ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2013 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 59, No.1 - Spring 2013
Editor of this issue: Jurgita Staniðkytë

Mimic Realities: The Construction of Popular Identity in Contemporary Lithuanian Film


EDGARAS KLIVIS is associate professor of Theater Studies at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas. He teaches theater history and theory, film theory, and creative industries. His research is focused on the historical development of theater and film in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.

This article aims to analyze and evaluate the contemporary Lithuanian film industry, employing the concept of “national cinema.” From the possible definitions of this concept, the author chooses the “protectionist,” claiming (as per Ian Jarvie) that mastery of new technology is vital for societies if they are to develop and modernize. For example, new media technologies offer the possibility of constructing a polemical and critical picture of social reality through cinematic devices and communicating with a wider national audience. Referring to three examples – the Lithuanian art house film, Ðarûnas Bartas’s production Eastern Drift, and a popular reinterpretation of the myth about a noble Lithuanian bandit, Tadas Blinda. The Legend Is Born – the author points to problems post-Soviet Lithuanian society faces in dealing with its own critical reflection. The major problem, the lack of skills in the new media languages and technologies, results in “mimic realities” that make it difficult to negotiate major social issues on a popular level and places film outside public matters.


In his book From Caligari to Hitler: a Psychological History of the German Film, Siegfried Kracauer argues that film is able to reflect the mentality of a nation better than any other medium. There are two reasons for this: first, film is never a solely personal creation, but rather a collective one, where individual peculiarities are suppressed “in favor of traits common to many people.”1 Second, a film is supposed to appeal to a wide audience and satisfy the existing desires of an anonymous multitude. In this attempt to please, a film will inevitably reflect common national characteristics, inclinations, fears, and hopes – in short, the psychological state of a nation.2

Kracauer’s book, published in 1947, was one of the first film studies that used the concept of “national cinema” as an analytic tool, grounding it on a coherent narrative that related the apolitical and escapist tendency of the German film industry from the Weimar period to the subsequent totalitarian Nazi regime. Many things have changed since then, and Kracauer’s premises are now subject to criticism. For example, the idea of auteur film, of the director as primary author using the camera as a stylus, described by the critics of the French Cahiers du Cinéma and the filmmakers of the New Wave in the late twentieth century, has become institutionalized, at least when considering European film art as an alternative to the Hollywood entertainment industry. Also, the commercial motivation to foresee and resonate with the prevailing psychological states of the anonymous national audience does not appear as urgent in the framework of contemporary cinema. In Europe, eighty to ninety per cent of the income from film goes to Hollywood anyway, and it is obvious that the scale of a successful film industry today has long exceeded the limits of a national film market (and correspondingly national public). Commercially successful film projects, like the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), are primarily the result of international distribution, which demands a certain degree of standardization and universalization.3 A film culture, on the other hand, involved in particular problem issues, often seen as a niche for European film, in most cases aims at transnational festival audiences or distinct target groups (like emigrant communities, teenagers and their parents, etc.) that are diffused across European nation-states.

And yet, contemporary film researchers do not seem to be deterred from using the concept of “national cinema,” and there are some good reasons why they should not. First, in most European countries, the film industry is, in one way or another, supported by the state, and this model of creative economy inevitably provokes regular discussions, often not so much concerned with legitimating the national film industry as centered on priorities and financing. The arguments used in these discussions always involve a certain definition of national film culture.4 Second, in many cases, the artists themselves strategically point out the relationship of their projects to national cultural interests (even if for no other reason than to attempt to meet the requirements of national film policy). And eventually it should be remembered that the concept of “national cinema” also works as a tool that furthers researchers’ investigations of historical representations and popular memory, (neo)colonialism, migration, ethnic and religious conflicts, and local identity in the face of global corporate capitalism, among other issues. Even if Kracauer’s psychologized and organicist understanding of the nation should be rejected, these issues can be successfully analyzed with the help of key concepts, such as national culture, nationalism, national identity, and nation-state. 

