Literally gambling with lives in impressive but a bit too gloomy Lithuanian film of the year.
Director: Ignas Jonynas | Stars: Vytautas Kaniusonis, Oona Mekas
Budget: n.a. | Box office: 0.4 million (four weeks)
IMDB: 7.9 | Metacritic: n.a.
Lithuanian cinema is really taking off. It’s a great feeling to see even couple of homemade film trailers mixed in usual Hollywood production before the film starts.
This years’ big deal and a really impressive breakthrough is a film called The Gambler (in Lithuanian „Losejas“, not to confuse with the new same title film with Mark Wahlberg). It was quite a brave decision to release such film for several reasons. It’s both a directors’ Ignas Jonynas and lead actors’ Vytautas Kaniusonis big screen debut. Of course they had previous experience, Ignas joined Timur Bekmambetov and several other Russian directors for the comedy Six Degrees of Celebration, and Vytautas is a long time theatre actor. But still it‘s the first big commitment and exposure to international audiences for our creators.
Another question is the film’s topic and the mood itself. As it’s typical for many such Lithuanian films, Losejas first travelled around international film festivals before showing up at home. It sounds strange, but in earlier times it was usual that many such films were never even screened in home cinemas, probably because of costs of showing them, reluctance of cinema theatre chains to give space for auteur films, even from our own country, instead of Hollywood productions which guarantee financial success. Our audience too was not really drawn to such films. But with this film it seems that the situation changed a bit and we have a chance to have both internationally critically acclaimed and financially successful film.
The director himself described his work as half festival film and half for wider theatrical audience. For me it seems that this can be applied directly. The first half of The Gambler is quite enjoyable and hooks with the unusual premise. The film follows emergency medic and his colleagues, who every spare minute from saving somebody‘s live spend gambling in one way or another. Especially cool looks the horse racing board game from Soviet times. The film has a very good pace, filming in our port city and especially music really fits the mood. The main plot idea is really unique and raises lots of moral questions. I don‘t want to go into details as it was a great surprise to discover and follow the ideas‘ development, but you can imagine what can happen when you mix medics and gambling. So everything goes really well till about the middle of film, and then…
Then The Gambler starts getting gloomier and depressing, with the main focus shifting from central idea to the sorrows of a lonely woman (played by a daughter of our famous US based artist Jonas Mekas), the cruel destiny of illnesses and general misfortunes. That‘s I suppose is festival material and at least after the screening I overheard several complaints that it wasn‘t as they expected. Comments in our popular film related website obuolys.lt are also very polarized – small percent of very high praises and lots of angry words. The problem probably was quite active promotion of the film and perceived similarity to our last years’ hit Redirected. Nevertheless, The Gambler earned quite a lot of money for our small market, so there is a future for such more serious and not easily digested national films.