Discovering Georgian Cinema, Part I: A Family Affair
September 23–October 16, 2014
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive joins forces with The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Film to present the largest-ever retrospective of Georgian cinema in the United States. This passion project, undertaken by successive curatorial staffs at the two organizations over more than 20 years, brings together 45 programs—in prints sourced from multiple archives throughout Europe, the U.S., and the republics of Georgia and Russia—encompassing the history of Georgian film production from 1907 to 2014. The exhibition traces the development of Georgian cinema from classics of the silent era to great achievements of the early sound and Soviet era, through the flourishing 1980s and the post-Soviet period to today.
Throughout the turbulent history of the last century, Georgian cinema has been an important wellspring for national identity, a celebration of the spirit, resilience, and humor of the Georgian people. These filmmakers, working across a broad range of styles and thematic concerns, have created everything from anti-bureaucratic satires of the Soviet system, to philosophical studies rooted in a humanist tradition, to lyrical, poetic depictions of the region’s spectacular landscape.
Part I of the retrospective focuses on one of the particularities of the Georgian cinema: the remarkable lines of familial relationships that weave through and connect its cinematic production from the 1920s to the present, where we find several third-generation filmmakers active. Part II, Blue Mountains and Beyond, runs November 22 though December 21, 2014.
Film notes are adapted from research and writing by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Film titles are listed with English translations first, followed by Georgian and, where applicable, Russian.
Discovering Georgian Cinema is a collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Organized by Susan Oxtoby, Senior Film Curator, BAM/PFA, and Jytte Jensen, Curator, Department of Film, MoMA. Special thanks to the Georgian National Film Center, Tbilisi; the National Archives of Georgia, Tbilisi; and Sofia Babluani; Nino Chichua; and Candace Ming, Intern, Department of Film, MoMA.
The presentation at MoMA is made possible by the Georgian Government.
Major support is provided by The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art.
Prints courtesy of BAM/PFA, Icarus Films, GNFC, Tbilisi Film Studio, and BFI.
Related Film Screenings
Elisso (Eliso aka Caucasian Love)
1928. USSR. Directed by Nikoloz Shengelaia. With Alexandre Imedashvili, Kokta Karalashvili, Kira Andronikashvili. Shengelaia, one of the great early figures in Georgian cinema, was the head of an enormously influential clan of film professionals, including the most popular actresses of their time, the sisters Kira Andronikashvili and Nato Vachnadze, the latter of whom was the director's wife and mother of Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia, who became prominent directors themselves. This historical epic evokes the tragic fate of a nation pacified in 1864 by the Tsarist Russian Empire. When authorities begin to appropriate fertile land, the peasants are forced to evacuate under terrible conditions. The narrative concerns the beautiful Eliso in the village of Verdi, whose tragic love for Vazho is encumbered by their different class and religion. Yet, the most overwhelming aspect of this cherished classic is its depiction of the majestic landscape and deep-rooted traditions of the Georgian people. Silent; English intertitles. 80 min.
1969. USSR. Directed and cowritten by Giorgi Shengelaia. With Avtandil Varazi, David Abashidze. In his film about the life of the great Georgian primitive artist Nikoloz (Niko) Pirosmanishvili (1862–1919), Shengelaia avoids the usual clichés of films about artists’ lives, instead experimenting with color control techniques based on the painter’s style. Avtandil Varazi—also the film’s art-director—plays the gentle, uncompromising artist who sold his paintings to bars and restaurants for food and drink, and worked mostly in solitude. “Shengelaia’s film constructs a series of impressionistic tableaux from incidents in Pirosmani’s life. Each tableau takes its style from Piarosmani’s own paintings, with simple lines and pastel colors, figures poised suggestively in space, and further resonance derived from references to the work of the French impressionists” (New Directors/New Films, 1975). In Georgian; English subtitles. 85 min.
Tsisperi mtebi aka Daujerebeli ambavil [Golubye gory] (Blue Mountains aka An Unbelievable Story)
1984. USSR. Directed and cowritten by Eldar Shengelaia. With Ramaz Giorgobiani, Vasil Kakhnishvili, Teimuraz Chirgadze, Ivan Sakvarelidze. An inspired satire by one of Georgia’s leading directors, Blue Mountains is a disarming and cleverly precise critique of bureaucracy as stifling stasis, set in a publishing house in Tbilisi, where a writer and his manuscript submission are all but ignored as the employees, a colorful cast of characters, carry on with their private affairs and outside interests, oblivious to his needs. This deftly orchestrated study of an office environment is part Jacques Tati, part Ermanno Olmi, capturing nuanced situations with an eye for humor and timing. Blue Mountains was included in Directors’ Fortnight at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, but the director was prohibited from attending by Soviet authorities; Shengelaia was present to introduce the film in the 2014 festival’s classics category. In Georgian; English subtitles. 97 min.
