Sharunas Bartas • Director of In the Dusk
“This partisan movement is a very important story for the memory of our nation”
by Kaleem Aftab
- Cineuropa met up with Sharunas Bartas at San Sebastián to talk about In the Dusk, Soviet history, family, resistance and why having the correct breed of sheep is necessary for period authenticity
Sharunas Bartas’ ninth feature, In the Dusk [+see also:
interview: Sharunas Bartas
film profile], selected in competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival, tells the story of a partisan movement resisting Soviet occupation in Lithuania in 1948. We delved deeper into the film with the director.
Cineuropa: What was your interest in making a film set in Lithuania just after World War II?
Sharunas Bartas: That situation was particularly important for Lithuania at that time. There was no direct resistance organised by the Lithuanian government against the Soviet occupation. As a result, many people from the military created their own underground resistance movement. The partisans hid in forests as they fought for Lithuanian independence against the Soviet Union, with the plan to re-emerge when independence was secured. It never happened. Well, not until 50 years later, with a whole different movement. However, this partisan movement is a very important story for the memory of our nation because the Soviet resistance against them was very cruel. All of these people died. Of course, a lot of people were also killed in the Gulags and in Siberia. This armed resistance movement lasted two decades. It's important, as it highlighted to Lithuanians that we had to fight for our land.
The film starts off as a family drama. There is murder and adultery on this farm even before we learn about the partisan movement. Why did you approach it in this way?
Family drama is everywhere. Families exist in every situation, and we talk about everything to them. What happens outside our houses does not matter so much, as it's family first before everything else, so that's why I put the family drama so prominently into the film.
Can you talk about the lighting in the picture, as it seems very dark at times, and there is a lot of use of light and shadow?
I wanted the lighting to be this way because after 1919, when we gained independence from the Russian Empire, there was land reform. The big landowners had land taken from them and were ordered to give some to peasants. Everyone was supposed to receive 10, 20 or 30 hectares. These new owners built homes on their own land because everyone wanted to be on their own fields. So Lithuania was unusual in that regard, as there were a lot of houses that were separate from the local village. Even today, you see fields with gardens and old ruins in them. Because of this, it's clear that this was once somewhere where a family lived on their own land. These buildings have fallen into disrepair, as they did not have electricity running to them, and no one wanted to move into houses with no electricity. So these houses were lit by candles and oil lamps. The idea of the lighting for the movie was to replicate that aesthetic.
Was it hard to replicate the 1940s in general?
It was very tough. We don't have houses like the ones that existed then any more, so we had to build them ourselves. We had to bring sheep. At that time, even the sheep were different. There are almost no sheep of the breed that was prominent at the time. So we had to bring our own sheep, and they started procreating on set. Also, every small bit of paper you see in the movie was in circulation before 1948.
Lithuania always seems to have this fear that Russia will take over. Is that a constant, even today?
Being invaded by Russia has happened more than once in Lithuanian history, so the fear is understandable. The Russian Empire did it. Later, the Soviets took control of all the Baltic countries, not because they wanted the land, but because of the strategic position by the Baltic Sea. It was facing the West. All of the wars had to go through Lithuania. No one knows what will happen in the future. Just three days before the recent war in Ukraine, no one suspected that would happen.
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