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This provocative psychological drama learns to settle into its own skin very early on, and then slowly begins to build exquisite tension in preparation for a potentially show-stopping finale. This film explores some important moral dilemmas from both sides of the coin while being anchored by a terrific international cast that consists of a mix between experienced professionals and wide-eyed newbies. It is an anxious watch at times, but one that also delights the senses with a wide array of technical prowess, and yet, its shining light might just be the film’s very important content – a conversation starter if there ever was one, and we’ve all got an opinion on a matter such as this.
Set in the French countryside, a secluded couple, Jacqueline and Leon (Anne Azoulay and Arthur Igual) have just completed the adoption process of Karolina and Rytis (Inesa Sionova and Ajus Antanavicius), a sister and brother from Lithuania who had been abandoned by their mother. To help ease the children in with a smooth transition, the couple hire bilingual Lithuanian student Gabrielė (Dovile Kundrotaite) to act as the bridge between the two parties by translating for one another – it sounds lovely right? What on earth could go wrong with this idyllic little life? It’s not long before the cultural differences begin to show, the conflicting attitudes become enlarged, values and patience are tested to the max, and the inevitable clash between Jacqueline and Gabrielė aims to derail everything before it’s even left the station.
Coming straight off the back of two award-winning short films, The Etude (2013) and Bridges (2015), Austėja Urbaitė has directed a very thought-provoking film that explores a vast plethora of themes such as selfishness, jealousy, arrogance, extreme loyalty, crippling anxiety, national pride fighting, racism, and how a power trip for control can lead to an insulting lack of respect. For a debut feature though, Remember to Blink is incredibly mature. It represents such troubling issues with a creative need to stay ambiguous. Urbaitė portrays this story in such a way as to play the moral compasses of these characters against one another, and we are left to interpret the rest and then decide which side of the fence we’ve chosen to sit on.
From minute one you can feel the tension in the air, Jacqueline shows the smallest sign of disdain toward Gabrielė, but what she might think to be only a slight resentment soon bubbles up into an explosive attack. She is the epitome of jealousy, envious of this younger woman marking her territory and stealing her possessions – the possessions being actual human children in this scenario though. But it’s not only Gabrielė that Jacqueline shows a lack of respect to, but the trio’s nationality as well; this maniacal woman is hellbent on taking every ounce of Lithuanian from them to the point of changing their names – well, according to her, Lithuania is basically Russia anyway, how much does that tell us about this mother’s condescension?
The film is particularly clever because, while painting Jacqueline as the pantomime villain of the film, we also need to be aware of this character’s inner pain, and how constant failure as a mother has ground her down to a dust-like crank. And with that thought, the morality baton is passed on to Gabrielė as she oversteps her professional boundaries on more than one occasion, and what started out as an innocent and unintentional spotlight theft, soon becomes a fight between two very controlling women with aspirations of motherhood.
There is a lot of emotion packed into Remember to Blink.. It ranges from complete and utter despair to absolute joy, with the latter being epitomised by the connection that Gabrielė has with these children. A child’s eyes do not lie, and in those playful moments between the three of them, we see nothing but unbridled joy emitting from those starry eyes and their homeland beautifully connects them to one another before their tranquillity is ruined by this French invasion. The switch from happiness to misery is almost instant, and again, it’s the eyes that show this – is there anything sadder than the upset eyes of an innocent child who just wants to be loved? It’ll break even the most concrete of hearts.
The gentle cinematography offers nothing outrageous, it’s just simple and effective, quietly caressing the scene and letting the actors do what they do best. However, the film meanders at times with some very empty scenes. For the most part, though, Remember to Blink is an intelligent psychodrama that doubles down on some important topics, and a film that will question your own ambiguity.
Remember to Blink has just premiered at the Baltic Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.