Deimantas Narkevičius
"Legend Coming True", 1999
Super 8 mm film transferred to DVD
Weiss Gallery, Berlin
Deimantas Narkevičius received his training at the Vilnius Academy of Arts, where he specialised in sculpture. However, since the late 1990s, he ultimately found himself working in the field of video art. A lover of cinema from childhood, the films that have had most impact on him include such antipodal works as "The Fate of Man" by Sergei Bondarchuk and "The Colour of a Pomegranate" by Sergei Paradzhanov. As such, his own screen creativity tends, on the one hand, to unfolded narration, materials from twentieth-century history and its most dramatic pages, and, on the other, to an understanding of film as an object of unceasing experimentation. In combining these differently directed aspirations, Narkevičius drew on the work of his distinguished compatriot Jonas Mekas, the father of American avant-garde cinema, for whom radical innovation had one main goal: to return to contemporaries the feeling of a living experience of the past and its most traumatic moments.

Legend Coming True belongs to the early works of Narkevičius (it is the fourth in his filmography) and can seem extremely simple. For 56 minutes we hear the confessional account of Faina, a native of Vilnius, reliving the experience of the Holocaust. And yet we do not see the heroine: on screen during the narration we see just four static images taken by the artist in different parts of the city of Vilnius and its outskirts. The street where Faina spent her childhood, the facade of her school, one of the courtyards of the Vilnius ghetto, and the Rudniki Forest, i.e. the places mentioned by the narrator. However, these four images are the product of a rather sophisticated procedure. They are the result of direct outdoor exposure, which lasted continuously over a period of 24 hours, during which the camera only released the shutter once per minute. As a result, the output was four sequences of frames – a kind of animation, recreating the course of the day in four different places in 14 minutes. Narkevičius' film thus combines four days and nights with 56 minutes of a real life story that encompasses the history of the twentieth century.

The compositional solution of the work is far from simple: in addition to Faina's story, which takes centre stage in the film, there are two additional short parts to it – a kind of prologue and epilogue. The film begins with the sound of a child's voice, passing to footage of a teenage girl reading a Lithuanian book written by nineteenth-century romantics on the legend of the founding of the city of Vilnius. At the end of the film, Haisa Spanerflig appears on screen, another Vilnius native who suffered in and played a heroic part in the resistance to the Holocaust. Looking directly into the camera, she sings a life-affirming and moving hymn in Yiddish. So, while the first part refers to a fantastical myth that is far from reality, then the third part refers to the utopianism that fed the tragedy and greatness of the twentieth century, its crimes and the impulse "to make legends come true". And all this is associated with confession – the story of Faina, in which the human dramas and hopes are articulated in a matter-of-fact, almost everyday manner. And, finally, there is one more important conjugation: the three parts of the film see Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish sounded in turn – the three languages the city of Vilnius once spoke.

This film by Narkevičius thus reveals the structural complexity of the experience of memory: it combines different forms of time – the calendrical, biographical, historical, and mythical. It also shows how our present is always connected with the past, but a past that is only possible because it is needed by the present, just as the present is created by people who keep their fidelity to their past and their hopes for the future. The whole complex temporal and conceptual structure thereby determines that which is usually called place and our involvement in place. "I never tried to look at the story from outside, as an external observer," says Narkevičius. "I try to live inside it. I'm not a chronicler; I'm just one of those who live inside history in order to find its place."

Viktor Misiano
artistic director of the project: Viktor Misiano
National Center for Contemporary Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
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