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Since Otar Left
Director: Julie Bertucelli
Cast: Esther Gorintin, Nino Khomassouridze
laying to a cavernous theater and an audience of one hearty reviewer, Since Otar Left graced the screen for a while, destined to enter the burgeoning ranks of criminally ignored art. The 2003 winner of the Cannes Criticsí Week Grand Prize fails to satisfy the modern appetite, torturing our attention span and inducing intermittent fidgeting through its eschewal of anything that could be described as action. However, if one were to be fortunate enough to have the opportunity, it would be to her great benefit to don some art house goggles and discover what, besides escapism, film can be.
What Since Otar Left is, is as perfect and universal a depiction of family as one could imagine. The film centers on female representatives from three generations of a Georgian (thatís the former Soviet kind) family, their lives slowly escaping through the cracks forming in what had once been a resplendent apartment. Eka (Esther Gorintin), the widowed, decrepit matriarch, quarrels with her also widowed daughter Marina (Nino Khomassouridze), producing the kind of arguments that come from years of shared existence and quiet frustration. Granddaughter Ada (Dinara Droukarova), a university student, is both peacemaker and focus of her mother and grandmotherís love.
"Whatís this about Prince Albert in a can?"
The setting of Tbilisi, the crumbling capital of the former Soviet republic, grants great insight into how the departed Otar comes to play an inequitably large role in his familyís life. An all female household with one resident too old for work and a second in school has few prospects in a newly capitalist Georgia. Marina ensures the familyís survival, but even so the countryís dilapidated infrastructure, suggested by frequent power outages and spotty phone service, contributes to an air of numbing poverty. Otar, son/brother/uncle to the women, has left for glamorous Paris in search of work.
Otarís letters provide precious notes of hard currency (quickly deposited by Eka into her bra), but perhaps more importantly a chance for his family to dream of a better life. Adaís recital of his correspondence affords her grandmother plain joy. In his absence, Eka has taken to cherishing every hint of Otarís existence. Her devotion causes Marina to sulk, slighted by her motherís favoritism.
A phone call one evening disrupts the tenuous familial balance, as Ada and Marina receive terrible news from Otarís friend Niko. Fearing Eka would be crushed to learn of her sonís fate, the younger women are forced to decide whether in this case a lie would serve more purpose than the truth. Their decision, made from love, causes both of women strain, particularly Ada, and its outcome reveals with heartbreaking precision the nature of human relationships.
Gorintin carries the film as Eka, the hunched grandmother who putters about in her garden and whines longingly for the time when she understood the world (she proclaims Stalin ďa great manĒ). Her physical appearance belies the light just behind her eyes that intimates a far greater understanding of life than that possessed by either her family or the audience. She is old, but she is not dead, and director Julie Bertucelli handles that fact with characteristic realism.
"I wonder if that nice Prince will call againÖ"
Droukarova is also worthy of special mention. Adaís frustration with youth and the dreariness of life in Georgia with her mother and grandmother is perfectly tempered by her love for family. Her quiet longings are universal and her missteps borne from love and circumstance.
As in all great film there are moments of sadness and bliss, a range of emotion found in the subtleties of life. Since Otar Left is not a popcorn flick, but the effort laid out in viewing the film will be repaid tenfold by its grace and beauty.
By: Kevin Worrall
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