Since I am going to employ the concept of “national cinema” as the basis for this analysis of contemporary Lithuanian film and its relation to its local public, I have chosen (out of many options) Jarvie’s article, “National Cinema: A Theoretical Assessment,” to refer to for a critical and systematic understanding of the term.5 After sifting through the different material on this issue, Jarvie states three major arguments that serve as the bases of (the need for) national film policy. I will introduce them briefly, changing their order for my own purposes. One of the three arguments Jarvie makes is called “nation-building,” which claims that, although cinema is not necessary for nation-building, it nevertheless can be perceived as an important means “to socialize newly emancipated populations away from radicalism and towards acceptance of the mores, outlook, and continuing hegemony of the governing and cultural [national – E.K.] elites.”6 This works not only in relation to early twentieth-century politics, but also to the past twenty-five years in relation to the Eastern European countries that were able to rebuild their nation-states after the collapse of the Soviet empire and later entered international alliances and experienced the effects of globalized capitalism. 

The second argument for national film support is “cultural defense,” encompassing both the attempts to defend a fragile local culture from alien mores, outlooks on life, and values brought about by foreign films (and it is again valid for small and economically backward Eastern European countries, where culture is often perceived as fragile and requiring a political defense), and the attempts to foster local culture so that it could satisfy both the cultural and entertainment needs of local society.7

The author’s third argument (“protectionist”) is purely economic and culturally indifferent: the state can protect certain industries (infant industries, for example) in certain cases (as in economic dumping) and the film industry can be included among them. Later, however, Jarvie admits that “buried within the infant industry argument is a corollary about the acquisition and mastery of new technology,”8 which also brings about a cultural version of the third argument for national cinema. According to Jarvie, film is “part of the nuts and bolts kit of modern communication technologies, especially those for dramatizing fiction, and for presenting news and information.”9 The ability, in other words, to master technologies (which are, in Jarvie’s view, the ground, for both cadres and audiences, for moving forward towards the latest electronic and digital technologies so they can accommodate local skills, traditions of communication, local narratives and dramas) is vital to the modernization of society. Thus, according to Jarvie: “If movies are indispensable, or at least very instructive, basic communications technology, then building a node of the industry in or near each distinct modernizing cultural entity is warranted.”10

At this point, Jarvie’s argument can be extended by reference to other notable theorists of nationalism (Jarvie mostly relates to Ernst Gellner), such as Benedict Anderson, who has pointed out and analyzed the significance of earlier media, namely print, in the process of the rise and development of imagined communities into modern nation-states.11 Anderson claims that the advent of the printing press, backed by capitalist mechanical reproduction and the market, created the particular common language fields for what used to be different vernacular groups, helped to build the image of antiquity vital for “the subjective idea of the nation,” and in general “laid the bases for national consciousnesses.”12

My own thesis is to combine the two arguments, pointing out that, at the end of the twentieth century, certain national societies experiencing (re)construction, for example, the nation-states of Eastern Europe, were crucially dependent, not only on press agents, but also on other media, including audiovisual new media and film, among others. Like print in the late nineteenth century, Lithuanian was used to unify vernacular language groups and construct a sense of historical continuity and community. Today, national consciousness and popular national identity are also supported and developed by new media (film, radio, TV, and the Internet). What is important is that it is not just the possession of the independent technical base for these media that matters, but also, according to Jarvie, the ability to master the content, “ways to construct exposition, whether of fact or fiction; […] means of generating anticipation and excitement,”13 etc.

I would like to look at certain recent developments in Lithuanian film over the past decade, searching for two basic functions that I think are crucial to “mastering” new media technologies: first, the ability to construct a polemical and critical picture of social reality through the use of cinematic devices, such as film narrative, genre, and style; and second, competence in using the same cinematic devices to reach a wider national audience.

