Giedrius Tamoševičius • Director of The Poet
“Man's basic instincts and feelings are not subject to time, but we can analyse them and draw our own conclusions”
by Ana Stanic
- The Lithuanian director spoke to us about his latest film, co-written with Vytautas V Landsbergis, about a newly appointed teacher who arrives at a remote village school in 1947
We chatted to Lithuanian director Giedrius Tamoševičius about his movie The Poet [+see also:
interview: Giedrius Tamoševičius
film profile], which has just won the Best Film Award in the Baltic Film Competition at Tallinn Black Nights (see the news).
Cineuropa: What drew you to this story, and what sources did you use while preparing it?
Giedrius Tamoševičius: I grew up with the poetry of Lithuanian poet Kostas Kubilinskas, written in the post-war years. He created a world of magical characters, of talking animals and emotional people. His poems, stories and songs are full of light, love for his mother and nature. A poet who creates such beauty must also be a good person; nobody ever questions that. However, in the 1990s, when Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviet Union, the KGB archives were declassified. They revealed that Kostas was a KGB agent who had betrayed many innocent people and partisans, and had even murdered people. Such shocking news completely undermines the basis of one’s values.
This controversial story was a big inspiration for the film. It required serious research to get to the bottom of the details, to understand the circumstances of the time and to piece together the details of the mosaic of truth. I wanted to find answers to why this happened and whether it could have been avoided. I spent a lot of time in the KGB archive. We had direct contact with historians and experts, and we were also able to talk to the writer's close relatives and to eyewitnesses. We also analysed the diaries of the partisans who suffered at his hands.
What was the dynamic when writing the script together with Vytautas V Landsbergis?
When Vytautas suggested making a film about Kostas, I first had to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of his life and the difficult post-war period. Vytautas is a writer, and he understands the archetypal nuances of a writer – the peculiarities of poetry – a lot better than I do. The theme of partisan resistance to the Soviets is also very important to him. However, this is a very risky subject because, as a rule, it is easy to fall into the trap of portraying the Soviets as bad and the partisans as heroic. There is little room for the hesitant, fallible human being.
Developing the movie was a long road of transformation and controversy. But one thing was clear: there had to be conflict between the two sides – that of the Soviets and that of the partisans. The most interesting thing when analysing Kostas’ biography was that he did not decide for a long time which side he would support, constantly adapting to the changing circumstances and trying to survive. This character of the undecided person always adapting was very appropriate for our story, and it had strong dramatic potential.
Once the image of the protagonist had been established, a counterbalance was needed – an equal antagonist. We based him on the autobiographical facts about three partisan commanders who existed in reality. This is how partisan commander Tauras came into being: the symbol of a freedom fighter who also understands the value of good poetry and its impact on people's morals.
Donatas Želvys is a real discovery. Was it difficult for him to prepare for the role?
Donatas is undoubtedly a revelation. He is an extremely responsible actor who dives deep into every detail of a script, a role or a dialogue. He lives it with every cell in his body. During the preparation and the filming (which lasted almost a year), Donatas lived the life of a poet. He delved into the work of Kostas Kubilinskas and his biographical details. He ate very little, smoked a lot, avoided the sun and took on the appearance of a sleepy man. Even his gait and posture changed. He is left-handed, but because of his role as a poet of the time, he learned to write with his right hand. But these are just physical changes. Psychologically, he prepared himself just as much. It is a great pleasure to work with such an actor.
The film has a particular visual quality, reminiscent of the colour films of the 1950s. How did you create the visual style?
To recreate the post-war era, we wanted to shoot on celluloid, but we didn't have the means. Then, we shot tests of the main scenes in the right lighting conditions with a 16 mm film camera. The whole movie was shot on a digital camera, but after the shoot, the look and feel of film was restored as much as possible with the help of image and colour correction. In general, I wanted a sense of immediacy in the way the film was shot.
Do you see any relevance or connection to today in this film?
It certainly is relevant, as history tends to repeat itself. Nobody expected war. And now, here we have the mechanisms of coercion, fear, violence and propaganda operating according to exactly the same principles again. Man's basic instincts and feelings are not subject to time, but we can analyse them and draw our own conclusions.
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