Socialist modernism of vilnius in cinema
Although Vilnius is most often recognized for its baroque and classicist church spires or the Old Town’s cobbled streets, one may also spot quite a few examples of socialist modernist architecture in the Lithuanian capital city. Looming shapes, monumentality, heavy concrete frames, and clear lines are some of the elements that reflect this historical period, and quite often catch the eye of various filmmakers.
Thousands of film goers all over the world have seen different socialist modernism buildings that dot Vilnius’ cityscape. On screen, these structures pose as the interiors and exteriors of the public buildings of Scandinavian countries, Eastern Europe or Germany: ministries, police stations, lawyers’ offices, banks, as well as luxury hotel lobbies and many other cinematographic locations. Due to its socialist modernist architecture, Vilnius is often chosen as a shooting location by filmmakers from Norway, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Germany.
The first socialist modernist buildings sprung up in Vilnius in the 60s, and it was then that the generation of post-war Lithuanian architects began to emerge. One of the key principles of socialist modernism was functionality; it aimed to solve the period’s most acute social issues, while at the same time offering towns and cities more public and representative buildings. In fact, architecture was one of the most prominent means of ideology, which was supposed to showcase the superiority of the “modern” life of the time compared to previous eras.
The Vilnius Marriage Registry Center, National Opera and Ballet Theatre, The Contemporary Art Center and the administrative building of the Lithuanian Cooperative Union are just a few objects that have found their niche in modern Vilnius.
In this article, Vilnius Film Office invites cinema enthusiasts to take a stroll along the cinematographic route inspired by socialist modernism.
Vilnius Marriage Registry Center (Palace of Marriage)
The Vilnius Marriage Registry Center was the first building in Lithuania purposefully designed for the registration of civil marriages, and has retained its original function to this day. The impressive structure brought fame to the young architect Gediminas Baravykas, who was just starting his career at the time.
Filmmakers often choose the Vilnius Marriage Registry Center in search of offices, courtrooms or other indoor spaces typical of various institutions. Once, during the shooting of the Swedish crime TV series “Max Anger: With One Eye Open”, the exterior of the building and the stairs also played a Swedish subway station from 1996.
Credits: Saulius Žiūra
Contemporary Art Center (CAC)
The socialist modernist building located at the turn of Vokiečių Street, formerly known as Art Exhibition Hall, today houses the Contemporary Art Center. The building that sprung up in the central part of Vilnius in 1969 was one of the most prominent projects of the era. It had and continues to have a huge impact on the artistic life in Lithuania, a personal exhibition in CAC is a kind of consolidation of the artist’s status. Today, the Center hosts art exhibitions, performances, literary events, film screenings and various educational activities.
On screen it appears in the background of the advertisement of the international platform MUBI.
Credits: Audrius Solominas
The Administrative Building of the Lithuanian Cooperative Union
The administrative building of the Lithuanian Cooperative Union, located on Gediminas Avenue, is a imposing example of late modernist architecture that can be seen from afar. The building, designed by Justinas Šeibokas was completed in 1978. It is best known for its undulating floors, which, in the author’s opinion, echo the Vilnius Baroque. However, filmmakers are more fond of the building’s interior: the almost unchanged atmosphere of the 1970s, perfect for shooting stories of this period.
According to Jonas Špokas, the manager of “Baltic Locations”, who organized several shootings in the venue, both historical episodes (1970-1990s) and current times were depicted in the building, and in the French film “Paradise” the location served as a backdrop for a futuristic story.
“It is important to mention that the building itself is unique and very cinematic. The finishing materials used in the building make it one-of-a-kind and create a good aura, and film cameras pick up this kind of thing. Besides, let’s not forget the wonderful terraces. Not only are they perfect for shooting the city panorama, they also simplify the technical part of the job a great deal, for example, when you need to illuminate the offices on the fifth or sixth floor,” says Špokas.
The series “Bordertown”, “Loss and Return”, “Lea”, “Head Hunters”, the films “Paradise”, “Kompromat”, and many advertisements for Lithuanian and foreign brands were shot here.
Credits: Lukas Šalna
“Neringa” was opened in the fall of 1959. The name of the restaurant, designed by architects Algimantas and Vytautas Nasvyčiai, was inspired by Mykolas Sluckis’ book “Milžinai nenorėjo karaliais būti” (“Giants Didn’t Want to Be Kings”) published at the time, which told the legend of the Curonian Spit origins. Since its establishment, “Neringa” has been popular among members of Vilnius’ boheme and intelligentsia—artists, poets, actors, and writers—and quickly became one of their facvorite meeting spots in the city.
At that time, there was no similar restaurant in the region, and even people from Moscow would come to see it and have a meal here. At the same time, the local residents of Vilnius tried to come here whenever possible, and the opportunity to spot some of the renown artists was considered part of the experience. Recently, “Neringa” was beautifully restored and continues to be one of the iconic dining establishments of the city.
Credits: Ignas Nefas
National Opera and Ballet Theatre
The Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater project was drafted by one of the most famous Lithuanian architects, Elena Nijolė Bučiūtė, who designed a total of about 50 objects during her lifetime, and at that time she was only 30 years old. The construction of the theater started in 1967, and it took seven years to complete.
In the building’s design, features of modernism and functionalism blend seamlessly. The theater’s structure is clearly functional, yet a certain splendor, luxury and representativeness are maintained.