Manqana, romelic kvelafers gaaqrobs (The Machine which Makes Everything Disappear)
2012. Georgia/Germany. Written and directed by Tinatin Gurchiani. With Teona Bagrationi, Ramin Iremadze, Eduard Tsikolia. This compelling documentary has screened widely at international festivals, including MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight 2013, and received several prestigious awards, including the Directing Award at the 2013 Sundance World Cinema Documentary competition. A film director organizes a casting call for 15- to 23-year-olds and the results form the basis for a revealing portrait of Georgian society. Interview footage with the youths, who offer various reasons for wishing to be in the film, is combined with vérité segments of the subjects in their daily lives. Director Tinatin Gurchiani travels through her homeland, to cities and villages, finding echoes of the Soviet past and indications of the challenges that face Georgian society today. In Georgian; English subtitles. 101 min.
Netavi ik teatri aris?! (Will There Be a Theater Up There?!)
2011. Georgia. Directed and cowritten by Nana Janelidze. With Kakhi Kavsadze. Based on the true life experiences of the Kavsadze family, and starring one of the most popular Georgian actors, Kakhi Kavsadze, this powerful film—part historical essay and part recreated biography—uses the tragic circumstances of the 20th century (WWII and the aftermath of the Soviet regime) as the backdrop for a chronicle of a Georgian family. Opening scenes depict a former railroad-car repair plant bearing the name of Stalin, before the film proceeds to the stage of Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Theater, an apt location filled with poetic resonances for a poignant work of reclaimed history. In Georgian; English subtitles. 55 min.
Ojakhi (The Family)
1985. USSR. Written and directed by Nana Janelidze. With Veriko Anjaparidze, Natela Mikhaldiani, Tina Mepisashvili. Originally made for TV, this slice-of-life drama reveals Janelidze’s keen eye for intergenerational family dynamics. Lovingly made with an authenticity that has a near-documentary feel. In Georgian; Russian voiceover and English subtitles.. 25 min.
Arachveulebrivi gomopena [Neobyknovennaya vystavka] (An Unusual Exhibition)
1968. USSR. Directed by Eldar Shengelaia. With Guram Lortkipanidze, Dodo Abashidze, Valentina Telichkina, Vasil Chkheidze. Shengelaia’s reflective, provocative tragi-comedy introduces a sculptor who, in order to feed his family, develops a niche specializing in carving monument tombstones bearing the likeness of the departed. The wry tone of this work hits home in several sensitive areas—art practice, socialist realism, and social conventions—which initially caused ripples in the official Soviet cinema establishment and ultimately established Shengelaia as an independent voice. Film historian Peter Rollberg noted the peculiar parallels to his brother Giorgi Shengelaia’s Pirosmani, saying both are “reflections on the conditions of artistic creativity, juxtaposing the needs of the family and society at large to the demands of pure artistry.” In Russian; English subtitles. 96 min.
Ar Daidardo [Ne Goriui!] (Don’t Grieve aka Don’t Worry)
1969. USSR. Directed by Giorgi Danelia. With Vakhtang Kikabidze, Sergo Zakariadze, Anastasia Virtinskaya, Sofiko Chiaureli. Danelia’s tuneful village idyll, acclaimed as one of the most “Georgian” films ever made for its proud display of song, dance, and traditional culture, follows a young and carefree country doctor who prefers drinking, dancing, and romancing to moving up the social ladder. First introduced crooning along the roadside like a Georgian Raj Kapoor, our hero dodges his vexed sister, a jealous husband, and a pompous lord while seeking out what matters: alcohol, dance, honor, and, most of all, friendship. Danelia, a nephew in the creative Chiaureli dynasty who is best known for his sci-fi satires (33, Kin-dza-dza), here creates a realm born out of Georgia itself. In Russian; English subtitles. 90 min.
1930. USSR. Directed by Noutsa Gogoberidze. Long suppressed and nearly written out of film history, Buba is an exceptional documentary filmed in the northern reaches of Georgia, in the remote mountainous region of Racha. This artistic collaboration between Georgia’s first female director, Noutsa Gogoberidze, and the noted avant-garde painter David Kakabadze—a work of exhilarating cinematic splendor featuring luminous cinematography and dynamic montage—was originally intended as propaganda; Gogoberidze was closely associated with filmmakers Alexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Eisenstein, and Mikhail Kalatozov. Silent; Russian intertitles, English subtitles. 39 min.
