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VENICE 2019 International Film Critics’ Week

Review: Parthenon


- VENICE 2019: Mantas Kvedaravičius’ new film is the result of extensive research conducted in Odessa, Istanbul and Athens

Review: Parthenon
Mehdi Mohammed in Parthenon

Lithuanian filmmaker and academic Mantas Kvedaravičius' new work, Parthenon [+see also:
interview: Mantas Kvedaravičius
film profile
, was presented during this year's Venice International Film Critics’ Week. His two previous features, Barzakh (2011) and Mariupolis [+see also:
film review
interview: Mantas Kvedaravicius
film profile
(2016), skilfully explored the themes of dreams and death, and art forms and warfare, respectively. On this occasion, Kvedaravičius chooses to focus his attention on body and memory, and his film is the result of ethnographic research that lasted three years, and which was conducted in Odessa, Istanbul and Athens.

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In a brothel at the foothills of an Athenian fortress, a Sudanese man, called Mehdi (Mehdi Mohammed), recounts the magnificent events of his life. His search for love and glory is retold and relived by three individuals – namely, Anna, a prostitute with an unredeemable past (Hanna Bilobrova); Garip, a Kurdish gangster plagued by bad luck (Garip Öezdem); and Sofia, an icon painter who has no faith (Rita Burkovska). In one of the stories, the man finds his riches; in another, he becomes a vagabond prophet; and in yet another, he returns home to his wife. However, his memory betrays him, but he knows for sure that, in one of these lives, he will be killed.

The film presents itself as pertaining to a hybrid genre of fiction and documentary. Finding the differences between the staged and the non-staged sequences or settings is rather hard, and this is certainly an admirable quality. The blurred separation between fiction and documentary is reinforced by a great cast including only non-professional actors, whose presence on the screen recalls the real-life experiences that they have lived through.

The camera follows the subjects very closely – the vast majority of the shots are details, close-ups and extreme close-ups – and the settings are very dark and claustrophobic (mostly interiors). While this may be uncomfortable and distressing for the viewer, it also ties in perfectly with the exploration of body and memory that the Lithuanian helmer engages in here. Overall, the feeling is that the work is entirely conceived as a vortex, a sort of unstoppable flow. This does not imply a fast-paced film; on the contrary, the movie unfurls a rather slow, observational approach that gradually brings us to different moments of realisation. The feeling of continuity is mostly conveyed by the director's original juxtapositions of characters, places and circumstances.

It is certainly a work deserving of attention, but its atypical and “unfriendly” aesthetic quality will probably pose a significant obstacle to holding viewers' attention and tugging at their heartstrings. Those who are familiar with (and fond of) hybrid genres, ethnographic documentaries and contemplative cinema may find it an enriching, unforgettable visual experience. In this respect, Kvedaravičius’ directorial choices are brave and commendable; filmmakers of his kind guarantee the development of cinematic experimentation and remind us – rightfully – that there are plenty of unexplored narrative possibilities other than the ones offered by established fictional or non-fictional structures and formats.

Parthenon was produced by Lithuania's Studio Uljana Kim, Ukraine's ESSE Production House, France's Rouge International and Kvedaravičius' own Lithuanian outfit, Extimacy Films.

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