The ill fame of Lithuanian art house cinema: an unrecognizable reality 

In a critical survey of Lithuanian film during the Soviet period, the film critic Þivilë Pipinytë points out that one of the most striking qualities of Lithuanian film culture of the seventies and eighties was its loss of contact with reality. According to the critic, the reasons for this distance from reality were manifold. First, the film artists, even in their adaptations of the national literature, were often looking for widely accessible, universal subjects rather than specific, locally oriented issues.14 One can guess that the reason for this bias was the integration of local Lithuanian film structures into the broad film industry of the Soviet Union. Work proposals, wide recognition, and awards came from the imperial center (to say nothing about forced mechanisms of censorship control and regulation), and motivated the repetition of already approved successful narratives and stylistic models with some supplementary decoration called “national form.”15 Under such conditions, Lithuanian film directors and writers were producing mimic versions of successful Soviet films, or even more directly, produced films according to political orders from Moscow, such as Cold War propaganda, industrial subjects, and psychological dramas centered on the reevaluation of bourgeois values. According to the author, such adaptations of foreign productions most often “were absolutely out of touch with reality, which therefore appeared in these films as beautiful and unrecognizable.”16 

Secondly, representatives of the “poetic film” trend, such as Algimantas Puipa and Gytis Lukðas, who were perceived as successors of the classic Lithuanian directors Arûnas Þebriûnas and Algirdas Araminas, also failed in reaching out for (social) reality. Pipinytë claims that although this trend could hardly be accused of following the settled propaganda schemes, it fell into the trap of: 

seeing and showing not what is, a reflection of reality, but rather trying to impress by the use of strange and inconceivable deformations. Poetry and beauty appeared in these productions to be merely supplementary, since they did not originate from the characters or the plot. It was a kind of direct and literal “poeticizing,” going so far as violence against the objective nature of cinematic art itself.17 

After independence, the poetic school of Lithuanian film turned into a dominant trend, because Puipa and Lukðas were, until recently, the most productive and institutionalized film producers. Furthermore, this trend was reinforced by the younger generation of film directors (Valdas Navasaitis, Ðarûnas Bartas, Vytautas V. Landsbergis, Audrius Juzënas, Tomas Donela, Audrius Stonys, and others), most of whom gravitated to the first independent film studio in Lithuania, Kinema. The productions of the Kinema generation openly rejected any references to the Soviet style and exalted the nationalist rhetoric of the national revival movement of the late eighties, as well as the new genre aesthetics of Hollywood productions that flooded theaters and video showrooms and rentals. The films made by Ðarûnas Bartas and Audrius Stonys, for example, stood out in protest against the grand historical narratives (both communist and nationalist) and marked a turn towards a radically marginal world that had never before been represented in Lithuanian film – mute zones of poverty, deserted city blocks, remote and isolated villages, extraordinary and exotic personalities from the social periphery, and situations removed from recognizable everyday middle-class reality (typical examples include Bartas’s Three Days, Stonys’s Earth of the Blind, and Navasaitis’s Autumn Snow).

Within a more global contemporary context, the film aesthetic of the Kinema generation, together with the earlier poetic film school, can be defined as the basis of Lithuanian art house film culture, which was further developed in productions by Giedrë Beinoriûtë, Ignas Miðkinis, Kristijonas Vildþiûnas, and others. A short characterization of this trend in contemporary Lithuanian film should point out, first and above all, the indispensable primacy of the auteur’s vision – when a director primarily makes a film for himself/herself with little concern for the needs or interests of the public. This dominance of the concept of auteur in Lithuanian film makes itself manifest by a withdrawal from reality into a more or less exotic fantasy. These fantasies are most often inhabited by strange, outsider characters, which do not represent any recognizable type or social group, but are often distinguished by rare professions, an eccentric way of life, or unpredictable behavior. For example, the main character of Vildþiûnas’s 2006 film, You am I, is an architect living in a tree house in the middle of the forest (which is not a frequent occurrence in Lithuania). Also, these characters often find themselves in made-up situations and unusual circumstances, to which they are brought by their own eccentric nature or the poetic imagination of a director or a writer. The film narrative’s break from reality is often related to the interrelationships among the characters: deprived of the foundation of everyday life, the characters usually also fail at social relations.

