QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
When Dovilė (Agnė Misiūnaitė) finds out her father has died, she heads onto the rooftop of her workspace. The camera slowly zooms out like in a paranoid 70s thriller, until her tiny form is finally contrasted against a huge apartment block, each open window containing its own microcosmic world. Where many directors may have chosen a teary close-up, Lithuanian director Dovilė Šarutytė opts for alienation, expanding the auto-fictional form in fascinating ways.
A camera move repeated throughout Feature Film About Life, it’s an illustrative way of the angular approach this director takes to grief, growing-up and the relationship between daughters and fathers. While the metafictional title might suggest a whimsical exploration of life and death, and one woman’s witty way of navigating it, the actual form of the film is a far more nuanced and smart take on Dovilė’s sudden thrust into adulthood.
In a bittersweet prelude, Dovilė starts the film in Paris. One of her first trips as an adult, she reflects with her friends on the irony of spending the day sightseeing. Beloved by her parents, this was the type of activity she assumed she would never do when travelling by herself. It’s a neat reflection of the ways one can grow into adulthood without even knowing it.
An even bigger challenge awaits: organising her father’s funeral. They seem to have been invented not just to process grief, but to defer it. When caught up in the bureaucracy of organising parlours and flowers, receptions and priests, cremation or burial, it’s impossible to take a step back and remember your loved one for who they truly are. A Feature Film About Life takes us on a journey through shabby restaurants, grim offices and bleak graveyards, showing how the business of navigating death can be its own coming-of-age story.
Šarutytė intersperses the matter-of-fact story with home-footage taken by her own father in the 90s. Not only do they show that the era was a seemingly universal mood — big glasses, bad hair, multi-colour puffer jackets — but create an intimate conversation between past and present. The director finds associative ways to bring boxy home video and full-screen digital together — like match cutting between symbols or allowing one scene to comment on the other — showing us in real time Dovilė reflecting on the past. It always makes me wonder how these types of films will look twenty years from now, iPhone images containing little of the immediate nostalgia young adults of my generation will associate with home video.
This metafictional approach also allows the film to sidestep the usual hallmarks of the genre — featuring several impassioned speeches reminiscing about traits of the deceased— in favour of a more subtle and tactile experience. When the waterworks finally flow, it is through a remarkably simple yet devastating gesture, all the more so thanks to the film’s earlier restraint. Sad without being depressing, funny while avoiding whimsy, compassionate but not cloying, its careful modulation of mood shows a fine command of tone from first-time feature director Dovilė Šarutytė.
A Feature Film About Life plays in the First Feature section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 12-28th November.