In the Dusk, from director Sharunas Baras, takes us back to a nearly forgotten point in history, post-war Lithuania. Lithuania, which became a nation briefly in 1918, was occupied and controlled by the Soviet Union and Nazis through most of the twentieth century. Now, seventy-five years after the setting of this film, we see a story that has few people who remember that history.
The film is set in 1948 Lithuania. The center of the film is Unte, a nineteen year old young man who is at the edge of adulthood. He is not so much a protagonist as he is an observer. He becomes our eyes to see the actions of others. Unte lives with his father on a farm. His step-mother lives separately on the property. We learn in time that these are complicated and broken relationships. There is also a band of resistance fighters who live in the nearby forest and come to the farm at times for supplies. Unte doesn’t quite understand all the dynamics of the situation, but he watches as his father and the fighters try to hinder the Soviets who are trying to extort money from the people.
The story is filled with betrayals—some who betray relationships, who betray comrades, and even reminders of geopolitical betrayal by the West. It is also a searching for truth. As Unte’s father tells him, there is only one truth, but it is very difficult to find. Unte’s is confronted with many different views of what that truth might be. One of the resistance fighters is a priest who shows Unte his “gun”—a pencil. He is one who, like Unte, is not so much a combatant as one who seeks to understand and find the truth.
While this is a part of the Cold War, the Lithuanian situation was a much more active war for those opposing Soviet control. As such, we see the cost that is paid by those involved or even just on the edge. Unte and his parents are in danger of losing all they have. While we in the West may think of the Cold War as something inactive, this film reminds us of the suffering that it imposed on so many people.
The last of the resistance was defeated in the early 1950s. Until 1990, the Soviets controlled Lithuania as a puppet state. Now a whole generation of Lithuanians have grown up only knowing freedom. This film points to a chapter in their history that has been hidden in many ways. For many years the Soviets suppressed the history. And then there were few who were able to tell the story. It is important to bring such histories to light because we see them playing out over and over, most recently in places like Ukraine.
In the Dusk is available on Film Movement Plus.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.