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.


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