Tangerines movie poster (image from Wikipedia)
Language: Russian and Estonian with (teeny-tiny) English subtitles
Availability: available on DVD and Amazon streaming in the US
This film was produced in a collaboration between Estonian and Georgian filmmakers and actors. It was Estonia’s nominee for the Academy Award, and made it to the short list, though it did not win. “Tangerines” is a lovely movie about older Estonian men who don’t want to leave their homes in Abkhazia (each for their own reasons), despite the escalating violence. They come across a wounded Georgian soldier and a wounded Chechen mercenary, and take them in, and the film follows the political, ethnic, and inter-personal relationships and tensions that follow. This film was purposefully very multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. The characters ultimately learn to move past their ethnic differences and prejudices to help each other in an extreme situation. As one would expect in a film about war, there is violence and sadness, but my overall feelings toward the film were positive. The only thing I didn’t like about the film was the teeny-tiny subtitles (on the edition I rented from Netflix, at least)…I had just been to the eye doctor, who cleared my vision as good, and I really had to squint to read these. I had an advantage over others, though, as I can understand the Russian part, at least! (My Estonian however, is non-existent).
The Loneliest Planet (Image from Wikipedia)
The Loneliest Planet
Language: English, some Georgian (not meant to be understood), Spanish verb declensions (good practice for me!)
Availability: available on DVD in the US
I can’t really say if this film was good or bad. It isn’t really a movie, as much as it is a gorgeously-filmed hike. Basically, you watch Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg and Bidzina Gujabidze hike through the Caucasus Mountains and deal with interpersonal issues. It’s certainly an interesting and eventful hike, the scenery is beautiful, and the actors are good (some of it I couldn’t tell if it was scripted or ‘reality show’). I heard a rumor when the film was first released that Gujabidze was a professional mountain guide, not an actor, but I can’t find any corroborating information. Though this was his first film, he has also appeared in a 2015 Georgian film so he may have changed careers. This film will give you a good sense of Georgian “anecdotes” that just do not translate well. There was also a funny bit on swearing in Georgian and English, if you’re interested in picking up some colorful vocabulary. If you are looking for a fast-paced or plot-heavy movie, though, this isn’t for you. As for me, I did enjoy watching the film, but thought it was a bit long given the style and subject matter.
In Bloom (Image from Wikipedia)
In Bloom (გრძელი ნათელი დღეები)
Language: Georgian with English subtitles
Availability: available on DVD in the US, scheduled as part of the “Discovering Georgian Cinema” series in Washington DC: info here
This was the Georgian movie that everyone was talking about last year, but I just recently watched it for the first time. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, though I still thought it was good, I had just heard so much hype that nothing could live up to it. The beginning of the movie made me smile because of just how realistic it was–despite the passage of 20+ years and vastly different political and economic conditions than those in the movie (it’s set in 1992), the day-to-day conversations were word-for-word what I have often heard amongst my friends, co-workers, and host family. The story is quite good, and the main characters are very believable and relatable (and portrayed by very talented young actresses). The ending, however, was unsatisfying, and one of my viewing companions compared it (unfavorably) to “one of those weird French movies from the 70s”.
The English title “In Bloom” is not a direct translation of the Georgian title “გრძელი ნათელი დღეები” (grdzeli nateli dgheebi), which means “Long, Light Days” and is also a play on one of the main characters’ name: Natela (Natia). To me, the Georgian title better suits the film: it captures the feeling of reminiscing about teenage days. Even though some of the situations and events in the film were rather dire, the characters lived their lives, and found joy in them. Despite the dark subject matter, there was a sense of lightness and hope throughout.
“In Bloom” is certainly worth watching, but personally, I preferred Since Otar Left for a view of Georgia in the 90s, and Tbilisi I Love You to represent Georgia today and its recent history.
Tbilisi, I Love You (image from Wikipedia)
Tbilisi, I Love You (თბილისი, მიყვარხარ)
Language: Georgian and English with English and Georgian subtitles
Availability: currently in Georgian theatres, eventually coming to a film festival or DVD/streaming service near you
The 4th installment in the “Cities of Love” franchise (following Paris Je T’aime, New York I Love You, and Rio Eu Te Amo) features ten short films about life here in the dedakalaki (დედაქალაქი=capital, literally “mother city”).
