Dreams of Puerto Rico: Sharunas Bartas' The Corridor


corridor n. a long passage in a building from which doors lead into rooms.
--Oxford English Dictionary

Lithuanian filmmaker Sharunas Bartas' The Corridor opens with an exterior shot of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, with its ubiquitous smoke stacks and factories. Accompanying this rather bleak image is a demulcent male voice humming what sounds like a cross between a mournful threnody and a sweet lullaby. The titular corridor symbolizes the chamber of the collective unconscious of the Lithuanian people. It also represents the narrow passage of aesthetics Bartas negotiates in his second feature-length film—a balancing act of portraying the ingrained sense of melancholy etched on the wizened faces and burned into the lugubrious eyes of the characters and their quiet hopes for the future, hopes which they dare not curse by iterating them with words.

This film was made in 1994, in the immediate years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Lithuania’s independence. It is notable that Bela Tarr’s Satantango, with similar stylistic as well as thematic elements, was also made in the same year. Much as in the general milieu of Tarr’s film, sadness permeates the air of the said corridor of a run-down apartment building, as well as the hearts of its residents. The film critic Acquarello has referred to the state of Bartas’ characters as a “demoralized collective psyche foundering in the obsolescence of an elusive and crumbled ideology.” This isn’t simply a case of the understated show of emotions pioneered by Robert Bresson and imitated in countless arthouse films of varying qualities. The characters are afflicted with a metaphorical case of contagious aphasia and catatonia.

But even amidst this doom and gloom, we witness small moments of mirth. In what may be the most action-filled scene that reverberates with flashbacks to the hypnotic dance scene from Satantango, we see the building residents dance to songs—romantic Latin songs like “Puerto Rico” by Vaya con Dios and “Escucha Me” by the Gypsy Kings. In the hearts and minds of these people burdened by the weight of their quotidian lives and oppressive gray chilly skies are souls that yearn for warmth and exoticism.

Bartas, as have many other great political filmmakers before him, has made a great political film without making explicit references to politics. The Corridor hits that bittersweet spot between Bela Tarr’s Satantango, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, somewhere between collective experiences and personal recollections. And it is far more than merely mimetic, because Bartas manages to frame the personal experiences of the residents of a building within the greater sociological implications.

Sharunas Bartas, Kim Ki-young, and Glauber Rocha


No, there isn't much common among these three filmmakers, except that they all either had or have intensely personal visions of what cinema should be. And because I am partial to those iconoclastic filmmakers who strive to perfect the idiosyncratic, I will be managing the aforementioned three in the MUBI Directors' Cup.

I have selected The Corridor, Io Island, and The Age of the Earth respectively for their first round matches. And they will compete against Abbas Kiarostami's Where Is the Friend's Home?, Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, and Jacques Rivette's Le Pont du Nord. Obviously, my directors are the lesser-known underdogs in all three matches, but I relish the opportunity to showcase the works of these underappreciated masters. Check back for further analysis and results.

The Corridor

Io Island

The Age of the Earth

MUBI Directors' Cup


In those bygone halcyon days of last year when the newly renamed MUBI was still known by the infinitely superior moniker The Auteurs, a few of us organized a competitive cinematic event called The Auteurs World Cup 2009. To the consternation of others involved, I jokingly and affectionately referred to the event as Dorkapalooza, but in all honesty, the event was a film geek's wet-dream-come-true. It was conceived by a user named Kenji, and he and another user named Apursansar were the chief organizers, with me and a few others pitching in to make hard-to-find films available for online viewing.

The conceit was a simple one--to follow the format of the real football World Cup and to form 8 brackets composed of 4 national/regional teams, whose managers would select 3 films to pit against 3 films selected by the opposing managers. It attracted what could be called a moderately successful interest from The Auteurs community, but it did catch the eyes of some power players in the cinephile community, namely CNN's cinema blog, They Shoot Films, Don't They?, and Martin Scorsese himself (or at least the guy or gal who manages his account at MUBI).

While it was indeed a tournament with some friendly trash talk involved--you ain't never heard such whack trash talk as can be found among film geeks--the format was in reality a conceit that would help the contestants and voters discover new films and to rediscover and reassess canonized classics. And when the smoke cleared, the final four teams were--to the surprise of many--Japan, China, India, and Africa. China and India defeated Japan and Africa respectively in close semifinal matches, and China triumphed in the championship match, in the process exposing The Auteurs community to Wang Bing's epic sculpting-in-time documentary Tie Xu Qu: West of the Tracks among others.

Now some 6 months later, the nerd brigade--scratch that, dedicated cinephiles--have struck again to stage what I affectionately refer to as Dorkapalooza Redux. New twists have been added to the competition, this time pitting 128 filmmakers from around the world in a one-film-versus-one-film, single elimination tournament. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the Directors' Cup.

And Dr.Strangefilm, yours truly, is proud to announce that he will be the unofficial blogger for this event. Follow along, cheer, and jeer. Discover hidden gems, and revisit familiar classic. Watch these films and follow this blog for results featuring salient and entertaining commentary from the participants. Remember Dr.Strangefilm's credo: "Watch these films, and e-mail me in the morning." Cinema does you good.