Pensive (Rupintojelis)had its UK première at the Glasgow FrightFest 2023.
Pensive (Rupinotjelis) derives its title for the ‘Pensive Christ’, a stereotypical depiction taken from the iconography of sculpture. This shows Jesus with his body scourged and suffering, and his head usually in one or two of his upraised hands, as he rests on his way to Golgotha, where he is both to face agonising crucifixion and to transcend to divinity. Jonas Trukanas’ film, which he directed and co-wrote with Titas Laucius, opens with impressionistic images of a burn-scarred man using a chisel to carve a human shape from wood – and thereafter shifts its focus for a while to a group of teenagers celebrating their graduation from high school. Yet in a way they too are like statues taking shape from raw materials: for they are on the cusp of adulthood, with their lives, even their bodies, still not fully formed, and like the pensive Christ, they are contemplating a future which can no longer be avoided.
Indeed, a poster at their official graduation ceremony reads, “The future awaits” – and as they head off into the Lithuanian countryside for their unofficial graduation party, these adolescents devote much of their time to discussing their dreams, their aspirations and their likely fates. Laima (Marija Gevorkjan) is going to study fashion design in Paris. Darius (Deividas Batavičius) is going to be a chef in England. Vytas (Povilas Jatkevicius) wants to become a theatre director. Saulė (Saulė Emilija Rašimaitė) half-jokingly imagines that in ten years she’ll be stuck in an abusive marriage. Rimas (Kipras Masidlauskas) is the “fastest, strongest, tallest” – a star athlete headed for the NBA in America. Yet the main character Marius (Sarunas Rapolas Meliesius) is less clear about where his own future lies. Marius’ parents see their timid, risk-averse, somewhat boring son as ideal material for a dull desk job in the “future-proof business” of actuarial work, where he can “turn misfortune into fortune.” Yet really what Marius wants is to be Rimas – whom, rather gallingly, his parents seem to prefer to their own son – and to have Rimas’ smart, beautiful girlfriend Brigita (Gabija Bargailaite) as his own.
So, after initially refusing to go to the party, Marius uncharacteristically decides to to take a gamble: to join his peers for one last night of music, drinking, drugs and debauchery, hoping that this will be the eleventh-hour moment when he finally comes out of his shell and defines himself for the future. He even, when Rimas’ venue falls through, arranges an alternative, a country cabin which his mother has been trying (and failing) to sell, and which now – again uncharacteristically – Marius appropriates for the party without seeking permission. This might, after all, be his last chance with Brigita.
Pensive is, in case you have not guessed, a slasher – indeed, Lithuania’s first. There are some early signs: first, that prologue, with glimpses of a sculptor who resembles the antagonist from Tony Maylam’s The Burning (1981); and then the iconic setting at a cabin in the woods (alongside a crystal lake); and the way the co-eds, en route in a convoy of cars, get lost along the way, and perhaps even take a wrong turn. At a cross roads in the middle of nowhere, they find a creepy rough-hewn statue that Saulė – hilariously introduced as a character who never talks, but in fact the film’s principal expositor – recognises as the handiwork of outsider artist Algis Motiejūnas. Algis was, Saulė reveals, a local man who took to carving strange sculptures after his entire family was burnt to death in a fire, and became, briefly, an unlikely media celebrity, before disappearing completely. “He embodied,” Saulė says, “the suffering of the nation and the individual.” And that suffering is going to be forced upon these teenagers one by one after they discover a heptad of Algis’ sculptures in the field, and desecrate them, triggering a vengeful bloodbath, as Algis himself (Marius Repsys) emerges from the woodwork with mask, axe, knives – and an unhinged, unforgiving attitude.
The killing does not start until about halfway through the film, but then Pensive is not really so much concerned with the minutiae of Algis’ rampaging vendetta (much of which takes place offscreen or in the background) as with the responses of the teens. For as bloody murder is rained down like an Old Testament, eye-for-an-eye punishment, and as those who, like Marius, did not touch the statues are themselves left alone, the massacre proves to be both Biblical ordeal and extreme test of character. Where many of the panicking teens prove courageous in their efforts to help others, and where drug-addled party boy Zygimantas (Martynas Berulis) extends extraordinary, almost foolhardy empathy towards their persecutor, our protagonist Marius constantly comes up short, acting with guile, cowardice and near sociopathic selfishness in his desperation to see in the dawn and perhaps to play hero for Brigita (and Brigita alone).
So where cautious, uptight Marius is set up from the start as both good boy and deserving final boy, by the end he seems the film’s second antagonist in the making, with a future becoming set in stone for him that is not much better than Algis’, and with his public profile cementing itself around him even as his self-image crumbles. Consequently, Trukanas’ feature is a dark, character-focused coming-of-age story, much more thoughtful – pensive even – than your average slice and dice. Or as Vytas says of where he and his fellow teens are headed, in words that might also be thought to describe the film in which they are unwittingly participating: “It may frighten some people and give others food for thought. But I can promise you that it won’t leave you indifferent.” For these adolescents, all flawed, all concerned with how they look, all caught between their fears and desires, are having their identity carved out for them by exposure to raw experience in the adult world – and some of them are found wanting.
strap: Jonas Trukanas’ (and Lithuania’s) first slasher carves up co-ed adolescents as their acts of transgression expose them to punishment
© Anton Bitel