REHABILITATION: In viewing Vilnius prisoners serving life sentences, Exemplary Behaviour examines the paradox between justice and forgiveness.
Lauren Wissot
Lauren Wissot is a US film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer, and a contributing editor at both
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 Behaviour one gets the sense that Mickevičius is on a mission of seeking, of filming to find answers, even using the documentary process as a means to grieve. Mickevičius is looking to capture nothing less (and nothing more) than moments of humanity; signs of redemption behind those prison walls. The inmate he focuses on nearly exclusively, an older man who will never again experience life outside a cell, lovingly strokes a cat he’s adopted. He also reads from a list of items he’s ordered for his upcoming wedding – among them a touching «19 red roses» for his bride to be.

Exemplary Behaviour-documentary
Exemplary Behaviour, a film by Audrius Mickevičius & Nerijus Milerius

Soon Mickevičius’s camera is following the bride – right back to the …


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