Miracle: The invisible hand raises the Iron Curtain
by Vassilis Economou
- TORONTO 2017: Debutant Eglė Vertelytė offers a deadpan, tragicomic satire on the downfall of the Soviet system and the “miraculous” invasion of rampant capitalism
Lithuanian screenwriter and director Eglė Vertelytė started developing the script for her first feature, Miracle [+see also:
interview: Eglė Vertelytė
film profile], back in 2008. In the meantime, she has written and directed various short films, plus her first feature-length documentary, Ub Lama (2011), when she was in Mongolia. Miracle has had its world premiere in the Discovery section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival.
Middle-aged Irena (Eglė Mikulionytė) is the manager of a collective pig farm in a Lithuanian village. The country has just gained its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the transition period leads almost everyone down the path to bankruptcy. Irena is struggling to find a solution to save the farm and the workers’ jobs when a shady American-Lithuanian investor, Bernardas (Vyto Ruginis), appears. He’s willing to buy out the farm and help them, and his presence, together with the hope that he is selling, is immediately welcomed and inevitably changes their lives. Irena, though, believes that there’s something suspicious about him.
The film is built on the contradiction between its two main protagonists, representing two worlds that had been kept apart for almost 50 years. Irena is a tragic character, a strong, decisive and stable woman placed in an absurd environment. She encapsulates the elements of an honest and humble heroine who does everything she can to save others, but she is the last ideologist left standing. On the other hand, the ruthless and boisterous Bernardas is an ambassador of the new, cynical ethics of what to expect from the future. There is a flashing warning sign, but no one wants to – or indeed can – read it.
Miracle is a subtle, deadpan, tragicomic and almost satirical critique on the abrupt passage from communism to rampant capitalism and the unconventional lust for anything Westernised that the former Soviet republics displayed in the early 1990s. An American entrepreneur is equivalent to the Messiah, whose power no one dares to dispute, and the immediate exposure to capital created an unavoidable status of inequality. Vertelytė observes this horrifying transition of power by using humour as a shield against the bleakness of the atrocities that were perpetrated in the post-Soviet era and are still evident today in Lithuanian society.
Miracle’s visuals share the hyper-real feeling created by the story and lend the movie an almost dreamlike touch. The boxed-in cinematography by Emil Christov and its 1970s faded hues, which bear an obvious resemblance to Sovcolor, marry perfectly with the vintage aesthetics created by Ramūnas Rastauskas, which offer a theatrical feel and infuse proceedings with a nostalgic undertone. This is further enhanced by the fact that the director blends elements of classic, innocent comedies such as Luis García Berlanga’s Welcome Mr. Marshall! (1953) with the slightly obscurer, dry, allegorical universe of Aki Kaurismäki. Miracle offers a glimpse of what happened when the invisible hand decided to raise the Iron Curtain and kill off a dying system; but subtlety is the order of the day here, and as a result, there is no slaughterhouse in sight.
Miracle is a Lithuanian-Bulgarian-Polish co-production by Lukas Trimonis (iN SCRiPT), with Pavlina Jeleva (Geopoly), and Jacek Kulczycki, Magdalena Zimecka and Radosława Bardes (Orka). It was supported by the Lithuanian Film Centre, the Bulgarian National Film Center, Eurimages and Creative Europe. The world sales are handled by French company Wide.
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