Review: Five and a Half Love Stories in an Apartment in Vilnius, Lithuania
- US-born Lithuanian director Tomas Vengris dissects multiple romantic micro-dramas transpiring in a Vilnius Airbnb rental
Tomas Vengris’s (Motherland [+see also:
film profile]) sophomore feature, Five and a Half Love Stories in an Apartment in Vilnius, Lithuania [+see also:
interview: Tomas Vengris
film profile], which has just world-premiered in the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s Rebels with a Cause section, is a melancholic anthology, connecting and twisting the fates of different people. Divided into five chapters, named after quotes from Shakespeare’s sonnets, the picture follows romantic mishaps transpiring in an Airbnb in central Vilnius. The first four chapters examine the guests' issues while the final one focuses on cleaner Jolanta (Velta Žygure), whose quiet appearances punctuate the intermissions.
Already from the opening shot, it’s apparent that the building is slowly collapsing. With each story adding a crack to the purple walls, the crumbling flat becomes a testament to the cumulative impact of human emotion. The rhythm mirrors the continuity and the cyclical nature of turmoil in seemingly ordinary lives. Sometimes, a vignette depends largely on that particular lead’s character trait.
All of the chapters, while different in nuance, deal with romantic thrills, rejection and regret. The first two episodes tackle the growing exhaustion between spouses that ignites flirtatious desires verging on infidelity. The film starts on a fun and playful note, with Meghan (Valene Kane), an Irishwoman, throwing a hen party for her younger sister and having a crush on stripper Mykolas (Marijus Mažūnas) after a rather reserved video call with her husband, allowing us to glimpse a hint of recklessness.
The second part, in which Israeli couple Issa (Yiftach Klein) and Galia (Hadar Ratzon Rotem) are struggling with fertility while also researching Galia’s family history connected to the Holocaust, is complex and strong. Their already complicated dynamics are trumped by those of a passionate couple upstairs, whose own sub-story turns out to be one of domestic violence. With its compact and layered density, this episode feels the most like a standalone short film.
The underlying themes of the third and fourth chapters are mimicry and the search for validation. These episodes also introduce unlikeable characters. The third episode with Hungarian DJ Philip (Géza Röhrig) attempting to rekindle the spark with his Lithuanian ex, followed by him entering a drunken state of limbo, brings some toxic macho flex to the screen. Philip’s character feels underwritten and caricatured, leaving the viewer indifferent or slightly annoyed at best.
The fourth segment, with stripper Mykolas returning to the flat to impress his love interest, the arrogant Jonas (Skomantas Duoplys), feels bittersweet and adds some gentle sentimentality to the film. However, the arrival of the sweet elderly Polish couple Pavel (Juliusz Krzysztof Warunek) and Agata (Magdalena Celówna-Janikowska) exposes Mykolas.
The departure of Pavel and Agata takes us to the final part, where we learn more about Jolanta and her story, which puts a poignant and touching end to this anthology.
Some connections between the stories are organic, like the return of Mykolas and Jolanta’s interludes, while others feel forced. What truly ties it all together is the apartment – not only a crucial setting, but also another character serving as a vessel for the pent-up frustrations. DoP Jurģis Kmins’ (Songs for a Fox [+see also:
interview: Kristijonas Vildziunas
film profile], Samuel’s Travels [+see also:
film profile]) camera pays meticulous attention to detail. Close-ups and detail shots show subtle facial tics, mundane party artefacts and personal effects. Often, the action is filmed from another room, creating a distant, voyeuristic feel. Other unusual perspectives (from behind a chair, through half-shut doors, from the surface of the bed or the floor, or from the window) further intensify the spy-like thrill in the viewer.
Five and a Half Love Stories in an Apartment in Vilnius, Lithuania is a co-production by Lithuania's Studio Uljana Kim, Ireland’s Tiger Darling Production and Latvia's Locomotive Productions. The international sales are managed by Alief.
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