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Iserajta (film)

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Iserajta
Iserajta film poster.png
Ruttish-language limited release poster
Directed byLeonardas Karaliunas
Written byVygantas Ramanauskas
Screenplay byDaumantas Džačavankas
Atėnė Vitkauskienė
Based onIserajta (opera)
by Augustas Lankauskas
Produced byFridrikas Adleras
Leonardas Karaliunas
Oljantas Poskevičius
StarringDanielis Česnauskis
Karolis Ileikis
Jadvyga Kavatokaitė
Pransas Svereika
Sara Čaprackaitė
Aleksandras Lupeskas
CinematographyJuozapas Brazinskas
Edited byLinas Kuprys
Matas Vyšniauskas
Music byMarijona Baškevičiūtė
Production
company
Distributed byLokomotyva Visuel
Release dates
  • 11 November 2022 (2022-11-11) (Aucurian theatrical release)
  • 6 January 2023 (2023-01-06) (worldwide theatrical release)
Running time
140 minutes
CountryAucuria
LanguageRuttish
Box office€tbd

Iserajta is a 2022 Aucurian psychological folk horror film directed by Leonardas Karaliunas, with a screenplay by Daumantas Džačavankas and Atėnė Vitkauskienė. Starring Danielis Česnauskis, Karolis Ileikis, Jadvyga Kavatokaitė, Pransas Svereika, Sara Čaprackaitė, and Aleksandras Lupeskas, the film was very loosely inspired by the opera of the same name by Augustas Lankauskas, and follows Juozapas, a white-collar employee of a mining company, as he is sent to a village in the state of Juoda to negotiate a resource exploration agreement, only to find himself ensnared in a web of dark secrets and interpersonal tensions as a supernatural hysteria recurs.

The film premiered on October 25th, 2022 at the 83rd Montecara Film Festival, where it became the fifth Aucurian film to win the coveted béco aùreo, and the first Aucurian film to do so since 2004's Tegul Tauta to iš Manes Reikalauja. It also won [further accolades] and was nominated for [other things].

Iserajta received a theatrical release in Aucuria on November 11th, 2022, and is slated for a worldwide theatrical release on January 6th, 2023.

Plot

Juozapas Vytauskas (Česnauskis) is a white-collar employee of the Aucurian branch of Kléber-Oberlin SE, a fictional Werano-Gaullican mining conglomerate, introverted and indecisive by nature. He and his colleague Leandras Kaskevičius (Ileikis), who is also a college friend of Juozapas and the nephew of the Aucurian branch's director, are on a riverboat in the Aucurian state of Juoda; the two have been sent to the fictional village of Aušra ("dawn" in Ruttish), located in the southern region of the state where the Sythe-Juoda Rainforest begins to transition into the South Asterian Range, to secure the arrangements for resource exploration in the vicinity of the town.

Arriving in Aušra, the two deposit their belongings in the town's inn and meet with its mayor, Rimantas Murauskas (Krivonis). The mayor invites them to have dinner at his home; there, they meet his son Feliksas (Svereika) and niece Iserajta (Kavatokaitė). Following dinner, Feliksas and Iserajta invite Juozapas and Leandras to join them at the town's tavern to meet two of their longtime friends, Ieva Kiūnaitė (Čaprackaitė) and Nikiforas Petrauskas (Lupeskas). As the night progresses, the two outsiders begin to develop a rapport with the four locals, but notice that some of the other patrons of the bar are eyeing them excitedly or suspiciously. Feliksas says that some people in the town are excited by the jobs a mine might bring to the stagnant community, but others are suspicious due to the circumstances surrounding the failure of a previous mine in the village in 1902; the conversation moves elsewhere before Juozapas can ask what those circumstances were. Iserajta confirms that she was named for the opera, saying the name was chosen by her deceased mother.