2009. Georgia. Directed by Salomé Alexi. With Marina Kobakhidze (voiceover), Gia Abesalashvili, Rusudan Bolkvadze, Paata Guliashvili. Deadpan, hilarious, and filled with subtle character schtick, Felicità is a pure delight. The central character is absent, heard only on speakerphone at her husband’s funeral. In this, her fourth short film, Salomé Alexi (the granddaughter of Noutsa Gogoberidze) takes a regular societal occurrence—women who support their families by working abroad—and mines it for dramatic effect. In Georgian; English subtitles. 30 min.
Den’ dlinneje notchi (The Day Is Longer than the Night)
1984. USSR. Directed by Lana Gogoberidze. With Deredjan Kharchiadze, Tamara Skhirtladze, Guram Pirtskhalava, Irakli Khizanichvili. Distinguished by its location shooting, eye for traditional customs, and appealing performances, this ballad follows the life of Eva from the turn of the century through various milestones, both personal and historic. Each dramatic episode is linked to the next by a troupe of actors and musicians, who offer their own commentary. Gogoberidze’s film premiered in competition in Cannes in 1984, a high point in a career that included a string of remarkable films between 1958 and 1992, mostly in collaboration with screenwriter Zaira Arsenishvili (When Almonds Blossomed, The Little Incident, Some Interviews on Personal Matters, Whirlwind, and The Waltz on the Pechora). Her daughter, director Salomé Alexi, also worked with Arsenishvili on her Felicità. In Georgian; English subtitles. 105 min.
Natvris khe [Drevo zhelanii] (The Wishing Tree)
1977. USST. Co-written and Directed by Tengiz Abuladze. With Lika Davtaradze, Soso Dchatchvliani, Zaza Kolelishvili. The textures of folk legend and striking visual allegory permeate The Wishing Tree, an episodic pastorale set in the pre-Revolutionary village of Kachetien (the birthplace of the famous painter Pirosmani). Drawing on Pirosmani’s vision, as well as on Brueghel, Abuladze, one of Georgian cinema’s greatest treasures, creates a work that is manifold in meaning. Some 22 stories are woven into the narrative, which centers on a beautiful young woman who is forced to marry a man she does not love; her unsanctioned love for another leads her to ritual disgrace and sacrifice. Death opens the film and closes it, but in between The Wishing Tree is abundant with life. In Georgian; English subtitles. 108 min.
1929. USSR. Directed by Mikheil Chiaureli. With Aleksandre Jaliashvili, Veriko Anjaparidze, L. Januashvili. The stylish, moody silent-era melodrama Saba—a morality tale about the hazards of alcohol consumption that is nonetheless not without humor—reworks Boris Sigal’s play The Trial of Stepan Korolev, setting the action in Tbilisi rather than Leningrad and significantly developing the storyline with respect to protagonist, Saba (Jaliashvili). The film displays dynamic shot compositions, sophisticated editing, and expressive character types in both the lead and supporting roles, and the location shooting offers glimpses of Tbilisi’s distinctive landmarks. Silent; Russian intertitles, simultaneous English translation, and piano accompaniment. 100 min.
Magdanas lurja [Lurdzha Magdany] (Magdana’s Donkey)
1955. USSR. Directed by Tengiz Abuladze, Rezo Chkeidze. With Dudukhana Tserodze, L. Moistsrapishvili, Mikho Borashvili. The debut feature of Abuladze and Chkeidze, fresh out of the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, is a charming folk tale that was hailed as the start of a “new wave” in Soviet cinema and won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Sometime around 1890, in a small Georgian village high above a teeming town, the widow Magdana lives in a shack with her three children; walking to market along dirt roads and rocky hillsides, she ekes out a living selling yogurt. When her children find a donkey lying by the road and nurse it to health, it seems the family's troubles are over. In Georgian; English subtitles. 67 min.
