REHABILITATION: In viewing Vilnius prisoners serving life sentences, Exemplary Behaviour examines the paradox between justice and forgiveness.
Lauren Wissot
Lauren Wissot
A US-based film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer.
Published date: October 26, 2019

Audrius Mickevičius and Nerijus Milerius’s Exemplary Behaviour is a highly cinematic, surprising look at the Lithuanian prison system through a very complicated lens. With powerful images and an evocative, often ambient sound design, the directors manage to create a work that feels quasi-religious in both spirit and tone.

A sacred quest

The film begins with the Mickevičius himself, who serves as voiceover narrator and on-camera guide, revealing the personal tragedy that brought him to the topic of incarceration in the first place – the murder of his older brother by two men, one of whom ended up taking full responsibility and received a decade-long sentence. After a mere five years, however, the killer was released due to, as the doc’s title alludes to, his «exemplary behaviour».

Here is where things take a turn for the unexpected, starting with another admission by the director/narrator – specifically that he’s chosen the path of forgiveness, of «embracing the pain». The stream-of-consciousness scenes that follow – from lifers operating machinery in the prison workshop, to a French philosopher (and former inmate) expounding on life behind bars, to surveillance footage – add up to a kind of inner journey made visible, a sacred quest.

Indeed, watching Exemplary …

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