The following morning, Juozapas and Leandras head to the town hall to begin working with Feliksas on the resource exploration agreement; while Juozapas feels awkward as a result of Feliksas's brusque and sardonic style of speaking, it plays off well with Leandras's good-natured and insouciant tendencies, and it quickly becomes clear that the two are developing a rapport. At the end of the work day, as Juozapas and Leandras prepare to return to the inn, Iserajta arrives at the town hall; Juozapas overhears a tense conversation between Iserajta and Feliksas. Juozapas waits outside the building to ask Iserajta what happened. Iserajta explains that there used to be an additional member of her childhood friend group, Silvestras Abraitis, who Feliksas was particularly close to; that Silvestras drowned in the river while swimming near the edge of town; that Ieva witnessed Silvestras's death and told the others he was dragged away by the current; and that Feliksas does not trust Ieva's claims, and is frustrated by the fact that Iserajta and Nikiforas dismiss his suspicions.

As Juozapas and Leandras continue to work with Feliksas, Juozapas begins to feel slighted by Leandras's newfound proximity to Feliksas. Juozapas also begins to experience strange events; he has visions of individuals in antiquated clothing and increasingly disturbed dreams, and begins to hear a voice in his head giving him cryptic warnings and berating him for his confusion and indecision. He also notices that many of the townsfolk are behaving suspiciously. He goes to Iserajta, who explains the 1902 incident in more detail; the town used to be home to a mine owned by a company operated by a family with the same surname as Leandras, and after the body of a murder victim was found inside the mines, a member of said family was accused of the murder and Aušra slipped into a violent hysteria in which the townsfolk experienced shared hallucinations and several more people were killed, leading to the closure of the mine. Iserajta also begins to flirt with Juozapas, telling him she dreams of being able to study medicine at a university; Juozapas is charmed and reciprocates the affection, suggesting he might take her with when he returns home.

While examining areas for potential resource exploration on the edges of town, Juozapas tells Leandras and Feliksas about what Iserajta said about the 1902 incident. Leandras confirms that his family did own a mining company at the time, and says the company was seized on the orders of occupation authorities during the Great War so that its assets could be given to a Gaullican company, which was in turn merged into a Weranian company by the Grand Alliance after the war, creating Kléber-Oberlin; he adds that his family's position of prominence within the company's Aucurian branch is a legacy of this process. Feliksas, meanwhile, is dismissive of Iserajta's claims of a supernatural madness; he declares that the "hysteria" was just a riot by the workers over poor safety conditions and low pay. Juozapas opts not to disclose his own recent experiences. Returning to their room at the inn, Leandras reveals to Juozapas that he is romantically attracted to him; Juozapas realizes that he feels similarly about Leandras. However, he is uncomfortable with the discovery, as it means both that he is not heterosexual and that he might have to choose between Iserajta and Leandras.

Juozapas and Leandras are invited to spend a day off with Feliksas, Iserajta, Ieva, and Nikiforas. While the day is mostly pleasant, it is clear that Feliksas is suspicious of Ieva and that Iserajta is frustrated by this. Juozapas tries to focus on getting to know Ieva and Nikiforas; Nikiforas tells Juozapas about Iserajta's friendship with Ieva. The group also witnesses increasingly strange and violent behavior from other townsfolk, including grocer Elžbieta (Andriukytė) and aging manual laborer Dominykas (Kupčinskas), which worries Juozapas deeply. They spend the evening at the tavern, where the owner, Janina (Humalienė), behaves erratically and unsettlingly. As they leave, Ieva, Nikiforas, and Iserajta tell the others that they'll be returning home, and Juozapas decides to return immediately to the inn, but Feliksas tells the others he still has work to finish up at the town hall and Leandras says he's going to go for a walk to clear his mind.

The next morning, Juozapas and Leandras find Feliksas dead with several stab wounds in the town hall. Juozapas tells a passing townsperson to get the mayor, and as word spreads a crowd gathers outside. When the mayor and Iserajta arrive at town hall, Iserajta says that she heard an argument between Feliksas and Leandras the previous night. She claims that Leandras demanded that the town give a bribe and a written promise of legal impunity to the company as prerequisites for the construction of a mine in Aušra, and, while admitting that she did not hear the rest of the argument, maintains that Feliksas would have never accepted such an ultimatum and alleges that Leandras killed Feliksas as a result. Leandras admits to having talked to Feliksas that night, but insists that they did not discuss work and that Feliksas was alive when he returned to the inn. The mayor and the townsfolk side with Iserajta; Leandras turns to Juozapas, begging him to defend his character, but Juozapas - knowing that their company might indeed demand a bribe, torn by his love for both Iserajta & Leandras and the conflicted feelings emerging from his internalized homophobia, and fearing that he would be accused of complicity if he defended Leandras - says that he believes Iserajta, to Leandras's horror. The mayor decides that they will jail Leandras in Nikiforas's garage until the police, whose nearest office is another town more than a hundred kilometers away, can arrive to formally arrest him.

