'Peace to Us in Our Dreams': Cannes Review

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A slow-moving contemplation of life that's nevertheless faster than most of Bartas' output

Lauded Lithuanian actor-director Sharunas Bartas headlines his latest film.

A mild-mannered father, his restless daughter and his supine companion spend some time in a country cottage at the tail end of summer in Peace to Us in Our Dreams, from Lithuanian auteur Sharunas Bartas (A Casa, Seven Invisible Men). Though no one would mistake the latest effort from this Cannes regular for a Michael Bay movie, Dreams isn’t only composed of the director’s signature long takes and thus seems to move at a speed at least a cut above a snail’s pace. Add to that the fact the last 30 or so minutes are almost chatty — if still sotto voce —and it becomes clear we’re miles away from the Bartas of a film such as Few of Us, the 1996 Un Certain Regard entry that earned him comparisons to Tarkovsky and featured no dialogue at all. Still, a film in which characters don’t say much for the first hour will forever remain on the arthouse fringe, more likely to pop up at cinematheques and festivals than in any type of offshore commercial release.

As usual with Bartas, most of the characters remain nameless and thus function as both archetypes and possible vessels for the viewers’ own experiences. More than in some of the director’s other films, however, there is an obviously personal touch to much of the material here: Bartas, who occasionally acts, has cast himself as the father, and his daughter, Ina Marija Bartaite, plays his adolescent child, while Bartaite’s mother, the late actress and frequent Bartas lead Katya Golubeva, is briefly seen in a sequence in which dad shows his offspring a home video he stumbled upon.

Most of the action is set in a small country home not far from Vilnius, where Bartas has actually spent a lot of time. From the get-go, and helping to establish a sense of forward-moving momentum, the feature cuts between different areas in and around the house, including the surrounding woods where a feral boy on the brink of adolescence (Edvinas Goldsteinas) lives. He seems to survive by thieving tomatoes and stealing a rifle from a hunter, though it will slowly become clear he actually knows everyone there, including the daughter, who likes to spend time with him even though they’re several years apart.

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Bartas’s partner, a young violinist (played by actual violinist Lora Kmieliauskaite), might have entered a depression of sorts after suddenly stopping mid-performance in an early scene, before joining father and daughter at the cottage. She seems absent, as if suspended between music and her career on the one hand and love and her relationship on the other. This is also visually suggested by the peroxide-blonde locks that have grown out past her shoulders; the young woman is neither a blonde nor a brunette, or a bit of both at once.

After the halfway mark, the verbal intensity of the film strongly augments when the saturnine violinist gets into a devastating argument with the strong-willed countrywoman (Aushra Eitmontiene) who lives next door with her unemployed boor of a husband (Eugenijus Barunovas). She lays bare her soul with some musical metaphors, but the woman, who doesn’t want — or isn’t able — to understand what the violinist says, simply insists Beethoven and all those others are terrible and only old-fashioned Lithuanian songs are musically acceptable. (The film's own score oscillates between gentle and mournful.)

There’s a sense that life in the countryside is a lot rougher and less refined than life in the city, though the sudden arrival of a Russian temptress (Klaudia Korshunova, from Bartas’s Eastern Drift) — designer bob, pearl earrings, animal-print jacket — from the father’s past suggests cosmopolitan life could turn into something excessive that’s all surface and no soul, forgoing important things such as having children for a career or a purely hedonistic life.

As in most of Bartas’s films, exact meanings are hard to pin down but there’s a lot to chew on here, especially in the home stretch, when dad sits down with his daughter and later his partner for long, soul-stirring conversations about such topics as the innocence of children or the fact no one can be his or her own observer, which makes it is hard for practically everyone to distinguish between reality and imagination.  

Though the film feels less epic and more intimate than some of the director’s previous work, the landscapes — apple trees hanging low with ripe fruit in the slanting sunshine, penumbral woods teeming with wildlife and hunters — still get their due in the cinematography of Eitvydas Doshkus, here taking over a duty Bartas has handled himself in the past. These natural panoramas function mostly as spaces that offer the characters (and the audience) some breathing room, while Doshkus’s widescreen close-ups often concentrate on the characters’ eyes, cutting off the top of their heads for a better look at these "windows into the soul."

Production companies: Studija Kinema, KinoElektron, Look Film, House on Fire
Cast: Sharunas Bartas, Lora Kmieliauskaite, Ina Marija Bartaite, Edvinas Goldsteinas, Eugenijus Barunovas, Aushra Eitmontiene, Klaudia Korshunova
Writer-Director: Sharunas Bartas
Producers: Sharunas Bartas
Director of photography: Eitvydas Doshkus
Production designer: Julija Matulyte
Editor: Gintare Sokelyte
Music: Alexander Zekke
Sales: NDM International Sales
No rating, 107 minutes

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