Thursday, May 9, 2013

KORIDORIUS (Sharunas Bartas, 1994)

Forget any contrivance of plot, forget any semblance of story, forget altogether the Aristotelian unities of time, place and action. Koridorius is a patently experimental, art-house film that defies easy categorization, as hermetically sealed as its auteur, Sharunas Bartas, who has remained unforthcoming about the significance of his work, resolutely cultivating a poetics so personal that we seem to be looking over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of his heuristic pursuits. Given this caveat, Koridorius, as well as the rest of Bartas' equally arcane output, is not meant for everyone and bound to estrange the casual viewer accustomed alone to traditional modalities of moviemaking.

Koridorious pushes the envelope further. There is no dialogue at all spoken throughout the film. The characters, as a consequence, are fleshless and nameless. They do not trace any substantial character development; they come and go in a revolving door that doesn’t invest them with any dramatic arc. Whatever function they serve or tropes they may represent are nebulous and hard to pin down given the nature of the use of imagery and the subversion of story.

What connects them together is the presence of the corridor that they inhabit and pass through, on the same floor of a nameless tenement. If one insists, however, on a key -- a speculative metaphor -- the corridor may represent an overarching, claustrophobic tunnel that funnels them -- and us -- towards a long perspectival and diachronic view of time and space. According to one interpretation (even Bartas' associates are secretive and coy about the mysteries of the auteur's work), Koridorius is meant to allegorize Lithuania and its history. It is supposed to chart the progress of this Baltic state, Bartas' homeland, from Soviet Communism to a newfound democracy.

Authorial intention, however, can only go so far in elucidating one's grasp of this befuddling but mesmerizing film. Faced by its heady and hypnotic visuals, one abandons, by degrees, the hope for a story and settles into the languid rhythms of the film's slow, stately progression. One is taken by the contemplative and thoughtful faces that remind the viewer of Bresson’s models. One disregards that they don’t speak at all, subdued in a hush, a kind of post-verbal existence, weary of voices and speech, and that they never attempt to realize a significant presence in a full-fledged drama.

Let's try to make sense of it.

Three characters stand out and given what little Bartas hints about this film's intention, might represent three generations of the Lithuanian man, or its history: a teenage boy, a young man, and a middle-aged man. What do these characters do? Random acts, basically. But all seem to be caught under the influence of the dark, solemn corridor, where they live: deadpan, etherized. The youngest of them seems to behave in ways that young, mischievous boys are supposed to behave: he steals into wine cellars and gets drunk, sets fire to laundry, and victimizes a pet bird. The young man seems emptily content pacing the corridor, caught in a solemn, lazy posture in bed, dragging on a cigarette all through the film. The middle-aged man stands in front of the window gazing at an empty view; shortly after we see him blowing on the barrel of a shotgun like a woodwind instrument. Is he suicidal? Is this the culmination of life? History? Is this a metaphor for the malaise of a nation?  We can only speculate.

A seemingly crucial moment in the film comes when a contrast appears to be attempted, and as a consequence a statement. While the corridor plays host to a party among its inhabitants – the only part where we catch emotions on faces – outside the building there is an influx of throngs of people into the city. Later on, there are shots apparently of the same people in the city square, seemingly as homeless refugees, trying desperately to keep warm with bonfires using all the wood that they can find in the streets. What does this juxtaposition mean? Is the obvious interpretation about class conflict or class callousness applicable here? Or does it suggest the failure of a new democratic polity? These are bits and pieces that are ultimately not tied together. But it hardly seems to matter. Koridorius is too riveting to break its spell. The images possess both the antinomy of poetry and documentary: the camera takes its sweet time in long, seemingly empty takes and the actual ambient sounds of  this tenement are captured on the soundtrack. That it has historical, social, political overtones may be momentarily overlooked and seem secondary, only to reward the viewer on subsequent viewings. If nothing else, it is a welcome change from the oppression of fictional and narrative fare one finds at the theaters. Not that it will ever be shown in one.

Title in English: The Corridor
reviewed: September 18, 2006

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