Romas Zabarauskas by Arcana Femina.
In celebration of his motion picture The Lawyer being released in the UK, Lithuanian film director, screenwriter and producer Romas Zabarauskas talks inspiration, stereotypes and the film’s ironic narratives.
In short, The Lawyer is a beautiful and extremely complex love story of two seemingly lost souls—a homosexual Lithuanian lawyer Marius and a bisexual Syrian refugee Ali.
Produced, directed and written by Zabarauskas himself, The Lawyer explores loneliness, discrimination and the issues within the Western gaze. The film’s honest and powerful narratives testify to Zabarauskas’s incredible storytelling.
“One starting point was my personal loss,” Zabarauskas opens up. Similarly to the film’s lead character Marius, the filmmaker is, unfortunately, familiar with grief. His father passed away in 2016 and, as Zabarauskas explains, making The Lawyer might’ve been his way of coping with the loss.
“I was also interested in the theme of privilege,” Zabarauskas continues. “Even though the lawyer [Marius] experiences grief and has likely faced homophobia in his life, he still leads a very privileged life.”
The Lawyer sparks a much-needed conversation about the Syrian refugee crisis. The film is done with care and great respect to forcibly displaced people.
“I was thinking about the Western perception of refugees,” Zabarauskas says. “The paradox here is that Marius, an Eastern European, represents the Western gaze. The film definitely plays with certain stereotypes and tries to reverse them.”
In addition to his thorough research on the issue, Zabarauskas has worked together with the Lithuanian Red Cross and raised 7,300€ to help refugees in Lithuania.
A section of the film was shot in the Krnjaca refugee camp in Belgrade, and the extras seen in those scenes are all refugees living there—they all participated voluntarily and were compensated.
Cinematography plays an important role in the film’s storytelling. “We contrasted the visual sceneries with dialogues shot in rather straightforward close-ups,” Zabarauskas reveals. “I’m a big fan of close-ups because I think it’s a unique opportunity to see and feel people more intimately than in real life.”
There’s this specific scene when Marius and Ali sit under a bridge, drowning in red lighting with their backs turned to the viewer and one’s head resting on another’s shoulder—almost as if they’re dreaming of life beyond the horizon.
In the last few minutes of the film, everything becomes red and Ali puts his head on Marius’s shoulder once again. However, this time around, we can see their faces and it feels as if they’re about to leave the past behind.
“It was intentional in the way it was edited but shooting the scene involved quite a lot of improvisation. When we scouted the Ada Bridge, we noticed that at night it gets either green, red, blue or purple,” Zabarauskas explains. “I told our Serbian executive producer Milena Dzambasovic that we need to have it in red as it would fit our color scheme. She told me it’s impossible to predict what color it will be that night but I insisted.”
“The Serbian team really tried to get a hold of who’s controlling those colors but in the end everyone they called thought it was some kind of a joke,” filmmaker-slash-activist Zabarauskas continues. “So we decided it will be fine either way as long as it’s not green and, of course, the night of our shoot the bridge went green! So we needed to improvise and, in the end, the result was better than expected as the green color made our own red lights pop even more.”
For someone who’s a lawyer, Marius is quick to turn to bribery and go against the law—somewhat of a hidden irony within both the character and the film’s title.
“Sure, I think there is a certain irony to his character. As Ali says at one point, ‘You can’t get help from a lawyer when the only things that work aren’t legal’,” Zabarauskas says. “But it’s also important to note that Marius is a corporate lawyer so he doesn’t know much about refugee law. All in all, it serves to explore the bureaucracy of the asylum procedures.”
Though The Lawyer, relatively speaking, is an open-ended film, that wasn’t the initial plan. “We have shot three scenes showing all the characters one year later. But… With the editor Ieva Veiverytė we decided to delete those scenes as we thought the current open ending is more satisfying,” Zabarauskas admits.
“If people truly care what I think happened next, I could share it sometime in the future but it will be only my opinion,” Zabarauskas finally says. “Now, that the film is done, I don’t have any more rights to interpret it than anyone else does.”
Watch The Lawyer via VOD services:
(Press on the title to open the link)