Marija Laugalyte reflects on The Castle, Lina Lužytė’s psychological coming-of-age story which offers rare insights into the lives of economic migrants in Ireland.
What will an adolescent do to escape the life of economic struggle and downward class mobility of her immigrant family? This is the question at the core of Lina Lužytė’s second feature film The Castle (2020, Irish-Lithuanian co-production), a film of storytelling crafts(wo)manship and intense performances by new as well as seasoned actors.
This heart-breaking story depicts a particularly negative experience of immigration, focused on a one-parent Lithuanian family of three generations living in Dublin. Monika, played by Barbora Bareikyte – the film’s shining new talent and leading actor – has potential for an exceptionally bright future as a singer, possessing an angelic voice and a dedicated practice of playing the piano.
At the beginning of the film, we see the support her mother (played by Gabija Jaraminaite) has been offering Monika to pursue this path as she brings Monika to perform at Lithuanian community conventions and funerals. But early on we see the cost of this too, where unpaid-for performances put a strain on the mother’s resources and ability to bring home a pay-check from the fish factory, her day-job.
Perhaps to convey to her daughter her struggles and the sacrifices she has been making, the mother, in a sudden turn of character, gets rid of Monika’s keyboard. Shocked, Monika too, we soon learn, is capable of extraordinary familial betrayal. It seems that nothing will obstruct Monika’s determined pursuit of performing at The Castle, “one of the best music venues in Ireland”, according to a scouting producer who approaches Monika after one of her funeral performances and books her for a show.
Meanwhile, Monika’s focus on realising her dreams (the future) and her mother’s focus on survival (the present) is contrasted with the grandmother (played by one of the greats of the Soviet Union, Jurate Onaityte) whose dementia has locked her in their apartment, but also in the past. Her only verbal expression, besides a complaint about the piano’s disposal, is the singing of Lithuanian folk songs which she would have learnt in her youth. Through the grandmother’s singing, the film conveys the nostalgia and homesickness inherent in the immigrant experience, especially for those who make the transition later in life.
But also her singing and dementia speak to her disconnection from reality here and now, from the present and future of life in Ireland. Each woman’s relationship to time and how it speaks to the question of migration as experienced by different generations then begs the film to be read more as allegory than realism, especially given that films about Eastern European migration in the 21st century are only gaining ground in the past few years and should not yet bear the burden of accurate representation, a heavy burden for films dealing with unexplored territory. Perhaps the film is aware of this problem and anticipates it with the film’s absurd and poignant twist, as well as with the unsettling ending.
The Castle screened at the Cork International Film Festival (8 – 15 November 2020)