daughter, Ina Marija Bartaite, serves as the film’s lead actress.

The wistful Bartaite – previously seen in Bartas’ 2015 film “Peace to Us in Our Dreams” – carries the brunt of the narrative as the 17-year-old Jana, with Horackova’s unfussy camera capturing the character’s growing infatuation with the amiable crook Paulius (Laurynas Jurgelis) as she prepares to leave for a different life. Meanwhile the aged-Jana (Fabienne Babe) serves as a kind a Greek chorus, retracing her path in a framing device set in the present day.

“I wanted the present day scenes to contrast against [those set in 1989],” says Horackova.  “I wanted this present to reframe and recontextualize the past, casting it a different light than what we had seen. What she lived and how she recounts it might be a little bit different. Almost as if her memories had betrayed her, in a way.”

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Bojena Horackova Credit: Sedna Films