As Leandras is taken away by the mob, Iserajta leads Juozapas to outskirts of town, where they walk along the river. Iserajta assures him that he did the right thing. The two discuss Iserajta's friendship with Ieva and Feliksas's friendship with Silvestras; Iserajta says that Silvestras was often a bully to Ieva, and that she never understood what Feliksas saw in him. When they return to town, they discover that the hysteria has recurred, with several buildings on fire and many of the inhabitants evidently suffering from hallucinations and fits of violence; after being attacked by Dominykas, Juozapas and Iserajta take shelter in Juozapas's inn room.

With night falling, the two get into Juozapas's bed, but Juozapas is unable to sleep. While wracked by a severe headache, the voice in Juozapas's head begins to taunt him; Juozapas interprets this as criticism of his betrayal of Leandras and resolves to free him, leaving the hotel room while Iserajta sleeps. Juozapas breaks into Nikiforas's garage, but awakens Nikiforas in the process; the two have a fight which Juozapas wins after he slips into a fit of rage and beats Nikiforas to death with a wrench. Juozapas is able to free Leandras, but is horrified by his loss of control and his actions.

The two resolve to head to the docks so they can escape by boat; on the way there, however, they are confronted by Iserajta, who woke up and went looking for Juozapas after noticing he had left. Iserajta attacks Leandras with a kitchen knife from the tavern; Leandras, wounded, flees into the jungle along the riverbank while Juozapas runs into town, heading back to the inn.

Locking himself in his room at the inn, Juozapas slips entirely into a vivid hallucination, perceiving himself to be in a restaurant in Kalnaspilis. He encounters an individual (Rudauskas) who says that he is the ghost of Silvestras, taking on the appearance he might have had as an adult. Silvestras tells Juozapas that he is the voice in his head and explains that he, like Juozapas, began to hear a voice in his head, hallucinate, and lose control of his actions in the months before his death; that Iserajta drowned him because she considered him to be a threat to Ieva; and that Iserajta murdered Feliksas to prevent him discovering the truth. Juozapas, still in love with Iserajta and unsure of what is real, tells Silvestras he does not believe him; Silvestras seizes control of Juozapas's body, breaks the hallucination, and forces him to head to Ieva's house, which is near the river, to confront Ieva and force her to admit that she saw Iserajta murder Silvestras.

Juozapas arrives at Ieva's house and, still under Silvestras's control, begins to interrogate Ieva; she insists that Silvestras drowned naturally, but her denials become increasingly shaky as he continues to press her. Iserajta - searching for Juozapas and Leandras - arrives; she apologizes profusely to Juozapas for her behavior earlier, saying that she had lost control of herself as a result of her anger at Feliksas's murder. Silvestras, speaking through Juozapas, openly accuses Iserajta of murdering him and Feliksas. Iserajta responds by tearfully telling Juozapas that he's under the control of the hysteria, begging him to break free of its grasp so that they can be together. Juozapas tries to regain control of his body from Silvestras, gaining the upper hand after Iserajta reaches out to hold his hand; he dismisses Silvestras's claims as the words of a hallucination and tells Iserajta that he loves her.

Iserajta and Juozapas head to the riverside and share a long kiss, only for Iserajta to shove Juozapas into the river and drown him. Ieva sobs as Iserajta lets his body float downstream; Iserajta tells Ieva that she has to keep their secret and protect Aušra from outsiders who don't understand the forces at work there, suggesting that the 1902 madness was caused by a similar incident. She declares that the town "needs secrets", implying that she has been under the control of - or collaborating with - the hysteria, and places an arm around the still-sobbing Ieva to comfort her as the sun rises on the town.

