Velnio Noutaka: A Surreal Lithuanian Folk Musical

Have you ever asked yourself what sort of film would result if Buñuel tried to make a musical cross between Jesus Christ Superstar and Midsommar using the cast from Hair? It’s kept me awake many a night and that is why I was so pleased to find this little Lithuanian treasure entitled Velnio Noutaka.

It’s based on a folk tale that I am sure would make more sense if I had heard it as a little Lithuanian boy. It starts out in heaven where someone who looks like Jesus is sitting on a throne while the angels sing his praises. There is a banquet laid out for them but the angels are not allowed to eat. They can’t eat because they have to continually keep singing.

One red-haired angel gets fed up and starts eating while singing a song of rebellion. Others follow suit until the whole lot of them get kicked out of heaven and thrown down to earth. Our red-haired fellow splashes down in a lake where he is found by an old miller. The Millar lassos the fallen angel and decides to hire/force the angel to be his servant/slave. It turns out the angel is the devil, or becomes of the devil or something, and promises the miller a chance to marry a Bridget Bardot lookalike if the miller will hand over his firstborn.

That’s about as much as I can understand. The rest is a kind of romantic farce maybe a little like A Midsummer’s Dream, but the whole thing is sung like an opera. The music isn’t bad, it’s not catchy like a Broadway musical, but the soft stuff is pretty and the rest has a kind of goofy groove. There is a lot of buzzy, nasal, electric guitar which gives it that Hair feel, and maybe a little Tommy.

Brigette Bardot falls in love with a dashing hero who looks like a combination of Hugo Weaving (the guy who played Agent Smith in The Matrix) and Richard Chamberlin. They are the star-crossed but doomed lovers who must outwit the devil.

There are plenty of subplots and various misadventures but in the end, they crucify the devil which seems like an odd choice considering the symbolism. Their plans are interrupted when in a Monty Pythonesque twist they decide to test the devil first by throwing him and, the cross he is tied to, into the lake. If he sinks it will prove… prove what? I never understood those tests. If you drown, you’re innocent but if you live they kill you? Anyway, the devil escapes and marries a supporting character and Brigette Bardot and Agent Smith ride off into the sunset.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable film and was very popular in Lithuania in its time. It’s a colorful and fast-paced romp with a kind of reckless atmosphere. The devil moves like a frantic clown, the hero is always shot from a low angle with his chest puffed out, the characters are funny and it has an irreverent edge.

It was made in 1974 when Lithuania was still part of The USSR. It was a collaborative effort created by director Arūnas Žebriūnas, composer Vyacheslav Ganelin, and scriptwriter Sigitas Geda. It was based on Kazys Boruta’s book Velnio Noutaka or The Devil’s Bride.

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