NZIFF 2021: მოთვინიერება Motviniereba (Taming the Garden, 2021)

One of the best things about film festivals — and where they differ most markedly from commercial film distribution — is the way they feature a multiplicity of filmmaking techniques. This is especially evident amongst the documentaries. Whereas most of what gets released is deeply conventional (and there were certainly some of those at Whānau Mārama – New Zealand International Film Festival), you also see more poetic, dreamlike, experimental examples. This Georgian film, for example, very much follows the poetic route, with no narration or on-screen text, very few interviews, and is largely just a succession of grand, thought-provoking, curious images of trees being moved.


If the most common type of documentary is the talking heads method of personal testimony, usually about an individual subject and blended with archival footage or even recreations, then another major form — and perhaps more prevalent at film festivals — is this one, which eschews narration or on-screen text to provide contextualisation, and instead just observes its subjects, using the rhythm of the editing, the elegance of the framing and a few musical cues to draw out its inherent drama. It’s slow cinema, in which we just seem to spend time watching trees, watching trees being dug up, watching trees being transported, in slow lumbering ways because these are very large, very old trees. We never even really see the person who’s taking these trees, and only at the end do we get a sense of why they are being taken, but instead we see the communities and the villages of Georgia, where its set and we get a sense for the rhythms of life in these places. It’s not an easy sell, but it has an emotional centre along with a lot of hydraulic diggers.

Motviniereba (Taming the Garden, 2021)

CREDITS
Directors Salomé Jashi სალომე ჯაში; Cinematographers Jashi and Goga Devdariani გოგა დევდარიანი; Length 86 minutes.
Seen at City Gallery, Wellington, Sunday 7 November 2021.

ჟუჟუნას მზითევი Jujunas mzitevi (Jujuna’s Dowry, 1934)

As my Soviet and former-Soviet republics themed week goes on, I find myself returning to the season of 1934 films which screened at the 2018 Il Cinema Ritrovato archive film festival. It presented so many delightful and obscure gems from that country, and this particular one was from Georgia.


A late silent film from a Georgian director which should probably have more love than it currently does, as it is certainly strikingly photographed and expressively acted. Sadly the director died before it was even released, so perhaps if he’d had a chance to make more films, things might have been different. The film itself concerns a young man called Varden (Giorgi Gabelashvili) who is looking to be matched with a woman. One candidate is less than attractive but comes with a dowry of shiny material things, presented without words in a striking montage. However, marriage with her is not in his future, and he falls into horse thieving (for reasons that elude me due to the very warm weather and my very large lunch meaning I dozed off for a little while); he falls for another woman whose dowry is, rather, the land and its bounty as provided by collective farming, and this perhaps is where the Soviet mission comes in somewhat. It can sometimes be difficult to tell apart its young men with their moustaches and traditional clothing, so I didn’t always follow the story, but it’s made with skill and deserves a wider audience.

CREDITS
Director/Writer Siko Palavandishvili სიკო ფალავანდიშვილი; Cinematographer Vladimir Poznan; Starring Giorgi Gabelashvili, Aleksandra Toidze; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at Cinema Lumière (Sala Scorsese), Bologna, Saturday 30 June 2018.

LFF 2019 Day Six: 37 Seconds, The House of Us, Noura’s Dream and And Then We Danced (all 2019)

Day six and another four film day. I’ve actually managed to stay awake for all 16 of the films I’ve seen so far, but this writing them up at the end of the evening is the worst part. Still, I must put my thoughts down or I’ll forget these films, so here are some more reviews. Today I’ve visited Japan, South Korea, Tunisia (again) and Georgia.

Continue reading “LFF 2019 Day Six: 37 Seconds, The House of Us, Noura’s Dream and And Then We Danced (all 2019)”

Chant d’hiver (Winter Song, 2015)

London Georgian Film Festival logo
With the London Film Festival just getting underway, I present short reviews of the four films I saw at the London Georgian Film Festival last week.


Director Otar Iosseliani has had a long career, most of the latter part of it while based in Paris (he’s been rather an outspoken critic of the Russians), and by this point you get the sense that he has a dense personal style that reflects mostly his own work and interests. In many respects this latest film reminds me of the first film of his I saw, Adieu, plancher des vaches (1999, often given in English as “Farewell, Home Sweet Home”). It is broadly-speaking a comedy of a deeply deadpan nature, owing more (as he said in a short spoken introduction at my screening) to Buster Keaton than Charlie Chaplin, though I find it also rather reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s Play Time, or late French-period Luis Buñuel, particularly Le Fantôme de la liberté. But that’s enough cinephiliac name-dropping. What you get is a loosely-connected series of little vignettes, as a large and interwoven group of characters interact in the same area of Paris, walking into and out of each others’ stories, all vaguely brought together around the skull of an 18th century aristocrat, guillotined in the opening sequence. Iosseliani’s characters manage to be both aristocratic and plebeian, sometimes at the same time, moving effortlessly (and at times somewhat confusingly) from the rubbish heaps and gutters to the highest society ballrooms. The central characters are two elderly men (Rufus, and Amiran Amiranashvili), constantly bickering and crossing one another, often to comic effect, so perhaps Samuel Beckett is another influence. If you don’t go into Iosseliani’s films, least of all this latest one, looking for a ‘story’ then you’ll find plenty to delight, little moments of comedy — cute dogs crossing the road by themselves, characters losing their hats in random and arbitrary ways, people unfazed by living and working in the same spaces — interspersed with grimness, with little to separate the two at times.

Winter Song film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Otar Iosseliani ოთარ იოსელიანი; Cinematographer Julie Grunebaum; Starring Rufus, Amiran Amiranashvili ამირან ამირანაშვილი; Length 117 minutes.
Seen at Regent Street Cinema, London, Tuesday 6 October 2015.

პატარძლები Patardzlebi (Brides, 2014)

London Georgian Film Festival logo
With the London Film Festival just getting underway, I present short reviews of the four films I saw at the London Georgian Film Festival last week.


This is another story of recent Georgian history, but from the unusual viewpoint of a woman whose partner (and father of her kids) is in jail. We never find out why but from the other stories mentioned, it’s likely his 10 year sentence is for something petty and minor. The film focuses in on the face of actor Mari Kitia, who does excellent, understated work in this slow and deliberate drama. Much of the film takes place at the prison, starting with a perfunctory wedding ceremony, required so she can visit her husband, and ending with an almost domestic day she gets to spend with him in the prison grounds. It’s a slight movie, but with powerful moments and a great central performance.

Brides film posterFILM FESTIVAL FILM REVIEW: London Georgian Film Festival
Director/Writer Tinatin Kajrishvili თინათინ ყაჯრიშვილი; Cinematographer Goga Devdariani გოგა დევდარიანი; Starring Mari Kitia მარი კიტია; Length 94 minutes.
Seen at Regent Street Cinema, London, Monday 5 October 2015.

პირველი მერცხალი Pirveli mertskhali (First Swallows, 1975)

London Georgian Film Festival logo
With the London Film Festival just getting underway, I present short reviews of the four films I saw at the London Georgian Film Festival last week.


Sitting down to watch a football-themed comedy made in 1970s Georgia during the Soviet era is probably a niche interest, and certainly the filmmaking has a roughness and simplicity to it that suggests a small industry. Unless Georgians in the 1970s had a great fondness for dressing in archaic fashions, this is a historical drama about the earliest Georgian football team at the outset of the 20th century, a bunch of local misfits (the genre clichés are the same wherever you’re making your films) who recruit the mighty, and somewhat older, Jasoni (Dodo Abashidze) to come help them win with his fearsome strike. From playing with local English sailors (hilarious accents on these chaps), they’re conquering the more feted teams of the world. It’s told largely through a young guy who knows nothing about the sport but ends up fitting nicely into the goalie’s gloves (if they wore gloves, but this is early days), so it’s pretty easy to follow. It’s rousing and patriotic but perhaps lacks some of the polish that more recent films from Georgia have. Still, an interesting curio, and for all its macho credentials (with nagging wives at home), it’s directed and written by a woman.

First Swallows film posterCREDITS
Director Nana Mchedlidze ნანა მჭედლიძე; Writers Levan Chelidze ლევან ჭელიძე and Mchedlidze; Cinematographer Giorgi Chelidze გიორგი ჭელიძე; Starring Dodo Abashidze დოდო აბაშიძე; Length 75 minutes.
Seen at Regent Street Cinema, London, Sunday 4 October 2015.

