For the past week, the Czech Republic has become the epicenter for European film, hosting screenings of movies from across the continent as part of the 16 Days of European Film Festival. The film festival promised to present a collection of films encapsulating both human spirit and European culture: movies unique and yet universal, provocative yet fascinating.
The Lithuanian movie The Collectress, or The Kolekcioniere in Lithuanian, represents many of these goals of the 16 Days of European Film Festival. Heavy and mysterious, The Collectress delves into psychological trauma and explores the devastation of human emotions. With intelligent uses of camera and lighting help enhance the impact of the on-screen events, the film grabs viewers from the beginning and locks them in its clutches as it unveils the path of the protagonists’ emotional devastation.
The Collectress, which was released in 2008, follows Gaile, impressively personified by Gabija Jaraminaite, who is a speech therapist for children living in Vilinus. Upon the death of her father, Gaile loses the ability to feel emotions, morphing into a cold, blank shell of a human being. She encounters an amateur film maker and editor, and surprised by his artistic talent, Gaile finds that only by watching his films can she feel true emotions.
After watching one movie, Gaile becomes addicted to the films and the emotions they produce. She demands more, and when real-life events unsatisfactorily fill her emotional vacuum, Gaile decides to simulate scenarios for the film editor to capture and cut so that she may once again begin to feel.
At first Gaile’s simulated situations are humorous and awkward; her relatively harmless pranks include passionately kissing a groom as he leaves a church, just minutes after his wedding—his bride a few feet away. Soon, however, Gaile decides that “laughter is not enough” and craves to feel darker emotions. Her planned situations take an almost evil, sociopathic turn; Gaile needs sadness, disgust, and betrayal, and succeeds by physically or emotionally hurting innocent bystanders. In doing so, she becomes alienated from her family and friends. The Collectress, though interesting, nearly becomes painful viewing: painful because of the knowledge that human beings are capable of such deeds.
Adding to the emotions of film are the various lightening techniques The Collectress employs. The lack of lighting and general colorlessness of the film reflects the darkness of the movie’s content. Gaile’s face is often hidden or covered in shadow, particularly as she demands more films from her editor, and her character devolves from cruel, to near evil.
Similarly, the cinematography in the film adds a level of nuance to the film as director Kristina Buozyte often uses handheld cameras and camera angles to capture the perspective of both an omniscient viewer and participant. The audience is not simply watching Gaile’s escapades, but becomes part of them, and feels the emotions that she cannot.
The film, however, is mainly supported by the strength of the performances. Jaraminaite turns in a solidly convincing performance. Marius Jampolskis, who portrays the nameless film editor, also plays the role of a drunken, gambling, and ultimately broke artist fairly well. One flaw, however, is that neither character is very likeable—more the fault of the screenplay than the actors—as the film’s brief 84 minute length does not leave enough time for the audience to establish a sympathetic connection with the characters, before becoming repulsed by their misdeeds.
The Collectress has been screened predominantly among film festivals across the world, shown at various venues such as the 2008 Karlovy Vary Film Festival and the 2008 Cairo International Film Festival. Buozyte even won an award for Best Director at the Kinoshok- Open CIS and Baltic Film Festival.
On Monday, The Collectress returned to the Czech Republic as part of the 16 Days of European Film Festival at Kino Lucerna. The festival ends its stint in Prague on Thursday, April 23, but it will continue in Brno and Olomuc until Thursday, April 30 and if you missed the Prague screening, The Collectress will be playing again in Brno on Tuesday, 28 April.