In a mid-credits epilogue, a visibly traumatized Leandras stumbles along the riverbank and is rescued by a group of fishermen on a riverboat just before he falls unconscious. When he wakes up, he asks the fishermen where they're headed; they tell him that they are going to Pabradės Fortas. Leandras is relieved, and informs them that he needs to call the police and the company once they arrive. Standing up, he tries to collect himself and get his bearings; as he does, he sees a hallucination of Feliksas, who exhorts him to get revenge.

Cast

From left to right: Danielis Česnauskis (Juozapas), Karolis Ileikis (Leandras), and Jadvyga Kavatokaitė (Iserajta).
  • Danielis Česnauskis as Juozapas Vytauskas, sent to Aušra to secure a resource exploration agreement on behalf of his employer, reserved and indecisive
  • Karolis Ileikis as Leandras Kaskevičius, friend and colleague of Juozapas, a nephew of the director of the mining company's Aucurian branch, easy-going but competent
  • Jadvyga Kavatokaitė as Iserajta Murauskaitė, the niece of the mayor of Aušra, charming and intelligent
  • Pransas Svereika as Feliksas Murauskas, the son of the mayor of Aušra and the town's municipal clerk, terse and acerbic
  • Sara Čaprackaitė as Ieva Kiūnaitė, a close friend of Iserajta, sensitive and naive
  • Aleksandras Lupeskas as Nikiforas Petrauskas, a friend of Iserajta and Feliksas who works as a mechanic, boisterous and hot-headed

The film also features Modestas Krivonis as Rimantas Murauskas, the mayor of Aušra; Gintaras Ivinskas as Vilimas Kalėdaitys, the owner of Aušra's inn; Rimantė Humalienė as Janina Erelavičienė, the owner of Aušra's tavern; Aida Andriukytė as Elžbieta Sukauskienė, a grocer; Oskaras Kupčinskas as Dominykas Stroila, an aging but still fit manual laborer; Soterijonas Miuleras, Elijas Babrauskas, Romualdas Ambrazevičius, Matas Mykolauskas, Greta Šaulytė, and Aurelija Žemkalnienė as various other residents of the town; and Hektoras Rudauskas as a hallucinatory version of Silvestras Abraitis, a friend of Feliksas who drowned as a child. Additionally, several residents of the village of Pažaislis, Juoda - where the bulk of the movie was filmed - appear as miscellaneous residents of Aušra throughout the movie.

Production

Development, writing, and casting

Director Leonardas Karaliunas, in an interview conducted shortly before the film's release, said that the basic idea for the film's story - that of a small town in the rainforest afflicted by supernatural forces - emerged from a trip he had taken to the state of Juoda as a teenager, where he had been struck by the isolation of the scattered settlements throughout the state and by the "power of the natural environment in the area, these forces that are vastly more ancient than us and almost beyond our comprehension".

According to Karaliunas, he had mentioned the idea to frequent collaborator Vygantas Ramanauskas as early as 2014, but that serious work on the idea did not begin until 2018, when Karaliunas had the idea to incorporate elements of the opera Iserajta. Shortly thereafter, Ramanauskas began preliminary work on a treatment alongside Karaliunas and screenwriters Daumantas Džačavankas and Atėnė Vitkauskienė; Džačavankas stated that the film's plot went through several revisions during this process, and that "something resembling the final script ended up emerging in the summer of 2020". A deal was reached between Karaliunas and Studija Kurtai for the film's production in January 2021, with Kurtai's Fridrikas Adleras and Oljantas Poskevičius joining as co-producers; this was followed by an agreement with Lokomotyva Visuel to distribute the film in April 2021.

Karaliunas has stated in interviews that the first main character to be cast was Leandras, played by actor and comedian Karolis Ileikis; he described Ileikis as a "natural fit for Leandras's personality", while Ileikis has said that he was "thrilled to have the opportunity to be in a horror movie". Ileikis's casting was followed shortly by the casting of Danielis Česnauskis as Juozapas, Pransas Svereika as Feliksas, and Aleksandras Lupeskas as Nikiforas, on the recommendation of Adleras and Poskevičius. Česnauskis, Svereika, and Lupeskas had all worked with each other in television drama roles, with Lupeskas describing their time working together on Iserajta as "a reunion of sorts".

