Make-up is carefully being applied to a woman’s face by another woman. Death in disguise? Is this about death? Are we death in disguise? All of us? Or does the first scene of the film also infuse our thoughts with the idea of closeness and distance? The closeness of the old woman, the distance of the young. To death. And their distance to each other. And then, at the end of this chain of thought, the alarming realisation: their closeness to each other. The scene is long, but it has ended now.
Death is a condition and a moment. In silence. Life is a long-distance race. Surrounded by good advice and soft, noisy punchlines, “…let’s sit easily and close the eyes / take a deep breath in… / … and out / again a deep breath in / …and out / listen to the noises around you / accept all the noises / be in harmony with the environment “ – he is running against time, against the direction of life, for his life. In every respect, someone quite unlike the woman being made up. But his scene follows close on the heels of hers. Because they basically think alike, they are both struggling for life, pleasure, beauty. Audrius Stonys wants his films to gather lonely people who think alike into groups. This is his method of making films. And he has used it to make this one. The long-distance runner runs into the picture, through the picture, and throughout the film. Against time.
Sleep is the living sister of death. Just before the woman in the third scene falls asleep (and also at that moment), her thoughts resemble the runner’s in the second. She surrenders to sleep as day to night, life to death. Confident of the reappearance. Later on, awake again, she is jogging in her living room. The bare feet against the carpet. The scene emphasises tactility, repetition, reality. In another scene, she is standing in front of the mirror, carefully applying night cream to her face. Revitalising it after removing her make-up. Working against time.
I guess the film is unavoidable, and we observe its relentless quest: to pursue the themes throughout the filmmaking. Like all auteurs, Stonys apparently works from film to film as if crafting a single work. In his lyrical, documentary meditations, the familiar motifs recur. His perception of time, of beauty and – starting with the etude “Alone” – he tests his art’s ability to endure in genres and idioms. To keep it from dying an early death, like nostalgia or aestheticism. Moralism or entertainment. Mainstreaming or consumerism. Which is why it requires such an effort for us to watch it. As Tarkovskij recalls what Goethe wrote, ”Reading a book is just as difficult as writing it!”. In other words, much remains to be done before we can truly claim to have watched Stonys’ film.
This is also the film’s major dilemma: it is so self-absorbed, we’re denied its reward; we become so accustomed to the way it jars our sensibilities that we all too easily abandon it instead of being taken in by it. Because we are not seduced, as in “Earth of the Blind”, by the beauty of Rimvydas Leipus’s magical black-and-white tapestry. Nor, as in “Antigravitation”, by the tension created by Jonas Gricius’s camerawork, drawing on an illustrious tradition (for which he seemingly risked his life). Will the old woman reach the top of the ladder? And if so, what will she do up there? Nor, as in “Harbour”, by the fascination of travelling along an old wall in dignity, like the tired bodies in the public baths. And absolutely not, as in “Alone”, by the movement as the music infuses a dimension of measured infinity into the face of the grieving child on the back seat of the car.
As we watch “Uku Ukai”, we are once again robbed of retrospection’s comfort of convention. As in “Countdown”, where we were brutally and without warning delivered up to the aesthetics of television, here we are abandoned to the unique pictorial beauty of the TV commercial repeatedly disturbed by the ugly colours of sportswear. There’s no getting around it. The world has changed. Alone in brief silent night scenes of the city silhouetted against the sky, yes, and trees blowing against the same sky, yes, and a young dancer practising, yes, leading our thoughts sadly back to the master, Henrikas Sablevicius, and his era.
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).