Although these characteristics of Lithuanian art house productions can be seen as a reflection of the European approach to film as art, rather than a creative commodity, it can also be accused of isolation, of intentionally unpopular, hermetic, and mystifying qualities, sometimes acknowledged at small film festivals, but rarely provoking any reaction from national art house audiences and openly ignored by the rest of the local public. The concept of national film in this particular context can only be related to Jarvie’s argument of cultural protection, when the state takes the responsibility to support its film industry as a local alternative to the domination of Hollywood. The protectionist argument, based on the desire of society to reflect itself through the use of contemporary communication technologies, does not fit the case of the Lithuanian art house, since this trend is an illustration of exactly the opposite, namely the inability to address a wider audience with audiovisual representations of recognizable and important social issues. However, it is possible to find attempts in Lithuanian film aimed, not so much at a unique auteur vision, but rather toward the use of film to construct and negotiate a popular national identity.  

Postcolonial Other: Indigène d’Eurasie 

Ðarûnas Bartas is an internationally acclaimed Lithuanian film director, whose audiences, in most cases, are primarily the public of international film festivals. Consequently, Bartas’s subjects are cosmopolitical – he is a director who does not undertake any responsibilities for the local audience and obviously dissociates himself from the parochial local film industry for the sake of the European market. For example, the premiere of his last film, Eastern Drift, took place at the Sixtieth Berlin International Film Festival, Berlinale 2010. The financial support for Bartas’s films also comes from European funds. Since the 1995 production of The Corridor, cofinanced by the German companies WDR and TV Ventures, all of Bartas’s films were supported by German, French or Portuguese backers. Eastern Drift was coproduced by the independent film studio Kinema, established by Bartas himself, the French film studio Lazennec Films, and a Russian film company, mostly involved in distribution, Kino bez granits. 

Bartas is known as a major representative of the auteur position in Lithuanian film. However, Eastern Drift is characterized by critics as his first attempt to turn towards a more popular genre film style, because the focus of the story is Gena (played by Bartas himself), a drug trafficker who decides to make a last attempt to quit the criminal life and start anew with his French girlfriend (Elisa Sednaoui). Instead, during the last job, he finds himself trapped in Russia with a Russian prostitute (Klavdiya Korshunova) and persecuted by both Moscow drug gangs and the militia. His journey across Eastern Europe and beyond to France, where he eventually gets murdered, harks back to film noir, with its desperate atmosphere, cynical characters, and absence of values or any sort of humanism. Neil Young, the film critic for The Hollywood Reporter, has described Bartas’s Eastern Drift as “a slow-burning underworld thriller that presents a bleak vision of crime-riddled twenty-first century Europe.”18 

However, Europe in Bartas’s film actually refers to two quite different zones and different identities. The Eurasia that the French and Lithuanian titles of the film refer to can either be understood as the whole continent, comprising Europe and Asia, or as the special in-between space of Eastern Europe (inserted between Europe and Asia). In any case, there is a distinct binary quality between Western and Eastern poles (also present in the English version of the title) that is indicated in the film itself by its division into different settings for action and different social representations and identities. 

The two territories represented in the film carry different and even opposite social meanings. Although both subjects who construct these meanings (the film narrator/main character, played by Bartas, and the director/author Bartas) are Eastern Europeans (we understand that Gena is from Vilnius, where he meets his father), the way they construct themselves seems to be strikingly negative towards their own social identity, as if seen from the opposite Western European position. We are presented with a character that has chosen an exclusively  dangerous and obviously lethal criminal existence, followed by a fatalistic voice-over commentary reflecting his own insignificance. As a criminal and a drug dealer, Gena is surprisingly alien to the contemporary modern international context and unable to take advantage of the possibilities of the contemporary world. Instead, it seems that the existence of Gena progresses backwards to the crucial episode, where we see him naked in a snow-covered swamp, cowering by the fire as if in some primordial prehuman state. What he represents is notyet- human, and this state of being corresponds to the equally backward, primordial, chaotic, and dangerous Eastern European space constructed in the film in visual contrast to the comfortable, urbane, and relaxed Western atmosphere (and, as we should guess, the Western values that frame that atmosphere, like respect for human life and freedom, the spirit of creativity and enterprise, etc.). In other words, these cinematographic representations are a reflection of the culturally approved habit in which reality is divided into large collective categories (such as “Eastern European”) each of which, according to Edward W. Said, are “not so much a neutral designation as an evaluative interpretation.”19

