You Can’t Escape Lithuania became a bit of a viral sensation when filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas promised naked pictures of himself to anyone who donated more than $50 during a crowdfunding campaign. It’s difficult not to wonder whether it’s the film’s notoriety that came from that bit of self-promotion that got it a DVD release, as the film itself isn’t exactly great.
The movie immediately gets rather self-referential when a radio host talks about the naked picture stunt during the film’s opening. However, it’s not a documentary, as while it’s about a character called Romas Zabarauskas, he’s played by an actor, Denisas Kolomyckis. Nor is he playing the real Romas, as the character is a mixture of the real and the made up, where we’re deliberately not meant to know where the truth ends and fiction begins.
In the movie, Romas is a hotshot director in Lithuania, whose gay-themed films may need crowdfunding help, but who many believe is producing great work. He’s also got a sexy Mexican boyfriend, Carlos (Adrian Escobar).
His life is disrupted when a female actress friend, Indre (Irina Lavrinovic), turns up saying she has killed her mother over some money. Romas, Carlos and Indre go on the run from the police, with a plan to drive out of Lithuania and eventually hide out in the mountains in Portugal. However, getting out of the country proves more difficult than expected when secrets are revealed about all the characters, showing that none of them are quite what they appear. All of this Romas captures on his smartphone camera in the hope of making an experimental film.
It’s a setup with a fair amount of promise, and there are moments when You Can’t Escape Lithuania shows that it could have been a thoughtful, interesting and rather clever film. However, the flashes of perceptiveness are massively outweighed by the endless amounts of the filmmaking equivalent of narcissistic masturbation. The film gets so tied up in its self-reflexive, experimental artiness, that it forgets someone has to watch the movie. And that viewer is unlikely to think the makers are as clever as they apparently do (or get much from the movie), if they don’t give them a proper way to access it.
It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it’s film-within-a-film, mixing of the real and the fictional, voiceover ruminations on the nature of storytelling and various other eye-rolling conceits demonstrated more depth and understanding than what you’d learn on the first day of an undergraduate course in postmodernism. But they don’t.
It ends up obscuring the few interesting ideas it has – mostly around life being turned into a narrative because of our need for stories. Indeed, there are times when it’s difficult not to wonder whether it’s being deliberately obtuse in order to try and inure itself from criticism. The film’s Romas talks about whether he has talent or not, a radio announcer says that how his films aren’t popular with audiences and there’s an acknowledgement that perhaps none of it means anything. Rather than illuminating anything, it come across more like an insurance policy against people saying it’s not very good. After all, even the film itself says it might not be any good – and if that’s true, who the hell cares?
Still though, there’s enough in the movie to suggest that if Romas Zabarauskas could stop contemplating his own navel quite so much – not least that he doesn’t seem to realise his filmic affectations have been done many times before and done much better – he could be a genuinely interesting filmmaker. We will have to wait and see whether that happens, but as it stands You Can’t Escape Lithuania is a bit of a misfire.
Even those hoping that because the filmmaker promised nude pictures that this would be a sexy gay movie are likely to be disappointed.
Overall Verdict: Lashings of pretentious, filmic onanism obscures the potential interest the film might have held. It may think it’s dissecting the meaning of stories and how narrative can unfold, but it gets so wrapped up in itself that it has little to offer the viewer.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac