Since Otar Left

By Chris McLaughlin

This is Julie Bertuccelli’s first walk into the world of fiction, although, she affirms, it is taken from a true story. Set in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, before the coup that deposed Shevardnadze in 2003, it examines the bonds between a family of whom the son – Otar – has moved to Paris, fuelling the Francophilia of his elderly mother. The film is a beautiful portrait of the ties that exist within a close-knit family unit, in this case a unit devoid of a male presence, in which three generations of women have to be strong but yet rely heavily on each other for support. Better known for her documentary work, Bertuccelli uses techniques honed from her observations of real-life situations to give this film a deeply intimate feel. This is particularly true of the opening scene in which the three women simply sit in a café and the eldest eats some cake: there is no dialogue, it is just a snapshot of life, yet the affiliations of the women are piercingly clear.

The film, as a whole, conveys the feeling of being a stranger at the funeral of a beloved member of a close family. It is not always tragic but it is painfully beautiful. More than being a story solely about relationships, it is the story of the love of these women and how they project their own longing and sense of loss onto each other. It is the story of the dispossessed, the old lady’s time under Stalin and the disintegration of the structures of communism. It is a story of the manners and outlook of the people of Georgia and its adulatory relationship with the perceived wealth and intellectual glamour of France.

The whole film gains breath and flow in the character of Eka, played by 90-year-old Esther Gorontin. She is truly remarkable, somehow managing to convey a range of emotions from joy and motherly pride, to utter devastation whilst barely moving a sagging cheek. She embodies strength under the frailty so naturalistically that the performance seems drawn from her own life under the hardships of successive communist and post-communist rule in deprived and politically corrupt Georgia. This is not to detract from the acting of the other women; Nino Khomassouridze is compelling as the petulant Marina who dominates her own daughter but is still always her mother’s child. Dinara Droukarova carries off the role of Ada well, the youngest of the woman who desires freedom but remains reliant on the security of the strength that the three women together exude.

These women are not so much a family as an entity. Bertuccelli herself describes them as the same woman at three different stages of life; this is an interesting perspective, which makes you wonder how the child in you would view the adult it sees in the mirror, or how the adult now would view the frail and doddery individual it will later become.

The cinematography is elegant and slow, giving the whole film the air of a sepia-tinted photograph – slightly sad even when those portrayed in it are smiling; there is a feeling that at any minute even the medium itself may crumble into dust under the weight of your gaze. Full of scenes from Georgian life that although predictably harsh, are not pitiful, the dignity of the people shines through, sparking compassion in the coldest of souls.
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