Back in the day, attending the Opera and Ballet Theater was considered a luxury and a sign of a good education. This was reflected in the people’s outfits: elegant footwear, smart jackets, and evening dresses were compulsory attire for visitors to cultural events. For a long time, a detail echoing the life of the interwar Kaunas city opera remained here: during the breaks, the audience used to slowly stroll around the theater lobby, eyeing each other and greeting their acquaintances.
Scenes of the TV series “Moscow Noir” were shot in the background of the opera and ballet theater, taking the audience to 1999’s Moscow. The story focuses on a young Swedish investor who, in order to help a friend, gets entangled in a mafia network. The TV series was based on the book “The Conductor from St. Petersburg” by Camilla Grebe and Paul Leander Engström.
Credits: Saulius Žiūra
National Art Gallery
The main building of the National Art Gallery was designed in 1968 and built in 1980 as the Museum of the Revolution of the Lithuanian SSR. Later the gallery was renovated and given a more contemporary look. Today, the permanent exhibition of the National Art Gallery presents modern and contemporary Lithuanian painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, various objects, installations and video art works.
The building of the National Art Gallery is extremely popular with advertising industry professionals. For example, the gallery “starred” in the international film platform MUBI ad. The streaming company and film distributor that operates in more than 190 countries, is known for its high-quality movies and TV series from around the world. The advertisement filmed in Vilnius Old Town and other parts of the city was screened in as many as 19 countries. The building also appeared in the advertisement for the automobile industry giant “Volvo”.
Credits: Audrius Solominas, Markus Bensch
Vilnius Palace of Culture, Entertainment and Sports (VRM Palace)
Vilnius Palace of Culture, Entertainment and Sports was founded in 1980; the building was designed by architect Algimantas Mačiulis. Today, it serves as a venue for seminars, conferences, sports competitions, rehearsals, and training. The building also came to symbolize the beginning of the communist system’s collapse – in October 1988, the Founding Congress of the Movement for the Transformation of Lithuania took place here. The interior is also worth visiting for the works of art preserved here: an impressive chandelier, a metal installation and a fresco.
VRM Palace impressed location manager Markus Bensch (Germany), who visited Lithuania in the summer of 2023. Markus is an experienced film professional who helped find shooting locations for such films as “V for Vendetta”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Inventing Anne” and others. While looking around Vilnius, Markus noted that the VRM Palace is a well-preserved structure that is perfect for video shooting. “It can be turned into a hotel lobby, a congress center or a board headquarters. Although part of Vilnius architecture could play the role of Eastern European countries, it could just as well depict Western countries in the 60s, for example, the USA,” he said.
A number of scenes for one of the biggest film projects developed in Lithuania, the TV series “Chernobyl” were filmed in VRM Palace. It was the ballroom with Algimantas Mizgiris’ metal artwork on display where Boris Shecherbina (actor Stellan Skarsgård) gave an inspirational speech to the power plant workers that saved thousands of residents.
The movie “Eichman Show” was also shot in this remarkable building. What is more, the main staircase features on a promotional poster for the film! British actor Martin Freeman, best known for his role in the “Hobbit” trilogy, as well as Lithuanian actors Vaidotas Martinaitis, Džiugas Siaurusaitis, and others starred in the film that turned Vilnius into Israel.
In fact, one could argue that this is one of the most cinema-friendly locations in Vilnius, where such films and TV series as “Young Wallander”, “Oljefondet”, “Moscow Noir”, “Isaac”, “The 9th Step” were shot.
Credits: Saulius Žiūra
The construction of the Fabijoniškės neighborhood began in the 1980s, on the grounds of a former village. The neighborhood, with its sprawling maze of multi-storey apartment blocks, playgrounds, courtyards and streets have been featured in various TV series and movies many times. Of course, the greatest fame came with one of the biggest film projects in the history of Lithuania: the TV series “Chernobyl”, where the neighborhood embodied Pripyat. The location was perfectly suitable not only thanks to its architecture, but also because of many other details: for example, there were no old trees in the courtyards: Pripyat was a new city, so there simply could not have been centuries-old vegetation.
Meanwhile, in the TV series “Young Wallander”, the Fabijoniškės, together with Šeškinė, became the present-day city of Malmö. One may also recognize the neighbourhood in the futuristic movie “Paradise”, which has gained popularity on the Netflix platform. In this film, Fabijoniškės glows with the colors of a gloomy yet impressive dystopian future.
Credits: HBO Sister Pictures Sky Television, Saulius Žiūra
The Vilnius TV Tower is the tallest building in Lithuania and one of the tallest TV towers in Europe. Its construction started in 1974 and the building was completed in six years, at the end of 1980. The new tower not only improved the quality of television and radio broadcasting but also witnessed the tragic events of January 13th, 1991, becoming an important historical monument of Lithuania’s struggle for freedom.
If the weather is clear, today the windows of the legendary restaurant “Paukščių takas”, located in the tower, open up to a 50-km-radius panoramic view. However, filming crews come here not only because of the wonderful vistas; the interior of the restaurant holds significant appeal as well. Often it serves as a location for shooting various advertisements, and quite a few Lithuanian singers and bands – Jessica Shy, “Subtilus” and others – shot their videos here.