In the cinema. Ward number four

Elena Jasiūnaitė
2016 October 27 d.

Director Ignas Miškinis "fitted into" the Lithuanian film history with the cinema manifesto, which he published together with some of his colleagues. It is not clear whether due to the youthful "we will come and we will show everyone" maximalism, or because that manifesto undoubtedly caused a stir in the swamp of Lithuanian cinema world (and thus entitled anyone to hold the manifesto against its authors). During the "Manifesto" period, he created "Diringas" about everyday life of advertisement makers, took the "Silver Crane" for the "Low Lights" of the glass-covered Vilnius, and... disappeared. He returned seven years later together with the script co-author Saulius Drunga (who was exactly in the same, sort of, hiding after the debut "Anarchy in Žirmūnai") and with the "Kings' Shift".

And while the folks are flocking to the cinemas to see the nth Lithuanian comedy to "heehaw with guys" (exact quote, as the purpose of the film is explained by online Lithuanian film experts), somewhere in an alternative reality operates the fourth ward of I. Miškinis, stagnating in the "kings' shift". With all its potential shortcomings, it allows to think about the film as a piece of creative work (attempt of mature people to say, to formulate, to think), and not as (at best) a product aimed at analysis of awareness of the audience.

The camera slowly moves along the corridor of hospital department, emptied on Christmas Eve, till it ultimately stops at the main hero of the film, a young policeman Kastytis Mickus (played by Vainius Sodeika), on duty at the ward, guarding the patient, suspected in Nazi (I gnashed my teeth for using the word 'fascist') crimes during the World War II. This is the first important task of the police officer, and he is doing it already for the second shift in a row, because no one came to replace him. Somewhere in the background you can see a nurse, a doctor, in a VIP ward holidays are celebrated by a former Soviet nomenclature representative, and in the security post, two rude guys from the security service "Steel Wall" are having fun. Indeed, realistic characters meet together in the "Kings' Shift". Maybe not in the roles of infantile policeman and doctor, but they, those people, do live among us (and it's good, if you don't recognize any of them in yourself). Only brains, requiring real action, find it hard to accept the fact that the characters are placed in an abstract hospital space, where the events (but not the dilemmas) that take place fall into "this cannot be" category.

"Kings' Shift", as explained already at the beginning of the film, is the night shift in the hospital that occurs on the holidays, and during which necessarily something unusual happens. And until that unusual happening, nothing is going on. And with this nothing, the viewer is being acquainted for two-thirds of the film. This is a long, slow screen time, during which you start to feel drowse, and fatigue, and frustration (this one – because of the main character's own actions). "Sensitization" of film's main character, who hasn't slept for more than 24 hours, and his inadequate reactions to everything what happens, become understandable, and when the film reaches the supposed "culmination point" (the extraordinary event of the shift), you have more or less reached the same affective state, as the young cop. However, if you attempt to answer the question "what the film is about?" (after all, one always appeals to the content...), the problem of the script already arises, which you no longer can discard as fragmentation of the general sensation of a dream – the film raises associations with a sketch of crude ideas. Excellent performance of actors (here is just a minimum of the "Lithuanian theatre"), natural dialogues, strong scenes both in terms of script and direction – from the festive discussions in the ward of the "grandpa", where not only the topic of "duty and choice" is revealed, but also the true sensations of the policeman can be perfectly seen, to the security guards, communicating with each other, – show the lack of overall content that would allow the "Kings' Shift" to be a solid feature film. Even if the historical context is just for "simpler identification of characters" (although I wonder whether we would understand the present society without it), discussions taking place in the film (important, interesting), and raised questions about the necessity to make a choice (whether it be someone else's life, or personal well-being), about the obligation and vocation, fade out together with the end of scene. And they remain only as a delivered dialogue that neither affects the further action of the film, nor complements the characters that enter the frame, nor does it determine the motives of their subsequent choices. Straight after the desperate attempt of the main character to do his job "right" at any cost and not to disappoint his boss, the immediately following final “psychologization” based on the childhood traumas, explaining in clear text "what is wrong with him" (after all, exactly the same question arises to the viewer while watching him), basically trivializes what was obvious or at least implied in the film.

Such is the reality of boredom with the officer Mickus, confused, silent, slow-witted and annoyingly stubborn. Apparently, to delineate the character in the script in such a way that it would cause anger, one needs to have certain abilities; and the hysterical reaction of doctor Šulcas (played by Dainius Gavenonis), who lost his temper, is the most realistic, what you'd expect in such a situation. Only later, as time so slowly passes through the corridors, you start to suspect that behind everything lies not the Mickus' lack of opinion (because he has an opinion, actually) and not the declared wish to fulfil responsibly the given order by answering the questions mechanically with the cliché "such is the order", but the desire... simply to feel important and needed. And in all cases, when the camera stopped on the character's face, as the security guards were bullying him, or during the cynical dialogue with the doctor – "well, what kind of mission is to protect the 'vegetable' and who needs you, such a piece of furniture, at all?", you could see not a policeman on an important "mission", but a deeply hurt and unappreciated child.