Ramodenime interviu pirad sakitkhebze [Neskol’ko interv’iu po lichnym voprosam] (Several Interviews on Personal Matters)
1979. USSR. Directed by Lana Gogoberidze. With Sofiko Chiaureli. Sofiko, a young newspaper employee, is passionately involved in her work interviewing people who have submitted complaint letters to the editor. One of the women Sofiko interviews is her mother, and the pair’s onscreen relationship strongly resembles the tragic early life of the director and her mother, making this a very personal film for Gogoberidze. A bold mixture of documentary and social-psychological drama—and the first film to make mention of Stalin’s camps—Several Interviews on Personal Matters makes powerful statements about women, work, family, and marriage that earned it international acclaim as the first feminist film of the Soviet cinema. In Georgian; English subtitles. 95 min.
Un Dragon dans les eaux pures du Caucase (The Pipeline Next Door)
2005. France. Directed by Nino Kirtadze. David faces Goliath when a village of Georgian farmers takes on the BP oil corporation in this evenhanded, character-driven documentary. Kirtadze’s verité approach captures the negotiations, breakdowns, heartbreak, and anger, surrounding BP’s purchase of Georgian countryside to construct a 1,700-kilometer pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea. The villagers try for solidarity but find envy and mistrust as their way of life is crudely upended, and the BP spokespeople are caught in the unending march toward a supposedly ever-brighter future. In English, Georgian, Russian; English subtitles. 90 min.
Motsurave [Plovets] (The Swimmer)
1981. USSR. Written and directed by Irakli Kvirikadze. With Gudea Burduli, Ruslan Mikaberidze, Badur Zuladze. This amusing, artfully crafted tale of three generations of long-distance swimmers is told from the perspective of Anton Dumbadze, whose legendary grandfather, Durmishkan, and father, Domenti, were each obsessed with the idea of swimming the Black Sea from Batumi to Poti—twice the distance of the English Channel. Filled with alluring glimpses of Georgian folklore and a searing critique of Stalinist purges, The Swimmer had a fitful history: shot in 1981, postproduction was interrupted before a Georgian version could be completed; three years later, a shortened cut of the film was released. In Georgian; English subtitles. 105 min.
Robinzonada ili moi Angliysky deduchka (Robinsonada aka My English Grandfather )
1986. USSR. Directed by Nana Dzhordzhadze. Written by Irakli Kvirikadze. With Janri Lolashvili, Nineli Chankvetadze, Guram Pirtskhalava. A prime example of the Georgian facility for wit and humor, Robinsonada, which won the Camera d’Or at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, is an absurdist political comedy about a 1920s British engineer, in Georgia to help build a telegraph line, who falls in love with the sister of the local political boss. When he is driven out of the village after a quarrel, he takes up residence by the telegraph poles, declaring three yards around every pole British territory and creating a safe haven where the lovers can meet. In Georgian; English subtitles. 76 min.
Lursmani cheqmashi [Gvozd’ v sapoge] (A Nail in the Boot)
1930/32. USSR. Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. With Aleqsandre Jaliashvili, Siko Palavandishvili, Akaki Khorava. In this ostensible allegory of Soviet industry, the poor quality of a nail in a soldier's boot leads to the defeat of a military unit on maneuvers. Its symbolism lost on the literal-minded, who felt it reflected poorly on the military preparedness of the Red Army, the film was banned by Soviet officials. Perhaps more threatening than the film's subject was its style: “The film came at a time when other directors had already begun to feel the chill of criticism for abstract films” (Alexander Birkos, Soviet Cinema: Directors and Films). This masterful film marked the beginning of a seven-year period of inactivity for Kalatozov. Silent; Russian intertitles, simultaneous English translation, and piano accompaniment. 54 min.
Vedreba [Molba] (The Prayer aka The Plea)
1967. USSR. Directed by Tengiz Abuladze. With Ramaz Chkhikvadze, Spartak Bagashvili, Rusudan Kiknadze.One of the great films from Georgia—and the USSR as a whole—was featured at the 1975 London Film Festival (nearly a decade after it was made), where Brian Baxter noted: “Quite surely a masterpiece and one of the most strikingly original and beautiful films ever made. It is shot in the deepest blacks and almost blinding whites, tightly compressing its complex tale of love, hate, and revenge. The screenplay is taken from [two poems by Vaza Psavela] (. . .) Abuladze has managed to convey the ‘epic’ quality of the piece by superb use of the harsh landscapes and the integration of the characters within the surroundings.” In Georgian; English subtitles. 80 min.