Bartas’s Eastern Drift constructs the identity of the indeterminate geographical region (extending somewhere to the East of Germany) in such a way as to “sell” to the Western festival audience its own stereotypes concerning the new member states of the European Union and their neighboring countries. The prevalence of criminal inclinations (probably rooted in the communist and fascist crimes of the earlier generations, as suggested by the figure of Gena’s father), the poor treatment of women (Gena’s lover on the Eastern side is a prostitute, while his French lover is only a girl), the violations of human rights (the behavior of the militia in the film has little to distinguish it from the criminals), and the general cinematographic representation of a devastated, backward world without values – this not the world on its own, containing internal values and coordinates, such as we see in the earlier films by Bartas,20 but rather the world existing only as a function of the West, as the Other.

The post-Soviet world as represented in Eastern Drift does not give birth to any values and subjectivities. Its only possibility is to wait until, in the course of time, the backwardness will be overcome and, eventually, Western values adopted. By internalizing the Western outlook and picturing Eastern European identity as marginal and backward (from the point of view of Western civilization), chaotic, brutal, and devalued (i.e., lacking Western values, which means lacking any values at all), Bartas and his team preserve a sense of irreducible distance between the two poles of Eurasia. Referring to Said again, it can be said that this film maintains the situation in which the West European remains the one who establishes value criteria and subjectivity, even (or especially) in cases where the East European is allowed to speak for himself, when he is recognized, financed, and admitted to the festivals.21

The scanty Lithuanian criticism of Bartas’s film and some remarks by Russian critics notice and point out Bartas’s turn from the auteur position towards genre film (choosing the framework of criminal drama) and the growth of the importance of dialogue (in comparison with Bartas’s earlier, almost mute, films). The offense against auteurism in Eastern Drift was judged differently, although acknowledged primarily as a conscious turn towards popular film. However, the popular direction of the new film by Bartas is not based on the idea of “satisfying the needs of the anonymous multitude,” pointed out by Kracauer, which is supposed to determine the national character of film culture. Rather, we see here a case in which the director is taking into account, not the anonymous national multitude, but rather a wider international public, which is why the construction of polemical representations recognizable to the local public is not the aim of this film. 

Once again, we are presented with exotic rather than recognizable characters and situations – an ordinary Lithuanian filmgoer does not confront prostitution and criminal rage more often than any other European. It is possible that the reality constructed on the screen may correspond with the expectations of the local spectator (as he or she can also be certain that “we” Eastern Europeans are substantially inferior to the West), yet it is obvious that this mimic reality does not provoke any discussion, since it does not produce any familiar outlines of “our” reality, nor any complex of internal issues or conflict of values (there just are no values) that would serve as a basis for discussion. It is a film that is able to produce only a negative popular identity. 

