A Year in the Periphery

Rūta Birštonaitė
2014 October 2 d.

Julija and Rimantas Gruodis' studio with eloquent name "Periphery" – is like a secret workshop belonging to the representatives of silent tradition. They seem to know that in this world there is no need to leave plenty of imprints and in the long run remains what is today perhaps not even noticed. Taken separately, their works are seemingly grey, nothing special at all. In fact, I cannot even clearly remember some of their films that I saw, maybe the cine-genic "River" has sunk into the mind the most. After their most recent directorial work "Year of Success", same as after the previous ones, impression is similar – it seems that you have not seen anything special, you don't feel fascinated. However, in the case of Gruodis', for me, the further the more, the whole of their creations itself becomes more important, while greyness of their films looks like a conscious thing. Whatever is the theme and artistic value of the film, you take it as just another proof of quiet but persistent creative and life stance. And it deserves respect in the times of self-praise and overproduction.

Peripheral lacklustre life in Gruodis' films flows unnoticed, although here you can also find all kinds of unexpected things – some ornate scarecrow, a park in a swamp or a goat tournament. Discovery of the "Year of Success" is a young woman whose life could easily attract social criticism and resonant headlines about child abuse, unbearably difficult way of life and other hardships. Incidentally, the character herself is keeping the old newspaper clipping with an article about her father who murdered several people when she was just a child herself. However, in Gruodis' work, life of the protagonist and narrative of the film just fall into the unsophisticated, sometimes tragicomic, but in its own way magnificent order.

Essential idea of Gruodis' films, perhaps, is that in this world one simply needs to fully live the allotted time. But it is not necessarily associated with the acquired knowledge or with any particular experience. On the contrary, we could say that this is like life at the beginning of time, when you sort of know nothing, aren't able to do anything. The protagonist of the "Year of Success" dutifully follows the instinct that is leading her, so she looks like some child or just a plant – and not even the Pascal's thinking reed, but a roadside bent. Because in the peripheral world not bookish wisdom or abstract truth are of value, but unchanging durable things with which you can live always.

From this, very strange aesthetics arise which cannot even be called aesthetics really, because no "artistic means" here are sort of present. But paradoxically, in case of Gruodis' best films, you don't even have any doubts that this is the real cinema, nevertheless. In this film, the most impacting image is, of course, the highway – next to it stands the small house of the protagonist, and it seems about to fall apart from the relentless drone of cars. Similar to the "River" where people are surviving not by changing the setting but by adapting to the existing one, in the "Year of Success" the life holds on to a small but firm straw or simply is that straw for itself.

With its title, structure based on the change of seasons, issues of happiness or success in life, the "Year of Success" is somewhat reminiscent of Mike Leigh's "Another Year". However, these two films reflect slightly different postures of the authors. Gentleness and compassion of Leigh's characters in part is a kind of mask, hiding deliberately chosen and acquired endurance in the face of the hardships of life. In addition, the film's characters have to overcome a certain stretch of challenges to start finally to understand certain truths of life. While in the "Year of Success", the will to live arises just from the intuition deep within. And it precedes any reasoned things.