"I don't drink coffee without sugar," remarks a young Russian woman not far into Sharunas Bartas' Three Days. She's talking to two Lithuanian men - brothers, mid-twenties, from the countryside - who have just picked her up outside a train station in the cloud-covered city of Kaliningrad, a former Soviet outpost left in ruin following the then-recent dissolution of the Soviet Union. The three of them stand around a table in a café, barely looking at each other, let alone speaking, before, finally, they leave. She never touches her coffee.
This kind of thing is par for the course in Three Days. The trio, all outsiders, spend the three days of the title drifting aimlessly around the city, hanging out in derelict churches and empty beaches during the daytime, and trying to find a place to stay in the evenings. The townspeople, solemn and silent in public, raucous partiers in private, treat them like pariahs, either ignoring them completely or side-eyeing them with suspicion, occasionally breaking routine to show their indignation. At one point, a hotel owner suddenly berates one of the men, calling him a "piece of scum" and a "bastard", while later, his brother is savagely attacked in an alleyway.
Bartas' style is similarly nightmarish. Three Days is comprised primarily of lingering, static compositions of the desolate city: thick fog envelopes the empty grey streets, partly masking the ruinous state of many of the surrounding buildings, all crumbling walls and broken windows; weak electric lights, both inside and out, provide only the faintest illumination, shrouding the city in near-darkness; sparse groups of people walk the streets, thick coats buttoned all the way up to shelter from the cold; the abandoned cranes of forgotten constructions are fossils of a prosperous past.
Kaliningrad, a city sandwiched between Lithuania, Poland and the Baltic Sea but very much a Russian territory, was geographically severed from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the countries that separated them were freed from Soviet control. As both Poland and Lithuania imposed strict border controls, Kaliningrad was rendered virtually inaccessible to the outside world, crippling its economy and leaving many of its people in poverty. The trio Bartas follows, however, are not people of Kaliningrad; they are foreign visitors - as alienated in Kaliningrad as Kaliningrad is alienated in post-Soviet Europe.
Bartas, a twenty-something Lithuanian when he made this, is too empathetic to perceive this parallel as irony. He contrasts static compositions of the city with revealing close-ups of faces, showing the inconsolable sadness of each character as their isolation becomes more pronounced. In the film's finest moment, held in one long close-up, the Russian woman weeps uncontrollably on a bed while one of the brothers lays with her; muffled loud music is playing off-screen, suggesting yet another party tormenting them from a distance. But then the music stops, and they stay close; she stops crying. Then Bartas cuts to a shot of a faraway factory, smoke billowing freely from its chimney. In this brief moment, intimacy equates to distance, and happiness seems to lie elsewhere.