Until mid-October, “Midnight Session”, the latest film by Lithuanian film director Algimantas Puipa, will be shot in Vilnius. Inspired by the writer Jaroslav Melnik’s work, the film will transport the audience to a surreal world, floating between dreams and reality. In a conversation with Puipa initiated by the Vilnius Film Office, we talk about the idea of the film, the actors, and Vilnius’ nightlife.
Your new film, “Midnight Session,” is based on writer Jaroslav Melnik’s stories. What do you find interesting about his work?
I used ten short stories by Melnik for the film’s plot. The plots of his short stories are very inventive; they contain a lot of fantasy and strong dialogue. Surrealistic motifs are combined with a realistic environment, and there is absurdity, which is really refreshing for the director. The writer, being a non-cinema person, somehow vibes with the cinema world very nicely. Dreaminess is characteristic of cinema; many famous directors, starting with David Lynch or Roy Anderssen, feel great in the surreal world.
In its form “Midnight Session” differs from “Cinephilia”, a film of the same genre.
Did you communicate with the writer himself during the film script development?
Given the style of my work, cooperation would have been impossible. Using literature for me is not an attempt to turn the writer’s world into colorful pictures; I deviate from the script quite a lot. And to come to a writer and say that I will create one story from ten short stories is difficult. There would be no discussion possible because we would have fallen at odds on the same day. Therefore, I proposed a deal to Mr. Melnik – I would buy the plots and invite him to the premiere. He agreed to this condition.
During your career, you’ve made many screen adaptations and films spanning different genres and periods. I wonder what will make Midnight Session different from your other works. What does this film mean to you as a creator?
Those who have read the script told me that it is strong; there is a lot of irony in it. Melnik’s literature is more intellectual; it touches upon existential and philosophical themes, rather painful things.
This time I feel like a magician who has worked in the circus arena for many years and, all of a sudden, one day decided to reveal all of his tricks. This is my ironical look at cinematography, where I have been for so many years.
Are you moving away from the stylistics characteristic of your films?
At some point, when talking about my films, the expression “Puipism” caught on. It seems to refer to the tricks in my films that have no logic but possess a certain charming quality and can highlight even a seemingly mundane scene. I keep promoting this style a little and keeping it in my work. I feel safe in my fantasies.
How is the shooting process going? What challenges are you facing?
A team of professionals who have experience in working on important Lithuanian and foreign projects is contributing to the film. However, the budget is small, so we have to shoot at least three scenes a day, and the rhythm is very tight.
I enjoy working with interesting actors. We’ve shot many strong scenes with Kazanavičius, he simply “bathes” in them. We are also happy with Gavenonis, this is our first collaboration. I also wanted to get a bunch of new actors together, and I’m really happy with the decision because they’re doing wonders. One of the main goals was to discover a new cameraman and enter the mystical world with him. This is how Linas Žiūra contributed to this film. The process is very enjoyable, and so far we are shooting everything we come up with.
There is a lot of Vilnius in the film. Why are the vast majority of images shot in the capital city? How will the images of Vilnius complement the story itself?
Vilnius is like a talisman for me in this case. Although I have already made several films here, Vilnius, like a chameleon, opens up to me in new colors all the time. This time we discovered fantastic staircases, narrow streets, and abandoned palaces with their own spirit. The city has become a nocturnal tunnel through which the characters enter another reality. I also found such areas where it would be enough to hang, for example, the Swedish flag, and you could shoot Stockholm scenes there. There are a lot of places in the city—new quarters that are no longer reminiscent of traditional Vilnius, one can see a lot of beautiful things here.
How would you describe the work of the younger generation of filmmakers? Do you watch their films? What trends do you notice?
I can’t help but watch their work, because these young people turned into film masters and experienced directors right before my eyes, and I had fun watching them grow.
Young creators hardly ever make screen adaptations of literary works, they mostly use original scripts. Back in the day, we used to shoot a pre-war village to hide from certain ideology. They are not threatened by this, so the younger generation makes films about what is most relevant to them: family, relationships with parents, and first love. Our authors are becoming recognized; they travel to various international festivals. Recently, someone has said that in Lithuania, we are currently living in the golden age of cinema. Maybe it’s just a catchy phrase, but indeed, we have some great directors.
Thank you for the conversation.