(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