გრძელი ნათელი დღეები Grdzeli nateli dgheebi (In Bloom, 2013)

London Georgian Film Festival logo
With the London Film Festival just getting underway, I present short reviews of the four films I saw at the London Georgian Film Festival last week.


In a sense, this Georgian film set in the capital Tbilisi in 1992 tells a very specific story to that country, a time just after its independence from the Soviet Union when the country was embroiled in a civil war. Certainly there’s a pervasive atmosphere of malaise and nobody really seems happy, but for the most part the war is not seen, just something people mention that colours their interactions and moods. The film focuses on two teenage girls — the studious and dour Eka (Lika Babluani) and her more outgoing friend Natia (Mariam Bokeria) — who seem to be dealing with fairly typical stuff: boys being bullies, lack of interest in schoolwork, and so on. However, soon enough — subtly and gradually — the mood gets darker. For example, one of the guys who’s enamoured with Natia gives her a loaded gun as a present, ostensibly under the impression it will keep her safe in the lawless time. And so this gun is there, held in the girls’ purses, traded between them, and occasionally wielded in anger, creating an underlying tension throughout. And then, the gun aside, there are little outbreaks of almost inexplicable violence and threat (inexplicable, at least, to viewers unused to the setting). Notable is a rather disturbing sequence with Natia and Eka at a bread line, which leads quickly in to an apparently happy celebration — including a glorious dance sequence — but nothing quite seems right. What marks the film out as particularly good is the way it negotiates these tonal shifts, and frequently cuts away from (or leaves to the imagination) the tipping points of dramatic change, though the lead performances are faultless too. It’s definitely a film worth anyone’s time, whether those who are familiar with Georgia in the 1990s and those, like me, to whom it’s all new.

In Bloom film posterCREDITS
Directors Nana Ekvtimishvili ნანა ექვთიმიშვილი and Simon Groß; Writer Ekvtimishvili; Cinematographer Oleg Mutu; Starring Lika Babluani ლიკა ბაბლუანი, Mariam Bokeria მარიამ ბოკერია; Length 102 minutes.
Seen at Regent Street Cinema, London, Friday 2 October 2015.

President (2014)

The Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf has relocated to nearby Georgia to make this film, a political allegory, set in an unspecified country ruled by an elderly military-garbed dictator president (Mikheil Gomaishvili). Apparent unrest has driven his family to fly out of the country on their private plane, though his grandson Dachi (Orvelashvili) prefers to stay, and as they return from the airport to the presidential palace, suddenly the revolutionary forces become evident and the president must go on the run. There’s relatively little I can say about it, as the story is fairly linear and tracks the president on his journey to escape notice and find a safe haven away from his angry people. However, that’s not to say it’s bad or lacks artistry, for every frame shows the evidence of an exemplary technical crew, while the insight at the film’s heart, though fairly straightforward (the dictator must learn what it is to be one of his own citizens), has plenty of moral power. This indeed is one of the traits of the Iranian cinema that Makhmalbaf has come from, to distill these rather complicated moral issues down to a relatively simple premise. It’s also an unusual perspective to take the viewpoint of the deposed leader rather than his struggling citizens, but it works rather well. It’s not that Makhmalbaf is on his side — no doubt he’s endured similar regimes — but it’s a bold move to situate a degree of empathy with the cruel and unjust. What results is a strong film, and, not incidentally, Georgia certainly has some beautiful scenery and striking architecture, all of which is captured very well by the local crew.

Pedantic Note on the Title: Most advertising and press material refer to the film as The President but the film’s title card omits the definite article, so that’s what I’m using here.

President film posterCREDITS
Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf محسن مخملباف‎; Writers Makhmalbaf and Marziyeh Meshkiny مرضیه مشکینی‎; Cinematographer Konstantine-Mindia Esadze მინდია (კონსტანტინე) ესაძე; Starring Mikheil Gomiashvili მიხეილ გომიაშვილი, Dachi Orvelashvili დაჩი ორველაშვილი; Length 119 minutes.
Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Sunday 30 August 2015.