Lena returns to her home town in Armenia during war times in hopes that she can bring her grandparents with her back to Russia. Upon her return she quickly comes back into the life in the small village, witnessing how the villagers keep going strong no matter what, albeir scared of what's to come.
Strong debut features are always to be applauded. Maria Saakyan started risky by making a semi-autobiographical film based on her being forced out of her country. The movie's poetic style is often compared to Tarkovsky, but to put it that way is almost too easy. Not to say it's more advanced or greater than Tarkovsky, though I would argue that "The Lighthouse" is more grounded and easily relatable than most of similar stylistic caliber.
Set during war times in the 1990s, the movie is about Lena, a woman who moved from Armenia to Russia. She returns to the town in Armenia where she grew up while the war is exploding in the region in attempt to bring her grandparents with her to Moscow. Spending time where she grew up brings out a lot of memories and emotions in her, and she starts becoming part of the community again. Around her is a village filled with people trying to get by.
There are two layers to "The Lighthouse". One is how heartfelt and honest it feels. It's obviously a personal journey for its director, which makes it a movie that is very easy to relate to even if you haven't been near or hurt by war times. This is because the war is a backdrop above everything else, it doesn't have the graphic nature of war at all. Like Ingmar Bergman's "Skammen" it shows us how a number of people (or a village) struggles to survive during these times in a place they don't want to leave behind. Though the movies differ a lot, it's interesting how much these kinds of movies work as long as they're played natural. That's certainly what makes "The Lighthouse" a movie worth checking out.
The other layer are the visual style. The movie is personal and real, but its cinematography often makes it feel poetic and dreamlike (you can see where the Tarkovsky comparison often comes in handy). It takes breaks from very humane moments to set the mood. The shots over the village and mountains with fog creeping over it are unbelievably beautiful. It's all enhanced with a great score.
There are no real flaws to be found here - the worn look to the film which some have brought up was something I felt made it even more beautiful. However, if there is one thing to mention then it is that there are parts of the movie where it's hard to relate or get into the moment for me, which might be very subjective as I'm far from the world portrayed. Majority of the time its very based on humanity though, which we can all associate with.
"The Lighthouse" will appeal to those who want smaller, more natural stories that come straight from the heart. It's not sensationalism in the least and the few things that could easily have been seen as pretentious are handled delicately. This is a fantastic debut feature by Maria Saakyan, and she's surrounded by a great team with the screenwriter, composer and cinematographer all making it an all-around great experience. Saakyan has since gone on to make two more feature films with "I'm Going to Change My Name" and "Entropiya". I haven't seen either but if this debut is an indication of her skill then they should absolutely be worth checking out too.