The casting of Iserajta took "longer than expected", according to Poskevičius. Karaliunas, Adleras, and Poskevičius had agreed relatively quickly that their top candidate for the role was actress and singer Jadvyga Kavatokaitė, known for her roles in romance and drama films such as Isimylėjėliai and Mėlyna kaip Jūra; however, Kavatokaitė has admitted in interviews that she was "initially deeply uncertain" about appearing in a horror film, and that it took "some weeks" for her to be convinced to accept the role. Sara Čaprackaitė - who had also appeared in Isimylėjėliai alongside Kavatokaitė - and Hektoras Rudauskas were cast as Ieva and Silvestras respectively shortly thereafter.

Filming and cinematography

Iserajta was mostly filmed on location in the village of Pažaislis, Juoda, with Pažaislis standing in for the fictional Aušra. Cinematographer Juozapas Brazinskas told Film & Filmography Today that Pažaislis was chosen from a shortlist of seven villages in southern Juoda by himself, writer Vygantas Ramanauskas, director Leonardas Karaliunas, and producers Fridrikas Adleras & Oljantas Poskevičius. Principal photography began on August 1, 2021, and ended on November 11 of the same year.

Brazinskas said that the decision to shoot on location was the right one for adequately establishing the film's setting and atmosphere, but also noted that it posed several challenges for the shoot; the village's remote location - like Aušra, Pažaislis is accessible only by riverboat - made it difficult to transport people and supplies, and the heat & humidity of the Sythe-Juoda Rainforest "made any time spent outside arduous". Wildlife was also a complication; Jadvyga Kavatokaitė stated that mosquitoes "were literally everywhere within any proximity of the river", while Aleksandras Lupeskas wrote on Chirper that "the filming of [Nikiforas's] death was interrupted when we found a snake in the room", which had to be removed before filming could resume. In spite of these difficulties, producer Oljantas Poskevičius described the filming as "a success", thanking the residents of Pažaislis for their support and involvement in the process.

Some scenes were filmed elsewhere. The film's initial and mid-credits scenes, both of which take place on riverboats, were filmed on the Juoda River just south of Molėtai; Karolis Ileikis, the only actor present during both of these scenes, said that this was done for "practicality reasons... since it allowed us to get on the boat in Molėtai, sail out into the jungle, and return back to Molėtai at the end of the day". Additionally, the scene in which Juozapas hallucinates himself having a conversation with the ghost of Silvestras in a restaurant was filmed at Studija Kurtai's Kalnaspilis studio.

Music and sound design

Iserajta (Original Film Soundtrack)
Iserajta soundtrack cover.png
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedOctober 26, 2022
Recorded2021–2022
StudioMilakas Recording Studio, Apvaizda
GenreClassical, folk
Lengthtbd
LabelOrfėjonas

The film's score was composed by Marijona Baškevičiūtė, also known for her work on Višventinės and Les dieux du nouveau monde, and performed by the Apvaizda Philharmonic Orchestra. In composing the soundtrack, Baškevičiūtė drew influence from Aucurian folk music while also incorporating and interating upon motifs from Augustas Lankauskas's scoring of the opera Iserajta, often using these motifs to subvert their operatic associations; this garnered particularly high praise from many critics, including music journalist Timofejaš Abromavičius, who described Baškevičiūtė's use of elements from the opera as "clever, subversive, and ultimately brilliant in constructing the film's internal atmosphere and its thematic points".

The soundtrack was released as an album on October 26, 2022, the day following the film's premiere at the 83rd Montecara Film Festival.

Tracklist
No.TitleLength
1."Overture"tbd
2."Aušra"tbd
3."The Murauskas Family"tbd
4."Drinks at the Tavern"tbd
5."Aria"tbd
6."Suspicions"tbd
7."Rapport"tbd
8."Kléber-Oberlin"tbd
9."Confession"tbd
10."Recurrence"tbd
11."Without Feliksas"tbd
12."Confrontation"tbd
13."Juozapas and Iserajta"tbd
14."Hysteria"tbd
15."Silvestras"tbd
16."Ieva's Lament"tbd
17."Secrets"tbd
18."The Cycle (Credits)"tbd

Themes

Iserajta is loosely derived from the opera of the same name, one of Aucuria's most famous works of classical music and theater, which was both written & composed by Augustas Lankauskas and first premiered in 1870. The opera's story is a nationalistic mythologizing of the emergence of the "Aucurian nation", in which the Ruttish užkariautojas Juozapas - who embodies Euclean strength, prowess, intelligence, and cultural refinement - encounters and falls in love with the Marai princess Iserajta - a pure and maidenly noble savage whose name is an anagram of the Ruttish word Asterija; the two subsequently have a child, Bendiktas, who comes to embody all of their best aspects. In the broader Aucurian artistic & political canon, literary analysts such as Justas Kairys and Stéphane Allaire have described the opera as an important part of Aucuria's efforts to construct a national identity through its culture, standing both chronologically and conceptually between the heavily Eucleocentric conceptions of Aucurian identity typical of the 18th to early 19th centuries and the indigenizmas of the early 20th century in its efforts to synthesize a simultaneously Euclean and indigenous identity reflective of the country's diverse origins & large maišytias population.

Accordingly, the movie has been described as a deliberate subversion of the original opera by many critics. While certain basic details such as character names are kept, many characters in the movie exist as direct opposites of their operatic namesakes; the film's Juozapas is indecisive and weak-willed, easily manipulated by an Iserajta who is cunning and even ruthless rather than maidenly or innocent. Additionally, the plots of the two stories are almost entirely unrelated beyond certain basic similarities, such as Juozapas and Leandras being outsiders in Iserajta's community or Juozapas falling in love with Iserajta. Film critic Aleksandras Barauskas, writing in Kultūros Apžvalga, stated that:

The film makes a conscious effort to deconstruct and demolish the romanticized fiction of Lankauskas's opera in favor of a darker tale of deception and intrigue, one which makes no pseudohistorical efforts to assuage our feelings with comforting lies. Instead, it presents us with a more frank depiction of the psyche that emerges in reality from the process which created Aucuria, and indeed all the nations of the Asterias - dishonesty, possessiveness, exploitation of land and people, and violence.

Indigenous writer & activist Vilimas Čukvėvankas described the film's subversion of the opera as deliberate commentary on the construction of Aucuria's national identity:

Aušra stands in for Aucuria itself. Aucuria - like every modern nation-state - has constructed its national identity upon a sanitized, mythologized version of its past, created by both political and cultural narratives. This identity is threatened by any efforts to confront Aucuria's history in its full scope, and the failure to fully confront this country's sordid history perpetuates a cycle of violence against those upon whose backs and blood this country has been built... The opera Iserajta buries the truth by sanitizing the horrors of colonialism. The film character Iserajta buries the truth by killing Feliksas and Juozapas. In both cases, the motive is the same. Aucuria, like Aušra, needs secrets.

Critics such as Vytautė Vasiliauskienė and Ginevra Esposito identified sexism as a major theme of the film. Vasiliauskienė notes that Iserajta in particular is continually underestimated or discounted by others because she is a woman, a decision which ultimately has fatal consequences for Silvestras, Feliksas, and Juozapas, and screenwriter Atėnė Vitkauskienė said, during an interview with Menas ir Kultūra, that she "wanted to make sure that Iserajta was not, you know, the way women are often depicted as weak or helpless by male writers". Esposito, however, noted that the character of Ieva does more closely match the archetypal "damsel in distress", at least in how she is perceived by Iserajta; accordingly, Esposito describes the film as touching on the internalization of sexism, arguing that "Iserajta has ultimately adopted the patriarchal attitude societally inflicted upon her... [which is reflected] in how she babies Ieva and in the violence Iserajta uses to 'defend' her."

