Apr 062009


Warning: The following contains a spoiler for the film Depuis qu’Otar est parti. Go away if you want to see the film first.

I’ve long been bothered by the part near the end after Eka learns that Otar is dead. I was content to just let it go as one of those open-ended things that make the movie like real life, until I read the explanation on Wikipedia:

Eka breaks down with the initial shock, but soon recovers and returns to meet Ada and Marina, as they are due to return to Georgia. In a reversal of roles, and to the bemusement of the two younger women, Eka decides that it would hurt them to know of Otar’s death, and pretends that he has gone to America without telling them.

But it can’t be just a role reversal. Because now Eka knows, not just that Otar has died, but that he died some time ago. What then about all those letters she had received from Otar since he died? She has to know at this point where they came from.

In the first big lie, Marina and Ada were keeping the truth from Eka, who truly did not know that Otar was dead.

But in the 2nd lie, Eka has to know that she’s not fooling anyone. I took it to mean she just found a way to decide that even though she knew what had happened, and they knew she knew, and she knew that they knew that she knew, that they were all going to pretend it didn’t happen.

I also found it interesting that the filmmaker (Julie Bertucelli) also saw fit to introduce the topic that during the Soviet days they had been living a lie. Marina’s boyfriend Tengiz explains this to Ada as part of an attempt to convince her not to be too hard on her mother. So living a lie during the Soviet days may have influenced the characters to play these games now in which they lovingly tell big lies to each other. I’m going to have to listen to that part again, though, to see if there was something more profound that I’m supposed to learn.

BTW, I liked how all the characters grew in the movie, including Eka. She is a sweet old grandmother who is much loved by her granddaughter, but she is also somewhat selfish. But she finally learns to let go of Otar and also to let go of granddaughter Ada, whom she always preferred over her own daughter Marina. She is willing to go back to Georgia to life without her beloved Ada, where she will have to get along with Marina, with whom she had always clashed. And it’s all accomplished without any histronics. It’s just the right touch.

Apr 032009


Due to a Netflix accident, we’re watching Depuis qu’Otar est parti again. We’ve not dropped Netflix entirely, even though it’s gotten a lot more difficult to get Russian films from them. So many are now marked “short wait,” “very long wait,” and “unavailable.” We hung on to the subscription so Myra can get some English-language movies while I get Russian ones from Memocast. But the movies Myra had at the top of our queue were also unavailable, and somehow Otar was next in line. This is not at all a disappointment.

Myra enjoys watching a lot of the Russian or other non-English movies me, but usually only watches them one time. I watch them multiple times if they’re good for language-learning, but Myra usually finds something else to do the 2nd or 3rd time through. Occasionally she’ll watch one twice. This one she’s watching a 3rd time — perhaps a first for her. It’s that good.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I like it so much. In my mind I put it in the same category as Vozvrashcheniye. Anna Lawton in one of her books referred to “slice of life” films. Maybe this one and Vozvrashcheniye could be categorized that way.

Wikipedia says this about slice-of-life stories:

A slice of life story is a category for a story that portrays a “cut-out” sequence of events in a character’s life. It may or may not contain any plot progress and little character development, and often has no exposition, conflict, or denouement, with an open ending. It usually tries to depict the every-day life of ordinary people, sometimes with fantasy or science fiction elements involved. The term slice of life is actually a dead metaphor: it often seems as if the author had taken a knife and “cut out” a slice of the lives of some characters, without concern for narrative form.

But these films do have some plot progress, character development, conflict, etc. Maybe the thing is that they don’t try to do too much of any of these elements. They tell us about people and relationships, but don’t try to tell more than movies are capable of telling. Some of Tarkovsky’s work, great as it is, suffers from trying to do more than is possible to do with film, IMO. His work becomes overly symbolic, because how else can you use a camera to deal with such grand topics?

It’s not that the makers of Otar and Vozvrashcheniye were slackers. It’s obvious that an enormous amount of attention to detail and nuance went into them. The acting is excellent throughout. And because their reach does not exceed their grasp, they end up being great works of art.

[Sunday afternoon spelling correction]

Aug 182008

The conflict in Georgia got me thinking about Russian movies that feature Georgians. Are there any insights to be gained about Russian attitudes towards the people?

Mimino is a big one. The main character is Georgian. He is played as a good-hearted country bumpkin — he talks loudly on the phone, is quick-tempered, carries on an honorable feud, and is an all-around good guy. But now I wonder how the Georgians feel about this movie. The Georgian characters are treated sympathetically. Or is it condescension? It can be hard to tell the two apart in my own culture, so I wouldn’t dare to say how it comes across to someone else. Regardless, I thought it was a great movie.

There are a lot of other movies that deal with the Caucasus, but I don’t know if the Caucasians in them are Georgians. For example, there is “Kidnapping, Caucasion Style.” Those people in it — are they Georgians? And are the filmmakers having fun by stereotyping them? They wear some of the same style hats, if I remember correctly. Again, what do the ethnic groups being portrayed think of the movie? (Not that everyone should have the same opinion.)

“Depuis qu’Otar est partir” features Georgians and Russians, but that one is not a Russian film.


But in keeping with this blog’s mission to deal with the most trivial aspects of movies, I have to wonder about a Georgian references in Kin-dza-dza. One of the two main characters from planet earth is supposed to be Georgian, but what are we to make of that scene toward the end where Uef of planet Pluk says he had a Georgian mother? The two worlds are so different from each other, and had known nothing about each other. All of a sudden Uef says comes out with that line, but it generates no big surprise. I suspect an inside joke.

(Late edit – changed the title to make it more grammatical)

Sep 062007

We finished watching it tonight. It’s an excellent film — one of the best. I’ll be watching this one again, and not just for the language lessons.

(So far I still rate Vozvrashcheniye as the best Russian language film I’ve seen. Not even Tarkovsky’s films top it, though I haven’t yet watched all of those.)

And there is a 3rd language in Since Otar left, and it is Georgian. The three main actresses all do wonderful work, but I would have thought that requiring fluency in French, Russian, AND Georgian would have constricted the pool of actresses considerably.

I found some good reviews at imdb.com that explain it. Esther Gorintin, who played the grandma, is Polish and already spoke French and Russian, but refused to learn any Georgian for the film. She was not one of those who spoke Georgian. The granddaughter apparently learned some Georgian, and the mother (Nino Khomasuridze) is a native Georgian.

The Georgian is all gibberish to me, and I have no way of knowing whether the French is good Parisian French or whether the Russian was French-accented. It was fun trying to follow what I could of it (and without subtitles, it would have been a lot less). Following them as they switched from French to Russian and back was interesting enough, but then to have Georgian thrown in as a wild card!

Just as interesting were the ordinary street scenes in both Tblisi and Paris, the home scenes — furnishings, life with intermittent electricity and water — in the apartment in Tbilisi, and the rundown dacha. I would watch it again just for that, but there is a lot more than that to watch.

Sep 052007

We started watching this one tonight. So far it’s a good movie no matter what language the characters are speaking — heading towards a Netflix rating of 5 from me — but are we sure the only two languages being spoken are French and Russian? So far it seems the granddaughter tends to speak French and the mother Russian. The grandma speaks French with her beloved son, and Russian with some of her friends/family. (The sweet grandma defends Stalin and her hard, antagonistic daughter calls him a murderer.) There’s a lot of Russian I don’t understand (French, too, for that matter) but there is some talk in this movie that’s complete gibberish to me. Is it Georgian? From the subtitles I’d expect to understand a few words of it if it was Russian or French, but I don’t follow any of those parts at all.