Review of “The Jump” by Giedrė Žickytė

Posted on December. 10. 2021


The Jump, Giedrė Žickytė’s latest cinematic endeavor, on the heels of How We Played the Revolution (2012) and Master and Tatyana (2015) and the short documentary I’m Not There (2016) is an affecting and captivating documentary that had its world premiere at the 2020 Warsaw Film Festival and is now in consideration for the 94th Academy Awards.

The Jump recounts the heroic story of Lithuanian sailor Simas Kudirka who in 1970 jumped from his Soviet ship onto a US Coast Guard vessel anchored off the shore of Martha’s Vineyard, in a distressed bid for freedom. Denied asylum by the American crew, Kudirka was sentenced to a Soviet gulag for treason, thus igniting an international hue and cry. His powerful case full of startling twists and turns played out in the media and up through the highest levels of the US Government.

Director Giedrė Žickytė opts for a three-part narrative structure to tell Simas Kudirka’s unbelievable story. The first act features the still alive, ninety-year-old would-be defector, Kudirka, who highly theatrically reenacts the events, therefore assuming the role of the narrator and reliving the intricacies and minutiae of his historic leap to freedom. Act number two goes into less rosy territory with the retelling of his time in various Soviet prisons and camps and the political arm-twisting that took place in the US in order to secure his freedom, led by Lithuanian-American activists Daiva Kezys and Grazina Paegle and ultimately accomplished by Congressman Hanrahan and his tactics on both the national and international political scene. In the final part of the documentary, Kudirka visits the US and goes on a sort of pilgrimage to the places pertaining to his American life before returning to Lithuania in 2007. He makes a point to mention that the American Dream he chased is an idealistic concept, the American reality being very different even though a life spent in the free world was indispensable for his safety and happiness and that of his family. The idyllic representation of the American Dream is in fact contrasted in a scene that shows an interview with Kudirka, dating back to his early days in the US, where he explicates in all honesty and in broken English that Americans are rich and lucky and therefore take their luck and wealth for granted, failing to appreciate them, producing too much waste and throwing away things that still function, like the television set he salvaged from the trash that he now uses. Moreover, it should also be noted that David Lowell Rich’s TV movie, The Defection of Simas Kudirka, starring Alan Arkin, played a crucial role in spreading the Lithuanian sailor’s story across the US, apart from also emotionally impacting the protagonist.

Accompanied by Kipras Mašanauskas’ majestic score, Giedrė Žickytė’s documentary is not only a gracefully shot (courtesy of Rimvydas Lepius) and finely edited (thanks to Thomas Ernst’s and Danielius Kokanauskis’ careful editing) portrait of Kudirka, but also a new and intriguing take on the unprecedented event itself and the historical context at large. With assured directing and through a brilliant and well-crafted blend of eyewitness reports, rare archival footage, (re)visits of old places and times gone by, Giedré Žickyté takes us on a stranger-than-fiction journey that led to this ordinary man becoming a symbol for freedom-seeking refugees everywhere. The protagonist’s effervescent spirit and his remarkable life story infuse this reverent and inspirational work of non-fiction cinema with an invigorating energy and a sparkling lust for life and freedom – something the entire world could use right now.

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