What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?


Beauty at rest.

(2021) Drama (MUBI) Giorgi Ambroladze, Oliko Barbakadze, Giorgi Bochorishvilli, Ani Karseladze, Vakhtang Panchulidze, Aleksandre Koberidze (narration), Irina Chelidze. Directed by Aleksandre Koberidze

From time to time, a pair of people very much in love are said to be “meant for each other.” When you consider the odds of two souls meeting in this life that are perfectly suited, it’s a wonder that anyone finds a soulmate. Sometimes, life itself conspires against them.

In this gentle Georgian film, Giorgi (Ambroladze), a professional soccer player and Lisa (Barbakadze), a pharmacist, literally run into each other in the ancient Georgian town of Kutaisi. Although we only see them from the knees down, we get the sense that something is happening. Later, they meet accidentally again (this time viewed in a far shot that makes them look like ants). The two agree to meet the next day for a date at a café.

But for reasons never made clear, the couple attract the evil eye who levels a curse on the two young people; during the night as they sleep, they are transformed in appearance. They also lose the skills they had in their professions, causing them both to lose their jobs. To be sure, new actors take over the roles of Giorgi (Bochorishvilli) and Lisa (Karseladze).

Now the two get menial jobs working in, ironically, the same riverside bar but they don’t recognize one another. With all of Europe overcome with World Cup fever (and Kutaisi is no exception) the two would-be lovers go on with their lives, never aware tht the person that had caught their fancy is so near at hand. Will they find each other despite the obstacles?

Now I know, dear reader, that this sounds like the plot of a 20-year-old rom-com, but this is most assuredly not that. Koberidze doesn’t make it that easy, nor is he interested in spoon-feeding his audience a machine-made happy ending. Instead, the movie captures the rhythms and tides in a small Georgian city, and in a way the film is a love letter to that city, but it isn’t just that. There is a bit of fable to it as well, although one not so much written by the Brothers Grimm but perhaps by Carlos Castaneda.

Koberidze is fond of using odd images that are meant as visual puzzle pieces for the viewer to figure out, such as seeing only the feet of the two protagonists as they meet for the first time. What a person looks like is immaterial, Koberidze seems to be saying, and to drive that point home, he changes their looks to see if the two will fall in love all over again – although we never know if they would have fallen in love anyway had they not been cursed with the appearance change.

But the danger in that kind of thing is that one can get carried away with the imagery and symbolism, and that’s exactly what happens here. We end up with a two-and-a-half-hour movie with enough story to fill about an hour and a half of that. The filmmaking goes marching past metaphorical and right into self-indulgence without missing a beat.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to recommend here. Koberidze has a lovely sense of whimsy which he does utilize throughout the film, and the gentle (albeit slow) pacing really helps immerse the viewer in the location. There is also a beautiful score (sparingly used) by Giorgi Koberidze. What is most notable about the movie is the gentle spell it weaves, one sturdy enough to last the full 150 minutes but fragile enough that the slightest distraction might blow it away like a puff of smoke on the wind. It’s a lovely film, but it also requires a fair amount of patience.

REASONS TO SEE: There is a lovely sense of the whimsical.
REASONS TO AVOID: Often devolves into cinematic masturbation.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The two middle-aged documentary filmmakers are played by Koberidze’s real-life parents.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: MUBI
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/27/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews; Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 50 First Dates
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Kate

Dede


The ageless Caucasus mountains dwarf the individuals who live there.

(2017) Drama (Corinth) Natia Vibliani, Nukri Khatchvani, George Babluani, Girshel Chelidze, Mose Khatchvani. Directed by Mariam Khatchvani

 

The Caucasus Mountains stand brooding in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, imposing and timeless. In the region of Svaneti, tradition is the backbone of life but that tradition but it is a region that is slowly fading into history. They have their own language but it is officially listed as a dying language (you can hear it spoken here). Director Mariam Khatchvani knows the region well – she grew up there.

Following the Georgian civil war of 1992, the remote village of Ushguli welcomes back their favorite son David (N. Khatchvani) who brings with him Gegi (Babluani) who saved David’s life in the war. Both of them have something to return to; David a fiancée and Gegi a mysterious woman whose name he does not know but whom he feels a special connection and, he’s sure, feels one with him. Little do they know that they are both after the same woman – Dina (Vibliani).

For Dina’s part, she has no love for David whatsoever – the marriage was arranged for her by her tradition-bound grandfather – but as much as she wants to break off the marriage, nobody else particularly wants to. Both families would lose face (particularly that of David) and the situation would undoubtedly lead to a blood feud between the two families. However fate intervenes and sends Dina on a journey in which she will attempt to exert her own independence, face tragedy, become the mother to a son and become the object of desire for three different men.

This made some waves on the European festival circuit and for good reason. Mariam Khatchvani, making her feature film debut, has crafted a beautiful movie of magnificent vistas and strong emotions, giving us a peek into a little-known culture and commenting on the patriarchal nature of her native land. That’s an awful lot to expect from a first film but she makes it work deftly and gracefully.

Some critics have compared this to A Handmaid’s Tale and while this isn’t quite as dystopian, there are certainly some revealing moments in regards to the attitudes towards women, often from other women. Traditions are strong in that part of the world and they govern nearly everything when it comes to love and relationships. Women “have no say,” as one patriarch grumbles, in whom she marries (even today, 25 years after this was set, women still cannot inherit from their husbands). It is permissible for a family to kidnap a woman off the street and take her to their home – and yes, that means they’re married. Once a man declares his intent to marry a woman, there’s no response from the woman necessary – they are betrothed whether she likes it or not. Generally though these things are arranged between the eldest males in the families..

While the traditions may seem backwards and even primitive to American sensibilities, they are very much a part of that part of the world. Life is hard, particularly during the harsh winters in the mountains and there are not a lot of modern conveniences. Most of the actors are non-professional locals and while Vibliani stands out as the best of the bunch, Babluani – the lone other professional – acquits himself well also. Vibliani has an angelic face and projects the fierce inner strength of Dina. Her beauty is both a curse and a gift in the mountain village as Dina goes through life as a prized possession, but a possession regardless. She is considered chattel like all women of the region and it is sobering to think that it has only been a bit over a century since we held the same attitudes in the West.

The cinematography is absolutely stunning with the mountains rendered as a silent Greek chorus to the events here. There is also plenty of singing and the singing is breathtaking and beautiful. Svaneti may as well be on another planet in many ways, but this movie helps us reflect that the attitudes toward women even in supposedly enlightened cultures are not that far removed from utter misogyny and domestic slavery. Given how women continue to be treated here in the west, there is nearly as long a way to go here as there is in Ushguli.

REASONS TO GO: The scenery and music is absolutely stunning. The film illustrates the hardship of life in that part of Georgia. Vibliani is beautiful and spirited.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a tiny bit too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is a Khatchvani family affair as the director cast her husband and son.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Suitable Girl
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Christmas Blood