How to make a well-made movie: Tadas Blinda. The Legend is Born 

My next example, Tadas Blinda. The Legend Is Born (2011), is exactly the opposite. After the President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitë, had attended one of its showings, director Donatas Ulvydas commented: 

Since the very start and until now, we declare that we have made this film for the people of Lithuania. This is why we are very sensitive to and interested in the opinion of every viewer. For two weeks now, the film has attracted full theaters, and many people, after seeing the film, write to us that it made them once more fall in love with Lithuania. This is the most precious compliment to us. We think it is extremely important to work for our own country, evoke patriotism, and prove that Lithuanians are a nation of fighters.22

After seeing the film, the president herself described it is an important contribution to the development of patriotism and love for the motherland for the younger generation.23 

The film, about a legendary Lithuanian outlaw of the nineteenth century, is the latest production in a series of works (including a play and a number of stagings, a film scenario, a novel, a musical, and most famously, a four-part TV film made in 1973) about the life of Blinda and his gang, who fought against the oppression of Lithuanian peasants by local noblemen or Russian czarist officials (the identification of the real enemy of Blinda was a political matter and differed in each historical period). Consequently, the film by Ulvydas was primarily seen as an attempt to revive the popular hero for a new generation (although numerous discussions took place in the press and on the Internet questioning whether the character of Blinda actually deserves revival). On the other hand, the film is important, not only as a remake of a narrative about a controversial criminal figure, but also as an unprecedented case of the commercial success of the local film industry, attained through mass publicity and new distribution strategies. The film was advertised from the start as the production of a new generation in national film that would eventually meet the Hollywood standard. Hollywood strategies and standards were not only used in the production stage, but also in marketing and distribution (the trailer for the film was produced by foreign professionals and the distribution applied a blockbuster strategy, based on market saturation, which is quite unusual for national films, because they are most often distributed only on the art house scale). 

However, the blockbuster mentality reflected in the production and distribution of the film, of which the producers boast, also make it quite ambivalent and directly determines the lack of the logic of historical reality in its screen representations. First, contrary to the auteur cinematographic language of Ðarûnas Bartas, Tadas Blinda evidently aims at popular identity by laying bare its own entertainment and genre nature: the director, Donatas Ulvydas, is the author of numerous musical video clips and advertisements; the actor who portrays Blinda, Mantas Jankavièius, is a Lithuanian popular music star; and new marketing and publicity strategies were used to get the attention of the press. However, who are this public, about whose popular support the producers and distributors of the film are so troubled? The public statements about the patriotic value of the film, going so far as to involve the highest political leaders of the country, makes one presume that the broad addressee of the film is the national community. This is also supported by the public discussion accompanying the film about the authenticity of the figure of Blinda as a national hero. On the other hand, the producers of the film also pointed out that, contrary to the traditional art house trend in Lithuanian film, Blinda is aiming at a wider audience of consumers of the entertainment industry (represented globally by Hollywood), the same audience that flooded the theaters at the time to see James Cameron’s Avatar. Even supposing that most people belong to both audiences (and their mutual relationship is not necessarily antagonistic; for in fact, in most cases, they can be perfectly reconciled) the interests behind choosing between a Lithuanian film or a Hollywood blockbuster can be quite different, and there is no reason to think that the consumer who has chosen to see a Lithuanian film is expecting to satisfy exactly the same needs that were, until now, perfectly well satisfied by the Hollywood productions dominating Lithuanian theaters.24 

Although it seems that, according to the film’s authors, the only way to make a popular well-made movie that would attract the Lithuanian public is to follow the Hollywood blockbuster model, this same model, as the critics point out, is not without shortcomings determined by its specific economic aims. For instance, according to the article “Creative Clusters and Governance: The Dominance of the Hollywood Film Cluster” by Laura Hypponen and Lisa de Propris, in Hollywood, where film is defined solely as a commodity intended for the global market and produced by conglomerate-owned studios, the creative work is absolutely limited and controlled by marketing and consequently produces only “recycled creativity,”25 seeing innovation as an unnecessary risk. Also, by trying to satisfy miscellaneous American audiences and exporting its productions globally, Hollywood has to distill “a culture-neutral set of values, ideals, social norms, and behaviors that transcends cultural specificities.”26 As Mike Wayne points out in the introduction to Understanding Film: Marxist Perspectives, even in cases where a film uses non-American narratives, heroes, and folklore, the Hollywood model neutralizes them, removing any controversial or locally specific elements and fitting the film into a standard and universalized genre format that accords with corporate interests.27

Second, although the film producers were systematically aiming at popularizing the history of nineteenth-century czarist Lithuania and creating a contemporary, post-Soviet reinterpretation of the myth of Tadas Blinda (through the use of popular actors and music stars, a soundtrack by the hip-hop group G&G Sindikatas, contemporary cinematic language characterized by fast cuts and high visual quality, and dialogue that includes youth slang and catchwords coming from popular culture), the film consistently avoids any reference to the issue obviously present in the narrative of Blinda, namely the issue of class and social inequality. 