Others, including Jurgis Aištauskas, have stated that homosexuality and homophobia are important themes of the film, noting that Juozapas's internalized homophobia complicates his relationship with Leandras and contributes to his decision to side with Iserajta over Leandras after Iserajta accuses Leandras of murdering Feliksas, which ultimately leads to Leandras being injured and Juozapas's murder by Iserajta. The human relationship to nature was identified as a central theme by Julia do Rosário, who noted that "the film consciously links the disruption of nature - embodied by the destruction of the environment entailed by mining operations, whether in 1902 or 2022 - with the supernatural mass hysteria that periodically befalls Aušra."

Juozas Langas, writing for Tautos Savaitrašti, states that the film comments on colonialism not only in its subversions of Lankauskas's opera, but also by examining neocolonialism:

It is not coincidental, one imagines, that Juozapas and Leandras work for a Gaullo-Weranian conglomerate which swallowed up the Aucurian company once owned by Leandras's ancestors. After all, Rudolphine Werania occupied Aucuria as a colony for over sixty years, bringing to an end the autonomy Aucuria had been afforded during the United Kingdom period and enshrining itself in Aucurian memory as the oppressor against whom the Aucurian War of Independence was declared; Gaullica and its colony Satucin, meanwhile, pried off bits of Aucuria to add to their colonial domains following the War of the Arucian and invaded Aucuria during the Great War. In this lens, the specter of a Gaullo-Weranian company looking to exploit the resources of the town of Aušra is merely a new form of certain parts of Aucuria's past which few today look fondly upon.

Release

Iserajta premiered on October 25th, 2022 at the 83rd Montecara Film Festival. It received a theatrical release in Aucuria on November 11th, 2022, and is slated for a worldwide theatrical release on January 6th, 2023.

Reception

Box office

[release in aucuria]

[release internationally]

Critical response

Iserajta received broad critical praise, with praise particularly focused upon the film's acting, soundtrack, and thematic commentary. Robertas Gulbinas, in his review of the film for Žinia Respublikos, described Iserajta as "a tour-de-force... which manages to combine its disparate elements - psychological horror narrative, character-driven drama, thematic subversion of the opera for which it was named - convincingly into a singular whole".

The performances of the film's lead actors were near-universally praised; Vytautė Vasiliauskienė of Naujoji Kultūra declared that "it is the acting which brings this film to life, most thoroughly conveys to the audience the atmosphere of horror which falls upon Aušra", with critics Erik Nyqvist and Cyril Khomiouk giving particular praise to the performances of Karolis Ileikis and Jadvyga Kavatokaitė. Faustas Simonaitis of Ruttųijos Žinios described Kavatokaitė as the "clear star of the film" and said that she had proved herself to be an "actress of international caliber". Martim Sampaio of cinemasteria.be stated that he considered the performance of Danielis Česnauskis to be underappreciated by other critics and complimented Česnauskis's acting chemistry with Ileikis and Kavatokaitė, adding that "[Pransas] Svereika's performance is also not to be missed".

Devon Wilson of the Winchester Morning News gave particular praise to the film's setting and cinematography, declaring that:

[Leonardas] Karaliunas's decision to set his film in the Sythe-Juoda harkens back to some of Aucuria's greatest works of classic cinema, like Euzebijos Jangas's Saulė virš Upės and Aivaras Kiprijauskas's Pasmerktieji, which used the jungle to examine both Aucuria as a country and the depths of the human psyche. Karaliunas does these Aucurian classics proud with his deeply immersive and absorbing depiction of the region, thoroughly conveying both its majesty and its daunting inhumanity in the cinematography, which excellently amplifies the film's sense of horror.

Marijona Baškevičiūtė's soundtrack for the film was widely praised; Tobias Hess of The Standard described it as "a stellar amplification of the film's subtly sinister atmosphere", praise that was echoed by Andrius Griškevičius and Tarou Miyazawa, while Rasa Augaitė of the Kalnaspilio Rytas noted the ways in which Baškevičiūtė incorporated themes and motifs from the opera into the soundtrack as "a point sure to capture anyone familiar with the story from which the film takes its name", adding that "Baškevičiūtė brilliantly uses musical motifs as a form of subversion, turning them on their heads in a fashion that is even more convincing than Karaliunas and [writer Vygantas] Ramanauskas's attempts to do so narratively".

