WHO is he?

Internationally-acclaimed Lithuanian cinematographer, actor, screenwriter and director who has made 8 feature films since his debut in 1990. Bartas has been classified as a filmmaker working in the Contemporary Contemplative Cinema format (CCC) — a strand of arthouse filmmaking that primarily evokes a reaction of meditative reflection from the audience instead of rational decoding of plot mechanics.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Bartas’ early films are sparse, semi-autobiographical reflections set against Lithuania’s independence from Soviet Union just before its collapse. This loss of direction for the nation, in Bartas’ films, trickles down to the lives of the characters as well, who find themselves unable to communicate with one another. They are often enchained to their past, without a future to look forward to. His later films, specifically the ones made after the creation of the European Union, deal with marginalised characters — illegal immigrants, criminals — whose lives seem somehow unaffected by the rosy promises made by the Union.

Style

Situated between the styles of Andrei Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr, Bartas’ aesthetic is marked by a mixture of extreme close-ups of faces and long shots of people dwarfed by landscape, naturalistic sound design, lengthy takes, episodic, abstract narration, expressionless acting, dark, claustrophobic interiors and vast, endless outdoors, near absence of expositional dialogue, presence of small animals in the mise en scène and sporadically comparative editing patterns. The scenes themselves combine hyper-realist and surrealist imagery, while being firmly rooted in contemporary politics.

WHY is he of interest?

Bartas’ body of work is an excellent example of how to bring together autobiography, political topicality and formal experimentation without compromise. These films are challenging concoctions of nostalgia, criticism and spiritual anxiety. They might not give any concession to the audience in terms of narrative accessibility, but they are, evidently, products of a highly personal, unyielding vision.

WHERE to discover him?

Eastern Drift (2010) witnesses Bartas engaging with the genre of Euro-thriller, and follows a mercenary on the lam, played by Bartas himself, who hops from one European city to another. Though more conventionally structured and less stylised than Bartas’ previous works, the film nevertheless denies giving the audience an easy way into it. Eastern Drift turns the genre completely inside out, undermining the basic assumption it is founded on — of easy mobility within the European countries — and, in effect, attacking the Eurozone’s utopian pretensions of a continent sans frontiers.