Sarah Cullen takes a look at Lina Luzyte’s The Castle which introduces us to Monika, a thirteen year old Lithuanian girl living in Dublin.
The Castle opens in earnest on a Dublin Bus where a teenaged daughter is excitedly discussing band names with her mother. This beginning is the only time within Lina Luzyte’s third feature that optimism is the overriding feeling: it is almost as if once this transition period ends the young girl’s coming-of-age must begin.
Thirteen-year-old Monika (Barbora Bareikyte) and her mother Jolanta (Gabija Jaraminaite) are a musical duo who have recently moved from Lithuania to Ireland. Their gigs have been largely unpaid in support of the local Lithuanian community. Just as it is becoming apparent that they will be unable to make a living as musicians in Dublin, Monika is invited to perform at a lavish venue known enigmatically as “The Castle.” To her dismay, however, she learns that Jolanta has sold their keyboard and has started a new job in a fish factory.
Indeed, there’s enough tragedy for several feature films within the opening first half hour alone: but the story is buoyed along by the dogged determination of Monika, whose refusal to accept defeat involves her searching all avenues she can find for raising the money necessary to rent back the keyboard for the concert. It’s heartbreaking to watch as the enthusiastic youngster meets resistance at each turn while wishing only to pursue her love of music.
Following three generations, The Castle is a family tragedy which explores the deleterious and dream-destroying effects of Ireland’s marginalising attitude towards immigration and poverty. Alongside Monika, who clings desperately to music as the one pursuit which bring her happiness, and Jolanta, who becomes cold and distant recognising that the family can only survive if supported by her regular income, the film also follows Monika’s grandmother (Jurate Onaityte), whose dislocation from Lithuania has undoubtedly contributed to her slide into dementia. All three actors bring great pathos to these roles, with some of the strongest scenes being their interactions as they shuttle between frustration and care for each other.
While some of the film’s twists are a little outlandish it’s hard not to see how Monika’s drive without any support system leads to drastic measures. The landscape of The Castle is one in which individuals can and will fall between the cracks: along the way Monika becomes acquainted with her new neighbours, many of whom are also from Eastern Europe and disenfranchised in their own ways. Despite help from them there is little to suggest that Monika will overcome the odds. Indeed, throughout the film there are some welcome moments of tenderness and respite, but it is clear that Monika’s coming-of-age will only spell hardship unless there is considerable societal change.
Perhaps the one consoling aspect is that we as audience members are privileged to enjoy the music of Monika and Jolanta. Affecting and thought-provoking, Luzyte’s drama is a lament to the talent that is sacrificed everyday in modern Ireland.
The Castle screened as part of the Galway Film Fleadh 2020 (7-12 July).
The Castle – Review
The Castle – Review