I enjoyed some of the shorts more than others, but there weren’t any that I disliked. My favorites were the bits with the brother and sister, and the couple looking for a priest. One thing that I think the film does well is present many different, realistic views of the Georgian (or more precisely, Tbilisian) experience. None of the pieces struck me as something that I couldn’t imagine happening here to real people. Despite their realism, though, each clip only tells a piece of a story, and the sum total is not necessarily a realistic or representative view of life. People who don’t know much about Georgia might find the situation rather bleak. In additions to the depictions of everyday life, the film captures Tbilisi landscapes well–both in their beauty and their charming disrepair (a few of the films also feature some interesting historical footage of the city).
I must say, it’s rather a surreal feeling to be sitting inside a movie theater watching a film, and see the exterior of that same movie theater appear on the screen. Can’t say THAT has ever happened before.
5 Days of War
Language: English, some dialogue in Russian and Georgian (quality varies)
Availability: Readily available in the US. Netflix: DVD rental. Amazon: Instant Video rental and DVD for purchase.
After all the moaning and groaning I’d heard about this movie I was prepared for (and maybe even hoping for) the worst. I have to say that actually, it’s not bad. I don’t recommend you rush out and buy every copy in the store, but if it’s available as an in-flight movie, or you’re particularly attached to one of the actors, or have some other reason compelling you to watch it, it’s OK. I’d say it’s 3 stars out of 5. It is, however, very, VERY graphically bloody. You have been warned. Most of the criticism I’ve heard of the movie has been about its (lack of) accuracy, to which I have to say “Well, what did you expect?”. Yes, the movie is fictionalized–it’s a Hollywood film. Yes, the movie is one-sided–it was sponsored by the Georgian government (actually it wasn’t as one-sided as I expected–there were some good Russians). The movie does have some good, very basic introductory information for people who have never heard of Georgia before–where it is, what the major political issues are, et cetera. It also features some really lovely montages of Tbilisi, and some nicely performed traditional Georgian song and dance. The (mis)pronunciations of various words and phrases bothered me a bit; it took me quite a while to figure out where the “Skin Valley” was (FYI–it’s Tskhinvali) As a shallower comment, Rupert Friend, the male lead, has impressive cheekbones and brooding looks. Be forewarned–there’s a “documentary” section at the end that I was not remotely prepared for. The subtitles also seemed to be in a smaller font size than other films (is there a way to change that?)
Hopefully this movie, which I assume has a wider audience than most Georgian films, will serve as a starting point and inspire people to learn more about the region and the real issues that are fictionalized in the movie. I have my doubts that this will happen, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised.
Since Otar Left… (Depuis qu’Otar est parti...)
Language: French, Russian, and Georgian, with English or French subtitles
Availability: Readily available in the US! Netflix: Instant and DVD rental, Amazon: Instant Video rental and DVD for purchase.
My friend from Georgian class recommended this movie to me, and her streak of excellent movie recommendations remains unbroken. I watched “Since Otar Left” with my parents, and all three of us enjoyed the movie very much. The plot is relatively simple but sweet (I’ll leave it vague here so as to avoid any spoilers) and deals nicely with the concepts of love and honesty, and how the two virtues are not always compatible. It does not, however, veer into overly saccharine or idealistic territory. I particularly liked the way the film portrayed life in Georgia in the late-Shevardnadze era. I had no experience of the country at that time, but the movie’s portrayal seems to jive with my understanding of the era, and is simultaneously sympathetic and critical. It shows infrastructural troubles–the phone, electricity, and water come and go–as well as some of the social problems of the era–doctors taking construction jobs abroad, engineers selling their worldly possessions at the Dry Bridge, lack of opportunity for advancement–while also being deeply infused with a love of Georgia and Georgian culture. “Since Otar Left” is a lovely movie, and one of the few easily-available opportunities to relax and get a taste of Georgia while remaining in the US. I highly recommend it!