Laurynas Bareisa makes a striking debut with this simple, though effective drama playing at Tallinn following a world premiere earlier this year at the Venice Film Festival where it was met with the Orizzonti award for Best Film.
The story follows two main characters, Indre (Gabija Bargailaite), and Paulius (Giedrius Kiela), two souls who have clearly known each other for quite some time. Their relationship isn’t immediately clear, but we soon discover that have reconnected after a period to piece together the death of Matas, brother to Paulius and ex-girlfriend of Indre. We learn, early on, that Matas was brutally kidnapped, raped, and murdered in a small town by someone known as Vytenis, a local man charged, found guilty, and then sentenced for the horrific killing. The film follows Indre and Paulius’ journey as they re-trace his final moments, seemingly step-by-step, keen to find some closure in their pilgrimage to the locations where Matas was present before he died.
Bareisa’s debut feature is impressive, but oh so simple in its execution. The pace is slow, cinematography by Narvydas Naujalis almost static – and there is a lot of silence – certainly no music or background score throughout. Though simplistic, the staging is precise and calculated, particularly the camerawork. A late scene from the inside of a car uses slight camera movement but manages to convey the intentions with just a fraction of effort, the audible silence also aiding the visuals. The two performances from Bargailaite and Kiela are convincing and sincere, if at times a little unsettling, certainly from Paulius’ unpredictable nature.
As a viewer, we hurtle towards what we expect to be a grand, satisfying conclusion as the two’s seemingly unpredictable actions and intentions suggest, but that never seems to come. What solace the two looks to find doesn’t come – certainly across to the viewer come the closing credits, but with the subject matter and the delicate hand guiding us on this journey, that is absolutely the point of it all anyway?
Simplistic, though truly magnificent journey filmmaking in this exceptional feature debut from Laurynas Bareisa.
Pilgrims was reviewed at the 2021 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival where it plays in the Baltic Film Competition strand.