The Gambler brings a moral dilemma
by Vladan Petkovic
- The first ever coproduction between Lithuania and Latvia may seem moralizing, but this drama with overtones of thriller is gripping and masterfully executed
The first feature fiction film by Lithuania's Ignas Jonynas, The Gambler [+see also:
interview: Ignas Jonynas
film profile], world-premiered at San Sebastian and later won the Special Jury Award in the Warsaw Film Festival's international competition. It most recently screened in the Tridens Baltic Competition of the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn.
Set in a small seaside town in Lithuania, The Gambler is a story of Vincentas (Vytautas Kaniusonis, from Vanishing Waves [+see also:
interview: Kristina Buozyte
film profile]), a medic in an emergency services station. A passionate (or addicted?) gambler, he is deep in and thinks of a new scheme to bring him some quick money: betting on which of the patients will die first. Initially, only Vincentas' co-workers are playing the game, but when a nephew of one of them creates a website for this sort of gambling, it snowballs to unimaginable popularity and yet unseen amounts of money for medical workers in the country.
However, Vincentas has just started a passionate relationship with colleague Ieva (Oona Mekas, daughter of Jonas), who is also in a dire financial situation, being evicted from the apartment she can no longer afford and finding out her son's illness requires an exorbitantly expensive surgery. Of course she is the one who has a problem with the game her boyfriend has concocted.
Shot expertly by Janis Eglitis (Convoy) in crisp digital with inventive, but always clear use of lighting, The Gambler benefits from assured direction by Jonynas and unexpectedly fluid editing by first-timer Stasys Zak, alternatingbetween fast-paced, palpably strong scenes of action or conversation, and dreamy, slow-motion sequences for the more emotional parts of the film.
Kaniusonis and Mekas do a fantastic job: they are both commanding presences on screen, but moreover, they clearly put in all of their hearts into the performances, which are felt as true throughout the film. If Kaniusonis is the steamboat of this film, then Mekas is definitely its anchor.
Whether you find it moralizing or completely moral (which should sparkle a nice debate after you leave the cinema), The Gambler as written by Kristupas Sabolius and directed by Jonynas is a masterfully crafted and gripping drama with more than a dash of thriller.