Foreign Oscar Entry Review: Conversations on Serious Topics (Pokalbiai Rimtomis Temomis)

Reviews
by Carlos Aguilar
December 10, 2013 5:00 PM
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Giedrė Beinoriūtė's 'Conversations on Serious Topics'

Conversations on Serious Topics, Lithuania's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : None Yet. Production Company: MONOKLIS


Unlike artificially manufactured narrative storytelling, documentary filmmaking in general serves as a free canvas for the creators to investigate their particular interest without a predetermined set of conventions. Virtually allowed to showcase their vision by implementing as many varied elements as they wish, their depiction of reality is shaped to highlight certain issues that can inform or persuade the viewer to form an opinion. Talking heads, animation, archival footage, and reenactments are all valid resources to convey or expose an issue that is relevant and deserves attention. But what happens when a director chooses not to make use of most of these and creates a film with the bare essentials? In her movingly minimalist film Conversations on Serious Topics Lithuanian filmmaker Giedrė Beinoriūtė does exactly that.

Ridding her piece of anything besides her subjects, there is nothing that can drive the attention away from them. No unnecessary enhancements or external distractions, simply the group of children and teenagers interviewed in empty and colorless spaces. Beinoriūtė handpicked her young philosophers to include a diverse lineup of experiences. Each of them provides an untainted perspective on the utterly unceasing questions about human relationships and the state of the world. Blind adolescent Silvija enjoys writing poetry. Her verses are spiritual and carry a melancholic longing only alleviated by her unalterable conviction that God exists. In this manner, one by one the kids dish out on their fears, the most important moments of their lives, and the nature of love. Several of them have grown up in foster homes and have extremely puncturing opinions on parenthood, some of which are unquestionably affecting and harrowing.

There is a pure and intelligible sincerity in their raw confessions. Superficially tranquil Vitalija is a young girl who explains her days living in foster care with subdued sorrow, yet she responds pragmatically to each inquiry. When asked “What does the time in the foster home mean to you?” she frankly replies “Nothing”. Like her, all of them unknowingly give honest insight into a realm of emotions most adults are disconnected from. Without the need to mask their views, the way in which they perceive life is fascinating. Their interpersonal skills are not yet polluted with assumptions and prejudices about others. Lighthearted little man Ignas, for example, clearly explains that love is not about gender or malicious expectations, but about helping another person for the sheer reason that you like them. And as straightforward as that statement is, it is rather enlightening.

Regardless of the multiple displays of cheerful hopefulness like hearing impaired Ruta’s pleasant stories of joy or Leva’s excitement for her upcoming birthday party, there are also early signs of disappointment. Blond Saule dreams of her parents getting back together aware that it is unlikely, while other older boys wish to never see theirs again as they are resentful for their abandonment. A picture of neglect is drawn from their similar stories and need to be loved. Some believe they have no one but themselves and that loneliness is inevitable. On the other hand playful Jonas speaks with positivism of the unfortunate circumstances at hand, despite being visibly impacted by them.

Intuitively director Giedrė Beinoriūtė constructed a philosophical kaleidoscope, which will most definitely be brutally thought provoking for those caught up in the cynicism of adulthood. She arranges the children’s interpretations of these serious matters with bright precision to avoid forced sentimentalism. She relies only on their subtle facial expressions, their occasional discomfort, the truthfulness in their words, and their charming innocence to dissect such immense existential concerns. With a running time of 65 minutes, Conversations on Serious Topics is a delicately austere and incisive tiny treasure of a film.

Read more about all the 76 Best Foreign Language Film Submission for the 2014 Academy Awards


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