Although corruption, poverty emigration, social isolation, the progressive tax, the standard of living, and similar questions never disappear from the pages of popular newspapers, political TV debates, and election campaigns, and are always on the horizon of the popular media, the new Tadas Blinda (the Lithuanian equivalent of Robin Hood, Ned Kelly, Jesse James, Juro Janosik, Yemelyan Pugachev, and other noble criminals) eludes these issues, turning towards more secure, but also much less publicly exploited and popular ideas of national identity and liberalization from the colonial powers – ideas, in other words, that were relevant twenty years ago. For example, the film points out that the social difference between the former serfs, belonging to the lowest social position (that of Blinda) and the local Lithuanian noblemen is unimportant: it is obvious in the smooth love story of Blinda and the landlord’s daughter, Kristina, and in the final reunion of the nobleman Gruinius with the bandits against foreign czarist rule. For the contemporary Lithuanian audience, the film can only be a reassurance that today the horrible position of the serfs and peasants, their exploitation and bad treatment, is a thing of the past and cannot be in any way repeated (because Lithuania is now independent and people are no longer publicly whipped, etc.) 

It is interesting, as the researcher of the Blinda mythology, Tomas Balkelis, points out in his article “The Myth of Tadas Blinda,”28 that in contemporary Lithuania this figure still represents “anarchic freedom and unfocused ‘popular justice,’”29 understood as social revenge and disappointment with the political elite. Naturally, this interpretation of the myth in contemporary Lithuania is most often used by politicians of the populist tendency (like Rolandas Paksas, Vytautas Ðustauskas, or even the millionaire of Slavonic origin Viktoras Uspaskich), who usually identify with the legendary justice fighter and are supported by radical groups in society and the rural electorate. 30 It is possible that the producers of the film, who saw as their target audience the urban middle class and youth, were trying to dissociate themselves from such politically radical and populist discourse; however, the question of why this hero was chosen soon comes up again.

The new Tadas Blinda is a castrated figure: he is not allowed to be radical (due to the negative political associations that do not match well with the consumerist attitudes of the target group of the film), and yet, at the same time, he is expected to remain a mythological hero. This ambiguity is obvious in the film in its attempt to cover the empty content of a narrative devoid of any energy with beautiful landscapes, uniforms, and attractive actors. Turning away from reality (not only by choosing the legend over historical drama, but also by neutralizing any possible connotations with contemporary social reality), the producers of Tadas Blinda do not succeed in creating a polemical perspective. Instead, they turn towards Hollywood-like productions that are plentiful in Lithuanian theaters anyway. And, more importantly, they extinguish any social energy the story may have and the possibility of recognizing contemporary reality in the heroes and their fight. In fact, the only element of the film that maintains a certain energy is the text of the soundtrack by the hip-hop group G&G Sindikatas. However, without the cinematographic context, it is only a collection of vague slogans.


The idea that film is an important part of national culture may seem predictable and worn out. However, I am not referring here to the usual arguments involving “national identity” or representations of the country. Rather, it is important to note that the vitality of the statement is based on the idea of the importance of mastering media technologies, like film, as a way to construct a polemical field in society out of fictional dramas, narratives, and styles. 

In contrast to Kracauer, who related cinematic representations to a national psyche (and was criticized for that, since nations are not individuals), today we could say that the very representations construct the nation as a subject of local public sociopolitical and economic strategies. The lack of skills in mastering new media languages and technologies, or just in mimicking the representations of other societies, means not so much the inability to reflect, but rather a failure to construct a popular identity. 

