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

Advertisement

The Blood of Wolves (Korô no chi)


Sometimes you can’t tell the cops from the criminals.

(2018) Crime Drama (Toei) Kôji Yakusho, Tôri Matsuzaka, Gorô Ibuki, Yoko Maki, Yôsuke Eguchi, Hajime Inoue, Megumi, Tarô Suruga, Renji Ishibashi, Takuma Otoo, Kyûsaku Shimada, Junko Abe, Marie Machida, Takahiro Kuroishi, Eiji Takigawa, Pierre Taki, Shun Nakayama, Joey Iwanaga, Tomorô Taguchi, Ken’Ichi Takitô, Tomoya Nakamura, Katsuya, Issei Okihara. Directed by Kazuya Shiraishi

In movies there are actual touchstones; Hitchcock for thrillers, Chaplin for comedies, Ford for Westerns and Scorsese for gangster movies. Scorsese himself was influenced in turn by Asian crime dramas which in its own way is somewhat ironic and circular.

Shiraishi says that the 1973-74 five part series Battles Without Honor and Humanity was his main influence for his work but that in turn was influenced by some of Scorsese’s earlier work such as Mean Streets. This film, based on the novel of the same Japanese name, is set in Hiroshima in 1988 at the height of a gang war. The Odani-gumi Yakuza gang have been in control for 14 years; the Machiavellian leader of the Irako-kai gang (Ishibashi) has cut a deal with the volatile leader (Shimada) of the Kakomura-gumi to retake the territory the Irako-kai had lost – and then some.

Trying to stave off what would be another bloody gang war is a cop as rumpled as the packs of cigarettes he smokes incessantly Shogo Ogami (Yakusho) who has just been saddled with a naive straight arrow partner named Shuichi Hioka (Matsuzaka). They are investigating the disappearance of an accountant from a financial institution that is actually a Yakuza money laundering front. As tensions between rival gangs grow, Ogami – who never met a rule he wasn’t willing to break – utilizes informants including his best friend Ginji Takii (Taki) who is a low-level guy for the Odani-gumi to get closer to the rival gangs. Soon Hioka suspects that Ogami is protecting the Ogami as well as himself – there are rumors that the last gang war ended because Ogami, then a uniformed officer, murdered a top man for the Irako-kai. That has been neither forgotten nor forgiven.

In between chasing down sadistic Yakuza and indifferent bureaucrats, Ogami and Hioka hang out in a bar administered by the beautiful but volatile Rikako (Maki) whose past is key to the last gang war and what is leading to the next. Sake will flow and blood will spill – sometimes in buckets – in this brutal, bloody Yakuza film.

Very often during a movie there will be periods where my interest wanes and my attention will wander a little bit. Not so with The Blood of Wolves – there wasn’t a moment that my attention wasn’t focused to the goings-on onscreen. While there is a fairly large cast of characters and many are essentially disposable Yakuza foot soldiers and cops, the main characters are well-developed and especially veteran actor Yakusho deliver some marvelous performances.

As here in America, the gangster film has fallen on hard times in Japan. Once a staple of their film industry, in recent years the Yakuza film has been relegated to the periphery. This particular one is old school and has that epic quality that the best films of such genre greats as Scorsese and Coppola possessed. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good examples of the genre still being made in the Land of the Rising Sun and this is an example of it. It has already screened at the New York Asian Film Festival this year but as the powerhouse Toei studio is behind it there is a pretty good chance further American audiences will get a chance to see it and this is absolutely worth seeing; it is one of the highlights of the Festival this year.

REASONS TO GO: The comparisons to Scorsese are unavoidable in a good way. The story keeps you riveted to the screen. Yakusho gives a compelling performance.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the violence may be too much for the squeamish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a ton of brutal violence and some over-the-top gore; there is also plenty of profanity, some nudity, sexual situations and references and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on a novel that is itself a fictionalized version of a  actual gang war that took place in Hiroshima and the neighboring suburb of Kure.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Gangster’s Daughter
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Rock in the Red Zone