Sunday, October 01, 2006

So this blog is becoming a strange liability. I know I have to keep writing, but the act of writing with this thought in mind seems a tad constrained and therefore unwarranted. Hence I wait for a moment of unrestrained, unmediated epiphany. But the waiting itself, of course, already always negates the possibility of lightning-like,sudden and uninvoked language. Thereby elevating such possibility to an even more exalted status. And thus the vicious circle. Round and round and round.

But today I have something to say. Just because it’s about something somebody else has already said. This is about a film called ‘Since Otar left’. Made in French and set in post-communist and post-USSR Georgia, ostensibly in Tbillisi, this is a sweet, sad and strangely morbidly hope-ridden tale of a family of three Georgian women, Eka, Marina and Ada. Eka has lived through Stalin’s times, Marina is hinted to have been a revolutionary whose late husband fought and died in Afghanistan and Ada is a contemporary child. In a debilitated economy, sometimes recovering and at others, lodged permanently in the twilight zone restructuring and statelessness, Georgia is treated perfunctorily and only lives in its absences. In the trinkets sold in the flea market that Marina and her boyfriend, Tenguiz work at; in the lonely, unlit and barely manned hospital that Marina and Ada take Eka to in the middle of the night and in the wishing tree that proudly displays its many tattered bits of cloth. Eka is beautiful and strong and life-laden. Doting on her son Otar who was once a medical student in Moscow, but has since left for Paris to work as an illegal construction worker, she waits for his letters to be read out patiently by her granddaughter Ada and sits by the phone holding onto every syllable of his infrequent and interrupted phone calls. Out of the blue, Otar dies and news of his untimely death reaches Marina and Ada. Marina decides to keep the news from her mother for fear that it would kill her. Ada, though unsupportive plays along for the sake of. And thus the film finds its main plot. Even then, I find this event to only be a loose structural device and what comes before is perhaps even more poignant than the after, even though the after builds to a crescendo and carries forth the morbid hopefulness that I find an interesting approach to the structure/ agency debate.

The film has a few ‘moments’, definitely engineered, often unassuming and seamlessly woven in. Watch Eka’s carefully groomed silver mane, her bright crimson nail polish and her little ferris wheel ride. Watch her smoke and watch as she unwinds the crimson scarf around her neck to send Otar. Also Marina as she stares at the landscape from the stairway outside Tenguiz’s apartment. One almost wonders if she might be thinking of jumping off. But of course, she isn’t.
Must notice: A strangely hauntingly beautiful Marina with a 60s hairdo staring out of a photograph where she looks directly into the camera through kohl-laden eyes even as she holds a gun to her temple.

To digress, I always have trouble deciphering any text as innocent. I’m assuming this has a political agenda one way or the other (meaning even the declared lack of politics is political in itself). And I can’t of course analyze this without giving away the plot, so be warned, there are spoilers ahead. So given that countries of the former USSR have often been seen to have paper revolutions, incomplete capitalism and tattered, fragmented economies, how then does one read this tale of three generations of women? Of course, lest I be accused of being too Marxist materialist in this reading, let me state that I am also concerned with the feminist subtext -- with the absence and yet overwhelming presence of Otar that governs the central structure of the film.

The three women live in relative insufficiency and Marina is often forced to borrow from Tenguiz, which she tries to limit to emergencies, like the time Eka suffers a cardiac arrest. She cannot sell the many books that they own because Eka treasures them as relics from a different time when her parents lived in France. She has schooled Ada in the language and the granddaughter often dreams of Paris even as she ghostwrites her dead uncle’s letters to her grandmother. Thereby structured by a lack that creates a void in the aftermath of some kind of possession, whether of ideology, belief or comfort, the film seems to thrive on a certain kind of barren ether, an empty light. And what then does the film contrast to this emptiness, this lack? In Ada's defection to Paris, I am not sure if to decipher a clear nod to capitalism's triumph or a tentative contingent understanding of agency.

And these darlings, are my tuppence.

(Also, see an interview with the director Julie Bertucelli here).