Georgian cinema? Go on, give it a go. To make things easy for you we have picked five films that serve as the perfect introduction the contemporary Georgian cinema.
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?
A German-Georgian feature film by Alexandre Koberidze, released earlier this year.
Taking place in the Georgian town of Kutaisi, the film is a tale about lovers afflicted by a mysterious curse and at the same time the depiction of everyday life in a Georgian city.
Pharmacist Liza and footballer Giorgi fall in love at first sight and decide to meet again. Yet before they do, a curse leaves them looking different: they no longer recognise each other.
Liza forgets her medical training and starts serving ice cream, while Giorgi can no longer kick a ball and is reduced to operating a fairground-style test-your-strength challenge.
The film cosily depicts an ordinary world full of everyday epiphanies, and is a wonderful advert for the ancient city of Kutaisi, which has rarely looked better.
International critics have been fulsome in their praise for the film, a Georgian romance with Kafkaesque quirks which borrows elements from silent movies, 1970s cinema and observational documentaries.
An important aspect of the film is the ambiguity of time. Trying to guess the time from the sparse information that the film gives us is impossible.
Beginning, originally titled Naked Sky, is a Georgian-French drama directed by Déa Kulumbegashvili and released in 2020.
An official selection of the Cannes Film Festival in May 2020, it depicts the lives of a religious minority, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in a provincial city in Georgia.
One day, a preacher, David, and his wife Yana are attacked by religious extremists and their prayer house is burnt down.
David makes an official complaint to the police about their marked lack of effort or interest in finding the culprits and makes a trip to Tbilisi to discuss matters with community elders. Meanwhile, Yana is left behind and is menaced and assaulted by someone claiming to be a cop. She begins to analyse her real desires, after which her world slowly collapses.
Plagued with bitterness from enduring her husband’s rigidness, Yana is eager for a more secular life.
Drama and psychological thriller directed by Ana Urushadze.
Released in 2017, this Georgian/Estonian co-production was much feted on the festival circuit, taking home top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival shortly after winning best first feature at Locarno.
The film develops around a 50-year-old housewife, Manana, who hopes to find herself by secretly penning a darkly erotic thriller. In a drab post-Soviet concrete apartment block towering over the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Manana is about to explode. She struggles with her dilemma – she has to choose between her family life and her passion – writing, which she had repressed for years. Eventually, she decides to follow her passion and plunges herself into writing, sacrificing to it mentally and physically.
Manana’s grip on reality slowly starts to slip as she starts dreaming that she is Manananggal, a mythical creature of Filipino lore, half-human and half-monstrous bird that emits a clicking noise when on the hunt. She hides the writing from her husband Anri, but he becomes apoplectic after reading an excerpt.
The film is a mixture of a nightmarish feel and a fairly straight feminist parable about the disparity of traditional gender roles. Women often combat patriarchal oppression, pretending that freedom, once granted, will not be used to undermine existing institutions and priorities. But cool-to-the-touch Scary Mother suggests that truly self-expressive freedom cannot be a partial but an absolute concept, which includes freedom, seized on by the monomaniacal Manana, to become the true version of herself, even a winged monster which is ready to devour anything and anyone.
And Then We Danced
A 2019 Georgian drama is set in the homophobic world of Georgian ballet dancing.
Irakli, a charming rebel with natural talent arrives at a ballet school and attracts the attention of Merab, who craves his dancing skills. Merab soon realises that he is attracted to Irakli.
But in a hyper-masculine society where even in dance there is no space for “softness”, Merab keeps his feelings bottled up. Until, that is, one day they submit to their desire for each other. From that moment on, Merab starts his arduous journey from heartbreak and fear to self-acceptance.
In the film, traditional Georgian dance seems to exemplify society – frozen between traditional values and progress, and in desperate need of change. Levan Akin, a Swedish-Georgian director, demonstrates that Georgian dance, even though deeply embedded in tradition, needs and could be opened up for improvisation and modernity as dancing largely depends on the identities of the dancer or audience.
Through Merab – Georgian, gay, a brother, a son and a dancer – Akin successfully shows that in traditional Georgian ballet, different identities can be compatible.
Apart from homophobia, the film’s plot has various other references including the Russian occupation, Armenophobia and unemployment. Slightly artificial, it nevertheless successfully manages to deliver a searing commentary on societal problems in modern-day Georgia.
My Happy Family
In Georgia, family members of different generations often have to live together under the same roof.
Women have to constantly prove themselves, while men can get away with practically anything. It is the woman’s primary duty to maintain the happiness of her family through her peaceful and self-sacrificing nature.
Rejecting this, Manana, a 52-year-old woman, decides to live alone, much to the utter bewilderment of her family. Time and again, she is asked whether she has been beaten by her husband, Soso. Surely, she is told, she must have been hurt to take such drastic action?
Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß in 2017, My Happy Family is one of the most captivating films about the problems of women in contemporary Georgia, still a very traditional environment. It breaks down stereotypes of a woman’s role as the keeper of the house, even though it is difficult at times to understand how she can find happiness being completely alone.
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