‘The Gambler’, Directed by Ignas Jonynas Review

We are introduced to director Ingas Jonynas’ eponymous gambler Dr. Vincentas (Vytautas Kaniusonis) rescuing an ODing prostitute by breathing into a defective air pump with his own mouth. She vomits green bile all over his face. Vinc then follows her john, a spindly-legged, stringy-haired old man in dirty boxers, into the next room of the grim apartment. The john protests that he is ‘an artist’, ‘a photographer’, as Vinc confiscates a pile of pornographic Polaroids on the bed. Later, Vinc wins the diploma of honour, a health ministry mug and ten energy bars in his paramedic division for the ninth year running. It is a hollow victory.

Death, exploitation, traffic accidents, potential suicides and gang crime are par for the course in Vinc’s line of work, and he and his workmates cope with the banality of this horror by betting compulsively. When an ambulance journey is cut short by the patient’s demise, the team’s casual reaction is to pull over and start playing on a portable plastic racecourse. We see them roll the dice through the pane of glass behind the dead man’s head. Vinc later shrugs off this cruelly casual attitude with the ruthless logic: ‘Who is one of us? There are only gamblers and money. Someone will always be someone’s one of us.’

Vinc sells the photos of the prostitute back to her parents for an influx of cash, but is still heavily indebted to a loan shark. A passionate love affair with fellow medic Ieva (Oona Mekas), a single mother to a sick child, brings the couple temporary solace. However, Vinc’s macabre solution to his gambling addiction soon sparks off a descent into immorality that will test them both. As he and his colleagues are drawn further into the ‘Deadbook’, Vinc will learn that you cannot choose both love and the game.

Masterfully acted by Kaniusonis and Mekas, set to eerie techno rock by Suuns, ‘The Gambler’ beautifully captures disturbing scenes of mounting chaos with a throbbing tension. Vinc is a man both generous and furious, complex in his anger, pain and ardor, living moment to moment for the rush of chance and fate. The question is, can he choose honour?

‘The Gambler’ is screening at the Future Meridian Festival at Hackney Picturehouse, April 7th at 6.30pm with a Q and A by Vytautas Kaniusonis.

Originally published at Eclectic Magazine online.