Escape to the country in Nova Lituania
Atmospheric Lithuanian yarn, set in the run-up to the outbreak of the Second World War, examines issues of statehood, sense of place, government and ownership
12 November, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
Inventive and thought-provoking – Nova Lituania
Directed by Karolis Kaupinis
FACED with standing, fighting and certainly losing, or fleeing to regroup and live another day – a classic dilemma facing the underdog in heroic tales through the ages.
It is a theme running through this inventive, thought-provoking Lithuanian yarn set in the immediate run-up to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Writer/director Karolis Kaupinis had come across the story of how a Lithuanian geography professor, reading the political situation in Europe, suggested the nation buy a tract of land in South America or Africa, nicely out of harm’s way for the duration.
Perhaps at face value it was nothing more than an eccentric brainstorm, but on further study it raises issues over statehood, sense of place, government and ownership.
It is these themes that Kaupinis picks up and considers with style.
It is 1938, and geography Professor Felikas Gruodis (Aleksas Kazanavičius) believes that his country’s 20 years of independence are clearly coming to an end.
War clouds are gathering on their borders, and the nation is looking furtively towards Poland, the USSR, Germany – wondering which neighbour will strike first.
Gruodis is delivering a lecture on his theory of how nations covet living space and the exploitation of resources – and what that means for the future of Lithuanian culture.
The answer he arrives at is to create a “back up” country, a place his Lithuanians can collectively head to while this war blows over.
He catches the eye of the ailing prime minister Jonas (Vaidotas Martinaitis), who is gobbling down aspirin in an attempt to stave off the heart attack his doctor says is coming until the war breaks over his nation.
The pair join forces as they hope to put into action a plan that will mean the people of Lithuania remain in charge of their destinies.
We discover that the professor’s home life is also being invaded.
His relationship with his wife (Rasa Samuolytė) is formed of cold words and hard stares.
His mother-in-law (Eglė Gabrėnaitė) is moving in, meaning his study, his only real haven, a place full of old books and artefacts, must be cleared out to create a bedroom.
The domestic situation is a microcosm of the nation at large, and further spurs his hopes of persuading everyone to up sticks and leave for pastures new.
As well as telling us a pleasantly original story, it looks and sounds beautiful.
Shot in black and white, the pools of light that are centre stage for the characters to waft through adds an eerie, of-the-period atmosphere.
You can sense that those dark shadows in the corner of the screen lurk the bloodthirsty Nazis, bogeymen stalking the professor.
Though there is a sense of the farce not unlike the Peter Sellers film The Mouse That Roared, the satire here is brutal and dark – especially when you consider what actually happened to the people of Lithuania during the war.
Yet by focusing on such a crazy idea, film-maker Kaupinis has placed it into the context of how else do you explain what happened in those dark years?
Isn’t the organised murder of war the ultimate insanity?