The film's story received broadly positive reviews; Deividas Suraučius for aukuriskaskinas.ak described it as "a savagely unnerving plot, capable of both shocking the viewer with its reveals and twisting the knife", while Wolfgang Herzschlag of the Kolreuther Zeitung wrote that it "brings together its characters and threads in a satisfying way" and gave particular praise to the ways in which dialogue and cinematography were used to emphasize the feeling of horror and as a means of foreshadowing. However, some critics panned the plot as overly convoluted or hard to follow. Ingrida Kazlauskienė, in her review for the newspaper Kurjeris, stated that the film "feels meandering as it attempts to handle all of its leads and threads, with none of it playing out in a really satisfying way", and Raoul Vigoroux of Cinésité commented that "it sometimes feels as though Karaliunas had four or five ideas for where to take the plot, but was forced to unsatisfyingly merge elements from all of them into one ending - an ending which relies more on shock than actual horror in its impact".

The inclusion of a mid-credits scene was pilloried by some critics; Nikiforas Leonas, director of the films Puma Tyko and Lapkričio Mėnesio Savaite, described the presence of such a scene in Iserajta as "a contamination of high cinema by pop film, a disgusting trace of sequel-baiting action movies and trite superhero flicks which hopefully does not come to further pollute the field, though I fear that Karaliunas has already let the genie out of the bottle". Leonardas Karaliunas defended the decision, telling Film & Filmography Today that the scene had been included to "emphasize the idea that these things are cyclical in nature, the scars of the past creating the scars of the present creating the scars of the future, and make sure the audience left with that thought first and foremost".

General reception

Audience reception to Iserajta was generally favorable, but less favorable than that of critics; on the review aggregator website Kinoscore the film received an audience score of 61% in contrast to a critic score of 88%.

Iserajta received criticism from some feminist groups for its depiction of the titular character. Apolonija Fetkevičienė, a spokeswoman for the Womens' Solidarity Coalition, accused the film of associating female empowerment with violence and argued that the film "distracts from the issues of violence against women & femicide by placing a woman in the role of murderer". Jadvyga Kavatokaitė, who played the character of Iserajta, described the criticism as "understandable", but added that she "[thought] that the film's commentary on sexism speaks for itself". Fetkevičienė's criticism was also answered by writer & essayist Ginevra Esposito, who described Iserajta's use of violence to "defend" Ieva as commentary on the internalization of the sexist and patriarchal attitudes forced upon women.

The film was also criticized by some over its portrayal of the ethnic makeup of the town of Aušra; activist Lipjapomas Supraptas wrote that "the film's decision to make the residents of the town generic maišytiai obfuscates the actual ethnic diversity of such communities", stating that the film should have included explicitly indigenous and immigrant characters to reflect the tribes indigenous to the Sythe-Juoda Rainforest and the legacy of the 1880s-1910s rubber boom, which attracted many immigrants - particularly Coian immigrants - to the state of Juoda.

Iserajta was attacked by some right-wing Aucurian politicians due to its nature as a subversion of the opera of the same name, which is regarded as a national classic. Eduardas Balsys, leader of the right-wing populist Citizens’ Movement, accused the film of "disgracing the country" by "shredding a part of our heritage in the name of pushing some revisionist mythology", while also admitting that he had not seen the film and had no intent to do so. Director Leonardas Karaliunas resfused to comment on Balsys's statements, while Daumantas Džačavankas - who co-wrote the screenplay - told the newspaper Aukurija Šiandien that "responding to Balsys would be a waste of my time".

In the state of Juoda, where the film was set, there was some criticism from politicians over the film's portrayal of the state and its inhabitants; Oskaras Umbrazas, mayor of the town of Niekur, told Žinia Respublikos that he was displeased by "the depiction of Juodans as a bunch of jungle malcontents one slip away from bloody hysteria", expressing concern that it might keep tourists or economic investment away from the state. However, interviews with inhabitants of the village of Pažaislis - where much of the movie was filmed - found that many Pažaislis residents disagreed with this criticism, saying that they enjoyed being involved in the filming process and expressing hope that the film could bring more outside attention, and economic activity, to the state.

Accolades

Wins

Nominations