Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania Posits Archives as Resistance


In 2007, the Lithuanian Prime Minister met film diarist Jonas Mekas for the opening of Vilnius’s Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center. Mekas’s Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania memorializes a less pompous exile’s return, when he visited hometown Semenikiai after 25 years. Narrating in a measured, descending voice, Mekas begins in New York, 1950, among postwar dypukai (“displaced persons”), many, like him, refugees of Nazi work camps or worse. There’s a sylvan upstate dance, picnics on Atlantic Avenue, and Williamsburg street life (the Church of the Annunciation still reads a Lithuanian Mass). Twenty years pass in an intertitle: “100 GLIMPSES OF LITHUANIA, AUGUST 1971″—a pied flutter of wildflowers, washstands, wells, dray carts, dappled groves, potato pancakes, a largely intact premodern rural life, and Mamma—each shot held only about as long as it takes to adjust the f-stop. A number of relations work for the communal farm—an ex-classmate operates the combine. Some subjects are self-conscious of how they’ll seem to Americans, but life under the Communist SSR is only incidentally the subject of this sentimental journey: “You would like to know something about the social reality . . . but what do I know about it?” Mekas asks rhetorically. The film’s closing contrast, monastery libraries paired with a fire in Vienna, champions archiving as civilized resistance.

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