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The Excursionist at the Bright Nights Film Festival

By Sanita Fejzić on February 4, 2015


The Canadian Film Institute brings international contemporary cinema to town in partnership with Winterlude and the Baltic and Nordic countries. This year marks the 5th Baltic-Nordic Film Festival. Eight countries will be showcasing their best features from Friday, February 6 to Saturday, February 14 at Carleton University’s River Building. One movie per night will play for the duration of the festival and the selection is truly remarkable. Left in their original language, sub-titled in English, they are all Ottawa premieres.

True story directed by Audrius Juzenas, the 2013 Lithuanian film The Excursionist is bound to move you. How could it not? Marija (Anastasija Mar?enkait?) is an eleven-year-old girl who escapes from a transport train from her homeland, Lithuania, to a gulag somewhere in the Soviet Union, probably Siberia. Her pregnant mother was thrown out of the train a few stops before her escape: dead from a miscarriage. Her father, we later learn, was killed. She is orphaned in a land where, after WWII, the Soviet Union is not safe for anyone, especially not deported Lithuanians.

The audience never sees the final destination of the trains that take innocent Lithuanians to concentration camps, but the threat is always there, in the back of the audience’s mind. As we follow Marija’s remarkable 9,600 km journey home, the girl’s faith in God becomes a remarkable testament to the power of belief. The trials she overcomes are incomprehensible and daunting; knowing this is a true story is chilling. The performance by Anastasija Mar?enkait? is truly remarkable. She is the main character and focus of the film, and she plays her role effortlessly and convincingly, in a role that is both physically and psychologically challenging.

The film juxtaposes cruelty and generosity, prison-like institutions and the vastness of Russia’s landscape, bravery and cowardice, in a time of when Stalinism encouraged extreme alienation, suspicion, denunciation, and guerrilla militarism.

Check out the trailer:


The Excursionist plays Sunday February 8, 2015  at 4 pm. Tickets are $13 for the general public and $9 for students, seniors and members. The festival includes movies from Lithuania, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Iceland, and Norway. It’s a rare treat, so don’t miss out.