Djariskatsis mama [Otets soldata] (Father of a Soldier )
1965. USSR. Directed by Rezo Chkheidze. With Sergo Zakariadze. This old-fashioned tale of a father’s love for his son is the most beloved of all Georgian films due to its unapologetically heroic portrait of a taciturn Georgian farmer looking for his son in the midst of war. Throughout his harrowing journey into the heart of the fascist advancement and eventual Bolshevik comeback, the farmer’s love of the land is consistently contrasted with the waste of war. The incomparable Zakariadze perfectly inhabits the role, giving extra weight the the film’s devastating conclusion. In Russian, Georgian; English subtitles. 83 min.
Begurebis gadafrena [Perelet vorobiev] (Flight of the Sparrows aka Migrating Sparrows)
1980. USSR. Written and directed by Teimur Babluani. With Elguja Burduli, Teimur Bichiashvili, Rezo Esadze. The succinctly scripted allegory Flight of the Sparrows begins aboard a crowded third-class passenger train traveling through Soviet Georgia at night. An eccentric cast of characters passes the time chatting, occasionally arguing with each other. Tensions build when a burly man in a leather jacket—with a pet sparrow tucked inside his chest pocket—and another man, who is well dressed and claims to have travelled the world, engage in a fistfight. The film is exquisitely shot in black-and-white Cinemascope—accentuating the close quarters of the train cabin—before the action shifts to a totally different setting. In Georgian; English subtitles. 60 min.
2005. Georgia/France. Written and directed by Gela Babluani. With Georges Babluani, Aurélien Recoing, Pascal Bongard. A black-and-white neo-noir with style and suspense to spare, Gela Babluani’s debut feature garnered plenty of awards—from Sundance to Venice and beyond—to go with its cult following. A naïve young man (played by the director’s brother) who is supporting his family of refugees, intercepts a train ticket and some directions and decides to take a chance at changing his luck. A circuitous route lands him in an ominous castle amid a life-and-death game that promises a huge payout for the last man standing. The terrifically harrowing milieu is expertly crafted, and even at the most extreme edges of sociopathic behavior, every face and gesture seems utterly authentic. In French, Georgian; English subtitles. 93 min.
Que puis-je te souhaiter avant le combat? (What Can I Wish You Before the Fight?)
2012. France. Written and directed by Sofia Babluani. Set in an unspecified war zone and with an atmosphere of mounting tension, this vignette about mistaken identity and communication that transcends barriers packs plenty of emotional punch. In French; English subtitles. 16 min.
Jim Shvante [Sol’ Svanetii] (Salt for Svanetia)
1930. USSR. Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. Screenplay by Kalatazov, from an idea by Sergei Tretyakov. Kalatazov’s debut film places him alongside the great Soviet directors, and this haunting portrait of the difficult life in a village in the remote, snowbound Caucasus is especially reminiscent of Alexander Dovzhenko in its poetic treatment of man in nature. Kalatozov uses the poetry of repetition and juxtaposition, distance and extreme close-up, wild rhythms and seemingly impossible angles, to jar us into the kind of recognition that only art can obtain. Silent; Russian intertitles, simultaneous English translation, and piano accompaniment. 66 min.
Monanieba [Pokayanie] (Repentance)
1984 (released 1987). USSR. Directed by Tengiz Abuladze. Screenplay by Abuladze, Rezo Kveselava, Nana Janelidze. With Avtandil Makharadze, Iji Ninidze, Merab Ninidze, Zeinab Botsvadze. In the Soviet Union, Repentance was as much an event as a film, one of the most important censored films to be rescued from the shelf with the new cultural liberalization, and the first to deal with the terrors of the Stalin era. This it does in an oblique but unmistakable way typical of Abuladze, whose art is one of symbolism and surrealism. The central character is a parody of a dictator, with attributes of Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini. Abuladze's allegorical parable is at once specific to the memory of actual historical horrors, and more generally a Kafkaesque reflection of the collective memory of tyranny. In Georgian; English subtitles. 153 min.
This special program showcases recent efforts to digitally restore examples of the Kulturfilm boom that occurred in the late 1920s and early 1930s, made by young cinephile directors in Soviet Georgia. Film archivist Nino Dzandzava will present and discuss “four short films united by the concept of the ‘body as machine.’ Siko Dolidze’s Call of the Land (1928), and Kote Miqaberidze and Vasil Dolenko’s You Must Reap as You Have Sown (1930) are dedicated to the urgent problems of a young socialist republic, especially the mechanization of labor on collective farms. Aleqsandre Jaliashvili’s Ten Minutes in the Morning (1930) and Vakhtang Shvelidze’s Collective Farmers’ Hygiene (1934) represent a state policy of promoting physical culture and exercise as a form of healthcare” (Nino Dzandzava, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto).