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Few of Us

Posted by martinteller on February 12, 2014

A woman (Yekaterina Golubeva) is flown in a helicopter and apparently deposited at the top of a rock quarry, near a small settlement at the foot of a mountain.  She descends and gets a ride on a military-looking vehicle.  She spends time among the villagers, who go about their business of eating, sleeping, drinking and making music.  She is in a house with a number of men.  There is a violent altercation.  She flees the next morning to a remote cabin, but she is followed.  A seemingly uneventful night passes between her and her visitor.  She leaves.  Another violent act occurs.

Does this tell you what the movie is “about”?  Does it help to know the location is Siberia and the “villagers” are a tribe called the Tolofars?  Probably not.  Does it help to know that director Sharunas Bartas always includes some allegory about Lithuanian political history in his films?  Maybe.  I myself am pretty close to 100% ignorant of Lithuanian political history, but there is a strong impression of allegory… dislocation, isolation, violence, allusions to the military, cultures clashing, regret.  But I couldn’t tell you what it means.  However, I am not of the opinion that films necessarily should stand on their own, comprehensible without any context.  I am not of the opinion that films should necessarily be or do any particular thing.  If you can’t appreciate a movie you don’t understand, and it takes some context to fully understand the movie, then do the research.  I’m lazy, and I didn’t feel a strong need to “understand” this movie, so I did little research.

Last year I saw my first Bartas movie, A Casa, the film that followed this one.  It, too, was rather incomprehensible.  It, too, brought to mind a number of other purveyors of contemplative “slow cinema”… Tarr and Tarkovsky in particular, and in this case, a bit of Pedro Costa as well.  I’m not sure which film is more impenetrable, but this one was less inviting.  There are some wonderful shots, including some glorious close-ups studying these well-worn, ragged faces… as well as that of Golubeva, who always seems to carry an aura of quiet despair.  But the overall experience is less mesmerizing, perhaps because the imagery is much more mundane.

Still, I enjoyed the meditative aspects.  There are only a few snatches of audible dialogue, left untranslated.  Presumably because the lines are inconsequential, and perhaps to enhance the viewer’s sense of empathetic isolation.  The soundscape becomes a major player in the film, with noises heard before the producer of them is seen, the sounds heightened and somehow unsettling.  It’s not just Golubeva’s face that expresses despair, there is an aura of sorrow running throughout, a feeling that this is a place in its dying moments, that these people — like many of those in Tarr’s films — are barely hanging on to existence and don’t know why they bother.

Although this was a less positive experience than my first one with Bartas, I’m not giving up.  If anything, I’m actually even more intrigued to explore further.  Rating: Good (74)


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