The relation of film culture (and its underdevelopment) in Lithuania to the (miscarriages of) democratic procedures, public policy, and civil order during the post-Soviet period is much too broad a subject for this article. However, it is obvious that, so far, Lithuanian national film is not participating in the popular negotiation of major social issues. 

1 Kracauer, Caligari,,5.
2 Ibid., 5-6.
3 According to Box Office Mojo, the foreign lifetime gross of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) by November 2012 made up to 90.3 percent of the film’s total lifetime gross.
4 The revised version of “The Film Act of the Republic of Lithuania,” in force since 1 May 2012, Article 8, concerning the criteria for state sponsorship, points out that a film production can be sponsored by the state if it meets at least two of the following criteria: the screenplay or the central subject of the film is based on events of Lithuanian or European culture, history, religion, mythology or public life; the film relates to a well-known personality of Lithuanian or European culture, history, religion, public figure or mythological character; the screenplay or the central subject of the film is based on a significant work of Lithuanian or European literature; the film gives sense to significant Lithuanian or European values such as: the diversity of cultures and religions, human rights and public spirit, democracy and solidarity, minority rights and tolerance, respect for the traditions of culture and family; the film examines the issues of national or European identity. “Lietuvos respublikos kino ástatymo pakeitimo ástatymas,” p. 5.
5 I find the article suitable mostly because the aim of the author is “to test the robustness of the idea of national cinema by pitting it against current thinking about nationalism.” (Jarvie, ”National,” 70) 
6 Jarvie, “National,” 74.
7 Ibid., 72.
8 Ibid., 75.
9 Ibid., 75.
10 Ibid., 76.
11 See chapter 3 of Anderson’s Imagined Communities, 37-47.
12 Ibid., 45-46.
13 Jarvie, “National,” 75.
14 Pipinytë, “Lietuviø,” 23.
15 According to Stalin’s famous dictum, describing the intermediate stage on the way to the future General Culture: “National in form, socialist in content.”
16 Pipinytë, “Lietuviø,” 24.
17 Ibid., 25.
18 Young, “Eastern,” lines 2-3. The English title of the film does not convey the colonial hint, characteristic of the French version, Indigene d’Eurasie, and the Lithuanian translation, Eurazijos aborigenas, or the special geopolitical references that the title Евразиец has in the contemporary Russian context.
19 Said, Orientalism, 228.
20 Three Days (1991) and The Corridor (1994), early films by Bartas, also focus on Eastern European reality. The Corridor presents deserted, black and white spaces of Vilnius from 1991, with their inhabitants submerged in a metaphorical dusk; the plot of Three Days takes place in exotic post-Soviet Kaliningrad (the film was shot in the old city and the harbor of Königsberg). However, the urban landscape represented by long shots in these films are characterized by a certain hypnotic beauty and the characters are authentic everyday philosophers of this geographical region, who have experienced a shocking clash with history, rather than Eastern European gangsters.
21 Said, Orientalism, 229.
22 “Dalia Grybauskaitë”, lines 13-17. 18
23 Pipinytë, “Kà þiûri prezidentai,” lines 29-30. The film critic notes that the director of Tadas Blinda was also the author of the documentary film about the president broadcast during her election campaign.
24 It has to be noted that the secret of the film’s financial success was not fast-travelling word-of-mouth information about the good qualities of the film, but rather market saturation and especially aggressive and wide-spread publicity.
25 Hypponen, “Creative,” 275.
26 Ibid., 279.
27 Wayne, “Introduction,” 23-24.
28 For an English presentation of the research see: Balkelis, Tomas, “Social Banditry and Nation-Making: the Myth of a Lithuanian Robber,” in Past and Present, Volume 198, issue 1, November 2012.
29 Balkelis, “Tado Blindos mitas,” 90.
30 Ibid., 89-90.


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